• Tattoo regret. (iStockphoto)Source: iStockphoto
We’re living in the Tattoo Age. More people are getting tattoos than ever. But what happens when the attraction wears off but the ink doesn’t?
Evan Valletta

19 Nov 2018 - 1:42 PM  UPDATED 19 Nov 2018 - 2:11 PM

If you happen to have a tattoo, chances are you’ve been asked some version of the following: “You might like it now… but imagine how it’ll look when you’re old and wrinkly?”.  There’s only one answer to that question: “Old and wrinkly, but a bit more colourful?”

Full disclosure: I regret most of my tattoos (seven out of eight, to be exact). Not because patches of my eventually sagged and creased skin might be a little bluer than most, but mainly because they’re outward attempts to deal with my decades-long drug addictions – none of which worked as they were supposed to.

In an effort to develop a sense of humour about my pretentious Hallmark Card of a body - and to help those of you with your own tattoo regret feel less alone - I give you the history of my tattoos in chronological order...


The band symbol 

My first tattoo found it’s way to my beltline when I was 15, or 16, or 19 – the date of actual inking changes depends on who sees it. Symbolising the term “Meeting people is easy”, this Radiohead symbol can be found inside the liner notes of the seminal album OK Computer, and on the cover of the band's 1998 documentary Meeting People is Easy.

It was my way of fully committing to my undying, eternal love for a band that are still actually my favourite. But it’s quite obvious to me now that you don’t need to express your love for something by marking it on your skin.  

Hey, at least it wasn’t a Limp Bizkit tattoo on my forehead. 


Pop Philosophy, Part I

After high school, I spent more time in the loving arms of various substances than on the steady ground of my chosen path in the filmmaking and performing arts. It was my early twenties, and time was running out for me to be the next Ryan Gosling before Ryan Gosling was Ryan Gosling. So, I reminded myself that procrastination with substances and parties wasn’t helpful and that there is no other time but NOW. 

Go to class, Evan. NOW. 


Pop Philosophy, Part II

When I was 24, my relationship with substances had crossed over from recreational to full-time. I was self-medicating to take away the pain of the fact that I was self-medicating, which – as most users will tell you – is the very definition of insanity. The partying became less frequent and the solo consumption while holed up in a room was my status quo. How was I to stop wallowing in the mistakes I’d made and my allegedly bleak future and live in the present?

Easy. Three circles – the two on either side are unfilled, and the centre, filled with colour, represents existing in a state of constant awareness. Unfortunately, this coincided with the purchase of my first iPhone on which I had three pages of menus, and the tattoo bore a striking resemblance to the icon at the bottom of the screen.

I’m not sure which explanation is less embarrassing.


Number eight… number eight… number eight…


For years, I’ve kept the true meaning of this tattoo hidden, as if it contained within its ink the Zodiac Killer’s true identity. It’s added a level of mystery to my left arm I thought would be analysed by experts (that is, my friends and family) from the day of my cremation. One afternoon, while I was teaching a short film class at a well-to-do, all-girls high school, all fifteen of the 13-year-olds had pre-decided to boycott all activities until I explained its meaning. I didn’t, and we sat there in silence while most of the students read the latest entry in the Twilight series.

Unfortunately, all the word meant was that it had been eight years into my addiction to a long list of substances, and it’s inking was meant to mark the first day of sobriety. It didn’t work – and that was the reason I never revealed its meaning.


A stranger’s war rank and number 


The one tattoo that actually meant something to me, was for a good few months, a typo. My Nonno (Italian for Grandfather), was disappearing into the horribleness of dementia, and I thought it’d be a nice tribute to permanently mark my body with his war rank and number – perhaps even as a reminder of what’s important. Somehow, while putting the thing together and moving from a MacBook to a PC desktop in order to use a specific font, I had copied down the number wrong. The “1” was meant to be a “0”.

For a good few months there, I was proudly wearing some other soldier’s number – who could very well have been an Axis spy. At least I caught the typo sooner rather than later. 


I went to prison in the North Pole 

If you want a tattoo fix without having to fork out full Aussie prices, head over to Thailand. Not only did a totally rad Bangkokian fix my tattoo typo, but he willingly tattooed my finger at 8am while I was still drunk from the night before. I remember sitting at the outside dining area of a yet-to-be-opened McDonalds, deciding which impulsive design deserved a permanent place on my ring finger. I went with this Christmas tree-like design, which I swear meant something ultra-profound at the time. 

Unfortunately, between falling asleep on the beach and waking up with my new finger tattoo burned from the sun, I had no idea why I had done what I’d done or what the hell the design meant. I now tell people that I went to prison in the North Pole. 


Word games 


A radical edifying tote

And firing concussed

It was clear by now that no overt tattoo was going to miraculously rip the addict from my soul. For over 15 years, weed, speed and meth had been interfering with my ability to live a decent life. Didactic tattoos were obviously doing nothing, so why not mark myself with a complex anagram that you’d have to be a bit of a word genius to decode?

Now that I know there are certain websites that decode anagrams for you, my tattoo is not just pretentious, but ineffectually pretentious. The two separate anagrams rearrange to mean “delayed gratification” and “discerning focus” – both traits that I believed were required to overcome my addictions.


The sequel

The plan was to go live in Prague for a few months – spend the first half ingesting every recreational drug I’d ever heard of, then the second half cleaning up and return to Sydney a new, untethered man. I met a lovely girl over there, who would dabble in certain substances but nothing even close to my kind of living obsession. Either way, we bonded over our respective needs to start new phases in our lives. I told her of my collection of ridiculous tattoos and that I was planning on adding one more to the list: PART II.

It was so appealing to her that we both went straight to a parlor and received – in different positions and fonts – the same tattoo.

Her “Part II” came a lot sooner than mine, and she’s doing fantastically in whichever city she’s currently living. My “Part II” began only relatively recently, no thanks to any external marking. I’ve been drug-free for over a year and a half and kicked the booze (which was never a substance I enjoyed) at the beginning of the year. 

I don’t plan on marking my body ever again. That’s not to say I won’t, but my reasons for doing so were always to solidify a resolution – one that never came. I don't look at the tattoos and get all triggered - it's actually most beneficial for me to laugh them off. And ultimately, there’s no point fretting over lame tattoos, however much you might regret them.

The only tattoos that can help this scribbled sod are those that are marked on the inside – and that require a hell of a lot of ink.

Actually… that sentence would make a great tattoo.


To go on a tattoo journey that isn't filled with regret - but rather art and love - watch season two of Tattoo Age Saturdays at 5:35pm on SBS VICELAND.

You can binge the entire season at SBS On Demand:

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Watching tattoos go from rebellious to mainstream
Michelle Myles, a tattoo artist in New York City, talks about how attitudes toward body art have changed over her 25-year career.
Bizarre, but absolutely real tattoo tales
From penis tatts to toddler tattoo artists, these weird tattoo stories are almost unbelievable. Almost.
7 incredible tattooists who’ve turned ink into an art form
Something to get you excited for ‘Needles & Pins’ on SBS VICELAND...