This may seem VERY trivial, since the answer can be “anywhere you please!” The ONLY places you cannot technically get permanent tattoos are your hair, teeth and nails (even the cornea used to be tattooed years ago for medical purposes). Interestingly, women and men tend to get tattoos in different locations. This, according to sociologist Clinton Sanders, is because men and women get tattoos for different reasons.
Men, he says, get them to show others, while women get them for the sake of decorating their body – and often place them where they can’t normally be seen, so that it doesn’t prompt comments about her “reputation.” However for the sake of this FAQ, the following is a short list of areas to get inked. I am included the statistics from Clinton Sanders’ study on the body location of the first tattoo for men and women as well (there were 111 men in his survey group and 52 women).
Head: The “head” here refers mostly to the area where your hair grows. You’ll need to shave the area for the tat to be most visible. If you need to hide your tat, you can grow your hair out. Areas more commonly inked are the sides of the head (above the ears), and above the nape on the neck in the back. There are people who have their entire heads inked. I am told that the tattooing process vibrates your skull!
Sides of neck (nape):
Back of neck: I’ve seen some tribal pieces, and bats done on the back of the neck. You’ll need to keep your hair short or tied up to keep it visible.
Face: Various areas possible. Facial tattoos could fall into the cosmetic or standard categories. Cosmetic would include darkening of eyebrows, eyelining, liplining, etc. Getting a tat on the face is serious business and crosses a portal because people will never look at you the same way.
Upper chest: One of the standard areas for tattoos for both men and women. Allows lots of flat area in which to get a fairly large piece. One of the areas where you can choose to get symmetrically inked on both sides. (Men: 5%, women: 35% – chest & breast combined)
Breasts (women): Used to be trendy to get a tiny tat on the breast. Women (particularly larger breasted ones) need to be careful about eventual sagging of the skin in the area. Don’t get a tat that will look silly when it starts to stretch (like a round smiley face that’ll turn into an oblong frown).
Nipples: Usually the artist leaves the nipples alone – the omission of ink tends not to be so noticeable. There HAS been work done with tattooing a facsimile of a nipple onto a breast in reconstructive surgery for those who have lost their nipples, though – for aesthetic and self-esteem purposes.
Rib cage: Can be rather painful because of all the ribs you work over. However it offers a fairly large area, and can be incorporated into a major back piece, wrapping around toward the front.
Stomach/Abdomen: Some people choose not to get work done on their stomachs for a couple of reasons. Area is difficult to work on because there’s no solid backing to hold the skin down. It is a sensitive area that may feel uncomfortable. The tat may look horrible after your metabolism slows down and you develop a…”beer gut.” (Men: Less than 5%, women: 14% Women concerned about the effect of pregnancy on a stomach tattoo can read the section specifically devoted to this in this Tattoo FAQ.
Genitals: Yes, some people do get inked in their genital area. The idea may sound very painful, but it’s really not all that bad. However, do consider that, due to the stretchiness of the skin and the amount of movement the area experiences, it’s not really possible to do anything with a lot of fine detail. And no, the penis does not have to be erect during tattooing, although a tattoo artist I know who has done several penis tattoos said that he did have one customer who had a full erection the whole time. The only female genital tattoo I’ve seen (inner labia, I think) was in Modern Primitives, and it looked rather blurry. Note: Some artists refuse to do genitals. (Men: 0%; women: 5 %)
Thighs/hips: A popular area for women to get larger pieces (often extending from the hip area). Shows well with a bathing suit but easily concealable in modest shorts. The entire area of skin around your thighs is bigger than your back, so you can get quite a bit of work done. (Men: 3%; women: 10%)
Calves: Nice area to get a standard size (2″ x 2″). However if you have very hairy legs, it may cut down on the visibility somewhat. (Men: 7%; women: 8%. Category simply listed as leg/foot)
Ankles: Currently trendy. I think you have to have an ankle tat before you can go to the Eileen Ford Agency with your modeling portfolio. 🙂 You can either get a spot piece on the inner or outer ankle, or get something that goes around in a band. Vines and other vegetation seem popular (pumpkins, anyone?)
Feet: I’ve seen some incredible footwork (pun intended) in some of the tat magazines. Concealable with shoes. Probably don’t have as much wear and tear as hands so you might get less blurring and color loss. This however, is the TOPS of your feet. You will have trouble retaining a tattoo on the bottom of your feet.
Armpits: Usually reserved for those who want to get full coverage around the arm and chest area, & need the armpits filled. Probably not strongly recommended for the highly ticklish.
Upper arms: One of the most common areas for men, although I have seen some nice work on women as well. If you decide to get a piece done on your upper arm, consider how much sun it’s going to get. Will you be able to put sunblock on it regularly? Otherwise, expect some color loss and blurring. If you want some serious work done and you wanna show it off, you may want to consider getting a “half sleeve” – full tat coverage throughout your upper arm. (Men: 70%; women: 18%. Category simply states arm/hand)
Inner arms: A more unusual location than the outer upper arm area, this area is often not easily visible. Be careful if your genes are prone to “bat wing” flab, however.
Forearms: Popeye sported his anchor on his forearm. Probably not as popular as the upper arm but common just the same. You can have your upper arm “sleeve” extend down for a full sleeve.
Wrists: Janis Joplin had a dainty tat on her wrist…easily concealable with a watch.
Hands (fingers and palms): RAB receives frequent queries about fingers, palms and hands in general. Some artists don’t do hands because the in will have a tendency to blur or fade easily. Consider that you probably move your hands the most out of your entire body. A friend of mine had a multi-colored tat on his finger by Ed Hardy (who cringed upon hearing about where my friend wanted it), that is only several years old and is now barely noticeable.
Some people want to substitute their wedding bands with tat bands. Your palm doesn’t retain ink well – if you can find an artist who will do it, you can expect it to be a rather basic line, and that it will not last too long. Perhaps just matching tats someplace else would be okay? There IS a photo of a tattoo on a palm in Sandi Feldman’s book on Japanese tattooing. This seems to be an exception.
Shoulder blades: The back shoulder blade area is another popular spot for women, who can show off the work with a bathing suit or tank top, but cover it up with regular clothes. If this is the case, be particularly careful with sun because you’re not gonna be wearing that unless it’s warm & sunny. It’s a “safe” place – but may get in the way if you decide to commit yourself to a large back piece. (Men: 15%, women: 15%. Category listed as backs/shoulder)
Back: You can get any part of your back done, or find yourself an artist you really like, and save your money for a “back piece” that encompasses your entire back. Expect to pay several thousand dollars for a full back piece (not to mention many tat sessions).
Buttocks: Again, beware of potential sagging in the area.