Body art. Ink. Tats. Whatever you call ’em, tattoos have been around since at least Neolithic times. And with a 2008 Harris Interactive Poll finding that 32 percent of Americans aged 25 to 29 have at least one, there’s a pretty good chance your average bar hottie is permanently decorated. But what compels a woman to get adornments once reserved for Hell’s Angels and sailors, what do they mean, and how do they affect for your chances?
“Tattoos are a search for identity, and they are usually meaningful, significant, and important…apart from the times girls get them when they’re drunk and out of their minds,” notes John Ryder, Ph.D., a psychologist in private practice in New York City. “In essence women with tattoos are a bit on the wilder side, and are willing to take risks that are avant-garde. Even though trendy, it’s still risqué.”
In other words, a tramp stamp means you’re totally getting laid tonight? Not necessarily. Here are 11 real girls’ tattoos, their thoughts on them, plus analysis from another psychologist, San Francisco’s Jeffrey Kaye, Ph.D. and, of course, yours truly. No doubt this info will improve your odds of seeing the tats she’s rocking where the sun don’t shine. Good luck! (P.s.—We’ll cover the fantastic Mrs. Fox’s tattoo at the very bottom.)
She says: “I got it because I’m Catholic. My brother back home is into tattoos and for graduation he got me a tattoo for a forever memory. I got it on my wrist because I like the way it looks.” Veronica, 22, Texas
Doc says: This tattoo is a kind of identification badge, in this case with one’s brother. This could bode well or ill for a future relationship. She’ll either bond closely to a new boyfriend, or have difficulties because she can’t really emotionally leave her brother and/or her family.
We say: Religious chick meets bad girl. She may have past issues and needs a constant reminder of her faith, since the cross is in a spot she can view daily. Don’t be put off by the symbolism, though. This angel’s packing at least a pinch of devil.
She says: “I got it when I turned 18. I wanted it on my forearm because I could see it everyday, so it would remind me to stay positive and content and always remember I’m blessed” Angela, 22, Florida
Doc says: This tattoo has a very private and emotional meaning. She seeks internal meanings and guarantees against outer emotional pains or difficulties. She will be hard to read, and will let you into her world only slowly.
We say: She may be going for innocence, but butterflies are still a heckuva lot more sexy than, say, caterpillars. Get her talking by asking whether she’s made a similar transition.
She says: “I spent seven years living in Pittsburgh with my best friend from college/grad school, so when I left, I wanted to get something that showed my pride. Andy Warhol is from Pittsburgh, and they have a big free museum we’d spend a lot of time in, so I got the banana he did for the Velvet Underground album cover (also one of my favorite bands in college) with the A next to it for Andy (and my best friend, Amber).” Sarah, 29, New York
Doc says: This woman identifies a good deal with the intellectual and artsy life. The meanings are somewhat personal and hard to identify if you don’t know her. Perhaps she likes being mysterious and opaque, like modern art itself.
We say: Very cool, and definitely worth asking about. Warning: Though not true for Sarah, if a girl has initials or a letter as part of her tattoo, it could be in reference to an ex. Watch out for him to come up at some point.
She says: “I wanted a tattoo about my sexuality, and my pride in it, but I wanted a different way of showing it. I picked 3 flowers, which I found online and edited so they weren’t too spread out to get tattoos on my hip. Each of the flowers is a color of the Bisexual Pride flag: pink, purple, and blue (same order as the flag). I added the Chinese symbols for pride, and a symbol for bisexuality, to add to its uniqueness.” Tracy, 22, New York
Doc says: This tattoo symbolizes a signal point in Tracy’s struggle to be who she is sexually, and a statement of her uniqueness. The flowers don’t touch, and yet they must not be “too spread out.” She has accepted her bisexuality, but her ability to be emotionally close to others is something she is still working on.
We say: Calling your bluff if you didn’t think of a threesome when you saw the three flowers. And it might not be out of the question…
She says: “It was a point in my life where I decided that I didn’t want to be the person that I once was. My Genesis rib tattoo symbolizes a new beginning.” Courtney, 20, Illinois
Doc says: One can’t help but be struck by the religious connotations, and the literalness of the tattoo. No doubt it does signify what Courtney says. When she says “new beginning,” she means transformation. She is still in the process.
We say: Watch out for this girl (in a good way). She’s become a new person and isn’t turning back. Bring some positive energy to the table and you might get to use some of it on the table.
She says: “I have a heart with a rose and stem through it above my right breast. At the time, it was a remembrance of the broken heart. To me it means “every rose has its thorns.” Renee, 26, Georgia
Doc says: The tattoo often is a symbol which acts to express the totality of an experience or a relationship. Here, Renee displays for the world her shame over her lost love, but also her victory over that shame.
We say: Any girl with a tattoo of something piercing a heart has been seriously hurt. So help her mend her heart, dude. When you learn what that other guy did, don’t do it!
She says: “I got this on my arm because it’s an African symbol that means God’s protection and wisdom. To me, it’s my amulet or talisman and it reminds me that no matter what happens, I will be ok.” Erin, 39, California
Doc says: Erin needed an amulet or talisman. It’s interesting how many tattoos are used by women as some kind of magical protection, not least because women are much more vulnerable to attack and hurt in the world.
We say: If you send this girl a similar signal of protectiveness—listening, a warm hug, defending her from a sloppy drunk—only good things can happen.
She says: “My husband got his tattoo on his wrist when he was stationed in Japan, so I copied him. It is my connection to him.” Lydia, 21, Texas
Doc says: Lydia’s description seems sincere to me. Sealing in the flesh one’s bond to another is one of the powerful magnetic draws of getting a tattoo.
We say: Stars are a simple, yet meaningful symbol. Don’t try to steal this girl’s spotlight. Let her shine, and she will shine for you.
She says: “I got angels on my shoulder when my three best friends moved away. Each angel is a different color, and they symbolize us watching each others back.” Rose, 25, Pennsylvania
Doc says: The idea that they must watch each other’s backs has significance in that the three friends must have experienced the world as a dangerous place. Look for this woman to test your trustworthiness.
We say: This girl is connected to her girlfriends in a very powerful way. The horns indicate they’re no angels. Do not cross her, or you might be looking at a drive-by.
She says: “This tattoo is in French and translates to ‘fear imprisons, faith liberates.’ I just got out of a nine-year relationship and its my motto. It took me a long time to finally leave because I was scared. This reminds me that it’s all going to be ok with faith in God.” Katherine, 31, New York
Doc says: The experience was harrowing. This tattoo is a talisman, and putting it in French is a way of psychologically distancing or intellectualizing the experience. Katherine did persevere, but she didn’t get out without some scars.
We say: This girl made a mistake, but is now free. Free and ready to mingle with a guy who won’t scare her, maybe you. Also, it probably wouldn’t hurt to drop a little French on her.
She says: “I wanted something big, and my lower back was the perfect place. I don’t really feel like I get judged for having it. People say it’s a tramp stamp, but most of the people I know have one.” Amber, 23, Florida
Doc says: For Amber, it was important to find a way to make her sexuality clean, so vaguely vaginal imagery is combined with innocence (dolphins) and the beauty of a sun.
We say: It’s trashy-hot, yes, but it’s not necessarily a bull’s eye. She has probably endured so many comments about it that you’re best bet may be to not say a word, and simply see where the night takes you.
…As for the “We will all laugh at gilded butterflies” adorning Megan Fox’s right shoulder blade? A loose quote from King Lear. Which means this chick reads Shakespeare, dude. Or at least wants you to think she does. Our advice? If you see such an obscure literary tattoo, don’t ask, but rather, surreptitiously Google on your phone. If you can correctly ID an odd tat’s origin, and talk intelligently about it, you’ll score major points.