Author | Photos Gabriel Nunes

Pain & Pleasure: Why Do We Choose To Get Inked?

It’s my body and I’ll do what I want with it. From the moment I sit down into that chair and feel the cool leather against the warmth of my bare back, to the final seconds when I’m getting bandaged and eagerly strutting off to the bar for that celebratory “new ink” beer (don’t act like you don’t know about this step), the process of being tattooed can be an incredibly pleasurable experience.

Getting inked holds a very different meaning for those hopping into the chair than it did decades ago. The stereotypes attached to folks who decide to take the permanent plunge are slowly fading. No, I am not straight out of prison or connected to any gang (thank goodness these old-school assumptions are slowly being kicked out the door). So why do so many of us willingly sign up to have tiny pulsating needles dig into our skin over and over—for hours? As Margot Mifflin writes in Bodies of Subversion, “Tattoos are diary entries and public announcements, conversation pieces and counter-cultural totems, valentines to lovers, memorials to the dead and reminders to self.”

The Pain

While I agree with Margot to some extent, I am also aware that we all have different thresholds for pain, and I personally like to see how far I can push that threshold. We all do this in various daily activities but probably don’t notice. We work out and push ourselves to increase the weight on those barbells and we fight the pain. Faces clenched, veins bulging—why?

I believe in the pain for pleasure and art theory (and yeah, it’s my own theory, so don’t expect any footnotes). What are we getting out of this seemingly torturous experience? Pain and pleasure kind of seem to go hand in hand. That old cliché that we have to suffer for our art; we have to earn it. It’s still very relevant today, especially as it pertains to getting tattooed.

The Pleasure

Between the thirty-second intervals of shooting bolts of pain, there are these glorious four-second bursts of sheer numbness and heat at the same time. I can obviously only speak for myself, but a few people have tweeted me in agreement. After the pain there’s actually a super relaxing tingle on the skin. There is a pleasure in this process if you are open to it.

For me, the buzzing sound of the needle combined with having that one-on-one attention adds to the “feel goodness” of getting inked. All of the attention is on me. For hours. It makes for quite the spa day, if you ask me. There’s something to that. For someone who constantly shares space, having an activity that is all about me and my skin is priceless.

The Art

There is still an art to all of this. Let’s not forget to talk about the fact that not just anyone can tattoo. Today’s tattoo artists take their work seriously and Canada has a talented pool of artists from which to choose. Aren’t we lucky?

In thinking about all the reasons folks today get tattooed, the forever-ness is also part of the appeal. How many things can you buy that are forever?

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