I Regret: My Tattoos

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I regret my tattoos. I never wanted to be one of those people who hated their tattoos, but there it is, I regret them.

My tattoos are in no way boring or clichéd. In fact, they are very distinctive… partly because I did them all myself with a safety pin and India ink in true jailhouse style. I’ve never been incarcerated, I’m not quite that much of a rebel, but for most of my teenage years I sure felt like I was doing hard time and I decided to give myself the tattoos to show it.

I no longer remember exactly why I decided it would be a good idea to lock myself in my mother’s bathroom during the wee hours of the morning to tattoo ‘Kill Fuck Die’ on my left forearm, or why I thought that a biohazard symbol and an inexpertly-rendered pinup would be an attractive addition to my left shoulder. I have other tattoos, I do actually like a few of the smaller ones, but those three are the worst and the ones that I honestly cannot believe ever seemed like a good idea

Like most people, I spent my teenage years trying to be someone I am not and never have been, but unlike a lot of girls who try their best to be perfect and popular, I went in the opposite direction. Between the ages of fourteen and seventeen, I tried my damndest to tread upon the sense of propriety that my parents had instilled in me, to avoid traditional beauty, both my own and that of others, and to systematically attempt to ruin every bit of the small amount of privilege and opportunity I had been lucky enough to be born with.

I made my first attempts into self-tattooing when I was fourteen and my success was very limited. None of the how-to guides I found on the internet mentioned how important it was to wrap the needle with thread, and I ended up with a lot of blurry disasters that were fairly easy to ignore despite the fact that they were of such poor quality.

When I was sixteen, I started hanging out with a lot of train-hopping travelers who taught me to do stick-and-poke tattoos properly. Suddenly my whole body was a canvas on which I could express not the beauty I so desperately wanted to see, but all of the senseless rage I felt towards the world for not understanding me. …And the rage I felt towards myself for not understanding the world.

I think, on some level, I knew I would grow up and grow out of my angst, but on another level I didn’t really want to and maybe I saw tattoos as a way of freezing myself in time, forcing myself to never change because–despite the fact that I was miserable–I was also sure that any change would only be for the worse. If it was this difficult to go from being a child to being a teenager, how terrible would it be to go from being a teenager to an adult?

I did change though, and I would say I changed for the better. At the ripe old age of 22, I’m mostly comfortable in my own skin, the only things holding me back are the old blue tattoos that have made my transition to adulthood so much harder than it had to be. Because of them, I’ve held very few ‘normal’ jobs; instead I’ve worked as a prostitute, an artist’s model, a phone sex operator, and a stripper. I don’t regret my career choices by any means, and I probably would have pursued such work regardless of what body modifications or lack thereof I possessed but I do wish that I had kept other doors open for myself.

Eventually I will have enough money for the very expensive removal process but, for the time being, my tattoos broadcast the sentiments of an angry child to the world. I’m neither angry, nor am I a child any longer. I look at a series of photographs I took when I was fifteen and I don’t just see the scared little girl scowling from under my mop of black Joan Jett hair, I see my blank white skin and I wish with all my heart that I had given my future self a chance and never chosen to cover my body with pointless and impotent rage.

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    • Anne

      I just want you to know that to me it shows you are a very strong person. If you have the balls to tattoo yourself in your moms bathroom at such a young age, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. You will be just fine, methinks.

      • Aboutthat…

        Being rebellious in no way means a person can accomplish anything you set your mind to… If that were the case, I highly doubt she’d be having sex for money or work in the stripper or phone sex business… Its sad, really. Maybe she COULD have accomplished anything, but it doesn’t seem like she had the motivation or the self respect to make anything of herself other than a washed up ex-prostitute once her body starts going downhill… Hope you don’t end up spending too much of your life in jail.

      • Jamie Peck

        Holy shit, dude. I don’t know if you’re a troll or a sincere person or what, but around here we respect sex workers and think that everyone we publish has a valid story to share. I think it was brave of Cathryn to own up to her mistakes, and she has clearly grown as a person since then. Sex work is work just like any other work, and in many cases it’s harder work than most. I’m not sure what you have against sex workers but it’s not cool to judge people based on the tough choices they make to get by.

      • Jennifer Wright

        High fiving Jamie Peck through the Internet.

      • Ashley Cardiff

        I hope it’s a troll. I hate to think real people not only feel this way but would say it to someone.

    • Lindsey

      I’m not sure where you live but there are programs where you can get your tattoos removed on the cheap. Technically they are for ex-gang members trying to get rid of gang tattoos, but some are open to the community.

      Good luck!

    • Lizzie

      Out of curiosity because I don’t know much about the prostitute/stripper businesses: what are you going to do once you get genuinely old and aren’t beautiful anymore? Do you make enough money that you’ll be able to retire?

    • Aboutthat…

      Sorry if my comment seems harsh, but I grew up in a terrible situation and grew up feeling like a complete outcast. I could have taken her route and hooked to pay the bills and do other illegal/negative work to make a living, but instead I decided to work my ass off in college… I had the balls to rebel like any other rebellious teen, but I didn’t let that force me into shit work and a shitty life. I pity this girl. Thats not much of a life to live, and your line of work, if you’re still doing it, is quite a dangerous one. ANYONE can go to some sort of college- and don’t blame money since you can get federal student loans to attend college- and ANYONE can make something of themselves, even if it isn’t something like becoming a doctor or a lawyer. Just respect yourself enough to DO something with your life. I have no respect for people who just take the easy way out, especially when its something as lowly as prostitution.

      • Cassandra M.

        Your level of prejudice against sex work is sickening. Cathryn is my closest friend, & she has ALWAYS enjoyed sex work, as she states in the article. There are many prostitutes, strippers, dommes, & other sex workers who truly love what they do. It is only demeaning if you demean yourself in the process.

        Also, she never said she didn’t attend college. She has. She may not have traditional career goals, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t attempting to make something of her life. Self-respect does NOT equal living a traditional life according to other people’s standards. I can guarantee you this woman has never sold out & has more personal integrity that anyone who lives life based on society’s accepted standards.

      • Cathryn

        I think it’s generally considered bad form to respond to negative comments on things that have been published on the internet, but I feel that I need to make it very clear that sex work is in no way lowly, nor is it the easy way out of anything. In addition to this, there are lots and lots of sex workers with degrees, and although I am not yet one of them, I will be soon. Just because something is illegal, that doesn’t make it negative or immoral.

      • Lisa

        “Just because something is illegal, that doesn’t make it negative or immoral.”

        I love this sentiment. I wish more people could understand the difference between ethics and legality. And morality, for that matter. I have a lot of respect for people who maintain their own moral code, and don’t let the law or public perceptions about morality interfere with it. It takes courage and conviction to operate outside of a flawed culture, and it improves the culture for everyone.

        Anyway, I totally relate to what you wrote about eschewing conventional beauty ideals. I know I’ve let that limit me in some ways, and I can understand your tattoo regret. But on the other hand, it’s impossible to know how things would have turned out otherwise. Perhaps in some way your tattoos protected you against something, or spurred you to grow in ways you might not have. It’s easy to look at doors that closed and imagine a great opportunity cost, but you can’t predict what might have happened.

    • Jamie Peck

      Have you considered a cover up tattoo of something else? Stick and pokes are generally pretty easy to cover up because they tend to be lighter than most tattoos due to inexpert application. If you’re in NYC I can recommend some people who do beautiful cover up work. My friend Jess has done some great cover ups, check her out:

      • Cathryn

        Thank you!
        I’m actually in Chicago, but I have considered some coverup work. Unfortunately, as inexpert as my application was, where they are dark, they are very, very dark and the people I’ve talked to have said they’d be hard (although not impossible! yay!) to cover up. The main thing holding me back from a coverup right now though is that I’m so tattoo-shy at this point that I almost am afraid to get anything else because I worry that I will come to dislike the coverup almost as much as the original tattoo. This is clearly something I need to work out.

      • meteor_echo

        Try thinking of it that way: you did the first tattoos (the ones you regret) by yourself without any experience. The cover-up ones will be done by a professional (and I’d really suggest going to the best artist you know – not only for the sake of a good cover-up, but for the sake of your personal security in terms of getting a good result). I’m sure that a professional’s work won’t be worse than a novice’s work.
        I hope it all turns out well for you :)

    • Cassandra M.

      I find it frustrating that people are disregarding the entire point of this post. Cathryn never said she regrets her sex work. She actually blatantly says she does not. This article is about regretting the ink she’s put on her own body, the motivations behind it, the doors that are closed to her now because of it.

      While it is easy to sit back & judge her, none of you actually know her. I do. If you had ANY clue who this young woman is compared to the girl she was when I met her, you would view things much differently. Her tattoos (the actual focus of this essay) actually DO limit her job options because they are all over both arms, her hands, her legs, even high up on her chest. Unless she wants to get a job wearing a burqa, people will continue to judge her as a potential employee based on those tattoos. Also, her tattoos are a constant reminder of someone who was miserable, not because of sex work, but because of so many other mental anguishes. She is not that person any more, & her regret is that she has practically permanent reminders of that mentality with her at all times.

      Please, recognize the focus of her essay, & don’t make it about your narrow-minded, sex-shaming viewpoints. You are completely missing the point.

    • Christian Rodriguez

      Cate, I’ve had the pleasure to get to know you some the past year and I must say, you are a divine, intelligent, intriguing, and beautiful young woman. I have no doubt in my mind that you will excel in whatever passion you decide to proceed with. You have a lot of drive and I admire that about you. I also admire your sickening sense of style. No matter what your past is, always focus on the present and of course the future. The past can’t be erased but the future is for you to create and I know you’re going to be phenomenal. I have so much faith in you. Keep on keepin’ on.

    • Sabrina

      To Cathryn: Thanks for sharing your personal story, it was refreshing to hear someone be so honest about their regrets and their tattoos.

      To other commentors who are hating on sex workers, and focusing all their energy on being negative towards other human beings: keep it to yourself. There is nothing wrong with sex work. Even if you believe there is and are judging other people, you don’t need to spread your vileness here, especially on a personal piece someone wrote about their life. Open your minds and your hearts.

    • Taylor V.

      This comment is directed entirely toward “Aboutthat…” and I apologize both to fellow readers and to my friend Cate for deviating from the initial subject of her article.
      It baffles me that you should feel such a strong need to tear down complete strangers behind a wall of anonymity. It baffles me that you are unable to see the mature young woman that Cate is from the article she wrote. But what truly strikes me is your anger regarding an industry that you presumably have no experience in. You say that my friend has accomplished nothing in life but I can tell you that could not be further from the truth. Not only has she accomplished a great deal in her young life, she has accomplished it through sheer willpower and perseverance. There is nothing “sad” about the sex work she has enjoyed. Sex is BEAUTIFUL and so is Cate, and despite your accusations it is evident from the hatred you spew at strangers online that she has more self-respect than you ever will. What’s particularly alarming is the holier-than-thou faux-concerned angle you approach your comments from. There is no way in hell that you would gather enough information about one person from such a short article to be able to predict their future in such a manner, and nothing about your attitude implies any inherent right to pass such judgement. I deeply, genuinely hope that as you mature you will gain the self-awareness that Cate has in spades and see some areas in which your passion can be put to better use.

    • G

      I love you guys.

      • G

        Eh, meant to be a reply to the good sassing Jamie Peck and Jennifer Wright just gave “Aboutthat”.

    • CC

      From the looks of it, most of your tattoos could easily be covered up by a blazer or a cardigan sweater. Rather than make yourself miserable trying to remove the tats, why not just wear clothing the completely covers it up? If you wear light enough fabrics, it should still be comfortable wear in the summer. I think your tats are pretty, and that you should be able to do whatever job you enjoy be it sex work or office work. Lasering can be painful and costly and not 100% effective, so you might be better-off getting cover-up tats for the designs you really dislike. Then maybe use blazers/sweaters for situations where you think you might be judged for your body art, and then reveal your art to people who you trust not to care, since anyone worth hanging out with won’t care.

    • Sugar

      I think you should just add some words … “Don’t” kill, “Always” fuck, “Eventually” die… that could work! I’m sure of it.

      • Erin

        haha love it!

    • rose

      Point Team Me: I didn’t think twice about the sex work stuff until the comment section. How nonjudgmental I am!

      Point Against Team Me: I am so judgmental, guys; how I do rue and despise my nature.. I hate bad tattoos, and it’s very difficult for me to not make broad and unflattering character assumptions about the majority of people I see who decided to pay money to permanently place an uninspired inspirational phrase, boy/girlfriend’s name, or piece of clip art on the body. Don’t get me wrong, some tattoos are beautiful or clever. Most are not. I give this lady credit for DIY and being a kid; if you went to a shop and exchanged currency for a heart, red rose, barbed wire, angel, butterfly, anarchy symbol or “tribal” theme, you better have a really strong CV.

      Please, PLEASE don’t get an Asian script tattoo unles you have a legitimate connection with that language. I’ve seen plenty of white people sporting jibberish. I’ve met tattoo artists who offered to write my name for me in the “Chinese kanji” alphabet. If you don’t know what’s wrong with that statement, don’t get that tattoo!

    • Cathryn

      I’m voting for this one as the best because it is so very clear that Cathryn has taken a good hard look at her life and decided she wanted to turn it around-including her appearance. Tattoos are not necessarily liberating, which I think is one of the many reasons people want them. Although they can be useful in making strong personal statements about oneself. The problem is that then one has to live with the permanent personal statement. The obviously angry person who made those tattoos, has become a much wiser person. She’s learned a valuable lesson through these misguided tattoos about life in the usual workforce, self expression and the need to think about the future before taking a course of action-because even the simplest choices can have long standing consequences. The other essays are compelling, but I truly think this one shows the most most growth and the largest number of lessons learned at a young age. It can’t have been easy but the wisdom acquired is very admirable.

    • dfg

      Poor girl…thank you that you’ve written this, I was thinking about getting a tattoo, but because of this article, I’ve changed my mind. I hope you’ll remove all your tattoos and in the future you’ll find a job you like

    • RedoMyTattoo

      “NOW CASTING: Big Personalities with Bad Tattoos!

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      A major production company in New York City is currently working on an exciting new show! We are seeking dynamic and unique individuals who would like the opportunity to have a complete tattoo do-over. You could be selected to tell your story, and have Las Vegas’s premier tattoo expert transform your mess of a tattoo into an exquisite masterpiece. This is an opportunity to fix that eyesore and show off the new, improved, tattooed you! The bigger, funnier and crazier the story of how the bad tattoo came to be – the better!

      If you or someone you know is right for this new show, we want to hear from you! Please send us a photo of yourself (head to toe if possible), a photo of the tattoo(s), and a bit about how you got it. For more information and to speak with a casting producer, please email RedoMyTattoo@gmail.com