It’s Okay For A Tattoo To Be Expensive

It’s on your body forever, so it’s worth it.

I still love it just the same.

A friend and I got matching tattoos one winter on an almost-whim. It was her idea, but I wanted it too, so we picked out something small and discreet and tasteful — two interlocking triangles, on the inside of our right wrist — and spent an afternoon walking through the East Village, trying to figure out where.

The design itself was small, but required precision. The lines of the triangles should be straight and clear; the angles should be sharp. Calling around to various shops to see who would take us, we happened upon one and asked for an estimate.

“For that design, I think we could do that for $80,” the guy told us. We thanked him and walked outside to discuss.

“That feels like…a lot,” I said.

We both agreed and so we went to a different place, on St. Marks, a street lined with sunglass vendors, bad vintage shops and a booth that sells only socks. It was the kind of place you’d go if you were drunk on St. Patrick’s Day and wanted a four leaf clover tattooed on your hip. We paid $60 each — $20 less than the original quote — and left with two tattoos that were just fine.

The lines on mine aren’t quite straight. One is a little thinner than the other. In comparison to the other tattoos I have, it’s smaller, but of a lesser quality. It doesn’t bother me; it serves as a reminder of a friendship that I cherish and any perceived or actual imperfections represent the ebb and flow of that which it represents. But in the few week after I got it, I would look at it and think to myself, We should’ve sprung for the other place. This should have cost a little more money.

Tattoos are permanent and largely irreversible, unless you want to sink money and time into removal. None of the tattoos I have are regrettable to the point where I want them gone. Some are just nicer than the others. My reluctance to spend large amounts of money on bodily modifications that feel, at best, like permanent accessories has waned. If something is going to be visible and on my flesh for the rest of my life, it might as well look good — and I should be happy with it.

You get what you pay for, they say, and with a tattoo, half the experience is the emotional association you have with the art you’ve put on your body. Permanence is terrifying; the first tattoo I got cost $275 and is in a prominent place on my body, unapologetically visible and present. I saved for that tattoo, agonizing over the design for months, fully aware of the fact that it would be on my body for the rest of my life. Once it was over, the permanence didn’t bother me. I liked it just fine and, if you do the math, it’s already paid for itself.

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