All About Identity: To Find Meaning in Popular Tattoo Designs


Anyone who says that tattooing is not an art form is living in the past. Today, the discipline of tattooing is very much regarded as similar to the practice required of painters, which basically means that some level of artistry is demanded. Imagine how a tattoo artist is given the opportunity to claim one’s body as a blank canvas for art.And while this does ring true to some extent, how romanticized is this type of thinking, right?But a lot of teenagers and young adults, and even tattoo artists, see tattooing this way – and it isn’t wrong at all.In fact, it is this romanticizing of tattooing that has helped it transform. By asserting that there is meaning in a tattoo design, drawn and made permanent on one’s body, we are then assigning some artistic value to the piece.

Whang-OdIn the Philippines, for example, a “mambabatok” like Whang-Od is highly in demand for the significance of tattooing to the culture and history of her province’s tribe. Getting a tattoo from the legendary Whang-Od has become a novelty-of-sorts, wherein tourists and city kids flock to the mountains of Banaue to have the 98-year-old poke their skins for her signature dots – among many other eclectic designs. The different tattoo designs rendered by Od may have different meanings, but they can all be representative of the journey. Indeed, getting inked by Whang-Od does equate to having a piece of history made permanent on your skin. The value of a tattoo from the OG mambabatok is just priceless.

That being said, people get tattoos for various reasons. Some get them on a whim, like right after a night of hardcore drinking, while others take years to decide. All things considered, given the permanence of a tattoo and the need to showcase it occasionally, people get tattoos in hopes that they are cementing, if not reinforcing,their identity. I guess you can call it “self-branding.”

Given this purpose, and provided that there are a gazillion tattoos in the world, it cannot be avoided that several designs are repeated.Here, we take a look and try to understand the meaning behind these popular tattoo designs. Of course, it is but natural that the youths of today are the driving force behind the rise in tattoos. We can source this in the boom of social media, because a beautifully made tattoo will definitely make for an awesome photo on their Facebook or Instagram feed, except maybe, for a few handful whohave ragrets.

Kidding aside, some of the more prevalent tattoo designs that the kids want include:

  • Flying birds can have several meanings to a person, but they commonly denote cliché attitudes such as value for freedom, one’s independence, or leaving toxic situations. These designs are usually seen in the wrists, arms, collar and shoulder area. What makes birds such a popular design can be sourced from this generation’s yearning to “get away” from what they perceive as a depressing life. We often see this type of design on the kids of Tumblr and Pinterest.
  • Crosses crossesare also among the top tattoo designs. This is largely due to the fact that the cross is a religious symbol, which can only further the point that despite the conservative nature of one’s faith and belief in God, tattoos are now socially accepted. It is either the churchgoers or religion-haters who get cross tattoos. The former is self-explanatory, but the latter can be deciphered as one’s attitude towards the whole concept of a higher being. To turn a religious symbol into a commonplace image is to nullify its power.
  • Flower tattoos are picking up as well. Popular designs feature the following flowers: rose, lotus, peony, cherry blossom, sunflower, and lily.While there are many other flower designs, the aforementioned ones are the most ubiquitous designs out there. Roses often symbolize love and romantic concepts. A February baby can also choose a red rose tattoo to commemorate Valentine’s Day, the month’s universally celebrated occasion. The thorns on a rose’s stem can also be a symbol for pain.

    A lotus is also a common design, given the many stories, parables, and sayings that make mention of the flower. It can represent the beauty in blooming, a symbol for endurance.

    The peony and cherry blossom are reoccurring tattoo designs specific to the Japanese. The cherry blossom, in particular, is said to be an embodiment of happiness in Japan. Its cultural significance to the land of the rising sun is undeniable, and many people would naturally want to have the design, given the peaceful, fleeting elegance of its petals floating in the air. Often, floral tattoos come in a variety of colors.

  • To say that tattoos of animals are a common sight is an understatement. Flying birds serve as the top example to prove this point. Like flowers, animals carry so much more significance to people, especially since they have connections to nearly all the stuff we grew up with. From movies to songs, trips to exotic places, the countries we’ve lived in, and even the Zodiac, we can easily relate animals to our deepest attitudes and characteristics.

    lion  tattooA lion tattoo, for example, can be symbolic of a myriad of things. Power, courage, strength, and nobility are just a few meanings behind a lion tattoo.

    A wolf tattoo, on the other hand, can be a symbol for one’s independence and lonesome nature. As mentioned, the appearance of an animal like the wolf in many children’s stories reinforces the design as an image that many can relate to. Native Americans, for instance, see the wolf as a totem spirit, one that is symbolical of loyalty and perseverance.

  • And lastly, in case you weren’t aware, a Jaden Smith tattoo is quite a popular design. In fact, one of the leads from the reality TV comedy, Impractical Jokers, Sal Vulcano, sports a portrait of Will Smith’s celebrity-rapper son on his left thigh. Why? Because why not?A Jaden Smith tattoo makes for a very good example, given the complex mind of the known “Twitter philosopher.” We’ll just need to find more people who are proud of getting Jaden Smith’s face inked on their skins and showing them off…

Conclusively, tattoos, like any other visual art form, is a constantly changing field. Tattoo artists keep pushing the boundaries of what they can do with the art form. And while the craft may change, tattooing has already broken through into the mainstream, and is now widely accepted, so who are we to say that an explosion of Jaden Smith tattoos will never come to fruition?

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