This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.
Life offers second chances, but not when it comes to your first tattoo. Once you have it, that's it. You were young, nervous, possibly drunk. You knew you wanted a tattoo but didn't know exactly what—and the result is now stuck with you forever. You may change it into something else at some point, or just consider your next tat better—but the first one stays with you. If you're unlucky, you'll have a mark of shame for the rest of your days.
I asked a few people to talk me through their terrible first tattoos, and heard heartbreaking stories about drunk tattoo artists, expired ink, and crudely drawn genitals.
VICE: Tell me what happened there around your nipple.
Merlijn: My first tattoo was inspired by David Bowie and my old nickname, "Thunder Tits." Some friends of mine played in a band, and they had a song about a superhero called Thunder Tits, who shot lightning out of her chest. They asked me to play her onstage during a show, and it became my nickname.
A few months later, I decided to get Bowie's iconic thunderbolt on my chest, with my nipple replacing his eye. A colleague of mine was willing to do it with a borrowed tattoo kit, in exchange for two six-packs of beer and a bottle of vodka.
How did it go down?
We met at the home of the guy who owned the tattoo kit. But we were off to a false start when it turned out that the red ink had gone bad. I had to wait for the guy to travel to the other side of town to get new ink, which took three hours. Meanwhile, I got more and more nervous and started drinking the vodka I'd brought.
When we finally got to it, I quickly realized that my design was a bit too much for a first timer—I couldn’t handle the pain. So we stopped halfway through. It's been a year and a half now, and I keep postponing finishing the thing.
Do you have any regrets?
I'm not sure—afterward, I found out the lightning bolt was only the third tattoo my colleague had ever done. He also hadn’t slept the night before, apparently.
Have you learned anything from this experience?
Not really. I later had a friend stick and poke the image of a toothbrush on my calf—though a real tattoo shop helped me fix it a bit.
VICE: Hi, Megan. Ouch!
Megan: Yeah, I know, it looks like a three-year-old with a ballpoint had a tantrum on my ribs, doesn’t it?
I work in a bar in Laos, and my colleagues and I planned to get the bar’s logo as a tattoo. We drew straws to see who had to go first, and I lost. Because tattoos are illegal in Laos, we had to do it in a shady bar. I was nervous all the way through, so the tattoo artist gave me a lot of whisky and some shots to calm me down. By the time we started, I was totally drunk and didn’t notice that the artist was also quite drunk. Afterward, when my friends saw my ink, they all backed out. So now I’m the only one with this ugly tattoo.
Weren’t you mad at them?
Not really—I probably would've done the same thing. I did regret getting it at first, but now I think it’s actually quite funny. I might have it fixed when I go home to the Netherlands, but it’s also a nice memory of my time in Laos.
VICE: Who’s Henk?
Manon: This here is my ex’s name, in the ugliest of all fonts.
Tell me more.
I was 18 and on vacation with some friends. I’d had a boyfriend for four months and missed him so much. I called him every day and cried all the time. Very pathetic, I know, but I was 18. There was this tattoo parlor on one of the beaches, packed with 18-year-olds lining up to get inked for the first time. I was one of them, and of course, I thought this boyfriend was the love of my life. None of my friends tried to stop me.
Do you regret it?
We had a great relationship for almost four years and split up amicably. I’m not super sorry when I see the tattoo, but I do regret it a bit—there's no getting around the fact that it says “Henk” on my foot. I’m lucky I'm Dutch, and the sun’s out for only about three days a year here, so most of the time other people don’t see it.
You have a second tattoo, right?
To be honest, I regret that one more. It’s a badly drawn peace sign on my left wrist. I’d probably get rid of that one before "Henk," because I can't really hide it.
Wouldn’t you rather cover it up with something else?
No, because I’ll end up regretting the thing I cover it up with, too. I know myself.
Watch: DIY: Homemade Tattoos
VICE: How did this happen?
Jonna: When I was 19 and studying to be an illustrator, we had an assignment where we had to make a wall painting for a theater in Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands. We projected a sketch on the wall, and at one point when I was standing in front of this wall, part of the sketch was projected on my back. One of my friends saw this little house in the projection, drew it on with a pen, and later suggested that I get it permanently inked.
What did the people at the tattoo shop think of it?
They just laughed at me. They made me pay up front because they didn’t believe I actually wanted to get it done. I got a bit annoyed and even started an argument with them about how art doesn't always have to be aesthetically pleasing.
So you don’t regret it?
No. I’m still happy with it. Why should tattoos be pretty? I even started an Instagram account for my tattoo because my artistic friends—and even strangers at parties—like to draw all kinds of stuff around it.
VICE: What’s going on here?
Nicole: About a year ago, a tattoo artist ran a contest on Facebook where you could win a tattoo for just $30. A friend of mine won, but I asked the artist if I could come along and get one for the same price, and he was cool with it.
What happened next?
The guy normally works at a tattoo shop, but for ours, we went to his house. He didn’t ask me for my ID—I guess he assumed I was a bit older. My friend went first, and her tattoo looked fine, so I trusted him. But halfway through mine, he said: "Oops, I've messed up a bit." He tried to fix it by making the letters and the sign a bit bolder.
Were you happy with it?
When I got home, I thought it looked OK—but it has some mistakes, like the random floating "I." It sucks, but I’ll try to have it fixed one day.
VICE: What’s that thing on your calf?
Martijn: I was at a house party once, where one guy had brought his tattoo gun. I was like, "A free tattoo, why not?" I wanted something I thought I would like for the rest of my life, so I decided to get a drawing of a vulva.
Who made the design?
I found a piece of paper at the party and made everyone take a shot at it. The only instruction I gave was that I wanted the labia to be as big as possible. In the end, I had to pick between my own drawing and that of my friend Lisa. After consulting my sisters via text, I picked Lisa’s design.
Do you have any regrets?
No. I always knew the tattoo was really stupid. I can have a good laugh about it, and that’s what counts. Most people only see that it's a vulva after I tell them. And if I ever regret it, I can always turn it into some kind of insect, I guess.