Why Do People Get Star Tattoos?
“Quod est ante pedes nemo spectat: coeli scrutantur plagas.”
(No one sees what is before his feet: we all gaze at the stars.)– Marcus Tullius Cicero
Bod mod elitists have always made fun of people with modifications they feel have become “common” and moved into the mainstream. In the past (and still now), the legions of people wandering about with kanji symbols tattooed on them became objects of derision, accused of wearing what they didn’t understand or relate to because someone told them it was the cool thing to do. Similar accusations of mutilatory exercises in conformity have been leveled at those with star tattoos, as over the past five years stars have become perhaps the single most common piece of tattoo iconography.
Can star tattoos still have meaning — or did they ever? Why do people get star tattoos anyway? Are they just going with the flow? Have they devalued over time like a Right Said Fred CD? Earlier this year I started asking people why they got their star tattoos; below are some of the answers I got in their own words, along with the tattoos those people wear (click to view them). Decide for yourself if they took their skin seriously enough for you to judge them from your ivory tower.
Sarah is “an artist of sorts” from the UK who draws lots of flash for friends and has an online clothing store. She’s been getting tattooed since she was fifteen and loves being part of such a rich and varied community. She’s also a vegetarian, involved in animal rights, and (surprised?) loves travel and music. She’s still deciding whether she wants to be a tattoo artist or a bag lady when she finally grows up.
I have earlier star tattoos, but they are just simple ones, more for decoration and to fill space. But I’ve always liked stars for their aesthetic qualities — they look very neat and clean. They can be endlessly changed and altered in almost any way to suit any tastes. I also love the idea of tattooed stars relating to real stars, and the relation to the universe and space. It’s a reminder of how small we are within everything that exists and gives me a certain amount of peace of mind that what I do is ultimately unimportant.
This star you’re asking me about was designed by Alison Manners at Ultimate Skin in Leeds. I found a basic star design with an oldschool rose inside it; she redrew it perfectly for me. I chose the color because I love pink and am a bit of a girly-girl, and leopard print because I relate it to pin up girls (something I love), and also to nature. My boyfriend suggested getting it on the front of my shoulder, at the far side of my chest, but I felt it wouldn’t really fit with the chest piece which I have designed. I had always wanted a rose on my sternum, right in my cleavage because it would be very private, and also very suggestive, to show that I am a sexual person. A star with a rose in it would fit perfectly, so it was pretty easy to place it.
Not too many people have seen it because of its location, but obviously I’ve shown it to my friends. They all really liked it when they first saw it, and expected that it was pretty painful to get done. The biggest reaction was from myself, because I was surprised at how different I felt after having it done. It’s the first tattoo I’ve had which I can see when I look at myself face-on in the mirror, as most of my tattooing is on my back. I had a great feeling of satisfaction being able to see it all the time, and comfort within myself after it was done. It was like I was becoming more like me. It’s changed the way I think about my body and myself, giving me more confidence and making me more secure with who I am.
Sarah is a twenty year old hairstylist, a profession she chose because it allows her to look how she wants. She also hopes that because the job lets her interact with the public so often that she can change people’s opinions of the modified, because, as she puts it, “I’m such a nice girl!”
It’s not that I specifically liked star tattoos, I just liked stars. When I started high school I would doodle them everywhere and when I was sixteen I drew up the design for my first tattoo, a star with black and white checkers inside it. That design waited, tacked up on my bulletin board until I was almost nineteen and had the opportunity to get it. So now it sits on my left forearm just below the bend of my elbow, and I absolutely love it. I chose to put it on my arm because I didn’t want it to be hidden, I wanted it to be a part of me that people could see.
I have had my checkered star for over a year and a half and I still love it just as much as the first day I got it. I recently got another star tattoo on my back between my shoulder blades. Sometimes people notice the top point of the star coming up the back of my neck and they are curious to find out what it’s connected too. I always show them if they are truly interested and not being rude. I am happy to show them off.
I don’t care what’s popular and what isn’t. I got my star tattoos because I like them and that’s that. Things that other people do rarely affect my decisions on anything, and my tattoos are no different. I think it’s fairly obvious that I do not follow the crowd anyway. Most likely I will be getting more star themed pieces — how could I not? I never worry about them going out of style. It’s never even crossed my mind. As for the way other people see them, I don’t think that in twenty years people will be saying, “Oh, star tattoos are soooo 1998” or whatever. And if they do, well, I just don’t care.
I think it’s really sad that people make fun of star tattoos just because they are popular. Especially in this community where you think people would be more open minded
it’s sad to hear that people get all elitest about it and think “oh she’s not cool, she must have gotten that because everyone else does.” I know it’s been said before but don’t judge people for anything! You don’t ever know where they are coming from and the reasons behind their actions and decisions.
Claudinne is twenty and an officer in the Dominican Republic Army (a Caribbean nation next to Cuba and Jamaica, and bordering Haiti).
I love stars, ever since I was a baby, so, when it was time to decide on a design for my first tattoo, I had no doubt it would be a star. I did some research, drew a couple myself, and then decided to have it put on my back. Everybody just loves it! Here in the Dominiccan Republic I’ve had girls on the street just going crazy over it! I don’t regret doing it at all.
What other people think about star tattoos doesn’t change my feelings. I’m keeping this one and I’m getting more stars as well. Star tattoos will never look outdated, especially when you add details from your own imagination.
Melissa is a nanny by day and Italian photo charm entrepreneur by night with a short fuse for people who don’t use common sense.
I have always loved stars. I love science, and stars are awesome heavenly bodies. To figure out my design I just looked around at some tattoo web sites. I found one that I liked and made it a little more special for me. I wansn’t really sure where to place it, but I always wanted tattoos on my chest, so I took the dive. Didn’t tear up once during it!
My mom hates my tattoos, and a lot of people think where I put them was a bad idea, but I love them and wouldn’t change a thing about them! I don’t care what everyone one else has as tattoos. A lot of people have star tattoos, but they aren’t all the same. There are so many different ones that I don’t think it matters that a lot of people have them.
Darren is an 18 year old living in the small middle of nowhere town of Tipton, California, where he’s lived all his life. He’s been playing guitar for the past five years, and music is something that makes him tick, along with hobbies like restoring muscle cars.
I’ve always been a tattoo person. I like hearing stories about people’s meanings behind the tattoos, and I like it when someone is able to put a meaning behind something that that put on their bodies. I thought about my design and actually going through with it for two years, and decided to have it done on my 18th birthday. Stars are also kind of an attractive shape. They always somehow seem to catch my eye when someone has one tattooed on them. In life I run into some troubled moments. I would sometimes stop my car and pull over on the side of the road on late nights coming home from hanging out with my friends, if something was on my mind. I would stop and get out, and just look into the sky. It’s almost always overcast here and the stars and clouds were just a design that kinda went together, and I figured if I tattooed it on me, it would always remind me of the things I do and why I do them.
I knew that I wanted the stars and clouds, but I wasn’t absolutely sure. I met Keith Duggan from Tiger Rose over in Pismo Beach who helped me work on the design. I chose to put in on my chest pallet and shoulder, just because I figured it’d be a good place to start, and Keith figured it’d probably look better there. My friends thought I was absolutely crazy. It’s just about ten inches in length and covers a pretty good sized area, and none of them have tattoos. They liked how good it looked and they thought that it was really cool, since it wasn’t just a plain star. A lot of people have said that it suits me just because of my personality. I absolutely love the damn thing. I don’t stop getting complimented on it. I’m actually thinking about making it it bigger and maybe even adding some stuff too.
Each and every tattoo I have and will get will be different in some way. Stars tattoos have been around forever. If you like a design that has stars in it, and feel like later on it’ll be out dated, don’t worry about it. If that star means something to you, then by all means go for it. There are some designs that people feel are “played out”. The nautical star for example, is something I hear about all the time. People say it’s played out, some say it’s cool. It all just depends on how you feel. I don’t regret one minute of choosing to put stars in my tattoo though!
Danica is a 29 year old administrative assistant to five oncologists at Vanderbilt University’s Medical Center (so all of her tattoos are in places she can hide). She loves her job but dreams of being a concert photographer. Like many others with star tattoos, she lives her life for music and travel, the most important things in her life other than her friends and family.
When I was ten I got my first telescope and fully intended to be an astronaut or astronomer when I grew up. For years I studied the stars, the sky, the moon, and the planets. It was such an awesome feeling for me to know that there are so many things up there that we’ll never know about. As I grew up I bought material items with stars on them. Star frames, jewelry, pillows, hair pins, and so on. I still do this, but I’m a little more picky now about the style of it.
The second tattoo that I ever got was a fairy sitting on a crescent moon holding a star in her hands. The star was never the main focus of the tattoo, but somehow it became the centerpiece. It was my favorite thing about the tattoo. Some years later, my best friend and I decided to get matching tattoos in which we would design from something I had previously seen on a temporary tattoo template. It was a spiral of stars circling around each other with some lyrics that read “gonna twinkle” (a line from a Tori Amos song). It was special to us in that cheesy way, thinking that no matter where we were (as we live hundreds of miles apart) we’s always be there for each other, somewhere under the same star, twinkling. I know, it’s complete cheese. But it’s cute cheese at least!
My biggest tattoo to date (the one pictured above) has 90 stars in it and one line of lyrics set between each star. I wanted it to look like the Milky Way. I remember in the summer, laying under the stars in my back yard just staring at the Milky Way and thinking how incredible it was. I couldn’t (and still can’t) even put into words what looking at that does to me. So my tattoo artist took into consideration what I wanted and he drew it to paper brilliantly. The lyrics go along with the star theme — “billowing out to somewhere”.
People love this tattoo. I get so many compliments on it several times a week. I haven’t had a negative thing said about it since I’ve had it. As for myself, I am in love with this work of art and I’m very proud to carry it around with me. I’m never going to change the tattoo or get rid of it. All my tattoos are bits of my life embedded into my skin. They represent a time and meaning in my life. If I got rid of them, it would be like erasing my memories.
Ali is a nineteen year old and was working at Burger King when I interviewed her, and assuming her plans went as expected, is just starting college now. Her boyfriend is currently serving in the Army, and Ali looks forward to his return next July.
I’m not sure why I like stars so much. I have stars and moons all over my room and seem to have them everywhere else I can put them! I looked for a long time before I had decided where I wanted it and what I wanted for my first star, a basic pink star with a black outline. When I went to Warped Tour a few days ago a majority of the tattoos I saw were stars — which was cool — but they seemed to be more on guys.
My “American” star was done in honor of my boyfriend and the rest of the people that I know personaly in the military, and is my own design. I’ve never had anyone comment that stars are overrated, but even if they did, I got them because I like them and wouldn’t care what others thought. I think most people have had positive reactions to my stars, and I do plan on getting more.
Janis is a 28 year old South African working at an accounting and auditing firm. While on a two year working holiday in the UK she was bitten by the “tattoo bug.”
My baby sister originally went overseas with me, but didn’t stay long. Once home, we would send each other text messages all the time and one night she said something about the brightest star in the sky and how it was me “watching over her” from far away. From then on, I was her star.
I got my first star, the larger one in the middle of my back, as a birthday present to myself in 2001. Then when I went home for my sister’s 21st birthday in 2002 I twisted her arm to have the same one done.
I got the other three done last year, here in Cape Town as a sort of “new beginning” phase of my life. People’s reactions are mostly “why stars” or just, “shit, that’s awesome”. I don’t always explain the full story to strangers — I just say “because I am a star!” which seems to work.
I only noticed recently how popular stars are, and it makes me feel kind of crappy because I wonder if their stars mean as much to them as mine do to me. When I’m seventy and can just barely turn my body to see my wrinkly stars they will still mean something to me. I’m not going to change them at all, but I am getting the Chinese symbol for star done in a week or so.
Melanie is a twenty year old now in her third year of an English major. She’s still young, mostly just concerned with living a good life, having fun, and effecting some sort of positive change on the world. She’s asked me to point out first that her tattoo is a snowflake that just happens to be star shaped, not a star per se (“dammit!”).
I originally thought of getting a star tattoo on my foot because I liked the look of it, but I held off on it because a star really had no personal meaning for me. I think stars are very strong looking, and they come off as bold on the wearer. Star designs have been around for an awfully long time, and I don’t think they’re going anywhere. I guess I vote that they’re “eternal”. Also, I am a big fan of black tattoos as opposed to color (just on me! color on other people is cool!) and star designs have a tendency to look very sharp and sexy in black. However, I decided to wait and think on the idea, because I just didn’t feel personally connected to stars.
Later, I was flipping through one of my favorite books, called Principia Discordia, when I saw the design. It was a picture of the snowflake, and scrawled next to it were the words “Look for this snowflake — it has magic properties.” Principia Discordia is a funny book about an “anti-religion” called Discordianism, which kind of mocks the concepts of organized religion. It was written in the 60s by a couple of stoners, and it has grown into a sort of sub-culture. It’s hard to tell whether or not the whole so called religion is one big joke or not, but it basically advocates living life your own way with a sense of humor and not taking things too seriously.
I discovered the book when I was in high school, and it was really important because it took up a lot of my time then, and I was really involved in researching the sub-culture aspect of it, and its origins. It helped me to realize a lot of my own beliefs, and understand my opinions a bit better. I always knew I wanted a tattoo from that book (it’s filled with funny pictures and random designs) and when I saw the snowflake, I knew that was it. It had a star-like quality to it, but it wasn’t a star. And according to the book, it had magic properties to boot, so how could I beat that? It was very meaningful to me, so that was it!
Most of my friends aren’t really into tattoos, so they just tell me it’s hot and it looks good, and that’s about the end of it. To me it continues to represent a really cool book and the memory of a period in my life where I experienced a lot of personal growth.
Sarah (I’m beginning to think that name is more popular than star tattoos) is a twenty five year old into music and works for a music label. She’s mostly into things like Fear Factory, Perfect Circle, Tool, Pantera, and so on, and loves dancing — everything from belly dancing classes to going out clubbing. She loves art, is constantly reading and learning, and gets a kick from all things weird and wonderful.
I’ve always had a thing about the star shape. All my doodles were stars. I’m a pagan, so the pentacle-pentagram and other symbolic star styles are important to me. I wear stars in my jewelery, on my clothes, they are all around where I live. You can see it as a symbol of the five elements or as distant planets, balls of gas that cast such a spell over anyone who looks up and realizes how small they are. They’re my shape and my symbol, and that’s why I had a version of one done and will have more versions ingrained on me.
This star is based on a favorite necklace — like a talisman for me but it broke… It was in a mehndi style and looked a lot like a flower, and I added the swirls from some flash — I wouldn’t usually choose flash unless I could change it enough to make it my own. I have only had good comments, and people have liked the fact that it’s not one that is seen a lot. That’s what makes them comment, that it was unusual. I still love it, but I want to add to it now.
I going to expand it and have it trailing into my future designs, which will keep with the celestial, goth, and mehndi themes, because those are styles that I have been drawn to since I was a child and they have personal meaning behind them. I’m not worried about them becoming dated, since fashion goes round in a huge circle. If I worried that any design I was going to have wasn’t eternal for me, I wouldn’t have it done. The tattoos that last are the ones that are imagined from the heart, not from society.
Natalie is twenty years old and helps manage a Hot Topic. She enjoys her work, and is also passionate about photography, describing herself as a sentimental person who enjoys getting tattoos, whether they mean something or not.
As a child, I always enjoyed stars in general. They make me happy and are beautiful. I chose to make my first star tattoo a rainbow pride shooting star to show my support of gay rights and gay marriage. My second star tattoos are located around my areolas. I thought my nipples were a tad too ordinary, so I decided to decorate them. The tattoos around my nipples were simply for show and enjoyment. They don’t have any specific meaning, like my rainbow pride star tattoo.
After getting my first tattoo, I gathered a lot of opinions from friends and the tattoo artist himself, as far as placement went. As far as design, I compiled three or four pictures and the tattoo artist went to town with them, and it looked perfect for me. My boyfriend loves them! As for people who say they’re overdone, I don’t give two shits about what others think of my tattoos. My tattoos are my tattoos. I didn’t do it for anyone else but myself.
Ronda is a seventeen year old that’s been interested in tattoos and body modification for far longer than she could find someone willing to work on her.
I liked tattoo stars at first because I just thought they were beautiful, and then I realized that they kind of symbolize a few things in my life. They mean something to me, and I loved that they were simple at the same time. I got my stars scattered because the points in my life were somewhat scattered, and not exactly in a perfect line. I decided I wanted them on my back because I want to make them part of my backpiece in the future.
As I’ve had it, I’ve loved it more and more because when I see it I’m happy and I can remember something by it. People who see it say it looks beautiful, cool, or interesting, but of course they don’t know that it stands for something. When I decided a year ago to get tattooed, I didn’t notice that stars were a popular design. It bothers me because I think people automatically think I got them done because they were just “cool” or whatever they really think. I assume things like that sometimes as well, because I know people do things because everyone else is doing them, but I am not one of those people.
To me these stars feel eternal. Real stars are always up the sky, they’re always burning and shining bright, and so are many things in my life. As far as what other people think, basically I just don’t care too much about what other people think.
I hope this helps clarify, that, in the simplest of terms, that if you speak ill of someone simply because they’ve chosen a star or a kanji symbol to express themselves, that you’re a moron. It’s not relevant what language a person is speaking — what’s relevant is what they’re saying and if anyone else is listening. The people I talked to here were speaking with stars. There should be no question left as to what they’re trying to say. The question now is whether anyone heard it.