Woman with gray hair and beautiful tattoos.

6 Women Reveal Their Reasons for Getting Tattoos in Midlife

By Lauren Krouse
June 21, 2024

In the not-so-distant past, tattoos were the domain of sailors and rock stars. Think: blurry heart-shaped tats dedicated to moms and lovers. But these days, tattoos are much more variable, artistic, and ubiquitous. In the mall, in the street, on the beach, today’s tattoos have wide-ranging appeal, are available in a variety of different styles, and can bring just about anything to life, from a favorite quote to a beloved pet.

If you’re considering going under the needle, take some inspiration and advice from these women. Here, they share why they decided to get a tattoo in midlife and what it meant to them emotionally.

A Reminder of Strength

Melissa Goin, 59, Grand Rapids, Michigan

“I waited until I was 40 to get my first tattoo with a friend on a girls’ weekend in Chicago. I’d wanted a tattoo for years but waited to ensure it was something I wanted to commit to. It took me forever to work up the courage to get into the chair, but I’m so glad I did.

“I chose my first design based on my love of Elvis Presley. It’s taken from the TCB (taking care of business) pendant he and his inner circle wore. I’d survived a rather tumultuous divorce and learned that I could TCB with an inner strength I hadn’t known I had.

“Many tattoos later (and counting!), I love the way I can express myself through my body art, and being tattooed is a real conversation starter.”

A Memorial Tattoo

Linda Unger, 63, Gloucester, Virginia

“I got my first tattoo at the age of 58 in memory of my mother. I got a black-eyed Susan flower on my left hand because that was her childhood nickname thanks to her large, dark eyes.

“A few years later, I got my second tattoo on my right upper arm, a memory piece for my best friend of 40 years, who died of cancer. It’s two yellow roses with a lark bunting, a black bird with a white streak, as she had black hair with a white streak and sang beautifully.

“If you’re considering a memorial tattoo, my advice is to take your time and focus on what defines the person for you. If you had to sum them up with three words, what would they be? Then, start researching symbols to find the right ones and use sites like Instagram to find tattoo artists whose work you’d want to wear. In my case, I went with a gorgeous watercolor style by an artist I’d admired for over a year.

“My experience was fantastic. And because the tattoo parlor was in another city, I decided to make a ‘memory weekend’ of it. Since my friend and I used to love going to Mets games together, I went to one in her honor while I was there.”

A Show of Support

Cathy Raspet, 69, Wilmington, North Carolina

“When my nephew Curtis was 13, his father—my brother—died unexpectedly. My brother was a carpenter, and his wife was an artist. Growing up, Curtis always created highly detailed drawings. And eventually, he became a tattoo artist at a famous shop in Mississippi.

“He teased me and said he doubted I’d ever get a tattoo, but I told him when I visited him I would. At 59, I finally made my way through the doors.

“When I walked in, I wondered, ’Am I really going to do this?’ I called my husband, and he encouraged me to go for it. I’d always associated tattoos with edgy people and hippies—not me!—but the place was so clean and sterile that it smelled like a doctor’s office, and everyone was really family-oriented and welcoming.

“I made the decision to get a tattoo because I believed in my nephew, and I love him. He helped me design a small, detailed tattoo of a dove with an olive branch and heart on my inner right ankle. As he worked, he reminded me of my brother, and that warmed my heart.

“When people get a glance of my tattoo, they’re often surprised that I have one. They see me as quite conservative. But I love it. [My tattoo] serves as a reminder that I always walk in hope, peace, and love.”

A Symbol of Body Acceptance

Diane Smith, 53, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma

“I’ve had two sets of ink on my chest: The first set was at the age of 43 after a bilateral mastectomy and breast reconstruction with implants due to breast cancer (which was destroyed when a new mass was discovered in my pec muscle), and the second was after revision surgery in my early 50s.

“If you want to get a tattoo over scarred skin, first check with your doctor. You may need your scars to be healed well before you go. Then, consult with a tattoo artist with a quick email or phone call to make sure they’re prepared to do this type of tattoo.

“I love flowers and have a greenhouse, so I wanted flowers on my chest as a sign of rebirth and a way to reclaim my body. My inspiration was Inga Thornell, a breast cancer survivor who tattooed a beautiful forestlike image on her chest that looks like a halter top.

“I have some daisies on my left side and two sunflowers on my right. Daisies are for me and my mom since we both love them. And sunflowers are one of my favorite flowers and always turn toward the sun—just like me.”

A Message of Freedom

Heidi Gessner, 59, Winston-Salem, North Carolina

“I got my first tattoo after I got divorced in my early 40s. It was really hard to decide to leave my marriage—my kids were 7 and 10 at the time—but I knew I was following my heart and doing what was in our best interest.

“I went in with a friend, and it was easy and painless. At the time, I was really into Celtic spirituality, so I got a Celtic knot on my left shoulder. I wasn’t a big ink person, but I loved the freedom and symbolism of it: the connection between my soul, nature, and the arts. My tattoo felt like an anchor or compass.

“While I’m not psyched about my tattoo years later, I would probably do it again. It was liberating, and doing something I never thought I’d do helped boost my confidence.”

A Way to Say…Everything

Laura Simms, 47, Decatur, Georgia

“After my father passed away unexpectedly last May, I was shaken to my core. I asked my daughter if she wanted to get a meaningful tattoo with me, and we instantaneously knew what we wanted: Everything. My dad was everything to me, and when we’d say, ‘I love you,’ we would often go back and forth—‘I love you more,’ ‘I love you most’—until we’d both say, ‘Everything.’

“After researching tattoo parlors and font types, we found the closest one that could take us and went in. Over the next two hours, we laughed, cried, joked, and laughed some more. Our tattoo artist helped advise us on the right size—slightly larger than what we initially wanted, so it wouldn’t blur over time—and adjusted the placement until we were happy with it.

“Today, my daughter and I love our tattoos as much as we did on that first day. I still tear up when people ask me about it, but they’re tears of love.”

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