Depending on how old (or radical) you are, getting your first tattoo can feel like convincing yourself to commit a crime. I should know. I got my first tattoo in 2017, after four years of telling myself I wouldn’t regret it and repeatedly backing out at the last minute. It’s totally normal. Part of it is just pure home training: are your parents really Nigerian if they haven’t said that tattoos are a mark of the devil? There’s also the part where a tattoo is permanent, for better or worse.

I plan to get some more ink soon. And it’s not (just) because I’m badly-behaved. Tattoos are gradually losing their bad reputation, and more young people are getting their first. That doesn’t mean the decision is easier than before. If you’re planning on getting your first tattoo, here are all the stages you can expect to go through. You are not alone.

  • Trying To Make Up Your Damn Mind

See, regardless of how much you want it, deciding to mark yourself with the opening words of your favourite poem for the rest of your life can take a while. Don’t rush it, even if it takes 8 weeks to 4 years.

  • Watching Tattoo Videos

One of the first things that cross your mind once you decide to get inked is how to deal with the pain. It doesn’t help that movie characters tend to look like they’re being tortured when they’re getting theirs. Which is why you’ll probably spend a few months looking for one video where the person is smiling while getting tattooed. Finally, some hope.

  • Getting Permission Or Nah?

The other thing that crossed your mind is permission. Depending on how close you are to your parents, you may want to get their permission, especially if you live with them. This is kinda tricky because they probably won’t sign off on it, meaning you may have to do it without their blessings. At least you tried.

  • Picking The Right Tattoo & Placement

Everyone thinks they know what they’ll get for their first tattoo until it’s time to get one. All of a sudden, writing the words of “Africa My Africa” on your chest doesn’t seem like such a great idea. Here’s something to keep in mind: get something that means a lot to you in a part of your body that you can carry with confidence. You’ll likely have it for the rest of your life.

  • Finding The Right Tattoo Parlour/Artist

One badly-spelt tattoo is all the proof you need that the artist is just as important as what you plan to get. Unfortunately, more people end up getting street-side tattoos at Ikeja Underbridge than you think. Just so you don’t end up with a tramp stamp, look at every tattoo shop, stalk their Instagram, check their hygiene, ask to see other work that they’ve done. Talking to tattoo artists about why they do it also helps you decide if you’ll trust them with your skin.

  • Waiting, Just Waiting

Now that you’ve checked the boxes and you’ve picked a date or an appointment, all you need to do is wait calmly, right? Haq Haq Haq. You see all those doubts are about to return. Resist the temptation to tell everyone about it or change your tattoo idea. Whatever decision you make during this period will probably be very shitty, so just wait.

  • Chickening Out

D-day is here, and you’re certain as hell that you don’t want to do this anymore. I’ve seen people back out after sitting on the chair, even though it took them months to decide. Whether or not you make it past this stage is solely up to you. Take your time to make a decision you won’t regret.

  • Pain?

It’s time to get the deal done. You’ve considered guzzling energy drinks or alcohol to numb the pain, but the tattoo artist says it’s unnecessary. Then the pen hits your skin and you can feel why. It’s little more than a bee sting. Tattoos aren’t half as painful as most people think, and the vibrating pen makes it even better. Close your eyes and think happy thoughts.

  • Show It Off

Their fadas. Now that you have your tattoo, it’s time to show everyone. For most guys, it means wearing sleeveless shirts until they catch a cold. Take photos of yourself and share them everywhere. When people come and ask to see it in person, make them wait. You worked for it and you got it.

  • Planning A Second Tattoo

You know what’s better than one nice, super-lit tattoo? Two nice, super-lit tattoos. Or three. Or four. Next thing you know, you’re looking for space on your body. God safe us, because I’m in this stage too. While you’re at it, watch this video of Burna Boy breaking down his tattoos.



Zikoko amplifies African youth culture by curating and creating smart and joyful content for young Africans and the world.