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Embarrassing Tattoo
Sheldon: Why do you have the Chinese character for "soup" tattooed on your right buttock?
Penny: It's not "soup", it's "courage".
Sheldon: No it isn't. But I suppose it does take courage to demonstrate that kind of commitment to soup.

A comedy trope that is definitely Truth in Television is when a character will have a tattoo (sometimes in an embarrassing location) with various unsavory features, such as being misspelled, the name of a former love interest, written in a language the wearer does not understand and not meaning what he thinks (Chinese characters are good for this), et cetera, sometimes the result of a drunken whim. However, this can also be used seriously as a version of Good Scars, Evil Scars where the tattoo is a representation of sin.

This is slowly becoming a Discredited Trope for four reasons:
  • The existence and increased reliability of tattoo removal procedures or cover-up designs.
  • Tattoos are considerably more mainstream than they were in the past.
  • Large tattoos require multiple sessions to complete.
  • Nowadays, no self-respecting tattoo parlor will serve anyone who is clearly under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

A Tattooed Crook may face this situation after going straight. This variation is far more likely to be Played for Drama, especially if the tattoos are of symbols associated with gang violence or racism (i.e., a swastika).


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • A recent Yellow Book commercial has a bride trying on her dress and to her horror, it reveals the name "Mike". She goes to a tattoo removal (that she found in the advertised phone book). The doctor comments that she must be really excited to be getting married to Mike, when the reveal comes that the groom is "Tom."
  • There was a debit card commercial featuring a couple at a tattoo parlor with "Oh Donna" playing in the background. He is in the middle of getting a tattoo featuring the name of his girlfriend in a heart, but discovers he lacks enough cash to pay for it. Next we see her storming off, followed by him begging her to come back, while prominently sporting a tattoo reading "Don".
  • A Snickers commercial from the '90s showed a football player proudly displaying a huge tattoo that he just had done of his team's logo on his back. His coach's reaction: "Nice. You've been traded."
  • An Australian ad for '1800 Reverse' (a service that lets you make reverse charge calls from your mobile) had a teenage girl showing off a tattoo on her lower back to her friends. She explains that her mother helped her choose the design and her jealous friends wish that they had a 'cool' mother like that. However, when she looks at the tattoo in the mirror, she realises that what appeared to be an abstract design actually read '1800 Reverse' when reflected.
  • A commercial campaign for the Canadian mobile provider Koodoo features a tiny CG luchador as its spokesman. In one of the commercials, he says he's celebrating his carrier's status as Canada's top mobile provider by getting a tattoo of a big number one. Thanks to his accent, it turns out he's getting a giant "JUAN" on his back.
  • An anti-drug ad that ran in Canada had a guy waking up to his answering machine. His friend asked him what he had done last night; last he heard, he was going to a body-piercing place. The guy looks in the mirror and discovers a nipple ring. In his pocket, he has a matchbook with a girl's name and number on it. He's not too distressed, but when he turns around, the camera sees an enormous full-back tattoo with the girl's name on a heart with a teddy bear. The last thing his friend says in the message is "See you at the beach."

    Anime and Manga 
  • A major part of the plot in Photon is that the titular character and the female lead both have Baka (Idiot in Japanese) written on their foreheads with apparently magic magic marker. (Not QUITE a tattoo, but it never wears off and is apparently permanent — it's also used to shore up lay lines in the ships.) Because having the same symbol on one's forehead as another is supposedly a marriage proposal...
  • The Vox pilots in Rinne no Lagrange have their Memoria (marks that allow them to interact with said mecha) in...questionable places, to say the least (Muginami's in particular). Especially since it's implied that those are created where they're touched by the Vox.
    • For those interested in specifics. Madoka's is on her butt, Lan's somewhere near her breasts, and Mugi's is just above her crotch.
  • At one point in Ranma½, Ryouga becomes invincible thanks to a tattoo of a war god on his stomach. Since the god happens to look like a cutesy smiley face, he begs Ranma to defeat him so it will disappear.
  • Portgas D. Ace from One Piece wanted "ACE" tattooed on his arm. But apparently, the artist didn't know how to spell "ace", as he instead has "A S CE," with the "S" crossed out. This is never commented on.
    • Actually easily explained if you pay attention to flashbacks and the like. He used to be captain of the Spade Pirates, the S being a symbol of the crew.
      • Also, the crossed out S is Sabo's pirate flag.
    • When Nami was working for Arlong against her will, she had been forced to wear the tattoo of his crew on her arm. She did some serious defacing over it, causing Luffy's most common Berserk Button to be hit and an ass-kicking ensued. Nowadays, it has been changed to a pinwheel, which has a much more positive connotation for her.
    • Also never commented on, but Trafalgar Law has Knuckle Tattoos saying "DETH." Probably ran out of room.
      • Nah, just a mistake on the author's part, as it was retconned into a standard: DEATH.
  • Scar's arm in Fullmetal Alchemist probably qualifies.
    • As of chapter 103, That's "arms" plural, now
    • As does the tattoo on Riza Hawkeye's back, which may have been put there against her will.
  • The Gonzales brothers, players for an American team in Eyeshield 21, wanted tattoos based off of their nicknames, the elder being "Big and Useful" and the younger being "Little and Useful", rendered directly into kanji as daiben (大便) and shouben (小便). Unfortunately for them, those phrases mean "poop" and "pee" respectively.
  • Baccano!! plays with this in respect towards Jacuzzi's massive facial tattoo. While nothing is wrong with the tattoo itself, it clashes strongly with the boy's timid, unassuming nature so much that he treats it more like an embarrassing disfigurement than anything else. Some Fridge Brilliance stems from its origins as the perceived disfiguring nature of it is exactly why he got it in the first place — he got the tattoo immediately upon hearing that his best friend Nice blew out her eye in a backyard explosives accident so that she wouldn't have to deal with the stares alone.
  • Happens indirectly in This is Otakudom, a Gag Dub of Fushigi Yuugi that turns the cast into Otaku headed for an anime con. Tasuki, here portrayed as an overdramatic Goth, shows off his tattoo, which he claims means something long and pretentious about immortality in the shadows; subtitles then appear saying "Actual Translation: Stupid fanboy wasted his money".

    Art 

    Comicbooks 
  • In Uncanny X-Men, following Kitty Pryde's Heroic Sacrifice, Colossus, mourning the woman he loved, got a tattoo of a heart with the name "Katya" (in the Cyrillic alphabet) on his chest. Recently, she got better (but is still out of the action due to uncontrollable powers), so there has been some speculation regarding Kitty's inevitable reaction when she sees Colossus's ink.
  • In one story in Sam & Max: Freelance Police, Max gets "a tattoo of a snake eating a rat, with the caption 'Born to watch my snake eat a rat'". He passes out mid-tattoo due to screaming about the needle and complains later that it 'doesn't even look like a snake. It looks like a candy cane', prompting Sam to deliver An Aesop about freedom of the individual and their inalienable right to get questionable body modifications, as long as it's their 'boneheaded choice'.
  • Subverted in a Spider-Man story, in which Peter Parker's then-current girlfriend Carlie Cooper got drunk and considered getting a Green Goblin tattoo. She ended up getting a Spider-Man tattoo instead. Although that may now be an embarrassing tattoo, seeing as how Carlie just dumped Peter (as of the end of Spider-Island) for lying to her about his being Spider-Man!
  • Realworlds: Superman is about Eddie Dial, a hapless nobody who is tricked into getting blind drunk and taken to a tattoo parlor by the neighborhood toughs; he wakes up with a huge Superman symbol on his chest. His life goes on a downward spiral from there, and he soon winds up in prison, where the tattoo makes him a target. That's when he stops being ashamed of it and decides to make it his, by bulking up and turning himself into a real Man of Steel.

    Fan Fiction 

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In American History X, Derek Vinyard (Edward Norton) has a large swastika tattoo on his chest, which becomes shameful to him after he renounces his racist ideology. In a particularely poignant scene he just finishes taking a shower, and then looks at himself in the mirror while covering up the tattoo, realizing that he will likely carry that symbol of hate with him for the rest of his life. The poster to the film also features Norton trying to cover the tattoo with his hand.
  • The con-artist protagonist of the western/comedy film Support Your Local Gunfighter has an enormous and embarrassing tattoo on his chest which honors his ditched fiancee. It finally gets burnt off in an explosion, allowing him to marry the Love Interest.
  • In the movie version of McHale's Navy, McHale has dealt with the villain before, and once punished him by taking him (while unconscious) to get McHale's name and face tattooed across his entire torso. Backwards so it can be read in a mirror.
  • In the Japanese flick Moon Child, a white man who wants to be a samurai gets a tattoo in kanji. He thinks it says samurai; it really says kitchen.
  • Deputy Clementine Johnson in the Reno 911! movie gets a tattoo of somebody's face after a drunken night of lovemaking. She spends the rest of the movie trying ot figure out who it is. Deputy Garcia
  • Down Periscope:
    • A quote in the movie refers to a Take Our Word for It feature of Thomas Dodge: "I just don't think it's right to give command of a nuclear submarine to a man who's got 'Welcome Aboard' tattooed on his penis."
    • And later on that same character threatens, "I won't rest until I have his tattooed hide nailed to my office wall!" You want to do what now?
  • In the recent film version of The Importance of Being Earnest, Gwendolyn has the name Ernest tattooed on her buttocks , which adds to her horror when "Ernest" tells her his real name is Jack.
  • In GoldenEye, James Bond forces Jack Wade to show a rose tattoo with the name "Muffy" ("Third wife.") on his hip as part of the Trust Password.
  • Paul Blart: Mall Cop has the titular character get drunk (after stating that he doesn't drink), shortly after his daughter notices a tattoo of the Loch Ness Monster.
  • One enthusiastic Star Wars fan in Fanboys shows the main characters his new tattoo based on the upcoming The Phantom Menace. Of Jar-Jar Binks.
  • Talia in Larry Crowne gets a free tattoo when she starts shop next to a parlor. It supposedly means "strong mind" but apparently actually reads "soy sauce"
  • Kevin has gotten a huge tattoo of Pam while drunk in Eastern Europe in Little Fockers.
  • The Farrely Brothers comedy Kingpin features a scene where the Amish bowler played by Randy Quaid is horrified to find a tattoo on his front side after a night of partying. Woody Harrelson's character manages to talk him down about it, but he doesn't have the heart to tell him about the well-endowed stripper tattoo he got inked on his back!
  • In That's My Boy Han has a tattoo of the New Kids on the Block on his back.
  • In Captain Ron Christine has a rose tattooed (guess where).
  • We're the Millers: Scotty P's neck tattoo (although he clearly has "No Ragrets"...)
  • In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, once Fred Dukes gains weight, the pin-up on his arm fattens as well.

    Literature 
  • In Alfred Bester's novel The Stars My Destination, the hero is given a horrific tattoo on his face by a Cargo Cult IN SPACE! which, while never completely described, seems to look like a tiger's face (the novel's original title was Tiger Tiger). Interestingly, he does get it removed, but it ends up serving as a Marked Change, as the lines still appear on his face when he is angry.
    • The description and some illustrations make it out to look like a Maori face tattoo— with "N♂MAD" written across his forehead as well.
  • A semi-humorous example is the forehead tattoo of the Bad Ass mercenary Raven in Snow Crash reading "Poor Impulse Control". What makes this one less amusing is that it was given as a judicial punishment rather than a personal choice.
  • Corporal Nobbs's tattoo in Discworld says "WUM". The tattooist didn't notice Nobby was upside-down because he was drunk as well. It's not a proper tattoo if anyone can remember how it got there.
  • The Dark Mark seems to be this in Harry Potter for some former Death Eaters such as Severus Snape and Igor Karkaroff, given some of the exchanges between the two of them in Goblet Of Fire.
  • In Papillon, the Masked Breton's cockroach tattoo, which is on his face. As he tells Papillon and the other escapees, he foolishly got it in prison to look tough, but after escaping realized that it made him very easy to identify and would make a normal life almost impossible for him.
  • In The Children Of Captain Grant by Jules Verne, Dr. Paganel survives a stay with a friendly Maori chieftain who tattoos him top to bottom, and thenceforth becomes very protective of his modesty.
  • In Robin Hobb's Realm of the Elderlings:
    • In the Liveship Traders trilogy, Captain Kennit has a habit of tattooing symbols of his mistakes on his body, and then branding them off soon after. Plus, a tattoo on the face is the mark of one's slavery in this universe, so pretty much all tattoos are embarrassing.
    • In the Tawny Man trilogy, we get tattoos that are both embarrassing and traumatic: both the Fool and Elliania were forced by the Pale Woman to have dragons and serpents tattooed over their entire backs. Both had unforseen circumstances.
  • In Francesca Lia Block's I Was a Teenage Fairy, the heroine's love interest is discovered to have the names of not one but three former girlfriends tattooed on his chest. Near the end it's revealed he had them reworked into a tattoo of the heroine's name.
  • In Special Topics In Calamity Physics, one of the high school "blue bloods" has a mysterious tattoo on his upper arm that he never lets anyone see. There are suggestions that there is a particularly dramatic story behind it, but it turns out to be quite banal, and the boy is not nearly as deep or interesting as was once thought.
  • In The Millennium Trilogy Lisbeth Salander tattoos her guardian very badly, and painfully, with "I am a sexist pig, a pervert and a rapist" on his stomach as revenge after he brutally rapes her. She prevents him from getting it removed, and he still has it when he dies.
  • Father Forthill is revealed to have one of the Eye of Thoth, which he and several other newly christened priests got the morning after they killed a vampire (and celebrated by getting drunk.) Harry had seen the symbol on a corpse earlier in the novel, so when he sees Forthill's tattoo, he realizes that Father Vincent (who helped kill the vampire, and the one who hired him to find the Shroud of Turin) has been replaced by a Denarian.
  • In Glen Cook's Garrett, P.I. series, Garrett knew a guy from his Marine unit who'd gotten his penis tattooed like a serpent, and probably regretted it for the rest of his life. At the time, the guy just figured he'd rather be addressed as "Snakeman" than by his previous nickname of "Donkey Dick".
  • At one point Sherlock Holmes did his trademark Sherlock Scan on a man and said that he had once been in a close relationship he was later eager to forget. How did he know this? Because of a tattoo that the man had since attempted to remove with acid.
  • One of the stories of Wayside School has Calvin's dad getting him a tattoo for his birthday. Mrs. Jewels advises him not to get something he thinks is cool now but will regret later, but rather something he will appreciate for the rest of his life. He gets a potato on his ankle. Everybody mocks him for it, but he likes it.
  • Refreshingly averted by the Pym sisters when they finally meet their great-grandniece Bree. They mention having seen tattoos on a sailor and a male farmhand, and while they express curiosity to see them on a young woman, they give no hint of condemnation of the practice. They are also familiar with the Maori cultural influence on New Zealand. After a bit of coaxing, Bree does push up her sleeves to show them, and she tells them about the morepork owl on her left shoulder. They also recognize the specific flowers (bamboo orchid, red mistletoe and white tea tree blossoms) she has on her arms.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Bones has undoubtedly one of the most embarrassing tattoos - after breaking up with his fiance Angela, Hodgins is horrified to find her fathernote  in town. Angela convinces her father to call it off - and then Hodgins wakes up in the middle of the desert, drugged, with Angela's face tattooed on his arm in scary perfection, with "Angela Forever" written at the bottom. Naturally, Angela is horrified ("You're sweating on me!")
    • Should be a bit less embarrassing since Hodgins and Angela made up and got married.
    • Apparently Billy Gibbons really likes to kidnap and drug Hodgins and tattoo him. Now Hodgins has a tattoo of Billy Gibbons on his OTHER bicep. Wow, that oughta be great for their sex life...
  • In an episode of Green Wing, Guy Secretan tries to prove his love by getting a tattoo of a Friesian cow on his rib cage, thinking it was Caroline Todd's favourite thing. She, however, meant freesia, the flower.
  • In one episode of Red Dwarf, Lister worries his crew-mates may have seen his tattoo: "I don't really love Petersen, he just got me so drunk that I didn't know what I was doing."
  • On Cheers, Norm and Cliff discover that they had gotten tattoos on their butts, only they had mixed up the requests: Norm's reads "Post Office Forever", while Cliff's reads "I love Vera".
  • Ted from How I Met Your Mother went to a tattoo parlor on a drunken dare while trying to get over a break-up and ended up with a butterfly on his lower back (or as Barney puts it, "a tramp stamp, a ho tag, ass antlers ..."). It turns out the tattoo artist was recently dumped by the girl Ted was making out with (the one who dragged him there to get a tattoo). He eventually gets the tattoo painfully removed in "Ten Sessions" and eventually got engaged to the doctor who performed the procedure (after the 10 weeks were up).
  • The trope forms the basis of the Three's Company episode "Jack's Tattoo," in which Jack finds out that, while he was in a drunken stupor, his old navy buddies gave him a heart-shaped tattoo on his derrière, with the inscription "The Love Butt." Multiple misunderstandings arise when Jack goes to the hospital to have it removed, with Janet thinking that's he's having a vasectomy and Mr. Furley thinking that he's having an operation to become "Jacqueline."
  • In Auf Wiedersehen, Pet, Neville, who is the nicest of the characters and happily married to Brenda, wakes up after a night of drinking to find "Neville Loves Lottie" tattooed on his arm. He doesn't even know anyone called Lottie.
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer Giles has a tattoo on his arm of a strange symbol. It's revealed that its the mark of a demon called Eyghon which he and some friends summoned in their youth which will eventually inhabit their bodies and then kill them. Even after the demon is defeated he keeps the tattoo; it even shows up in the (canonical) Season 8 comic books where Faith spots it.
    Faith: When did you get ink?
    Giles: Faith, do you honestly think you're the first person to have stumbled upon the notion of rebellion? Do you think you were the first who ever let an innocent person get hurt because of your own stupidity? You and I aren't so unalike. But those of us who refused to pay the piper during our adolescence have a responsibility to shoulder the most unpleasant costs of adulthood.
    • That line from Giles is even more meaningful if you know the (non-canon) origins of Faith's tattoo. Like Giles, it's actually the mark of a demon, in this case the Mark of Kakistos, given to her while being possessed by a dead Greek Slayer.
  • The coach from Saved by the Bell: The College Years has got Tweety Bird on his butt. But he was a bit younger and thinner when he first got it, leading to this remark;
    "Coach has Big Bird on his butt!"
  • An episode of ER has a patient with a Ku Klux Klan tattoo: when he regains consciousness, he tells them he's renounced the KKK and keeps the tattoo to remind him of his past.
  • Grey's Anatomy had a Patient of the Week who repeatedly asked to be treated by an another doctor. Eventually, he was forced to show his tattoo, which revealed that he's a neo-Nazi and did not want to be treated by the Asian, Jewish and/or black protagonists.
    • What makes it weird is that never outright demands a white doctor, he just keeps asking for someone else when he keeps getting minority doctors. He's rather polite, if terse, about wanting someone different. And when his gigantic-ass tattoo (which he claims was a drunken mistake, even though it clearly would've taken several separate sessions to complete) is revealed, he says he didn't want Dr. Bailey, who is black, to see it because she "might take offense." Uh...isn't that kind of THE POINT of being a white supremacist?
    • When the neo-Nazi/white supremacist needs surgery, Dr. Bailey, the spunky female black doctor has to operate on him. After she finishes, she decides that the skin around the cut is "jagged" and so she stitches the swastika back together as an S shape instead of the original swastika.
  • Dr Kelso in Scrubs has "Johnny" tattooed on his buttock (While Johnny has "Bobby" tattooed on his). "He's an old sailor buddy, and if you went through what we did, you'd understand."
  • Roxie from Sabrina the Teenage Witch is revealed to have an "I Love Hanson" tattoo, that she got on a whim and wants removed.
  • From Living With Fran, Josh's girlfriend has a tattoo with Ryley's name. Subverted as she had several tattoos and considered her body a panel to tattoo other names (including Josh's).
  • In an episode of Two Guys, a Girl and a Pizza Place, Berg tried to prevent Pete from discovering that Pete's new girlfriend had his [Berg's] name tattooed on her body in a very intimate place.
  • In a subversion, grade schooler Little Pete in The Adventures of Pete & Pete had a tattoo of a lounging Spanish woman that he called "Petunia" and was later revealed to have another of a sailing ship. The person that was embarrassed was not Pete, but his mother, because her youngest son had the tattoos, and she made him cover them with long clothing up no matter what time of year it was.
  • A dating service video sketch in Smack The Pony had "an ex punk, looking for a soulmate with equally regrettable past" and revealing she has an obscene tattoo on her forehead covered by her hair.
  • Kate in NCIS tells Abby posthumously that she's incredibly embarrassed about Ducky seeing the tattoo of a bow she has on...er...her nether regions.
  • Six Feet Under shows Brenda has the name "Nathaniel" tattooed on her back, just as she begins dating Nate. She and her brother got matching tattoos, and when he had a breakdown, he removed his with a knife, and tried to do the same to her, as a sign of her "betrayal".
  • Al considers getting a tattoo on Step by Step, but changes her mind after Carol admits to having an old boyfriend's name tattooed on her butt.
  • Mocked by Saturday Night Live in a fake commercial for Lower Back Tattoo remover. It's just a bottle of acid that leaves a horrid scar where the tattoo was.
    • On the season 39 episode hosted by Bruce Willis, Brooks Wheelan did a Weekend Update commentary about the dangers of getting meaningless tattoos by showing off the ones he got around the time he was in high school, (an Anthony Kiedis tribal tattoonote  on his left upper arm, a red nautical tattoo on his right bicep, and a weird seascape on his right sidenote , which doesn't make sense to him, as Wheelan grew up in Iowa and never saw the ocean).
  • It was a plot in an episode of Married... with Children when Jefferson got a tattoo on his butt for his wife Marcy but since the tattoo artist was plastered, it ended up spelled 'Mary'. Even after Jefferson managed to get it changed. It was changed to 'Marty'.
  • In the That '70s Show episode "Eric's Drunken Tattoo", Eric wants to tattoo of Donna's name on his butt, but since he has Leo to do it, he ends up with a picture of Woodstock from Peanuts.
  • In the The Big Bang Theory episode "The Adhesive Duck Deficiency", it's revealed that Penny has a Chinese character tattooed on her butt, which is supposed to mean "courage", but according to Sheldon, it actually means "soup".
    • In a later episode, Penny tells Leonard that since the last time they were together, she'd gotten a Cookie Monster tattoo, and that the acceptable reactions to it are "awesome" or nothing.
  • In iCarly, one of the characters had to get a tattoo of Sam's face after losing a bet. It was fake, but he didn't know it until it was too late...
  • In The Cosby Show Russell Huxtable was revealed to once had a tattoo done on his chest for Anna. Unfortunately, he had a cold at the time and so it was spelled 'Adda' who was Anna's chief rival. He had that removed but left a scar on his chest.
  • In Grounded For Life Lily has a tattoo of a golden sprite on her lower back, with a banner reading "Dean", only discovered by her new boyfriend, Brad until months into their relationship. He gets over it, as Lily says that the tattoo means less than what she does, and it serves as a reminder that in the end, she chose Brad over Dean... though the fact that the money Brad offered for getting it removed were meant to buy her an iPod, and once she heard about that, changed her mind about the removal.
  • In Big Bad Beetleborgs, in order to get the kids to go along with a Zany Scheme, Flabber offers to show them his tattoo. When the kids retort that they've seen tattoos before, he admits that this one is on his spleen. That seals the deal.
  • The end result is never seen, but one Whitest Kids U Know sketch shows an inebriated character in the process of coming up with one of these. The end result is: Bowser wearing shades, whaling on a double-necked guitar, on a surfboard, in front of a huge pot leaf, in front of a cross, with "Happy Birthday Rick" written above it.
  • True Life profiled people with these on the episode "I Hate My Tattoos". The first person was a former criminal who got his tattoos done while drunk by a friend (who wasn't a tattoo artist), and as a result not only were the tattoos all over his neck but they also looked like a child drew them. The second person had tattoos all over his body but was trying to get a white collar job. The third person tattooed her boyfriend's name on her arm and shortly afterwards they broke up.
  • Defied in the Tru TV show All Worked Up. Byran the process server had to deal with a tattoo artist who tattooed a man with Japanese kanji, only to wound up being a Foreign Cuss Word, so the artist was going to be sued and first served by Byran. Rage would later ensue.
  • In a Ripped from the Headlines example, one of the minor cases on Crownies involved a tattooist who tattooed a giant penis on a friend's back while they were both drunk.
  • The Chaser's War On Everything: Chas attempts to make one side of his body look like Daniel Craig (It Makes Sense in Context) and gets a tattoo of a 'Japanese character' on his upper arm. He ends up with a tattoo of Hello Kitty.
  • On Justified, Boyd Crowder used to run a gang of Neo-Nazis and has swastikas and other white supremacist symbols tattooed on his body. After being shot he had a Heel-Faith Turn and renounced the ideology. The tattoos are now a source of embarrassment to him especially when he tried to ally himself with the African American community of Noble's Holler and its leader Limehouse.
  • A show on Spike TV, Tattoo Nightmares, chronicles people getting rid of their embarrassing tattoos. It shows how hard it can be: many of the bad tattoos are large and dark. Generally most of the bad tattoos were either poor drunk decisions or were free tattoos given out of trucks and the like. In several cases people mention the tattoo artist doing drugs right before tattooing them.
  • Happy Endings had Dave and Alex who, after their break up, decide to remove the tattoos of each others' names since it made dating other people awkward. They couldn't go through with the painful procedure.
  • In the Supernatural episode "The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo".
    Dean: Do you have any tattoos? Give him a little sneak peek there. All tattoos are sexy.
    Charlie: Mine is Princess Leia in a slave bikini straddling a 20-sided die.
    Dean:...
    Charlie: I was drunk, it was Comic-Con.
    Dean: We've all been there.
  • Foreman from House tells people that his tattoo is a Native American symbol meaning "the force of life". Guest star LL Cool J recognises it as gang ink from his juvenile delinquent days.
    • LL himself has prison tattoos at the start of the episode, which are oh-so-symbolically removed by an MRI machine; the inks used in prison tats tend to be based on heavy metals, or something.
  • A sketch on Not the Nine O'Clock News had a skinhead tattooing the word 'HATE' on his forehead. He then turns around and we discover that, because he did it looking in the mirror, it is backwards.
  • In Kenny vs. Spenny, during the challenge "Who has the bigger balls" Kenny opted to get a tattoo for the sake of earning a single extra point. The tattoo was a teeny tiny black dot on his arm, almost completely impossible to differentiate from the freckles and hairs on it.
  • In the Battlestar Galactica (Reimagined) episode "Final Cut", Gaeta is revealed to have a somewhat crude tattoo of a tiger. Although he is mildly embarrassed about it and he was drunk when he got it, he does not seem to regret or be bothered by it, probably because he has so much more to worry about on a daily basis.
  • In one episode of The Golden Girls, Blanche notices that the man she is dating has a tattoo of a nose on his arm. He tells her that he got it while in the Navy - it was supposed to be a rose, but both he and the tattoo artist were blind drunk at the time, so...

    Machinima 
  • In a Red vs. Blue short, Grif and Church debate the merits and drawbacks of tattoos, one of Church's points being that whatever you get a tattoo of, you will be ashamed of in ten years time.

    Music 
  • The Sammy Kershaw song "Your Tattoo": You turned out to be a bad heartache / And I found someone to take your place / What am I gonna do with your tattoo?
  • The Tripod song "If I Had A Tattoo" parodies this: "If I had a tattoo/I would get one of you/Or at least of a generic woman's body/Draw your head on with a texta"
  • The Who's "Tattoo" both invokes and averts this trope.
    Welcome to my life, tattoo
    We've a long time together, me and you
    I expect I'll regret you
    But the skin-graft man won't get you
    You'll be there when I die, tattoo
  • The Offspring's "Pretty Fly For A White Guy":
    "He's getting a tattoo, yeah he's getting ink done.
    He asked for a thirteen but they drew a thirty-one.
  • Hot Chelle Rae's "Tonight Tonight":
    I woke up with a strange tattoo
    Not sure how I got it, not a dollar in my pocket
    And it kinda looks just like you ... mixed with Zach Galifianakis!
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic has a song called "Another Tattoo" (parody of B.o.B. and Bruno Mars's "Nothin' on You") about this:
    Cause I got all my ex-wives on my chest
    Over here is Clay Aiken
    There's a side of bacon,
    And a minotaur pillow fighting with Satan
    Next to Hello Kitty and a zombie ice skating wait
    It's Ronald Reagan

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Cookie in Beetle Bailey has a large tattoo with the name of a long-past love inside a heart-shape. Because it's so conspicuous, he once declared he won't even consider a date with a girl not named Rita. In another strip, however, he figured a woman with a slightly different name won't notice anything when he made an addition to the tattoo to make it read "MargaRita." (This was never mentioned again and the change was lost in Negative Continuity.)
  • In Zits, to dissuade Jeremy from getting a tattoo Walt reveals that he got one on his butt during his days in the Peace Corps. He remarks on how tattoos grow along with you and Connie agrees, commenting that "That peace symbol is now the size of a stop sign".
    • Pierce has a tattoo that he says is the Chinese symbol for integrity. Jeremy informs him that its Cyrillic Russian and says "10c Deposit VT NH MA".
  • An old Bloom County strip has Opus exchanging personal scandals with his fiancée Lola. She tells him she has two, and that the first one is a tattoo of Dan Fogelberg. He flips out over this, then calms down enough to ask where it is. "That's the other scandal," she replies.

    Podcasts 

    Stand-Up Comedy 
  • Addressed by Robin Williams in Weapons of Self-Destruction:
    "I have a friend who got drunk and got a tattoo in Mandarin; he thought it said 'Golden Warrior' until a Chinese friend said, "No, it says 'ass monkey'." And then he did it again, this time in Sanskrit; he thought it said 'Dawn of Enlightenment' until an Indian friend said, "No, it says 'deliveries on Tuesday'." So he is The Ass Monkey Who Delivers On Tuesday for the rest of his life."
  • Jack Dee has done a bit suggesting that most people with Chinese character tattoos have something that says either "bean fried rice" or "please select one of the tattoos below".

    Videogames 
  • In Danger By Design, a fashion-designer who wears a mask throughout the game turns out to have been hiding a stupid-looking tattoo of an alien's face on her cheek.
  • Carver, younger brother of the Dragon Age II Player Character, has a tattoo of a warhound which he got when he was in the army. He claims he can make it bark. No one is interested in having his claim proven.
  • Ex Tattooed Crook, now local Lovable Rogue Gaius from Fire Emblem Awakening has what's all but stated to be a tattoo adquired in prison. He covers it with Opera Gloves and/or a black band, and is VERY upset when the Avatar catches a glimpse of it.
  • In Fate/EXTRA, each character has an abstract mark somewhere on their body that indicates their participation in the War and allows them to access powerful wish abilities. One NPC asks your character where yours is, expresses envy that it's on your hand, and admits to you that his is a tramp stamp.

    Webcomics 

    Web Originals 
  • In Tales of MU Mackenzie lets Amaranth write "Nymph's Toy" on her forehead in magical marker (like permanent marker, apparently, except that you can't wash it off or get rid of it by anything but magic (or, presumably, self-mutilation). Naturally, this happens right before they head out to the college town for the first time; Mackenzie very quickly goes from acting naturally about it (because she forgot it was there) to being mortified once she realizes why everyone is staring at her.
  • While Paul is shaving off his beard in Desert Bus For Hope 2: Bus Harder, someone remarks that he could have one of these under his beard. They are soon proven wrong.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of The Simpsons, Homer changes his name to Max Power. Marge comments that she has a tattoo with his name (Homer) on her..."you know". Homer's cheerful response: "Oh Marge, they have harsh acids that can burn that off!"
    • In another episode, Homer claims that getting a tattoo "preserves the things you love." He then rolls up his sleeve and is dismayed by what is there: "Starland Vocal Band? They suck!"
    • In yet another episode, Bart somehow managed to tattoo "Wide Load" on Homer's rear end.
    • In another episode, Nelson's mom is in the process of getting her huge "Classy Lady" tattoo removed. Of course, only two letters have been removed so far (it doesn't take rocket science to figure out which ones).
  • Hank in King of the Hill had "Bill" tattooed on the back of his head, as result of a drunken night and a well-timed rescue by Bill. In a slight subversion, when he discovered the tattoo, he immediately had it removed, but later had it put back on in order to help Bill out of a funk.
  • Joan of Arc in Clone High has one - a cartoon dolphin saying "Whazzup??!!" on her ankle - which she got when she stayed awake for weeks on end. She shows it to Abe to persuade him to sleep. "My judgement was so poor I actually paid money for this!"
  • This short-lived FOX Family cartoon called Monster Farm (not to be confused with the anime series Monster Rancher) had an episode where a goat/dragon-type creature (Goatasaurus Rex) resorts to blackmail in order to become leader of the farm. One of the secrets he threatens to reveal is that Dr. Woolly (a sheep mad scientist with a monster alter ego named Mr. Ewwwe) has a "risque tattoo" that can only be seen when he's sheared (this could also apply as a Noodle Incident since it's not known when, where, why, or how Dr. Woolly got the tattoo and a What Happened to the Mouse? moment as the tattoo is never mentioned again in the show's short run).
  • An episode of the show Braceface has Sharon going behind her mom's back to get a Chinese character tattoo that allegedly means, "Freedom" (it actually means, "grapefruit.") In the same episode, Sharon's mom reveals that when she was young, she got a tattoo of a disco ball on her rear end (which she had to have removed when she realized it looked like a golf ball).
  • Dean from Code Monkeys apparently has a dolphin tramp stamp (tattoo on the small of the back), but since the characters are rendered as 8-bit sprites, you'll have to take our word on this one.
  • In an episode of Family Guy, Brian's fur falls out from the chemicals in the water, revealing that he supposedly has a Ziggy tattoo. He then embarrassingly admits that he used to like Ziggy.
  • In an episode of The Fairly Oddparents, Timmy wakes up after a party to find he has the name of some girl he doesn't remember tattooed on his stomach. Later in the episode he finds the girl, who also had tattooed his name on her arm.

    Real Life 
  • Besides the above mentioned tattoo-removing procedures, this is rare in real-life because most responsible artists refuse to ink in anyone who seems to be under the influence, partially because drunks tend to bleed more.
  • This guy. He was even on television
  • Whoops.
  • A not-so-rare real-life example is the infamous practice of getting a lover's name tattooed, since it has a nasty habit of jinxing the relationship. And since cover-up designs are hard to do on words, the poor bastard is stuck paying for expensive surgical removal in most cases.
  • A simple Google search for "bad tattoos" unearths all kinds of hilarity.
  • Upon his death, Bernadotte, the Napoleonic soldier who became the absolute monarch of Sweden, was supposedly found with a tattoo he received in his youth, ironically reading "death to all kings".
  • Johnny Depp had his tattoo bearing the words "Winona Forever" altered after his breakup with Winona Rider to instead read "Wino Forever." Then he went into rehab.
  • Tian reviews many unfortunate tattoos with kanji/hanzi/Vaguely Asian Symbols at Hanzi Smatter.
  • Finnish football player Eremenko Junior had "Only god judge me" tattooed on him.
    • Late Finnish pro-wrestler and nationalist politician Tony Halme had "exit only" tattooed over his anus.
  • David Beckham has his wife Victoria's name tattooed on his left arm in Hindi - only it is (apparently) misspelled.
  • The UK men's magazine Nuts has a feature called "Naff Tats", in which readers send in pictures of their embarrassing tattoos - usually done when they were drunk.
  • Hayden Panettiere has several tattoos but most of those are pretty discreet, except for "To live without regrets" tattooed on her left side in Italian. Much fun was had at her expense when it was pointed out it was misspelled... although the fact that she hasn't bothered to have it removed (and has even posed topless while showing it) suggests she goes by the message rather than the spelling. Which is pretty awesome, really.
  • You know those cute abstract-pattern tattoos some girls like to have just above their buttocks? They're really not embarrassing at all, and rather popular. Except that at some point, bayuvarian comedian Michael Mittermeier came up with the Embarrassing Nickname "Arschgeweih" (ass antlers) for that phenomenon. Stupid jokes about screwing a deer included with the pack. Well... Let's just say that the popularity of that specific form of tattoo has dwindled in the German-speaking universe recently...
    • Similarly, in North America it's most-popularly referred to as the "Tramp Stamp", and is now seen as a kind of silly fad. Made all the worse by being semi-permanent — like permanently having a set of Pogs or a Pet Rock on you at all times.
  • In 2009, a Belgian girl named Kimberley Vlaeminck tattooed 56 stars on her face. After her parents became angry she claimed that she had fallen asleep during the procedure. She became the laughing stock of the entire nation and fell into a serious depression.
  • As shown on Tattoo Nightmares, mentioned above, one of the most common embarrassing tattoos for men are tribal tattoos. A tattoo fad that boomed in the Nineties and went bust very soon after, tribals are mostly now seen as dated and a little silly. They've also attracted a pretty big hatedom from tattoo artists, since they're one of the most common coverups, and the most difficult to do well.
  • A common trick of "Scambaiters", people who try to get 419 Scam emails and pretend to believe the email to distract the scammer, is to claim that sending money to people outside of their faith is Against Their Religion and that they must join their faith in order to get the money. In these cases, part of joining the religion will almost always involve getting a tattoo (With photos of the procedures to make sure it isn't a fake). Bonus points if the church's name forms a rude acronym which is part of the tattoo.


Embarrassing SlideIndex Of ShameEven the Dog Is Ashamed
Embarrassing NicknameCharacterization TropesEmotional Bruiser
El Cid PloyPersonal Appearance TropesEternally Pearly-White Teeth
Embarrassing SlideComedy TropesEmbarrassingly Painful Sunburn

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