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 where a character has an embarrassing tattoo. It might be shoddily done, misspelled, or show the name of a former love interest. It might be written in a language the wearer doesn't understand (or even read) and thus not mean what he thinks it does. It might be in an embarrassing location as well. It's often the result of Alcohol-Induced Idiocy or teenage whim. This is slowly becoming a Discredited Trope for four reasons:
- It's becoming increasingly easy and reliable to remove tattoos or come up with cover-up designs;
- Tattoos are considerably more mainstream than they were in the past, leading people to become savvy and avoid this trope;
- Large tattoos are expensive and require multiple sessions to complete; and
- No self-respecting tattoo parlor will serve anyone who is clearly under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or who is under the age of 18 (even with parental permission).
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- A Yellow Book commercial has a bride trying on her dress when she realizes for the first time that she has a tattoo reading "Mike" — who's not the guy she's marrying. She naturally finds a good removal place in the eponymous Yellow Book.
- 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."
- Credit Karma, a website offering free credit scores, had a commercial where a woman claims to know her credit score because she had it elaborately tattooed on her arm. Then her friend tells her that credit scores change (revealing the importance of the service). She winds up changing her tattoo with a Sharpie. "I've gotta update my ink!"
Anime and Manga
- A major plot point in Photon is that the eponymous character and the female lead both have the same tattoo written on their foreheads in magic magic marker, so it's totally permanent. Having matching drawings like this is akin to a marriage proposal. The embarrassing part is that the tattoo reads Baka — Japanese for "idiot".
- The Vox pilots in Rinne no Lagrange use marks called Memoria to interact with their mecha. Some of them, though, are in questionable places, to say the least: Madoka's is on her butt, Lan's is somewhere on her breasts, and Muginami's is just above her crotch. It's further implied that these are created based on where the Vox touches them.
- At one point in Ranma ˝, 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 to make it disappear.
- From One Piece:
- Portgas D. Ace has his name tattooed on his arm, except it's written "ASCE" with the "S" crossed out. One would presume the artist couldn't spell, but the "S" can be explained as the symbol of a pirate crew he used to captain.
- 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 damage wearing it, causing Luffy's most common Berserk Button to be hit and an ass-kicking to ensue. She since changed it to a pinwheel, which has a much more positive connotation for her.
- A meta-embarrassment: Trafalgar Law's "DEATH" Knuckle Tattoo originally said "DETH" before it was corrected.
- From Fullmetal Alchemist:
- Scar's arm is covered in a tattoo that allows him to perform his destructive alchemy. It's embarrassing because it reminds him of his past.
- Riza Hawkeye has a large tattoo on her back, which was likely put there against her will, perhaps by her own father.
- 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.
- In Baccano!!, there's nothing wrong with Jacuzzi's massive facial tattoo in itself, but being a Shrinking Violet, he treats it more as an embarrassing disfigurement. It makes more sense when you know how he got it: he got it when his best friend Nice blew out her eye in a backyard explosive accident, thinking that she shouldn't have to deal with the stares alone.
- Used 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". The subtitles then say: "Actual Translation: Stupid fanboy wasted his money".
- 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".
- 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. Subsequent shots of Piotr shirtless and unarmored don't show it, though; since we never saw it removed, it may just have been Retconned out or otherwise temporary. It's just as well, since Kitty got better and fans were speculating as to her inevitable reaction when she sees it.
- 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".
- In one Spider-Man story, Peter Parker's then-girlfriend Carlie Cooper got drunk and considered getting a Green Goblin tattoo. She ended up getting a Spider-Man tattoo instead. Because she was his then-girlfriend, it got embarrassing after they broke up.
- 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.
- Cookie in Beetle Bailey has a large tattoo with the name of a long-past love inside a heart. 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.)
- 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.
Films — Animation
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 finishes taking a shower, 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 to figure out who it is. It's Deputy Garcia.
- In the 2002 film version of The Importance of Being Earnest, Gwendolyn is so enamored with the name "Ernest" that she has it tattooed on her buttocks, adding 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 their Trust Password.
- Paul Blart: Mall Cop has the eponymous character get drunk (after stating that he doesn't drink), and emerge with a tattoo of the Loch Ness Monster.
- One enthusiastic Star Wars fan in Fanboys shows the main characters his new tattoo based on the then-upcoming The Phantom Menace. He thinks it's going to be one of the film's most awesome characters. It's Jar-Jar Binks.
- Talia in Larry Crowne gets a free tattoo when she starts a shop next to a parlor. It supposedly means "strong mind", but apparently actually reads "soy sauce".
- Kevin gets 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.
- We're the Millers: Scotty P's neck tattoo shows that he clearly has "No Ragrets".
- In X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Fred Dukes has a pin-up girl tattooed on his arm; when he gains weight, she fattens as well.
- In Moms' Night Out, Sondra, the pastor's wife, has a tattoo of Donny Osmond in a place where he has to lower her skirt to show it to her daughter.
- 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, which reads "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.
- In the Harry Potter series, the Death Eaters have the "Dark Mark" tattooed on them as a symbol of their membership. Former Death Eaters like Snape and Karkaroff consider them shameful, given some of their exchanges in Goblet Of Fire.
- In Papillon, the Masked Breton has a cockroach tattooed on his face. As he tells Papillon and the other escapees, he foolishly got it in prison to look tough, but after escaping, he 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 he 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 gets revenge on the guardian who brutally raped her by forcibly, painfuly, and very badly tattooing him with the words "I am a sexist pig, a pervert and a rapist. 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 was 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, "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 from Aunt Dimity 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.
- Bones has a particularly embarrassing one. After breaking up with his fiancee Angela, Hodgins is horrified to find her father, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top,note is in town. Angela tries to talk him down, only for Hodgins to wake up in the middle of the desert, drugged, with Angela's face tattooed on his arm in scary perfection with the caption "Angela Forever". Naturally, Angela is horrified ("You're sweating on me!"), but she gets over it after she and Hodgins eventually make up and get married for real. But that didn't stop Billy from doing it again, this time with Hodgins' other arm and Billy's own face (which should do wonders 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 crewmates 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 gets the tattoo painfully removed in "Ten Sessions" and eventually gets engaged to the doctor who performed the procedure.
- 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 — and which will eventually inhabit their bodies and then kill them. The demon is later defeated, but 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.
- The coach from Saved by the Bell: The College Years has Tweety Bird tattooed 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 found 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 an odd Patient of the Week who was a white supremacist with an embarrassing neo-Nazi tattoo. Although he didn't want to show it, he still didn't want a non-white doctor to treat him (although he didn't want to admit that outright). Dr. Bailey, the spunky female black doctor, ended up operating on him and stitching the tattoo up into an S shape rather than a swastika.
- Dr Kelso in Scrubs has "Johnny" tattooed on his buttock, while Johnny has "Bobby" tattooed on his. His explains that "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, one of Berg's exes has his name tattooed in an intimate place, and when she becomes Pete's new girlfriend, Berg tries to prevent him from finding out.
- 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. He's not embarrassed, but his mother was, and she always tried to make him cover them up.
- A dating service video sketch in Smack The Pony had "an ex punk, looking for a soulmate with equally regrettable past" who reveals 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.
- On Saturday Night Live:
- Mocked in a fake commercial for "Lower Back Tattoo remover", which is 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 in high school. He had an Anthony Kiedis tribal tattoo (because he thought he'd love the Red Hot Chili Peppers forever), a red nautical tattoo, and a weird seascape on his right side (which doesn't make sense to him, since he grew up in Iowa and never saw the ocean). That seascape was actually covered with makeup when it was otherwise exposed in the "E-Meth" commercial.
- 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". Jefferson tried to get it changed, and he did...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:
- In the episode "The Adhesive Duck Deficiency", it's revealed that Penny has a Chinese character tattooed on her butt. It's 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, so it was spelled "Adda" — which happened to be the name Anna's chief rival. He had that removed, but it 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". Her new boyfriend Brad doesn't find out until months into their relationship. He gets over it, she relents and points out that she chose Brad over Dean — and then realized the money Brad offered for its removal was originally earmarked for her to get an iPod.
- In Big Bad Beetleborgs, Flabber offers to show the kids his tattoo to get them on board with his Zany Scheme. When the kids retort that they've seen tattoos before, he admits that this one is on his spleen. That seals the deal.
- 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. It was never shown on the show, but it is on the Internet, and and there are no words to explain how much this guy is going to hate himself in twenty years.◊
- 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 he looked like he had a child's drawings all over his neck. 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, only for them to break up shortly afterward.
- In the Tru TV show All Worked Up. Byran, the process server, winds up having to serve a tattoo artist who tattooed the plaintiff with Japanese kanji that turned out to be a Foreign Cuss Word.
- 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. Most of the tattoos were either poor drunk decisions or 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's own prison tattoos are symbolically removed by an MRI machine, which implies that they're made of metal 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's 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 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.
- On Some Girls, Viva's on-off boyfriend Rocky got "Viva Forever" tattooed in large, ugly letters across his chest to show his affection for her. He's not too bright, so he doesn't think it's ugly, but everyone else he knows thinks it is. Saz snarks that if he and Viva break up for good, he can just pass it off as an ugly Spice Girls tattoo.
- 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:
- This is one of the risks of buying used morphs in Eclipse Phase. In the core rulebook's introductory fiction, the protagonist finds a particularly rude animated nanotat of an entire Slitheroid entering the genitals of a Pleasure Pod on their new body's right bicep.
- In Hc Svnt Dracones, the "New Look" surgery permanently alters your pigmentation (since tattoos don't work too well with fur or feathers). It gives you a social bonus with groups that find the new pattern attractive or endearing and a penalty with just about everyone else. Mutants who naturally have unusual patterns are frequently subject to Fantastic Racism due to the surgery's association with rebellious kids.
- 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 acquired in prison. He covers it with Conspicuous Gloves or a black band, and he's 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.
- Klaus Kreutz from Wolfenstein: The New Order has a tattoo of a swastika on his arm from before he joined the Kreisau Circle, causing a brief scuffle with BJ when they first meet. While he admits that he would like it removed, he wants that moment to be just as important as when he first got it in the first place.
- A sidequest in The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings will lead to Geralt getting a very risque tattoo on the side of his throat in full view. Unless you take specific steps to remove it, the tattoo will stay on for the rest of the game and the sequel if you import the save.
- 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 it in ten years' time.
- In The Order of the Stick:
- When Zoe from Sluggy Freelance is given a tattoo on her chest thanks to a mistake with magic, her main concern is that it turns her into a camel whenever someone says "shupid", but she does go to great pains to hide it from her puritanical mother.
- Cornelius from Achewood, after getting drunk with Ray, Téodor and Roast Beef, awakens to find a Star Wars tattoo on his chest, and becomes distraught... but then discovers that it was a fake all along. And then it's revealed that the other three guys all got drunken tattoos on their chests.
- In S.S.D.D, Kerrie was really embarrassed about the tattoo she got from "one of those seedy, coin-operated robots you find in servicemen's bars", but it's actually pretty awesome.
- From Myapokalips, a robot shows off his new tattoo: "Aw, that's a sick tattoo!" "Ya bro, it means 'strength'". It's a CAPTCHA sticker that quite clearly reads "ReTArD".
- Joel in Concession was unwittingly subjected to a series of body modifications that increased with blood alcohol level: ear clip, eyebrow stud, and lip ring at .05; a tattoo of a butterfly on his arm at .10; and his (recently very dominant) boyfriend's name branded on his ass at .15.
- In Ballerina Mafia, Ossian tattooed a picture of Marlon Brando on Zoe's back as an April Fool's prank. Another time, a guy runs off from the tattoo parlor without paying, so the artist remotely turns his cool tattoo into something embarrassing.
- Full Frontal Nerdity: According to one strip, Lewis has a map to the Safe House bar in Milwaukee tattooed on his butt.
- In the cast interviews, Conrad of Hanna Is Not a Boy's Name admits to having a "raptor-ish dinosaur skeleton" on his shoulder blade, which he isn't particularly proud of.
- In Wapsi Square, Shelly has a tattoo that she was somewhat ashamed of. While the tattoo itself is not particularly embarrassing, it is big enough to cover the entire front of her body, it shows up unexpectedly, and it signifies her connection to a paranormal mess she isn't sure she wants to be involved with.
- Graham in Wizard School gets a series of stars tattooed on his face in a drunken haze in an attempt to impress an (evil) woman. When he wakes up after being abducted to the eponymous school, he seems more annoyed about the tattoo than about his forced confinement.
- In Alien Loves Predator, Abe requests a tattoo of a "Chinese character". When the tattooist asks him which one, Abe says it doesn't matter since he won't be able to read it anyway. So the tattooist draws William Hung's face.
Tattooist: You said "any Chinese character".
Abe: William Hung is not a Chinese character! He is a Chinese disgrace!
- Storm Blackfire, a character in the Jade Regent Actual Play podcast series from RPGMP3, is a half-elf barbarian and combat expert. At one point, she acquired a magical glow-in-the-dark butterfly tattoo on a certain part of her body, which is difficult for her to conceal under her usual attire. Luckily, her magical sword imbues her with cold-resistance.
- In Tales of MU, Mackenzie lets Amaranth write "Nymph's Toy" on her forehead in magic marker — as in, actual magic, meaning it can't be removed without 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 from LoadingReadyRun 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.
- While only lasting for two vlogs, Hyper Fangirl got a tattoo of The Nostalgia Critic's face on her neck, creeping everyone out even more.
- Frequently referenced on The Simpsons:
- In one episode, Homer changes his name to Max Power. Marge comments that that poses a problem, as she has the name "Homer" tattooed 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 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, and 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 has a "risque tattoo" that can only be seen when he's sheared.
- An episode of Braceface has Sharon going behind her mom's back to get a Chinese character tattoo that allegedly means "freedom" (but actually means "grapefruit"). In that same episode, Sharon's mom reveals that when she was young (possibly around Sharon's age), she got a tattoo of her disco ball done on her rear end, but she later had it removed when she realized it looked more like a golf ball than a disco ball.
- Dean from Code Monkeys apparently has a dolphin tramp stamp, 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.
- Grunkle Stan of Gravity Falls has a tattoo on his back which is partially seen under his undershirt. It's unclear what it refers to, but Stan is bound and determined that no one sees it, especially his inquisitive nephew Dipper, as said nephew found out on "Dipper's Guide to the Unexplained". Later, in "A Tale of Two Stans" we find out that it's not a tattoo at all, but rather a burn mark Stan got when fighting with his twin brother 30 years ago.
- Ronaldo from Steven Universe lists his "top 5 Regrets" on his Character Blog here. Number 5: "My tattoo. Don't ask." Note that Ronaldo is probably too young to legally have one unless his dad consented.
- In Ben 10: Omniverse, Hex revealed that his face markings was a tattoo, mentioning that it made it hard for him to get an honest job after reforming. In fact, he only got his job as a professor at a university after donating his entire collection to them.
- 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.
- A man gets a tattoo reading, "Fuck the Police". Guess what happens to him.◊
- 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.
- 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.
- Chinese and other Asian characters were the tribal tats of the 2000's, only they affected men and women equally. They were intended to look exotic and mysterious, but instead they made the wearer look like an idiot if she couldn't read the tattoo herself and had to trust that her source was honest and accurate in translating. This can be averted if the wearer knows the language, but by the end of the decade, they had become such a cliche that they would be embarrassing regardless. The blog Hanzi Smatter translates many unfortunate tattoos of Asian characters. Not only are some Blatant Lies or even insulting, but the worst are tats done in the "Asian Gibberish Font", in which English letters are simply replaced by Asian-looking characters and the resulting "word" is meaningless.
- 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 Ryder to instead read "Wino Forever." Then he went into rehab.
- 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.
- Cute abstract-pattern tattoos just above their buttocks used to be popular with girls, but again, it's now thought of as a silly fad. It also paints a somewhat unflattering picture of the wearer, as evidenced by the fact that they're often called "tramp stamps". In Germany, their popularity was single-handedly torpedoed by Bavarian comedian Michael Mittermeier, who coined the term "Arschgeweih" — meaning "ass antlers".
- A common trick of "scambaiters", people who play along with 419 Scam emails to distract and humiliate the scammer, is to claim that sending money to people outside of their faith is against their religion and that the scammer must join their faith in order to get the money. In these cases, part of joining the religion will almost always involve getting an embarrassing tattoo, with the demand of photographic evidence. One way to do this is for the church's name to form a rude acronym.