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Embarrassing Tattoo

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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.
The Big Bang Theory, "The Adhesive Duck Deficiency"

A comedy trope, in which a character has – what else? – an embarrassing tattoo. It might be shoddily done, misspelled, or show the name of a former romantic partner. It might be written in a language the wearer doesn't understand (or even read) and thus not mean what they think it does. It might be part of a trend that has been Condemned by History. It might represent a gang or hate group, or otherwise not reflect the wearer's current beliefs or lifestyle. It might be a design or symbol from a culture the wearer has little or no relevant connection to. It might be warped due to age, weight changes, pregnancy, or infection. It may have been the work of an amateur artist. It might be the location of the tattoo that is embarrassing (e.g.: on the buttocks or near the genitals). It might also be the result of teenage whim; even if the person was legally an adult at the time, what looks cool at 19 can easily become embarrassing by 30. Bonus points, or perhaps a Face Palm (depending on the perspective), if Alcohol-Induced Idiocy is a factor, regardless of whether it's the one doing or getting the tattoo.

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 symbols associated with gang violence or racism, such as a swastika.


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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". The background music's lyrics change, appropriately.
  • 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 "0800 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 "0800 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!"
  • The Suzuki Swift car had a series of print adds in the UK with the theme "Time for a Swift exit." One of these showed a weedy tattooist realising that he has tattooed "Resplect" onto a bodybuilder's back.
  • A Japanese ad for Soyjoy bars has a woman trying to fake weight loss by tattooing the sides of her midsection (as well as her thighs and arms) black in a way that if she stood against a black background, she'd look slimmer. After not being satisfied with her first two tattoos, she goes a step too far on the third and has a fake Impossible Hourglass Figure, and asks if the tattoo artist can erase some of it, only to be told it's impossible.
  • Dairy Queen Lips: In a Mother's Day ad, the lips show off a tattoo they got on their tongue, a heart that's supposed to say "mom" but reads "mim" instead. They immediately remark "Who the heck is Mim?"

    Anime & Manga 
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Fairy Tail: Gômon, who is a fan of the dark wizard Zeref, tattooed his forehead with a kanji that he thought meant "Zeref". The kanji actually means "matcha", a type of green tea.
  • 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. It's actually his dead brother's arm.
    • Riza Hawkeye has a large tattoo on her back, which was likely put there against her will, perhaps by her own father.
  • Averted in Horimiya. Miyamura keeps his body tattoos hidden while he's at school (to the point of always wearing long sleeves, even in the hottest of conditions), but it's just because he doesn't want to be bullied or get in trouble with the school board. He freely shows them off outside of school (along with his piercings), and even gets more tattoos early on in the story.
  • 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" is actually a tribute to his thought-to-be-dead brother Sabo (whose Jolly Roger was a crossed-out S).
    • 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, angering Luffy and ensuing an ass-kicking. 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.
  • 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".
  • At one point in Ranma ½, Ryōga 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. There's also the more serious problem that the mark persists even in his animal form, which means that he runs the risk of Akane discovering his curse. This is a problem since, in his pig form, he's been posing as Akane's pet P-chan, and sleeping in her bed. If she were to find out, she would likely not be happy about it.
  • The Vox pilots in Lagrange: The Flower of Rin-ne 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.
  • 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".


  • 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".
  • Addressed by Robin Williams in Weapons of Self-Destruction:
    Robin: 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."
  • The oft-repeated urban legend of a punk-rocker girl or woman coming to some hospital's emergency department with complaints of severe abdominal pain. She is diagnosed with appendicitis and scheduled for emergency surgery. While she is being prepped (which includes shaving off her pubic hair), it's discovered that she has dyed her pubic hair bright green, and has a tattoo just above her pubic region that reads, "Keep off the grass." She has the surgery, and wakes up to find a note on her bandages from the surgeon or one of the OR nurses that reads, "Sorry, we had to mow the lawn."

    Comic Books 
  • Harley Quinn: After being abducted and knocked out by Red Tool, Harley wakes up with a red hammer and Red Tool's phone number tattooed on her ass. Harley, needless to say, is pissed at this turn of events.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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.)
  • An old Bloom County strip has Opus exchanging personal scandals with his fiancé 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.
  • An old Playboy cartoon has an attractive young lady , just married to a wealthy older man, saying "now that we're married I have something about my past to tell you". Visible on her buttock is a tattoo saying "Property of Hell's Angels" (used by the gang on young girls at the time).
  • Similar to the page image, one Gahan Wilson cartoon has a tattooist grumpily cramming one last name onto a man's chest which is covered with crossed-out names. "This one had better be it, young man!"
  • The March 23, 1994 Garfield strip has Jon note to Garfield how lucky cats are to have fur to keep them warm and cozy. Garfield adds that his fur also has the benefit of covering up his coiled snake tattoo.
  • 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 it's Cyrillic Russian and says "10c Deposit VT NH MA".

    Fan Works 
  • The Boy Behind The Mask: During their drunken bender on Trader's Isle, Hiccup and Katla end up getting tattoos on their backs. Katla gets a tattoo of a Skrill skull with her swords behind it with "Helheim hath no fury" written below it in cursive, while Hiccup got a massive depiction of a Night Fury.
  • Played for Drama in the Splatoon fanfic Her Fractured Spirit. Callie can't figure out how to get rid of the octopus-shaped hip tattoo that was given to her while she was Brainwashed and Crazy by Octarians. Inklings should be able to make tattoos go away, however, Callie's tattoo won't disappear permanently. She has to actively focus on keeping it away.
  • Not exactly tattoos, but close: in The Keys Stand Alone: The Soft World, to punish four ninjas for attacking them in their hotel room, John uses the dye from their outfits to imprint the words "DONT FUCK WITH 9000S" on them. Then he and Ringo hang them, naked, on the illuminated side of the hotel and don't let them down until dawn.
  • My Immortal: A tattoo on Draco's arm reveals that he is bisexual.
  • Psalm of the Lark: Barbara has an embarrassing old tattoo of a robin that she'd prefer to hide. It's related to her ex-boyfriend Dick (a.k.a., the first Robin).

    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 particularly 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.
  • Down Periscope: LCDR Dodge has the phrase "Welcome Aboard" tattooed on his penis. His Bunny-Ears Lawyer tendencies had already put a sizable crimp in his chances for promotion and independent command, but this one was the last straw for his superiors.
  • 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.
  • The Hangover Part II At some point during their latest wild drunken night, Stu got a replica of Mike Tyson's infamous facial tattoo, which he has to keep for the duration of the movie. Tyson himself shows up at the end, and he suggests that Stu have it removed because he looks like an idiot with it.
  • 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.
  • James Bond: In GoldenEye, Bond forces Jack Wade to show a rose tattoo with the name "Muffy" ("Third wife") on his hip as part of their Trust Password.
  • The Farrelly 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.
  • 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.
  • In Long Shot while reporting on the Nazi group Fred is forced to get a partial swastika tattoo that he later covers up with a stick figure.
  • 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 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 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".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • James from Snatched once wanted to get a tattoo that symbolized the quote "Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore," but he was so drunk that instead he got a tattoo of Borat giving the thumbs-up with the caption "My wife." He keeps it covered with a patch. When he shows it to Emily, Emily shows him a raised tattoo of an unrecognizable symbol she got on her lower back when she was eighteen.
  • She does not survive long enough for it to become embarrassing, but Angie has the word "WHORE" tattooed on her forehead by Jack as punishment for her infidelity in Snuff Movie.
  • 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 fiancée. It finally gets burnt off in an explosion, allowing him to marry the Love Interest.
  • In That's My Boy, Han has a tattoo of the New Kids on the Block on his back.
  • In a short film submitted to the Tropfest, an elderly Jewish man approaches a tattoo artist to change a tattoo on his wife. Turns out his wife is dead and the tattoo he wants to be altered is her concentration camp number before her funeral. The tattoo artist takes some convincing, but he changes the tattoo so it's unrecognizable. The film ends with him tearing out a swastika from his book of tattoo designs.
  • In the 1955 John Wayne movie The Sea Chase, a sailor from a German vessel meets some British sailors in a neutral port during World War II, and to show there's no hard feelings they take him out drinking. He wakes up with a huge Union Jack tattooed on his back with the words BRITANNIA RULES THE WAVES.
  • 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 Young Lady Chatterley II, Jenny the maid has a tattoo of a rose on her butt cheek that Thomas the gardener is very keen to see.

  • This happens a few times in the Adrian Mole books:
    • In True Confessions, Adrian reveals that he has "Mum and Dad" written in a private part of his body. He regrets this because when he is the millionaire owner of a Greek island, he will be the only sunbather among his guests to be wearing trunks.
    • In Cappuccino Years, Rosie wants a tattoo lasered off her belly when she is pregnant, saying that the little monkey will stretch to look like King Kong.
    • In Weapons of Mass Destruction, it is revealed that Adrian's father had "I'm a nutter" tattooed on his head as a skinhead youth; which then became visible when he started losing his hair.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Discworld:
    • Corporal Nobbs's tattoo in 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.
    • It can be assumed that Alfonse the smuggler in Pyramids isn't usually embarassed about his Comic Sutra tattoos, but he's rather uncomfortable when a young lady (Ptraci) notices them, and even more so when she turns out to be a trained cortesean who matter-of-factly critiques the designs.
  • The Dresden Files: 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".
  • Harry Potter:
    • 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.
    • Also, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Ginny spreads a rumor about Ron having a pygmy puff tattoo, "but I didn't say where" (and of Harry having a Hungarian Horntail on his chest, but that's another trope).
  • 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 the Millennium Series, Lisbeth Salander gets revenge on the guardian who brutally raped her by forcibly, painfully, 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.
  • The heroine of Mr. Meeson's Will by H. Rider Haggard has the eponymous will tattooed on her back after she and Meeson are stranded on a desert island with no writing materials. At the end of the novel, her new husband comments on what an immense sacrifice this was for a young Victorian lady, as it meant she could never be presented at court where she would have to wear an off-the-shoulder gown.
  • 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 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 unforeseen circumstances.
  • A secondary character in one of Mercedes Lackey's SERRAted Edge novels got a swastika tattoo before the novel started, while his father was in his "race war" phase. He has a Heel–Face Turn during the novel, and in a later novel, we learn that one of the first things he did after escaping from Dad was to get the tattoo removed.
  • 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.
  • Snow Crash:
    • A semi-humorous example is the forehead tattoo of the badass mercenary Raven, 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. And that he has a Nuclear Weapon mounted in the sidecar of his motorbike.
    • There's also the drunken hick that the half African-American, half-Korean Hiro encounters who has "RACIALLY INSENSITIVE" and "MOOD SWINGS" tattooed on his forehead — although in that case, the hick seems to think those are things to be proud of. Briefly.
  • 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 Star Island, Cherry Pye gets half of a zebra with the head of Axl Rose tattooed on her neck, thanks to an aborted visit to a tattoo artist with a bizarre Signature Style who pays a Phony Psychic for referrals. While her handlers are mostly disgusted by it (her mother says it "looks like gonorrhea through a microscope"), Cherry insists on showing it off to the public, which means her Body Double has to wear the same embarrassing image.
  • In Alfred Bester's novel The Stars My Destination, the hero is given a horrific tattoo on his face by a Cargo Cult Recycled with a Gimmick 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.
  • One of the stories of Wayside School has Calvin's dad getting him a tattoo for his birthday. Mrs. Jewls 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.
  • In Welcome Home: Travels In Smalltown Canada, Stuart McLean visits a boxing club in New Brunswick and one of the boxers is an ex-convict with a crossed-out tattoo on his shoulder. McLean asks what the tattoo used to say, but the guy politely replies that it was a mistake from his past and that he prefers not to discuss it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Grade schooler Little Pete in The Adventures of Pete & Pete has a tattoo of a lounging Spanish woman that he called "Petunia" and is later revealed to have another of a sailing ship. He's not embarrassed, but his mother is, and she always tries to make him cover them up.
  • 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 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 a heart with "Neville Loves Lotte" tattooed on his arm. He doesn't even know anyone called Lotte.
  • 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 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.
  • 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". It should be noted that Sheldon's track record with Chinese is not great, so we have no way of knowing which it is.
    • 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.
  • Birds of a Feather: "Tattoo You" reveals that Sharon has, unbeknownst to her, had a tattoo of Norman Parker inside her butt for about 40 years. Once this is pointed out to her, she lies about her age so that she can get free hearing aids and uses the money meant for the hearing aids to remove the tattoo instead.
  • Bones has a particularly embarrassing one. After breaking up with his fianc&e 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...
  • An episode of The Boys has a woman showing off that her arm has Ed Sheeran's face as she and a boyfriend made matching ones... and two weeks later they broke off, made her regret it deeply ("I fucking hate Ed Sheeran!").
  • The Brittas Empire: Helen spends the entirety of "The Boss" trying to remove a tattoo that she doesn't remember getting (the tattoo being something explicit with "I'm a Goer" written underneath it). She's eventually able to change it into a tattoo of a butterfly with I ♥ Gordon written under it).
  • 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 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 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".
  • 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.note  He had that removed, but it left a scar on his chest.
  • In one episode of Derry Girls the girls' mothers reveal that as teens they once all got tattoos of a skull and crossbones, but have kept them secret, even from their husbands with who they have children, as they thought getting a tattoo was in itself, and would mark them as, criminals.
  • 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.
  • 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. A similar trope occurs in season one of The Good Doctor.
  • In Feel Good, Mae drunkenly gets a tattoo of the Sum 41 logo, despite not liking the band.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Grey's Anatomy has an odd Patient of the Week who is a white supremacist with an embarrassing neo-Nazi tattoo. Although he doesn't want to show it, he still doesn't want a non-white doctor to treat him (although he doesn't want to admit that outright). Dr. Bailey, the spunky female black doctor, ends up operating on him and stitching the tattoo up into an S shape rather than a swastika.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • More often than not, the participants on MTV's How Far Is Tattoo Far or Just Tattoo Of Us intend for this to happen to whomever they appear with. Some combine it with Tough Love, others with Scare 'Em Straight, but it's all about getting a specific message across. Of course, in some cases, the reaction wouldn't be out of place on The Jerry Springer Show.
  • 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.
  • In iCarly, Freddie 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.
  • Impractical Jokers:
    • In one punishment, Joe has Sal, Murr and Q get these. Q's is a picture of a cat and the sentence "38, lives alone, has 3 cats." Q jokes that he's not going to be 38 forever. Murr's is a picture of a screaming, skydiving ferret, a reference to a previous episode's punishment. Sal's is a headshot of Jayden Smith. Why? It's funny.
    • In another episode, Sal gets another Jayden Smith tattoo with Jayden Smith himself watching!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • It's a plot in an episode of Married... with Children with a two-for-one example, courtesy of the tattoo artist being too drunk to do the job exactly as requested.
    • When Jefferson asked him for the tattoo, he wanted it on his arm. The tattoo artist, in his drunken stupor, applied it on his butt.
    • Jefferson intended for the tattoo to spell out the name of his wife Marcy — but since the tattoo artist was plastered, it ended up spelled "Mary". Jefferson tried to get it changed, and he "Marty".
  • Mock the Week: While discussing the Chinese introducing anal swabs to test for COVID-19, a shot of the instruction sheet issued with the swab kit flashes up briefly on the screen. Dara then says that he didn't show it for longer because he doesn't want people to learn his tattoo actually means "anal swab".
  • On My Name Is Earl, Earl meets a biker babe with a lower-back tattoo reading "Wanna Ride?" He takes her home...and discovers that far from being a Badass Biker, she was a cutesy, naive girl with a room full of stuffed animals, and a love of the outdoors and papier-mache, none of which Earl was into. And far from being promiscuous or sexually adventurous, like her tattoo would suggest, it turned out that before she hooked up with Earl, she was a virgin. Earl was confused, and the girl noted that her temporary tattoo (the one that had caught Earl's attention) had rubbed off on his forearm.
    • In another episode, Frank has been dumped by his longtime girlfriend Billie over a misunderstanding. He does (as Earl puts it) the one thing you should never do in Prison: give up. Another inmate is tattooing his name on Frank's butt, while Frank just lays there apathetically. Earl puts a stop to it and resolves to get Frank a new girlfriend, using a dating service available to inmates.
    • In that same episode, it's revealed that the misunderstanding is over Frank showing Earl a picture of Billie. The audience never sees the picture, but the picture is described in detail. Frank bought Billie a tattoo (as well as a promise navel ring). The tattoo is a pair of angel wings, located on her vulva. It also says, "Love your brother." Earl thinks it's just a nice sentiment, but Frank explains that it's really "Love, your brother," as her brother was the tattoo artist.
    • Another episode in the prison arc has Glen, who has been in and out of prison many times, since "before he knew what swear words were." While in juvie, he gets a tattoo on his back that reads "Fudge the Police". (It's not known if it was temporary or permanent.)
    • Another episode revealed that Joy has a "tramp stamp" with her kids' names and birth dates on it. Darnell reads it to show that Dodge and Earl Jr. really are her children.
    • Donny Jones went to Prison for a crime that Earl committed a couple of years before the series began, and had a Faith–Heel Turn while he was in there with little else to do besides reading The Bible. While in prison, he got at least two tattoos as symbols of that: a crucifix on his torso (which he often consults with)...and a tattoo of Moses parting the Red Sea on his buttocks.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000: In At the Earth's Core, Jonah and the bots get frustrated at how quickly their temporary tattoos wear off, so they invent Permanent Temporary Tattoos. Jonah, who's being forced to marry Kinga Forrester, shows off the invention by applying "Kinga + Jonah 4EVER" to his forearm.
    Jonah: All you gotta do is set 'em, wet 'em... and then live with them forever.
  • Kate in NCIS tells Abby posthumously that she's incredibly embarrassed about Ducky seeing the tattoo of a bow she has nether regions.
  • In the second season of Never Have I Ever, Davi and her friends go to a tattoo parlour for fun. Malcolm gets a tattoo that reads 'Be Anally,' but he intends it to read as 'Be An Ally.'
  • 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.
  • One of the first episodes of The Office (US) with Andy Bernard as regional manager has him create an incentive program. When Jim starts asking what prizes he will offer for inordinately large numbers of points, Andy ultimately says 5,000 points will lead to a butt tattoo. Cue the whole placing working like crazy, filling the quota in a single day and dragging him to a parlor. It eventually is a dog with a shirt reading "Nard", acknowledging hs nickname "Nard Dog".
  • 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."
  • Roxie from Sabrina the Teenage Witch is revealed to have an "I Love Hanson" tattoo, that she got on a whim and wants to be removed.
  • 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.
  • 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!"
  • Schitt's Creek: Alexis Rose has a lower back tattoo that says "That's Hot" in Cantonese, which she got when she was twelve.
  • 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."
  • 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".
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • On Step by Step, Carol shows her stepdaughter, Al, her tattoo (of an ex-boyfriend's embarrassing nickname) in an effort to dissuade her from getting one herself. To make it even more embarrassing, it's on her butt.
  • In the Supernatural episode "The Girl with the Dungeons & 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.
  • According to the clients that show up at the namesake studio, this is the premise of Tattoo Nightmares, on Spike TV. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • 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 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.
  • Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt has one character reveal she is hiding under make-up a tattoo reading "Mike Tyson's Face Tattoo". And she says it happened after she fell asleep at the chair, so it's probably a disgruntled artist.
  • 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.
  • A couple of segments in World's Dumbest... feature tattoos that land them on the list. One had showed bait car footage of a man who made the stupid mistake of tattooing his name and birth year on his neck, making it very easy for cops to track him down.
  • You Me Her: Jack, Izzy, and Emma get tatoos early into season 2 after drinking too much due to losing their patience with how their relationship won't be tolerated by their respective friends. The tattoo in question has their initials, "EJI", which they pronounce "edgy".

  • 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!
  • 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 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.
  • 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
  • "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
  • 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
  • Eminem:
    • Eminem has a misogynistic tattoo of his wife's open gravestone on his navel, surrounded with the text "ROT IN PIECES". He had this done while they were broken up, but got back together with her not long after, much to his shame. He contemplated getting it removed in 2002, but instead just left it to fade rather than touching it up like he does his better tattoos. He mentions it in numerous songs:
      • In "Superman", a groupie Slim is sleeping with explores his tattoos (including the tattoo of his daughter's name):
        "Hailie Jade", I love that name
        Love that tattoo, what's that say?
        "Rot In Pieces," ...uh, that's great!
      • In "Bad Husband", he apologises for it:
        Laughed at the stomach tat with the tombstone
        It was funny back in our youth
        But then it wasn't after we knew
        That we were done and actually through
    • In "Puke", he complains about how he got his ex-wife's name tattooed on him (in real life, this is a little heart on his inner left bicep, incorporated into his Slim Shady/Uncle Ronnie Detroit shroom tattoo). Now if he gets another girlfriend, her name has to be Kim. ("Shi-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-it").


  • In John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme, Series 9, Episode 1, Russ has a tattoo of a crocodile's lower jaw. He has an explanation in place that it represents the fact you can hold a crocodile's jaws closed, but not open, symbolising that strength depends on application, but it's actually because he asked the tatooist for the narrowest animal she had, then backed out altogether when she'd just started.

    Tabletop Games 
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • Cyberpunk 2077: During the side mission "Chippin' In", when V allows Johnny to take over their body for an evening, Johnny can tattoo a heart with a cupid's arrow and "JOHNNY + V" written inside it on V's right triceps.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Final Fantasy XV has Prompto hiding his tattoo of a barcode under several armbands, as it would reveal his origins as not only being from Niflheim but also being a tube baby of Verstael.
  • 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.
  • Played With in Star Ocean. Ronyx is very cagey when the subject of his symbological tattoos comes up. The tattoos themselves are nothing embarrassing, just arcane symbols that allow him to use magic. The embarrassment comes from the implication that he had to get nearly or entirely naked to receive them, and that they were applied by a seventeen-year old girl.
  • Team Fortress 2: Scout's tattoo of Tom Jones wouldn't qualify, if not for the fact the artist misspelled Sex Bom(b).
  • 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.
  • 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.

    Visual Novels 
  • No, Thank You!!!: Haru constantly tries to hide his tribal tattoos and rarely ever gets naked during sex scenes because of it.

    Web Animation 
  • 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.
  • Z Dogg MD has the "medimoji" series, which are short clips featuring CGI-animated emoji characters talking about the ups and downs of various medical jobs. The alien emoji is a radiologist, and he mentions an ultrasound tech by the name of "Bob". Although Bob is The Unseen, it's mentioned that Bob has a lot of tattoos, and that makes some patients (particularly older patients) nervous. Especially the arm-sleeve tattoo he has that reads, "I Love Satan." (But, in the end, Bob is so good at his job, even the most anxious patients are pleased with him and don't care about the tattoos.)

  • 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 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!
  • 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.
  • Chainsawsuit: In "Super Bowl Regrets", a guy preemptively gets a tattoo to celebrate the Green Bay Packers winning the 2015 Super Bowl — and when the Packers don't even make it to the Super Bowl, he laments that his tattoo looks stupid now. Then we see the tattoo in question, and it's a mix of bad grammar and clashing styles that would have looked stupid even if his team had won.
    "What A Bowl!"
    They're Being Champions
  • 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.
  • Full Frontal Nerdity: According to one strip, Lewis has a map to the Safe House bar in Milwaukee tattooed on his butt. This is embarrassing enough on its own, but becomes worse given that Lewis got it shortly before the giant gaming convention GenCon moved from Milwaukee to Indianapolis.
  • 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.
  • 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".
  • In The Order of the Stick:
    • In the backstory, Roy's father not only got a drunk tattoo but also a "Blood Oath of Vengeance" to go with it.
    • If you decode the Haley-speak in strip 309, she says she has a tattoo Elan doesn't know about. We get to see it in 468 (warning: spoilers ahoy).
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Toonhole: In "Another Tattoo", a tattoo artist asks his client if he is sure about the tattoo he is getting. The client replies that he has never been more sure about anything in his life, only for the next panel to reveal that he is getting a tattoo of the name of his latest lover on his back. The tattoos of the names of his previous exes have all been crossed out.
  • Unwinder's Tall Comics: Local Cloudcuckoolander Howard gets the word "Butt-Brain" on his forehead. Unwinder calls it the most tasteless tattoo he's ever seen — but mostly because it's in Papyrus font. (It's even worse than Howard's other tattoo: "Poop-Eater", on his arm, in Comic Sans.) Since Howard is also a Reality Warper, the tattoos completely disappear after this particular page.
  • 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.

    Web Original 
  • Surprisingly common in online fetish erotica, where the humiliation factor is the whole point.
  • A simple Google search for "bad tattoos" unearths all kinds of hilarity.
  • The Canadian YouTuber FluffeeTalks has a sub-series called "Worlds Worst Tattoos" where he calls people out for them.
  • Looming Gaia: In "Body Hopping", Tojum switches bodies with Jeimos. Once Jeimos gets their body back, they're distraught to find a tattoo of a rat and a cockroach mating on their butt. They manage to remove it with fire magic, though.
  • Not Always Right:
    • The tattoo artist in this story from Not Always Working assumes this to be the case for the man's name his client wants covered up. He's dead wrong: it's a memorial tattoo for her father, but she's just found out he'd actually faked his suicide to go live with his other family. But since the artist mocked her, she'll go get the cover-up somewhere else.
    • Also assumed of this person on sibling site Not Always Healthy. In this case, the fresh bandage that earned a nosy onlooker's scorn was not even for a tattoo — the wearer was healing from a punch biopsy that had to be stitched closed, and the bandage was to protect the stitches.
  • 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.

    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • In Ben 10: Omniverse, Hex revealed that his face markings were 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.
  • 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 a 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.
  • 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!"
  • 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.
  • On Daria, Trent has a tribal tattoo that he picked out of a magazine; he good-naturedly acknowledges that doing so was kind of dumb. In one episode when Daria imagined herself married to him in the future, however, hypothetical older Trent wants to get them removed because it "reminds me of how much I've wasted my life."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Gravity Falls:
    • Grunkle Stan 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.
    • In Gravity Falls: Journal 3, fitting this trope markedly more than Stan's tattoo, it is revealed that his twin brother Ford got a lot of embarrassing tattoos during his time with a tribe of tentacle-armed warrior piglets, including a star giving a double thumbs-up and declaring him to be an All Star.
  • King of the Hill: In "Be True To Your Fool", Hank shaves his head due to a sudden onset of lice and discovers he had Bill's name tattooed on the back of his head, as a result of a drunken night and a well-timed rescue by Bill. Since Hank was too drunk to remember, Boomhauer was the only one who knew of it as he was with Hank in the tattoo shop (he was going to have it tattooed across his chest before Boomhauer talked the artist into putting it somewhere more discreet). 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.
  • This short-lived FOX Family cartoon called Monster Farm (not to be confused with the Monster Rancher video game series, which was called Monster Farm in Japan) had Goatasaurus Rex resort to blackmail in order to become leader of the farm in "Fangs for the Memories". 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. One of the episodes that didn't air in America expanded on this secret of Dr. Woolly's and established that his tattoo is why he hasn't been sheared before.
  • What Could Have Been: in Phineas and Ferb's Distant Finale episode "Act Your Age", Doofenshmirtz purposefully gives himself a mid-life crisis. Word of God says that one joke they wanted to use was him getting a tattoo that he openly acknowledges he'll regret ten minutes later; after seeing it, he comments that it'll probably only take five. The note from the higher-ups apparently said that "no one on a Disney Channel show will ever be shown in the act of getting a tattoo."
  • In She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, Bow's historian father George has a tattoo that says "Love" in the language of the First Ones... except it doesn't. Adora, the only native speaker of the ancient language, notes that it says "lunch", much to his shock and to the amusement of his husband.
  • 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 manages 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.
    • In "Waiting for Duffman," Homer participates in a reality show competition to choose the next Duffman and is runner-up to one "Contestant #12"—who's quickly disqualified when it's discovered that he has a tattoo with the name of a rival beer, "Olde Ogdenville Ale." Homer is then checked for tattoos and named the new Duffman upon the announcement that he only has one, which says "Marge Madness."
      Marge: These reality shows really leave you no privacy.
  • According to the SpongeBob SquarePants episode "CopyBob DittoPants", Plankton had a picture of himself tattooed on his computer wife Karen's hard drive to always remind her of his genius. She's not happy about it.
  • 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 Total Drama Presents: The Ridonculous Race, Dwayne gets a chin tattoo while in New Zealand, which turns out to be for women only. By the season finale, he's had the tattoo removed.

    Real Life 
  • Besides the above mentioned tattoo-removing procedures, this is actually rarer in real life than you'd think because most responsible artists refuse to ink people while they are under the influence, partially because drunks tend to bleed more and partially because every customer is a walking advertisement for their tattoo studio. Some tattoo artists will also give advice on certain tattoos such as telling the customer to research the meaning and history behind a specific tattoo or advise against getting a certain type of tattoo.
  • 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 can become a bitter reminder of their failed relationship, which happened so often that many people believe the practice jinxes relationships. Most artists have strict policies of what names they'll do (i.e. only the customer's children, pets, or a dead loved one) because they don't want an irate customer later blaming them.
  • 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 laughingstock 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 extremely trashy. They've also attracted a pretty big hatedom from tattoo artists since they're one of the most common cover-ups and the most difficult to do well. (The Distaff Counterpart in this regard would be names and dates.)
  • Chinese (and occasionally Japanese) characters were the tribal tats of the 2000s, 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 they couldn't actually read the tattoo for themselves. This can obviously be averted if the wearer knows the language, but by the end of the decade, Chinese tattoos had become such a cliché that they would be embarrassing regardless. Most Asian languages are tone-based, meaning that the kanji can mean anything if you don't know how to pronounce it accurately. The blog Hanzi Smatter translates many unfortunate Asian tattoos. It's hard to decide which ones are worse: the "Asian Gibberish Font" where English letters are replaced by Chinese-looking scribble and the resulting "word" is meaningless, or the ones that are blatant insults like "Toilet Goblin".
  • Upon his death, Jean Bernadotte, the Napoleonic soldier who became the absolute monarch of Sweden (as Charles XIV John), was supposedly found with a tattoo he received in his youth (when he had been a radical anti-monarchist), ironically reading "death to all kings".
  • Accused murderer and cannibal Alferd Packer was born Alfred Packer, but he went to an illiterate or incompetent tattoo artist during his service in the Civil War and decided to just go with it thereafter.
  • Steve-O from Jackass has plenty of tattoos but there is one he regrets the most. It all began one night in 2006 when he and his drinking buddies got together and they asked him what his new tattoo should be. Inspired by the idea of not wanting kids, his first idea was a "No Babies" sign, but he decided against it. His second idea was the phrase "Fuck babies!" but he decided not to go with a wordy tattoo. This led to a drunk Steve-O going with a tattoo of a man raping a baby on his left arm. Even then, he knew he was crossing a line but he treated it like another crazy stunt. The first thing he did was show it off to a couple that was walking past the tattoo parlor, and the looks of horror on their faces made him realize he made a very big mistake. During the filming of "Jackass Number 2", Steve-O hid the tattoo with a bandana and when he got back from India, he covered the baby with a black blob. Then Bam Margera made the suggestion of turning the blob into an ostrich and he went with it. Bam drew the ostrich and Kat Von D tattooed it and Steve-O thought, "Problem solved!" In 2017, the tattoo ended up partially burnt off during a stunt involving rocket engine fuel, so he had the tattoo changed to that of the man and the ostrich riding a motorcycle.
    Steve-O: When your cover-up tattoo is a guy fucking an ostrich, that's when you know you started off with something pretty rotten.
  • 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. He also had a Nazi Eagle on his shin and 666 on his chest he covered up after going to jail in th US, as they would mark him as a member of Aryan Nations.
  • David Beckham has his wife Victoria's name tattooed on his left arm in Hindi - only it is (apparently) misspelt.
  • 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 only bothered to have it removed several years later (and has even posed topless while showing it) suggests she goes by the message rather than the spelling.
  • A popular tattoo spot for young women is the small of the back, often getting abstract patterns, animals, or...Chinese characters...right above the buttocks, but 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 such tattoos often called "tramp stamps." In Germany, their popularity was singlehandedly 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.
  • Erasing Hate is a documentary about a former neo-Nazi with violent and racist tattoos all over his body, most notably on his face and neck; the documentary has him and his wife talking about their histories in the White Power movement between segments of him having them removed (which wound up taking about a year and a half).
  • Several Family Guy fans decided to get a memorial tattoo of Brian Griffin after he was killed off in the episode "Life of Brian". After an episode or two, not only was Brian brought back to life, but Seth MacFarlane mocked everyone who thought Brian was Killed Off for Real.
  • In the 2018 FIFA World Cup, England fans arrogantly decided to get tattoos reading "It's coming home" when the England team went against Croatia. As you'd expect on this trope page, England lost 2-1. In fact, many a list of "Embarrassing sports fans tattoos" have fans who commit the mistake of branding themselves with the team's logo and a year of a possible title that never comes.
  • Someone with multiple tattoos might come to view their first piece this way. Even if none of the reasons listed in the trope description apply, the tattoo might still be something basic or trite, likely pulled off the wall of the tattoo shop, and not nearly as creative or meaningful as the wearer's later pieces. As a result, the wearer might come to view their first tattoo as The Artifact or try to have it covered with something newer and more elaborate.
  • In celebration of her hit single "7 Rings," Ariana Grande got a tattoo on her palm that was meant to spell out the song title in Japanese. The kanji separately say "Seven" and "Rings," but as her Japanese fans pointed out, the combined symbols say "Shichirin," which is a portable barbecue grill. What makes this somewhat baffling is that the song's music video includes the correct Japanese spelling of the phrase, but Grande skimped on the symbols to minimize the pain. She eventually had it "corrected" with the additional symbols, and it's supposed to say "Seven Finger-Rings," but due to the order they're placed in, the tattoo can also be read as "Small Barbecue Grill Finger" or "Ring Seven Finger." The one consolation out of all this is that the tattoo is on her palm, meaning it'll fade away eventually.
  • Mark Wahlberg has a number of tattoos he became embarrassed with quickly. As his acting career took off, they'd be covered by makeup or hidden via camera angles during shirtless scenes. Eventually, he decided to undergo laser removal treatments and made sure to have his kids watch as a way of teaching them to make smarter decisions.
  • Minnie Driver has a rose tattooed on her rear that she describes as a full-on stripper tattoo. She'd been told that it would fade and look more natural with time, but says that it's remained brightly colored.
  • Rachael Taylor tattooed "Matthew" in her wrist, and hasn't removed it following an acrimonious split with possible domestic abuse to remind her specifically of how embarrassing and regretful this can be (she even notes she could change it to "Phew"). The ex still has "Rachael" on his wrist too, but it's unclear whether the reasons are similar.
  • Tony Danza used to have a tattoo on his becep that featured a goofy character the words "Keep on Truckin'". He eventually grew embarrassed of it and tired of concealing it from cameras while working so he had it removed.
  • Germans joining the infamous SS organization prior to and during World War II were required to have their blood group tattooed on the underside of their arms. The SS was declared a criminal organization after Germany lost the war, and high ranking officers were branded war criminals. The tattoos made it easier to confirm their identity. Ironically, the victims of the SS - concentration camp inmates - were required to be similarly identified, by having their camp numbers crudely tattooed on the outer side of their arms.
  • Duncan Bentley has an ankle tattoo of "POES LEKKER" with an accidental "E" in "LEKKER" crossed out. The story behind this is that Vulvodynia was in the middle of a European tour and was playing in Slovakia, and Duncan had just taught the members of Blade of Horus what "poes lekker"note  meant. One of the Blade of Horus members decided they were going to get it tattooed on their pubic area, and one of the venue staffers told them that they had tattooing equipment somewhere near the bar and could do it on the spot. The whole of Vulvodynia decided to get the same tattoo as a show of team spirit, and Duncan wrote the phrase down so they could spell it correctly, only to have the artist accidentally put in a second "e" where the first "k" should have been in "lekker". After profusely apologizing, the artist crossed out the accidental "e", and Duncan then opted to get it on his ankle instead of his pubic area and specifically requested that it also be done with a crossed-out "e" in solidarity with the Blade of Horus member.
  • This caused author and illustrator Adam Rex to invent an entire fictional species. The imaginary animal he designed to cover his regrettable college ankle tattoo of a jester's head became the "koobish" from The True Meaning of Smekday. A blog post explains it here.
    I didn't even draw the original design myself. I picked it off the parlor wall. I was an art student AND I PICKED MY TATTOO OFF THE PARLOR WALL.
  • In 2020, a TikTok trend involved getting a tattoo of the letter Z with a horizontal line through the middle (Ƶ). At the time, it was supposed to represent the pride of being generation z, as well as symbolize rebellion and unity. However, the tattoo strongly resembled a wolfsangel rune, something that was used by the 2nd SS Panzer Division of Nazi Germany. The girl who started the trend apologised profusely and broke down crying as she genuinely did not know the history of the symbol and because she was receiving death threats because of this mistake. The damage was already done because thousands of TikTok users got the tattoo before they did the research.
  • Comedian Tommy Chong received a prison tattoo from a biker friend when he was 16 years old. When he went to jail for nine months in 2002, he soon discovered that for 48 years he'd been proudly sporting a white supremacy tattoo. He still has it today, on the rationale that it's too damn funny to get lasered off by now.


Video Example(s):


Bob's Equesticle Tattoo

When Bronconius discovers that Bob isn't a real equesticle, he plans on humiliating him by giving him an embarrassing tattoo on his back.

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Example of:

Main / EmbarrassingTattoo

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