MilSpouse Ink: How Many Tattoos are too Many?


I have two tattoos. They’re small and hidden away in locations that can’t be seen by the public eye, and although I could probably do without the first one, I love my second one and the meaning it holds for me.

I can’t exactly pinpoint the motivation behind permanently scarring your own body in the name of art and personal expression, but I do know that tattoos are addictive. Within months of getting my first tattoo, I got my second one. Months later, I had the itch for a third. I was a needle’s length away from a shoulder butterfly or quite possibly a tramp stamp when I came to my senses.

Did I really want to flip through an album filled with my future wedding pictures and see a butterfly overshadowing the most beautiful dress I’ll ever wear in my life? Did I really want my future kids to ask me why my lower back is covered in indecipherable Japanese writing? Did I really want to continue marking up my body with symbols that probably wouldn’t mean as much to me when I was 40 as they did when I was 20? What kind of message would it send to other people like potential employers, co-workers, women I’d like to befriend, if I’m covered in tattoos?

The answer to those questions cured my tattoo addiction.

But the addiction to tattoos seems to be commonplace in the military, both for servicemembers and their spouses. At least on the servicemember side, those tattoo habits are kept in check by service-specific regulations regarding content, location and size. But what about us spouses? Should there be some unwritten rule of etiquette for our body art? After all, if the military thinks it’s uncool for our husbands to have sleeve tattoos, what kind of message are we sending if we show up to a military ball with a parade of military spouse tattoos running down our arms?

I understand that for some, tattoos symbolize something greater than mere decoration. Tattoos can act as memorials for lost love ones, reminders of strength or testaments of love. And I think that’s perfectly understandable and acceptable. But not if it requires half your body to accomplish that goal, not to mention half your bank account (tattoos aren’t cheap!).

I’m all about freedom of expression. However, I have to admit I’m not a big fan of seeing more tattoo than skin. (Okay, well, I might make an exception for Maroon 5’s Adam Levine. But that’s it.) And when I see women with more tattoos than I can count, I have to wonder what they were thinking. Take the jaw-dropping gorgeous actress Megan Fox as an example. Now Megan, I’m sure Marilyn Monroe holds a special place in your heart, but did you really need her face tattooed on your forearm? (The answer is no, which is why you chose to undergo the painful process of removing it.)

I’d also like to think that I don’t judge a book by its ink. I know plenty of people who have multiple tattoos, and I never thought twice about it. But the world is a judgmental place.

In certain situations, appearances do matter. And while I can’t say that I’ve seen many military spouses sporting anything as drastic as a facial tattoo a la Mike Tyson, I can say that I’ve seen some that made me wonder what they were thinking.

So what do you think? How many tattoos are too many? How many tattoos do you have? What kind of special meaning do they hold for you? Do you think people judge you because of your tattoos?

About the Author

Heather Sweeney
Heather Sweeney is an Associate Editor at, former Navy wife, mother of two, blogger, and avid runner. She’s the blogger formerly known as Wife on the Roller Coaster and still checks in every now and then at her blog Riding the Roller Coaster.

56 Comments on "MilSpouse Ink: How Many Tattoos are too Many?"

  1. I have 4 tattoos. With each one, it took about 4 months of contemplation about location and design before I entered the tattoo parlor. I understand the permanency and wanted to make sure it was what I really wanted. Each tattoo is located in an area that I can see easily, since I appreciate the art and talent that went into it's creation. Also, I figure if I am going to endure pain for art, then I should be able to see it and appreciate it. I personally do not care how many tattoos a person has. It does not affect how I think of them. For me, I would not get a sleeve tattoo, but I have seen some very interesting ones. It's all personal choice and I don't find it necessary to judge others' personal choices. Yes, some are more appealing than others, but that's how it goes with art and personal expression. If people are going to judge me for my tattoos, then I don't want to waste my time with them. They are a part of me and if they can't accept that, then they can't accept the person I am.

  2. Becca in Alaska | January 14, 2013 at 10:09 am |

    Since I am not the service member and I did not sign up for the military why should there be some unwritten rule about how many tattoos I have? I hate this double standard among spouses. We shouldn't demand discounts because were not the service member, we shouldn't except recognition because were not the service member – great but then don't except me to confirm to some military standard of dress because Im not the service member. This pick and choose crap drives me crazy. Don't tell me I"m "just the spouse" and then turn around and tell me that I can influence my service members career.

    My job requires a high level of professional appearance, yet the times my husband comes to my work I don't except him to show up in a suit and tie.

    I should add that my husband has three tattoos and I have none.

  3. I have 16 tattoos an most of them are visible. An almost completed sleeve and a half sleeve. Plus a few others that are seen. Tattoos are a work of art an if your going to get them let them be seen. I know that I've been judged before because of my tattoos and its stupid in my opinion. And my husband has a sleeve an other tattoos as well. There are so many double standards with the military. If I'm just the spouse then I'm going to be just that! Tattoos are way more acceptable now than they ever were an I've had no problem getting jobs with them. I'm very upfront when I'm in an interview an I also add that if I'm needed I have no issue covering them, though I would rather not have to do that. It's all about expression. And everyone should have a tattoo. It's a life experience I believe! And there is no such thing as having too many tattoos!

    • I AGREE 100% NICOLE

    • Armbrewster Berlin | January 16, 2013 at 12:38 pm |

      Tattoos used to be about individual choice and were limited in number and usually kept out of sight. However, they have become a fad which will fade away over time, unlike the ink.

      People do make judgements about personal appearance and while some feel that you have low self-esteem, others may judge you to have made poor choices. As an employer, I am sorry, but I woud not hire an employee whose appearance was conrtoversial. My customers are more important to me that someones' idea of self-expression. It's just a captialistic world.

  4. I have two tattoos. One is located on my forearm and represents my daughter. I don't think my tattoos make me any less of a person. I am still a kind, respectful person. I believe tattoos are art expressed on the body. Granted there are some bad tattoos out there, the person wearing the tattoo isn't necessarily a bad person. There are some amazing women and mothers who sport sleeves and chest pieces that I have met. Yes, this is a judgmental world, but if we let others define who we are then it would be a sad world as well. We aren't robots. Life is too short to worry about what others think about you. Tattoos can always be covered up with clothing or makeup if need be for say places like the workplace or a “military ball.”

  5. I have three. Wish I had 0. I was 22 when I got my first one, before entering the military. I got two more after joining. While two are in places no one but me and my husband can see, one is on the outside of my right calf. While it is a great work of "art" I really wish now at 42 I did not have this great work of art permanently on my body. I couldn't care less if others choose to get them or even cover their entire bodies with them (my brother has his entire upper body and most of his legs done), but for me eh, I am over it. It was a faze for me and it's just not who i am now. I agree with the regulations within the military, as does my husband who also has three himself. Bottom line, I don't think it presents a professional or clean cut look for someone to have tat's on their neck or sleeves on their arms. Something I all military members are required to present.

  6. I’m an old ER nurse, so I’ve seen plenty of skin. All I can say is: although not everyone who has a tattoo is a dirt-bag, I’ve never seen a dirt-bag who didn’t have one.

    • Phil Culver | January 15, 2013 at 9:12 am |

      So true.

    • shame on you calling anyone a dirtbag considering your profession

      • So being a nurse means she shouldn't have an opinion? What should she call the drunk that slams into a mini van or the drug addict that comes in over and over yelling at nurses about made up pain to score pain killers? Being an er nurse is a tough and a lot of the time thankless job. And she has every right to say whatever she wants just like everyone else in this country.

  7. Are you sure this wasn't written 10 years ago? 20? Most workplaces are pretty open about tattoos, and while one might have to cover them to a degree I doubt anything short of a face or neck tat would get you disqualified from a job. And also, Europe is way more lax on this and hopefully the US continues to follow. Way too go on feeding another stereotype about judgmental military wives. You're. Awesome.

  8. Have I missed something?
    The Spouse of a Military Member is the same as any other US Civilian.
    They ARE NOT obliged to follow ANY military regulation on Body Art let alone much of anything else.
    Get real and deal with the military and leave the rest of this "Unwritten Rule" crap to the rest of the Hen House Peckers

    • Agree! Being a previous active duty member and now just a "spouse" I can personally attest to the judging of most of the spouses groups. How about we stop judging people and let them live their life. Are you saying that they are not representing their military spouse very well with tattoos on their body? Who are you to say that? I wear my tats with pride.

      • Michael Hatcher | January 15, 2013 at 8:44 am |

        Red; please don't ever put yourself down by referring to yourself as "Just a spouse." As a retired military member, my spouse was an integral part of everything I did. Had it not been for her, I would not have been able to achieve the success that came my way. I'm not trying to sound like a hero because my spouse was the real hero during my 22years.

    • Untrue. A number of things a spouse or dependant does or says can reflect on the servicemember. You might like to THINK you're like "any other civilian" but the truth is, you're not.

    • It's funny because when a spouse is being told they should be held to a higher standard or should act a certain way or do certain things the response is we're just civilians but the same spouses will scream they are entitled to discounts/respect/gratitude etc because of their husbands service. Personally I know I'm just a spouse, don't feel the army, gov, country, anyone owes me anything. But at the same time I know that when I am in public whether it be just out on base or at a function I am a reflection on my husband and dress and act accordingly. You can think your actions don't affect your husbands career all you want but they definitely do. Now I don't know if having tatoos alone would affect anything but if you pair being covered in tatoos with other less then flattering behavior then ya it's probably going to affect people's opinion of you and your husband.

      • People aren't concerned so much with tattoos, but how a person behaves. If I'm getting arrested on base, throwing my husband's rank around to intimidate fellow unit spouses and negatively affecting morale, or being an overall nuisance to my husband's unit, then I could see how I would have a negative impact on his career. I've had my tattoos for the past 9 years, got my first when my husband was a Gunny. He had no problems moving up the ranks and he has never been put on notice for my behavior. I treat his superiors with the respect they deserve and I treat his fellow Marines and their spouses with basic courtesy and respect. My tattoos have not had an adverse affect on his career.

  9. I always say that a tatoo might help identify the body of the tatooee.

  10. John Murray | January 15, 2013 at 7:30 am |

    Military spouses are NOT in the military so too bad. I'm not a fan of tattoos, but I am a fan of spouses not being under military regulations. Yes, when living on base you have to follow certain rules and regulations, but essentially those are no different than in an apartment complex. But the military doesn't get to tell you what you can wear, what you can drive, who you can be friends with, or how many tattoos you have because YOU never signed any enlistment papers, your spouse did.

  11. Tattoos are ok, it's your decision however, somewhat permanent unless you decide to go through the painful expensive laser treatment for removal. One thing to keep in mind though, if you have tattoo's that show and you're going to apply for a high Corporate position some day whereby you're dealing with the affluent, the chances are very rare you'll get the job. Other than that I say apply as many as you want and can afford just remembering that everything has it's consequences.

  12. My wife and I have multiple piercings and tattoos. I myself have two sleeves to inclued my hands plus others. When we are out and about we get alot of looks, some people will stop use and ask questions about them. One of the main questions asked is what we do for a living. Our answer always comes as a shock. My wife and I are both nurses, and I am also retired army. I will continue to get tattooed so will my wife. We could care less what other people think. They are not paying our bills.

  13. i love a woman with a tramp stamp i think that is so sexy and it is a big turn on for me especially boob tattoos but that's just me.

  14. ProudArmyWife | January 15, 2013 at 2:39 pm |

    Wow talk about judging a book my its cover. This is completely ridiculous. It is funny what people find "disgusting". I can understand looking professional and thinking about what your appearance reflects on your spouse and your spouses career, but this decision is one that is truly personal and up to the couple. There are many soldiers I know who look and act the part of being a clean cut individual, while in reality are not, and on the other hand I know a lot of heavily tattooed soldiers who if you met when they were in uniform and talked with you would never think would even have one tattoo, let along full sleeves! I think those of you who think there should be standards of what a military spouse should look like and what you think a person with tattoos is like should take a good long hard look at yourselves, maybe you will realize that you are the "disgusting" one.

  15. Who cares if you think a tatt or piercing looks gross? Guess what, we don't get a tattoo to appeal to your sense of decor. We get a tattoo because they mean something to us, they look good to us, etc. I am a ex-military spouse who is also active duty. Judgey people like this made me glad I could just hang out with my co-workers and not have to put up with the spouse BS, even though I was married. Being married shouldn't steal your personal identity, if you want to get a tattoo, by god, get one. If you want to tattoo your entire head pink, do it. The more mainsteam they become the more disgusting judgey people's attitudes look.

    I work with a E6 who's "old school," and has tattoos on his hands, he is just as good a tech (IT) as anyone else. We are instructors and the students are just as cool with him as they are with the "cleaner" looking Coasties.

    I have 9 tattoos and counting…

  16. I've got 15 years in and 6 tattoos.I go to PTA meetings and I take my kids to sleep overs and scouts and soccer. I go to church every week. I do the dishes, laundry and vacuum. I have a college education and come from an affluent family. I am the primary bread winner in my family and I'm on the straight and narrow to retirement. All of my tattoos mean something to me and that's what matters. My husband designed my last one as a wedding present to me. He, on the other hand, has zero.We are ok with that. He's a clean cut, clean shaven guy who always looks very nice but he wears a uniform at his labor job, is uneducated, been married more times than most people and is a musician and an artist. Until he met me, he had grown up in a life of poverty and hardship and never had insurance a day in his life. So I guess when we go out, people look at us and wonder why he's hanging around with such a low life. Hey, whatever floats your boat.

  17. The Lord God created us in His image and gave us life. If you believe you need to improve on His work with tattoos and other modifications, be careful. Consider the lillies of the field and the "grandeur" of Joseph's coat…
    That said, I will always treasure the tattoo my stepdaughter wore to honor and remember her father's memory.

  18. I have 7 tattoos most of them you can see, my husband likes all of them. He told me it`s my body if I like tattoos I can have them. The only place I will not put them is neck and above. I just don`t like them there.

  19. Agreed, Vince. Not one of my seven tatts keeps me from performing my assigned duties, including being the executive assistant to top brass – eh hmmm… in the Army, and executive assistant to the principals in a law firm. Discrimination stems from being judgmental. I remember hearing somewhere that the color of somebody's skin shall not be a determining factor in any circumstance; why should it matter if you are born with color, or you decide you want to spice up your life and add a little color to it?

  20. I have too many tattoos to count. I have a whole back piece, half sleeve, stomach completely covered, ribs going into back and into hips on both sides. And why do you have an article up here for? its the person's choice. I was a MARINE for 6 years I rate to put on my body whatever the hell I want. and its none of your business to judge us. People like you are stuck up, mindless, and also very simple-minded. Go get a job and stay off the internet!

  21. I have one tribal tattoo on my upper back, but It isn't visual under a collar shirt. There are two little tips that can be shown vaguely when I where PT gear. Before my application to the Naval Academy Pledge Summer I was told my tattoo needs to be removed at my own cost. I found that not right. I worked hardly to graduate through NAPS school, and they changed their rules while I was there.

    I was honorably discharged, and I found a great career. I just feel like the Navy missed out on that one.

    Thanks Navy,

  22. I have 3. I just recently got a tattoo around my wrist as a bracelet. It's a tribute to my wonderful husband of 21 years and it's the only one that can be seen by the public. But I figure, I'm 48 years old, extremely happily married to m soulmate and pretty sure we'll be together forever, and I don't have a career. That's the only reason I felt comfortable getting it. It makes me sad to see such young girls getting huge, prominent tattoos right across their whole chest or arms. I know for a fact that they're going to regret it later.

  23. I have four tattoos…and its truly a personal choice, I only had one while I was in the service the other three I got afterwards..judging someone by appearance is so superficial..they in no way are an indication of what type of person you are or how well you can perform your job…But you have to take into consideration that there are rules and regulations that are in place for a reason when you are in the service you signed your name on the dotted line…I have mine where they are not out in the open for everyone to see but that is just a personal preference…

  24. A couple of tasteful tattoos can look nice. However, extremism gets ugly. But, it does not matter to me. If the individual likes the pain and ugliness, let them have their tattoos.

  25. William A Danner | January 20, 2013 at 12:48 am |

    "Oh Lydia…Oh Lydia…Oh Lydia the ta-a-tooed Lady!" Amazing what Grocho Marx sang about as the subject of a feak show has now become acceptable in America. When I was in the service the typical answer to "Why did you get that tatoo?" was "Two friends and I got drunk and we all agreed to get tatoos and I went first." On questioning, the other two had of course backed out. Nothing wrong with one tatoo on the upper arm that doesn't show in uniform for guys, but tatooed women – Nothing says classy like a tramp stamp on your chassis.

  26. spot on!

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