35 Celeb Tattoos & the Stories Behind Them

by Sarah Long
Sep 18, 2017 at 6:00 p.m. ET

There are a million different reasons to get a tattoo. Some people do it on a whim, some get ink on a dare or after losing a bet, some get tatted up while intoxicated in Las Vegas. And others owe their artwork to good old tattoo addiction — which really happens to most people that get one. 

But for every one person who gets a tattoo for all the wrong reasons, there are 20 who get one after putting a lot of thought into the reason behind the ink. Tattoos can be dedicated to family and loved ones, they can be nostalgic, and they can also serve as a reminder of a person's own strength.

For these celebrities, the art on their bodies is more than just skin-deep.

Originally published December 2016. Updated September 2017.

1 /35: Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt

1/35 :Angelina Jolie & Brad Pitt

OK, this is actually kind of heartbreaking. Apparently in Feb. 2016, Jolie and Pitt got tattooed together in Cambodia by ex-Thai Monk Ajarn Noo Kanpai, who used the same same ink and matching patterns on the couple — something that was supposed to "symbolically bind them as husband and wife." 

They were tattooed in a painful, traditional method using a single long handheld needle. Jolie got sacred Buddhist markings on her upper back, while Pitt reportedly got Buddhist symbols on his stomach.

As you probably already know, Pitt and Jolie split later that same year.

2 /35: Angelina Jolie

2/35 :Angelina Jolie

Jolie also has the coordinates of where all of her children were born, along with Brad Pitt's birthplace, on her upper arm. The piece also serves as a cover-up of the prior tattoo, which was a dragon and the name "Billy Bob," in honor of her ex-husband, Billy Bob Thornton.

She has several other tattoos, including one with the Buddhist inscription for "protection" dedicated to her oldest son, Maddox, on her lower back. 

3 /35: Demi Lovato

3/35 :Demi Lovato

Lovato is no stranger to tattoos (she has nearly 30), and debuted this adorable little guy in Aug. 2016. "Cause life's too short not to tattoo your pinky," she captioned the Instagram capture

We're guessing this dainty tat is a cute way for Lovato to remind herself to keep smiling

4 /35: Miley Cyrus

4/35 :Miley Cyrus

The crazed and colorful pop singer is known for having some serious ink. And Cyrus' tattoo collection got a teeny bit bigger when she added this simple etch of "DAD" on her foot on March 18. Billy Ray Cyrus posted this photo of his daughter's sweet tribute to him on his Twitter page with the caption, "This may be the best Tattoo i've ever seen @mileycyrus."

5 /35: Casper Smart

5/35 :Casper Smart

Jennifer Lopez's ex got this tat one month after their split. It reads: "You must embrace the darkness to see the light."

6 /35: Kendall Jenner

6/35 :Kendall Jenner

We don't know yet the meaning behind it, but Kendall Jenner got the words "meow" tatted on the inside of her lip.

7 /35: Johnny McDaid

7/35 :Johnny McDaid

Snow Patrol's Johnny McDaid got Courteney Cox's initials tatted on his wrist, clearly as a tribute to their relationship. The on-again, off-again couple were once engaged in June 2014 but called it off after a year and broke up. But in May 2016, they rekindled their romance and are clearly back on.

8/35 :Sophie Turner

During the 2016 Emmys, Sophie Turner showed off her tattoo, which reads "07.08.09." She and Game of Thrones co-star Maisie Williams got it not only as a tribute to their friendship but also because it's the day they were cast on GoT.

9 /35: Paris Jackson

9/35 :Paris Jackson

Jackson recently revealed an epic tribute to her late father, Michael Jackson: The word "Bad" tattooed on her hand in the same font used for Michael's single when it came out back in the '80s.

Her right hand also pays tribute to other musical inspirations in her life. She has a red thunderbolt on her pinkie in remembrance of David Bowie, Prince's purple symbol on the outside of her hand, and a "VH" on her pointer finger for Van Halen.

10 /35: Judi Dench

10/35 :Judi Dench

Dame Judi Dench recently revealed she got some fresh ink to commemorate a special milestone in her life in December 2015: She now has "Carpe Diem" tattooed on the inside of her wrist.

"That’s my motto: Seize the day," she said in an interview with Surrey Life magazine. "My daughter Finty gave it to me for my 81st birthday — she’s wonderful with surprises... Mind you, the company of A Winter's Tale, which I was doing at the time, used to say that it said fish of the day."



11 /35: Lena Dunham

11/35 :Lena Dunham

 The Girls star has several pieces dedicated to children's books, including the two houses from Eloise on her back.

She also has a Yorkshire Terrier on her ribcage, which was given to her by costar Jemima Kirke. "It hurt like a mother f***er and took over an hour," Dunham said of the session with Kirke.

12 /35: Benji Madden

12/35 :Benji Madden

This rocker is obviously no rookie when it comes to tattoos, but in 2015 he got a fresh piece dedicated to his new wife, Cameron Diaz.

"Thinking about you #luckyman," Madden captioned the Instagram pic in which he debuted the new tatt.

13 /35: Katy Perry

13/35 :Katy Perry

Perry and her now-ex-husband, Russell Brand, had "Anuugacchati Pravaha," sanskrit for "go with the flow," tattooed on their arms back when they were still together.

"We decided to get it after the whole engagement in India, which was really beautiful and wonderful. He never had a tattoo and I kind of pressured him into doing it," she said in a 2010 interview.

14 /35: Travis Barker

14/35 :Travis Barker

There's not much space on the Blink 182 drummer's body that isn't tatted up, but two tattoos on his thighs hold extra-special meaning: They are dedicated to DJ AM and Chris Baker, close friends of Barker's who died in a 2008 plane crash that also badly injured the rocker.

15/35 :Selena Gomez

 Gomez has "love yourself first" tattooed on her back in Arabic.


16 /35: Rihanna

16/35 :Rihanna

 Rihanna has "Never failure. Always a lesson" under her right clavicle, but that's not the most interesting thing about the tattoo. According to the singer, she had it written backwards, so that she could read it in the mirror.

"It's basically saying that it's OK to make a mistake. Just don't make them twice," she said in an interview with Ellen DeGeneres.

17 /35: Lady Gaga

17/35 :Lady Gaga

Mother Monster has a lot of interesting body art, but what's most captivating is the reason why parts of her aren't tattooed.

"He asked that I remain, on one side, slightly normal," Gaga said during a Google interview of her father's request to leave the right side of her body tattoo-free. "I think he sees (my right) as my Marilyn Monroe side and he sees (my left) as my Iggy Pop side."

18 /35: Taye Diggs

18/35 :Taye Diggs

File this one under "adorable." Diggs proudly displays his son Walker's artwork on his arm.

"My little dude wrote 'I love daddy' a couple months ago," the actor told HuffPost Live in June 2015. "It's going to be there forever. It's my favorite tattoo."

19 /35: Victoria Beckham

19/35 :Victoria Beckham

In honor of her sixth wedding anniversary to David Beckham, the former Spice Girl inked the Hebrew quote "Ani ledodi vedodi li haro'eh ba'shoshanim." The words, which were taken from the Old Testament, translate to "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine, who grazes among lilies."

20/35 :Megan Fox

Fox's Shakespearean tattoo that reads "We will all laugh at gilded butterflies" means "to not get too caught up in Hollywood because people will end up laughing at you," the actor said when asked what the quote meant to her.

21 /35: Ryan Gosling

21/35 :Ryan Gosling

 The claw shape under Gosling's elbow "is supposed to be a monster's hand dropping a bloody heart, but I did it myself with a tool kit, so it looks like a cactus," he said. 

22 /35: Lori Petty

22/35 :Lori Petty

 "I started from the wrist up 20 years ago," the Orange Is the New Black actor told Pen & Ink of her arm tattoos. "Basquiat's 'Diagram of the heart pumping blood' is my reminder with this temporary body to live and love with every heartbeat," she said of one work in the series of her body art.

23 /35: Emma Stone

23/35 :Emma Stone

Stone's tattoo of bird feet on the inside of her wrist is special for two reasons. One, it was designed by Sir Paul McCartney, and two, it was inked in honor of her mother's recovery from breast cancer.

"My mom's favorite song is 'Blackbird,'" Stone said in an interview with Dave Letterman. "I wrote a letter to Paul McCartney asking him if he would draw two little bird feet."

24 /35: Mike Tyson

24/35 :Mike Tyson

 Tyson revealed in the documentary Tyson that he got his tribal face tattoo to honor his own "warrior spirit" like ancient Polynesian, Maori and Samoan warriors used to do.

25 /35: Lea Michele

25/35 :Lea Michele

The tiny musical notes on the Glee star's shoulder are reportedly from Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody." She also has "If you say so" — the last words her late boyfriend, Cory Monteith, ever said to her — tattooed on her ribcage. 

26 /35: Lea Michele

26/35 :Lea Michele

Michele's latest addition was on April 12, 2016. She decided on another tribute for her late Glee co-star and real-life boyfriend, Cory Monteith. The number five represents the jersey number that Monteith's character, Finn Hudson, wore on Glee.

27 /35: Nicki Minaj

27/35 :Nicki Minaj

 Minaj originally planned to have the words "God is with me always" tattooed on the back of her neck in Chinese, but rethought the placement after finding that that specific area would be too painful.

"I wish I never got the tattoo, because it's on my arm," Minaj said in an interview with Billboard magazine.

28 /35: Jennifer Lawrence

28/35 :Jennifer Lawrence

Lawrence has a barely visible tattoo of "H2O" on her hand, which she considers a mistake.

"I call this tattoo a watered-down rebellion, cause it's not like a real tattoo," she said at Comic-Con, according to Nylon. "I was with Liam's family and everybody was getting tattoos, and I was like, well, I'm always going to need to be hydrated so I guess I should just get H2O on my hand."

29 /35: David Beckham

29/35 :David Beckham

Beckham's "99" pinky tattoo is a sweet tribute to the year he married his wife, Victoria Beckham.

"99 was a good year for me," he wrote on Instagram.

30/35 :Adam Levine

Most of the frontman's tatts have a meaning behind them, but the "222" on his forearm has special historic value. It's the door number of the first studio that Maroon 5 ever recorded in.

31 /35: Adam Levine

31/35 :Adam Levine

Levine recently debuted his massive mermaid back tat. No word if there's a meaning behind it yet.

32 /35: Adam Levine

32/35 :Adam Levine

In February 2016, Levine posted an update to the massive piece he has on his back.

"6 months in the making. Thanks @bryanrandolph for absolutely blowing my mind with this one! Woooo hooooo!!!!" he captioned the Instagram picture.

33/35 :Kylie Jenner

Kylie Jenner reportedly got the words "before sanity" tattooed on her butt cheek. According to TMZ, she wanted to "add new meaning to an old tattoo."

34 /35: Jai Courtney

34/35 :Jai Courtney

Suicide Squad's Jai Courtney revealed on Live with Kelly that his co-star Margot Robbie inked his arm. Yes, you read that right: Robbie gave him the tattoo "skwad." But he wasn't the only one; his castmates got the tattoo too — a permanent reminder of their time spent filming.

35 /35: Tom Hardy

35/35 :Tom Hardy

In an interview with Esquire, Tom Hardy said he made a bet with The Revenant co-star Leonardo DiCaprio that he wouldn't get an Oscar nomination for his role in the film. Turns out, he did, which means he has to get a tattoo with the words "Leo knows everything" in DiCaprio's "shitty" handwriting — something he has yet to do.