I have two tattoos, both on my back, though I don’t show them off very much. The firsta weird sun-like thing to celebrate a waning freshman-year depressionI got in college. The second, a clef note to remind me to focus on what I want and not what a certain ex-girlfriend wanted of me, came after a mid-twenties bender in Vegas (because I am a walking cliché). For several years now, I’ve been eyeing, but never pulled the trigger on, a thirdan old-fashioned typewriter on my forearm, another reminder to be true to myself.

That, after all, is what most tattoos are: stories we tell ourselves about where we’ve been, where we’re going, and what we value in life. These days, tattoos are so common that not having one almost has the same unique allure that sporting one once had. But the fact that they are so commonplace doesn’t dilute their power. To the contrarymore people having tattoos means more people interpreting ink through a personal, rather than simply visual, lens.

In our Tattoo Issue, we delve into some of the countless ways in which tattoos transcend the decorative. Corbie Hill and Alex Boerner document the process of covering up a youthful indiscretion with something more meaningful. Hannah Pitstick explores how breast cancer survivors use tattooing to reclaim a sense of normalcy. Allison Hussey brings us some tales from the trenches of a working tattoo artist. And, best of all, our readers share stories and pictures of the tats that define who they areand who they’d like to be.

Through these stories, we can clearly see how tattoos are far more than body art. They are the records of our lives, our hopes and dreams, written on our skin.

Did You Get a Terrible Tat as a Teen? You Can Fix That.

For Some Breast Cancer Survivors, Nipple Tattoos Offer a Return to Normalcy

Stories on Skin with Errol Engelbrecht, Owner of Raleigh’s Blue Flame Tattoo

We Asked Our Readers for Their Best and Worst Tattoo Stories—And Wow, Did They Deliver