Inspiring HIV and AIDS Tattoos

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  • HIV Tattoos

    HIV Tattoos

    Tattoos are a great way to express yourself and pay homage to what’s important to you. We asked you to share your HIV/AIDS-inspired tattoos and the stories behind them. The designs may be different, but the message clear: you are not alone.

    Help spread awareness and share in the support by sending a clear photo of your tattoo (at least 285x285 in .jpg or .png format) to submissions@healthline.com with the subject line “My HIV Tattoo.”

    Describe the inspiration behind your tattoo in 90 words or less, and let us know whether or not you'd like your name published. We’ll continue adding to our slideshow and share with our HIV Awareness Facebook page.

  • Awareness and Remembrance

    Awareness and Remembrance

    The faded pink triangle is to remember all the gay men and women who have passed. The ends of the HIV/AIDS awareness ribbon are fraying to show the struggles HIV+ people have to live with.

    —Ryan Streeter

  • Life Anew

    Life Anew

    I got a tattoo of a phoenix rising from the ashes after getting my HIV under control.  

    —Raymond Rector

  • Hope Through Faith

    Hope Through Faith

    I have the special design of "Jesus" on my inside left wrist. My grandfather used to make this design out of matches when I was kid. When I found out I was HIV-positive, I really leaned on my faith and belief in a greater power to help me cope with the devastating news.  

    I found hope and grace through my faith. The tattoo reminds me daily that I am still someone who can achieve cool things in my life (even living with HIV). It’s funny,  I think the tattoo artist still has no idea what it means or says.

    —Josh Robbins

  • Eternal Love

    Eternal Love

    My daughter Alexis got a tattoo of the AIDS and breast cancer awareness ribbons intertwined for two of the most influential people in her life: her aunt and her grandma. The words say, “I love you so much more than just this heart beating in my chest.”

    —Sharon

  • Gone but Not Forgotten

    Gone but Not Forgotten

    I got this tattoo as a remembrance piece. I personally don’t have HIV, but my uncle passed away 18 years ago from it. Not a day goes by that I don't think about him.

    'Never Forget' is for him. No one will ever forget his personality, character, and art. He was an amazing artist and I felt this piece that I drew would carry on many memories of him. I will never forget him! 

    —Hollie

  • Empowerment and Acceptance

    Empowerment and Acceptance

    My tattoo is an acknowledgement of my status, my love of Superman, and my focus on the strength that my diagnosis brought to my life. HIV quickly helped me to begin to forgive my imperfections and mistakes, to love myself, and to accept love from others. 

    I consider my HIV to be a superpower complete with its own associated vulnerabilities.

    —Jason

  • Love Heals

    Love Heals

    I’m the program director for Francis House in Camden, New Jersey. Francis House is a ministry for all infected and affected with HIV/AIDS. The seculars and friars in my church started this great ministry 17 years ago.

    I designed my ink, which is the Franciscan tau, (I'm a secular Franciscan). It's wrapped in the red awareness ribbon with the words, “Love Heals.” We witness healing every day with laughter, friendship, and unconditional love!

    —Susan Piliro

  • Perseverance, Faith, and Heart

    Perseverance, Faith, and Heart

    After being diagnosed 22 years ago, I actually became an extreme tattoo lover.  I have both arms sleeved now and my entire chest done.  All of my tattoos have very significant meaning to them, and I hold each one very close to my heart.

    The first photo I had done last summer after spending three months in Stanford hospital. I was feeling like “If I could make it through this, I can persevere through anything!'  

    The second is my Rock of Ages. I got this because I feel like this disease requires a little bit of faith to walk through it gracefully. The third is my sacred heart, which is self-explanatory.

    —Elena Steeves

  • Empathy for Those Who Suffer

    Empathy for Those Who Suffer

    I wanted to share the pain with all the people dealing with these issues. Each cut is an awareness color:

    • purple: bulimia
    • blue: bullying
    • green: depression
    • yellow: suicide
    • orange: self modulation
    • red: HIV
    • black: transgender

    This one is for those who don't see what I see when I look at them,
    This one’s for all the others who were bullied too,
    This one’s for those in the dark—you’re not alone,
    This one’s for the ones who didn't make it,
    This one’s for those who hurt—I share your pain,
    This one’s for those who are still fighting,
    and this one is for those who I love beyond gender.

    —Georgie

  • Love, Life, Family

    Love, Life, Family

    I found out I’m HIV positive on August 29, 2012. Not long after, my little sister, Tonya, gave me a white bracelet that read, “Life Is Precious.” 

    I have an amazing family and we all had discussed getting the awareness ribbon, but couldn't figure out where.

    “Life Is Precious” is tattooed around my and my sister’s wrists with the ribbon joined in the middle. My brother has the phrase tattooed over his heart with the ribbon just below it. 

    Love. 

  • Showing the World I’m OK

    Showing the World I’m OK

    I was diagnosed four years ago. As a heterosexual male, I was devastated. I slowly accepted it as something that I can either embrace or let run my life. I choose to embrace it and show the world I'm OK. I had kidney cancer two years after my diagnosis and I came up with this combination: red for HIV and the orange for kidney cancer. I am extremely proud of this tattoo, and when someone asks about it, I share what the disease is and how I refuse to be stigmatized by it.

    —Richard

  • A Beautiful Butterfly

    A Beautiful Butterfly

    My first tattoo, 25 years ago, was a butterfly to celebrate the beginning of my journey into adulthood. My beautiful HIV butterfly was to celebrate five years of knowingly living with the virus, and to remember those who fought for us and are no longer with us. I chose to have it on my wrist to show support and solidarity to others living with HIV. 

    —Mandy

  • A Dragon of Protection

    A Dragon of Protection

    I was diagnosed March 9th, 1994. I then became a test subject for any treatment to come along, until finally my body gave out on me. My T-Cells dropped to 52. I soon found a doctor who would get me on the right meds and back to undetectable and healthy. My tattoo is my dragon of protection breathing red fire, like the red ribbon for HIV awareness. And in the tail of the dragon is the Chinese symbol for "life," because I will carry this disease with me for the rest of my life due to the choices I made as a young gay man. My dragon is my protection—my dragon represents my meds.  

    —Jim

  • Beauty Found

    Beauty Found

    My name is Elizabeth and both of my parents have full-blown AIDS. Everyone speaks about the fact that the world is cold and cruel. I hear nothing but how harsh people are to one another and how humans are judged for being sick, for being different. I see on a daily basis how truly terrifying this virus is. But my family is that much closer because of it. Life is that much sweeter. Love is that much deeper. My tattoo represents the beauty found in a life surrounded by the virus. Thank you for allowing me to share this with you. 

    —Elizabeth

  • The Phoenix’s Fire

    The Phoenix’s Fire

    The phoenix is my spirit creature. Shortly after diagnosis, I wrote this poem and got this tattoo:

    yesterday was burned by phoenix’s fire
    yet in the ash embers of hope remain
    new dreams give birth in despair
    shrouded in darkness i mourn what was
    to remember what will be no more
    then like the phoenix i will rise
    with renewed passion glowing as fire
    ash will give way to flame
    like the phoenix i will soar again

    The last line is tattooed on me. The second tattoo is from when I became undetectable. It’s a lion, which represents the lion of the tribe of Judah aka Jehovah/God, and He is cutting through a red ribbon overcoming HIV/AIDS.

    —Jeff

  • Love Each Day

    Love Each Day

    I live in Houston, TX and I'm 29 years old. My tattoo "ama cada dia" in means "love each day" in Spanish. I got it after my diagnosis because you really do need to love each day. Life can change in a second. You have to value each second you have on this earth because you never know when life will throw you a curveball. I read it each day to remember that.  

    —Adam

  • Love and Respect

    Love and Respect

    I was infected with HIV at the age of 19... 16 years ago. The man who infected me did so purposely. I was extremely angry for quite some time.

    Over the years, I have learned the importance of honesty and truth... making Psalms 34:12-14 very relevant in my life. Treat others the way you would like to be treated, always with LOVE and RESPECT. And always pursue PEACE in a way that will make the world proud to remember that you were here.  

    —Anonymous

  • Not Ashamed

    Not Ashamed

    I contracted HIV on 2/10/10. Some guys like to play a game called "poz him up," and needless to say, I was an unfortunate victim of their game. So in turn, proving to myself and others that I could not be like these other gentlemen, I had my rubber ducky with an HIV ribbon around his neck tattooed on my bottom, so there would be no confusion that I myself am positive and not ashamed of it, and am here to help decrease the spread of this disease. :)

    —Nathan

  • HIV and Tattoo Safety

    HIV and Tattoo Safety

    Getting a tattoo comes with risks, from allergic reactions to skin infections and scarring. Although very unlikely, the CDC states that it is possible to contract a blood-borne illness such as HIV or hepatitis if the tattooist uses a contaminated instrument.

    To insure yours and others’ safety, follow these tips:

    • Choose a licensed tattoo parlor and artist.
    • Make sure your tetanus and hepatitis B shots are up to date.
    • Make sure the tattoo artist has washed their hands and is wearing gloves.
    • Look for a heat sterilization machine (autoclave), unused needles and inkwells, and a biohazard container.
    • Ask the tattooist about their training and the sterilization process.
    • If in doubt, request the parlor’s monthly test results for the autoclave. 

    If you still feel uncomfortable, trust your gut and don’t go through with it.

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