The teardrop tattoo, a simple yet powerfully symbolic design, has a complex and layered history rooted in prison culture, personal experiences, and various interpretations. While it is most widely recognized as a prison tattoo, the teardrop has found its way into mainstream fashion and media, both contributing to and perpetuating misconceptions and controversy around its meaning.
Originally, teardrop tattoos were predominantly associated with gang and prison culture, where they commonly signified that a person had served time, been humiliated, or had killed. However, the meaning of this evocative symbol has evolved over time, with individuals also adopting the teardrop to represent sorrow or loss. Furthermore, the meaning can vary based on factors such as location and number of tears, making it a versatile and deeply personal emblem for those who choose to bear it.
- Teardrop tattoos have a complex history, deeply intertwined with prison and gang culture.
- The symbol has evolved to represent various meanings including served time, humiliation, or sorrow and loss.
- Its meaning can further vary depending on factors like location and number of tears, lending personal significance to the wearer.
Origins and History of Teardrop Tattoos
The teardrop tattoo, a symbolic design placed underneath the eye, is one of the most widely recognized prison tattoos. With roots dating back to the 1920s and 1930s, the teardrop tattoo was initially used by gangs to signify their members’ accomplishments. Each teardrop marked under the eye represented a murder or a death witnessed or committed by the gang member.
Over time, the teardrop tattoo has evolved to hold various meanings within the prison and gang culture. Traditionally, it indicated that a person had killed another person, lost a loved one, or been raped in prison. In the latter case, the tattoo marked an inmate as another person’s property, humiliating them and making it impossible to cover up or hide as it was on their face.
Placement of the teardrop tattoo also holds significance in prison culture. In some prisons, the tattoo can be placed on the left or right side of the face to represent different affiliations or allegiances within the prison system. The use and meaning of this tattoo varies between prisons, making it difficult to pinpoint an exact or universally accepted meaning.
Despite its various interpretations, the teardrop tattoo consistently serves as a symbol for a criminal record, street fights, murders, and life inside prison. Its presence speaks to the individual’s lived experience and their connection to the criminal underworld.
Ultimately, it’s important to recognize the historical context and significance of teardrop tattoos. While they may carry multiple meanings depending on the wearer and their experiences in prison, these tattoos undeniably serve as markers and identifiers within the prison and gang culture.
Symbolism and Meanings
Death, Mourning, or Loss
The teardrop tattoo under the eye often carries a deep meaning of loss, grief, and mourning. For some wearers, it symbolizes the death of a family member or a close friend. The tattoo serves as a reminder of their loved ones and as a symbol of solidarity in the face of pain.
Crime, Murder, or Attempted Murder
In the context of prison culture, the teardrop tattoo can represent involvement in violent crimes. The symbolism varies, with some instances suggesting the filled-in teardrop indicates the wearer has committed murder, while an outlined tear may represent an attempted murder or causing significant harm to someone. This is often seen as a badge of honor or a cautionary mark for others to be aware of the wearer’s violent past.
Strength, Struggles, or Resilience
The teardrop tattoo can also represent the wearer’s strength, resilience, and ability to overcome their struggles and challenges. In some cases, dominant inmates forcibly tattoo submissive prisoners as a form of public humiliation, following extortion, abuse, or rape. The tattoo then becomes a marker of the wearer’s survival and toughness.
Gang Membership and Power
Teardrop tattoos may also signify gang membership or a display of power within the group. The tattoo may represent dominance and control, acting as a symbol of the wearer’s status within the gang hierarchy. Wearers may use the teardrop to showcase their loyalty and commitment to their gang, further solidifying their position as a member.
Teardrop Variations and Placement
Right Eye versus Left Eye
The placement of a teardrop tattoo can vary between being under the right and left eyes, each having a different meaning. When placed under the right eye, it signifies that the person has avenged the death of a loved one, whereas, under the left eye, it may indicate that the person has lost a loved one or has experienced some form of grief in their life.
Tattoo Design Details
Teardrop tattoos can come in different designs, such as:
- A single teardrop: This typically symbolizes the loss of a loved one or some form of personal hardship.
- A filled teardrop: This may indicate that the individual has committed a murder.
- An empty teardrop: It can signify that the person has attempted a murder or has a lost loved one, but the design leaves it open to interpretation.
Influences from Prison Tattoos
Teardrop tattoos have a strong association with prison culture and can sometimes be linked with people who have been incarcerated. These tattoos often signify the individual’s experience in prison, such as being a victim of abuse or marking their dominance. However, the exact meaning of the tattoo can vary depending on the individual’s personal life and experiences. The teardrop tattoo design has become more popular and diversified over time, but its roots within prison culture have left a lasting mark on the symbolism it holds.
Celebrities with Teardrop Tattoos
Lil Wayne, a prominent rapper, has several face tattoos, including a teardrop under his eye. While the meaning of his teardrop tattoo is not officially stated, it is commonly associated with personal distress or loss, as seen in many other instances of this tattoo symbol.
The late Amy Winehouse also sported a teardrop tattoo. Known for her soulful voice and troubled life, Winehouse’s teardrop tattoo could be an expression of the personal losses and emotional struggles she experienced during her career.
Rapper The Game is another celebrity with a teardrop tattoo. Like Lil Wayne and Amy Winehouse, the meaning behind his tattoo is not publicly known but is assumed to represent personal distress or loss in connection with his music and personal life.
In the 1990 film “Cry-Baby,” Johnny Depp portrayed a character who had a teardrop tattoo to signify his ability to shed a single tear at will. Although not a permanent tattoo on Depp himself, his character’s teardrop tattoo became a memorable part of the film’s iconography.
Kat Von D
Tattoo artist and television personality Kat Von D also has a teardrop tattoo under her eye. While the specific meaning behind her tattoo is not disclosed, it could likely symbolize sorrow or deep emotional experiences, as is the case for many other individuals with teardrop tattoos.
Late rapper XXXTentacion had a teardrop tattoo on his face as well, along with several other tattoos with various meanings. The significance of his teardrop tattoo is not explicitly clear, but considering the general symbolism of this tattoo design, it may serve as a representation of personal sorrow or loss.
Misconceptions and Controversy
Negative Connotations and Stigma
Teardrop tattoos, often placed under the eye, have been surrounded by misconceptions and controversial meanings for many years. Although these tattoos are sometimes associated with loss or sorrow, they are more commonly linked to gang and prison culture. People who have spent time in prison or have been involved in criminal activities may sport a teardrop tattoo to indicate their experiences or to symbolize a particular event that occurred during their prison life.
There are various interpretations of the teardrop tattoo, some of which are negative in nature. For instance, it might signify that the person wearing it has been humiliated, or it could represent a criminal tattoo, indicating the individual has killed someone. Another interpretation is the “submissive one” meaning, which implies that the individual has been subject to public humiliation or has experienced a significant loss.
Tattoo Removal or Alterations
Due to the negative connotations and stigma associated with teardrop tattoos, some individuals who have them may choose to undergo tattoo removal or seek alterations to change the tattoo’s appearance. In the tattoo industry, it is not uncommon for artists to be approached by clients requesting modifications to their teardrop tattoos, perhaps by incorporating other elements that would dilute its criminal association or change its meaning altogether.
For those who don’t want complete removal but don’t wish to retain the negative symbolism, some opt for altering the tattoo, such as reshaping it into an upside-down triangle. This not only changes the visual appearance but also creates a new, more neutral symbol without the prison life or gang-related implications that often accompany a teardrop tattoo.
Influence of Pop Culture and Mainstream Media
The teardrop tattoo, placed under the eye, has evolved over time and garnered significant attention in pop culture and mainstream media. Once primarily associated with gang culture, this symbol now carries various meanings and has found its way onto the bodies of well-known celebrities, further increasing its presence in society.
Historically, the teardrop tattoo was linked to gang members and inmates, symbolizing their commitment to a life of crime and struggle. The tattoo, often found under the right eye, represented the death of a fellow gang member or the murderer’s victim, signifying honor, loyalty, and vengeance. However, over time, the meaning of the teardrop tattoo has transformed, with many individuals now opting for the design as a way to remember friends or loved ones who have passed away.
Celebrities like Lil Wayne and Post Malone have sported teardrop tattoos, widening their appeal and moving beyond their criminal past. Consequently, the tattoo’s cultural significance and emotional value have shifted, no longer solely representing criminal history and gang associations.
Misconceptions still exist surrounding the teardrop tattoo, with many people assuming it always represents a violent or aggressive history. In reality, the meaning is much more complex, encompassing personal struggle, remorse, and regret. Furthermore, in Latin American countries, the tattoo is often associated with “Mi Vida Loca” or “my crazy life,” representing gang culture but also the individual’s personal journey.
As the meaning of the tear drop tattoo has evolved, much of its original significance has been lost or diluted. Russian prisons, for example, had a different system of jailhouse tattoos with hidden meanings related to the individual’s criminal record.
In the mainstream media, the teardrop tattoo is often portrayed as controversial and provocative. As a result, the symbol’s presence can inspire both curiosity and disrespect. While some people associate it with loneliness and a longing for freedom, others view it with apprehension, as it can be perceived as a marker of criminal activity or violent behavior.