Best.tattoo is reader-supported. When you buy via the links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you.
The most recognizable teardrop tattoo is the one under a person’s eye but what does a teardrop tattoo mean? The teardrop tattoo is often used as a trope in movies as a gang or prison tattoo. But there are more meanings behind getting a teardrop tattooed on you than signalling that you’re a criminal. Teardrop tattoos can be very meaningful.
Read on to find out what teardrop tattoos mean and why they’re not reserved for convicts and prisoners only.
Teardrop Tattoo On Face Meaning
Let’s start with the most well-known teardrop tattoo: the one high on the cheek and just below a person’s eye. At times, they may even have more than one that is either filled with black or left as an outline only.
This type of teardrop tattoo is featured in pop culture so often, that it is by far the most renowned tear tattoo. Where does it come from? Well, it first appeared in mainstream media as part of prison culture in the 1970s in New York. A popular magazine published an article about a gang member who was imprisoned in the United States and he donned the now-famous teardrop on his upper cheek. The exact meaning behind the prison teardrop tattoo, however, is highly controversial.
In a general sense, one can say that it symbolizes the downsides of being in prison. It is associated with a person’s criminal record, the types of crimes they were convicted of, or rape behind bars. More dominant prisoners are also said to tattoo “lower-ranking” or more submissive prisoners with a teardrop to assert their authority.
What exactly teardrop tattoos on the face mean differs from prison to prison, but most imply struggle, pain, loneliness, and grief. This isn’t much different from the meaning non-criminal folk ties to other teardrop tattoos. Let’s take a look at what else teardrop tattoos can represent.
Other Meanings of Teardrop Tattoos
Teardrop tattoos are a hot topic. We all know that someone usually cries out of sadness, but anger, remorse, and even joy can also trigger tears. Just as the reasons behind crying are so varied, so are the meanings of teardrop tattoos.
Grief, Hardship, and Perseverance
If you’ve lost a loved one you may be moved to get a teardrop tattoo to help you through the mourning process. It will also be there as a reminder of the person you had to say goodbye to.
Some celebrities, especially rappers, have used tear tattoos to highlight the unnecessary loss of life due to gang violence. They use it to not only mourn but honour the people who have died due to gang wars. They might have got their teardrop tattoos on their face, but nothing is stopping you from getting it somewhere else on your body to avoid being stereotyped.
Getting a teardrop tattoo can also signify hardship. Life has a way of getting us down and during dark times, you may want to get a teardrop tattoo to acknowledge that you’re going through a lot and to recognize that you’ll make it through the difficult time if you persevere.
Similarly, a teardrop tattoo can show that you persisted and overcame the challenges you faced. It is a sign of strength and courage—it shows that you weren’t afraid to work hard to make your dreams come true.
The bottom line is that teardrops can be beautiful as standalone tattoos or as part of an intricate tattoo design and they don’t have to be limited to one particular area of the body to be meaningful.
Teardrop Tattoo Combinations and Placement
The majority of teardrop tattoos on the face are filled with black or outlined only. Sometimes other colors may be used to signify something specific—what exactly varies from prison to prison. They’re also plain when it comes to the design. However, there’s more to teardrop tattoos than that. When combined with other images, teardrop tattoos get elevated to the next level.
Popular groupings include:
- Religious symbolism like a crucifix
Of course, placement is vitally important too. If you feel brave, you can go for the teardrop below your eye; however, you don’t have to give up on getting a teardrop tattoo altogether if you don’t want it to be, well, on your face.
Tattoos of tears, specifically when paired with other images, can be placed anywhere on your body. Some popular options include the lower back, over the heart, shoulder, knee, and fingers. There’s nothing wrong with placing your teardrop tattoo somewhere hidden—unfortunately, the stigma associated with this tattoo can cause you unnecessary drama when done in a visible area.
Things to Consider Before Getting a Teardrop Tattoo
When you have tattoos, you’re regrettably immediately labelled as a delinquent by some people in the community. If you choose to get a teardrop tattoo on your face, even the most non-judgmental people may characterize you as being ‘bad.’ You have to consider this before you willingly get a teardrop tattoo on your face.
You don’t want to communicate something to the world that isn’t true, so before you decide on getting a tear tattooed under your eye, here are five things to ponder.
- Facial tattoos are a big step to take—a lot of heavily-tatted people don’t even go there.
- Teardrop tattoos under the eye have various negative connotations. You might know what does a teardrop tattoo mean to you personally, but to the vast majority of people out there, it can be a sign that you’ve harmed someone.
- If you’re getting a tear tattooed on your face while you’re in mourning, consider your mental health long-term. You may think it is a good idea at the time, but it is a permanent reminder of their death and this may cause constant emotional anguish.
- If you like to travel, keep in mind that the meaning of teardrop tattoos are different around the world. Some people may fear you because of it while others may see it as an invitation to get aggressive and “stand their ground.”
- You severely damage your job prospects if you get a face tattoo. If it is a tattoo of a tear under your eye, you are unnecessarily adding to your struggle of finding a job. Discrimination in the workplace is a reality and if you make it worse by getting a visible tattoo that is linked with prison time and criminality, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
It’s best to take some time to think about getting a traditional teardrop tattoo. There are a lot of negative meanings connected to it and you have to realize that people will instinctively think the worst when they see it tattooed on you. It’s for this reason that it’s probably one of the tattoos people regret getting the most. Unless you’re a rapper or work in a very open-minded industry, and are willing to live with the daily stares and comments, then getting a teardrop tattoo on your face isn’t a good idea.
Instead, combine a tear with some other images that hold meaning for you and place it somewhere else on your body. But as always, get your tattoo done by an experienced artist (especially if you do choose to place it on your face), to ensure that it heals as it should and you have a teardrop tattoo that you’re proud to walk around with.