The modern tattoo, especially in American culture has a lot to do with choice. Being able to choose practically any image to become a permanent part of yourself serves a great purpose in distinguishing identity. We can identify with a culture, group, religion, sexuality, niche, organization and the list goes on and on, from what we decided is most important to be tattooed. We have the choice to represent one part of our personality or all. To let every other person, who's on the outside, into who we want people to believe we really are. And with the case of tattooing you do represent who you are.
Traditional tatau and malu is not determined or chosen by the person getting tataued. The only choice available is whether you want a tatau or malu and which motifs are to be depicted. But tatau and malu is a representation of your lineage and the things that you have accomplished in your life so far. There is nothing about your personality that is left out.
In the story "Parker's Back", Parker choose any image that was appealing to him at the time he decided on another tattoo. Parker's reasons for the tattoos he bore where only because they were things he liked. Not many of them held particular meaning to him. And it seemed to me that Parker continued to get tattooed simply because he could and no one could tell him otherwise. Not even his wife, Sarah Ruth, we were appalled by the vanities of tattooing from the moment she met Parker. Instead of respecting Sarah Ruth's feelings about tattoos Parker, unsuccessfully tries to pull her into his choice by proclaiming the tattoo of God was for her, when it was really all about himself.
Deciding on a tattoo is probably the most difficult to do. Making that choice to ink anything into your skin is a great power. A power that only holds within yourself. No other person can choose a tattoo for you. The experience and the meaning wouldn't be the same if it were you're own choice. I believe this is why I don't have any tattoos. The topic has come to mind for years but every time I try to decide that, yes, this image will be the one I have second guesses. I've realized the second guesses are my consciences way of telling me that I don't really want that image to be a permanent part of who and what I am.
I've watched friends of mine decided through a plethora of images for one specific subject and then once they've found the exact one now they have to decided where on their body they want the image to be depicted. An interesting formula that can tell a complete story about a person. Having a tattoo of a butterfly on the small of your back reads a different message than having a lady bug tattooed on your foot. A person's name on the neck is a different circumstance than a person's name on the chest.
Choice is extremely important in tattooing the world. Individual choice in the modern tattoo and community choice to preserve tatau and malu in the original indigenous cultures.