What’s in a tattoo? Plenty of us get them on a dare or a misguided whim, but the best pieces of body art have compelling stories behind them. These stories only get more dramatic when the ink belongs to celebrities.
These tats might just be the best in Hollywood, and each one has its own deep meaning. In some cases, they were so personal that their famous owners waited years before sharing the full truth with the public — but now, we have all the details to divulge!
1. Emma Stone: After her mom beat breast cancer, Emma had two tiny bird’s feet put on her wrist in honor of The Beatles’ “Blackbird,” her mom’s favorite song. Even better, the tattoo design came from none other than Paul McCartney himself!
2. Cast of The Lord of the Rings: To pay tribute to their time in Middle Earth, the actors portraying the Fellowship inked the Elvish word for “nine” on their shoulders. Hopefully they all felt good about the choice, because you can’t just toss a tat into a volcano.
3. Lady Gaga: Even though her bold looks have included giant eggs and meat dresses, Gaga still shocked fans with this giant moth tat in 2017. As it turned out, the ink wasn’t permanent; she just got it for a Grammy performance with Metallica.
However, Gaga has plenty of real tats, which have deeper meanings than you think. She got a “Le Vie En Rose” design after wrapping A Star is Born, and her forearm has a musical staff complete with the notes G-A-G-A.
4. Bryan Cranston: Walter White was the role of a lifetime, so Bryan honored him in a very subtle way. In between his fingers, the actor added the Breaking Bad logo — two squares featuring the symbols for the elements bromine and barium.
5. Kelly Osbourne: Proud to sport a punk look, Kelly’s mohawk isn’t even the most striking part of her appearance. She put the word “solidarity” right over her ear as a nod to her activism for gay rights.
6. Drake: It’s always important to show friends you care. Still, the “Hotline Bling” singer went above and beyond the call of duty by getting his pal Lil Wayne slapped on his bicep. The rapper signed Drake to his label years ago, playing a huge part in his success.
7. Angelina Jolie: This A-listers got quite a bit of ink, but the Khmer text on her back might just be the most special. It translates to a series of blessings for each of her six children.
8. Emma Watson: The Harry Potter star made a splash on the red carpet with a (temporary) tattoo reading “Time’s Up.” While it was a firm statement against sexual harassment, the artist forgot to include the apostrophe! Hermione would be devastated.
9. Joe Jonas and Sophie Turner: They say couples start to look more like each other as time passes. Lovebirds Joe and Sophie are already one step ahead by sporting tats that are nearly mirror images of one another.
10. Rihanna: Good luck reading this piece of body art. Rihanna, always on the cutting edge of style, designed it so only she could read it in the mirror! It displays her personal motto, “Never a failure, always a lesson.”
11. Sam Smith: Don’t worry, the “Stay With Me” singer didn’t get scratched up by koalas. Those marks on his ring finger are an equal sign, which he got to commemorate marriage equality for the LGBT community.
12. Rita Ora: Even though she’s “made it” as an artist, Rita makes sure she doesn’t forget who she was. In particular, she put this ballerina on her arm as a memento of her childhood dream of becoming a dancer.
13. Post Malone: Love them or hate them, facial tattoos are an essential part of the rapper’s look. He admitted that he mostly got his “Always Tired” ink simply to rebel against his mother.
14. Miley Cyrus: Who wouldn’t want to bring their furry friend with them everywhere? Maybe Miley can’t bring her dog Emu with her on tour, but he’s always by her side thanks to this cute design.
15. Pete Davidson: Love can fade, but tattoos are (usually) forever. Although his much-covered romance with Ariana Grande is passed, the SNL star will always have this rabbit tat to remember her by.
16. Demi Lovato: The pop songstress is not shy about her own mental health issues, nor her mission to set an example for those who share her issues. Demi inked “Stay Strong” on her wrists as a reminder to never give up.
17. Eminem: Growing up, the rapper had a troubled family life, but one bright spot was when his uncle Ronnie introduced him to hip-hop. After his beloved family member took his own life in 1991, Eminem got this elaborate sleeve so he’d never forget him.
18. Lena Dunham: An avid reader, the Girls star used her back to pay tribute to her favorite childhood book. The house is from Eloise on the Plaza, and Lena also as a tiny Eloise right on her hip.
19. Cara Delvingne: Most people wouldn’t ever notice it, but Cara has “Made In England” stamped on the bottom of her foot. She said it relates to her modeling days, when the industry made her feel like a commodity rather than a human being.
20. Jason Mamoa: Aquaman has his kids’ signatures inked on his chest, but his tattoos aren’t even his most stunning skin features. That line through his brow isn’t just for tough-guy roles. He was reportedly in a bar fight and got smacked with a pint glass. He’s not the only celeb with a signature scar either.
21. Padma Lakshmi: She started her career very early as a model until she was scarred in a car accident. At first, she was self-conscious about it, but that all changed with time. “It is so much a part of me. I’m not sure I would remove it even if a doctor could wave a magic wand and delete it from my arm.”
22. Seal: There are three things we associate with Seal: Kiss From A Rose, Heidi Klum, and the scars on his face. Despite the stories that they are burn marks, they were actually caused by discoid lupus erythematosus. Thankfully he is perfectly healthy now, but will never forget what it’s like to struggle.
23. Kate Middleton: After her wedding to Prince William, the Duchess of Cambridge began showing the scar under her hair. At first, the English were very worried about her health, but she assured the people it was caused by a childhood operation.
24. Elizabeth Taylor: For her, a case of pneumonia in the spring of 1961 led to an emergency tracheotomy. “There must be some reason that God wants me to live,” Taylor said. “There must be something left for me to do.” Rest easy Taylor, you did plenty in your lifetime.
25. Tina Fey: At first the Mean Girls writer was secretive about her scar, stating she didn’t want to focus on it too much; eventually she revealed that her face was slashed by a stranger behind her house while she was still in kindergarten.
26: Harrison Ford: While driving to work one day, Ford lost control of his car, veered off the road, and hit a telephone pole. His face collided with the steering wheel, resulting in a lifelong scar.
27. Joaquin Phoenix: Although his lip looks a bit like a repaired cleft lip, it has actually looked like this since Joaquin’s birth. He doesn’t discuss it because he actually feels that it’s just a part of him — nothing special or worthy of discussion.
28. Kylie Jenner: When Kylie was small, she tried to climb over a sharp fence, but pierced her leg in the process, leaving a scar that became smaller as she grew. Lately Kylie has been showing it off in her Instagram posts, stating: “I love my scar.”
29. Jonah Hill: When this Superbad was 15, he was out drinking with friends while they drove around. With his elbow resting out the window, the car collided into another. His arm was almost amputated, so he decided to get his act together.
30. Catherine Zeta-Jones: This actress doesn’t mind showing off her tracheotomy scar while flaunting her acting skills in movies like Ocean’s Eleven and Chicago. “Without it, I probably wouldn’t be here today,” she said.
31. Miles Teller: Also in a car accident, he flew out the window, scraping his face along the road. He’s had several surgeries since then, but not every scar or piece of gravel could be removed. That didn’t keep him from earning a successful acting career.
32. Sharon Stone: This model was apparently riding a horse as a child when she got slashed by a wire she didn’t notice. It used to make her very self-conscious, but now she confidently embraces the mark.
33. Mary J. Blige: Nobody except Mary J. knows how the scar under her eye came into existence, but she certainly isn’t shy about showing it. “If I don’t accept the scar on my face, the lips that God gave me, the big giant feet, whatever it is that I’m deformed with, I got to love it so everybody else can love it,”
34. Sean Bean: Harrison Ford accidentally hit Bean in the face with a boat hook while filming a movie. Luckily, it was one of the only times in his life that Sean Bean didn’t die.
35. Kaley Cuoco: Much like Sharon Stone, Kaley’s ankle was scarred when she was out horse-riding at the age of 8. She fell off and had her ankle crushed when the horse stepped on it. She still loves horses though, and has literally climbed back up on that horse, even becoming a show jumping equestrian!
36. Queen Latifah: She got the scar on her forehead by playing tag with her brother. “I tripped over the telephone cord and hit my head on the corner of a wall,” she said. “I got three stitches. Then I fell on my grandmother’s steps and busted it open again.“
37. Princess Eugenie: This royal lady (9th to the throne), made headlines when she showed off her back in her wedding dress. The media seemed just as concerned about what she wore as what it showed: the scar from her childhood scoliosis surgery.
38. Ed Sheeran: It was actually Princess Beatrice who caused the scar on the English singer’s cheek. She was throwing a lively party when another singer asked to be knighted. Beatrice waved the sword around a bit too hard and slashed Ed’s face.
39. Andy Warhol: An attempt on the artist’s life left him with many markings all over his torso. There is the bullet wound from when he was shot, the surgery scars from where the doctors opened his chest to massage his heart, and finally, some scars from a gallbladder surgery before his death.
40. Andy García: For every celeb that proudly shares their scars, there are those that keep theirs a secret. Even though he had 94 acting credits to his name, Andy García never took his shirt off for cameras. The reason? He has a massive scar on his shoulder from where doctors surgically removed his conjoined twin.
Ocean’s 11 / Warner Bros.