Why the "I Refuse to Sink" tattoo is problematic

When modern tattooing first developed in the west, a series of symbols and designs became an industry standard. These tattoos became known as American traditional flash and were popular among sailors. Sparrows, eagles, and clipper ships all became staples in tattoo shops and each of these designs has meaning tied to the life of a sailor. 

Another design that became popular during the early 20th century and continues to be inked every single day is the anchor. According to Sailor Jerry's website, "At sea, the anchor is the most secure object in a sailor's life, making it the perfect representation of stability...Anchors have become popular within general tattoo culture over the years, but the symbolism is still the same. It's a reminder of what keeps you steady."

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While anchors are often tattooed on their own, many times an artist will add script to the piece. And one of the most common phrases added to an anchor tattoo is "I Refuse to Sink." According to many people who have this tattoo, they included this phrase with an anchor to represent perseverance, strength, and stability. However, there's a big issue with the juxtaposition of these words with an anchor: anchors are designed to sink.

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"This is the exact kind of overly saccharine but ultimately nonsensical phrase that got popular for reasons I don’t understand." shares New York tattooer Cavan Infante. "You refuse to sink. Okay, an anchor that refuses to sink is either incompetent or hard headed? What are you trying to say?"

"It’s like that 'I love you to the moon and back' phrase. On a galactic scale, the moon is not that far. We’ve actually been there a few times. As measurements of distance go, it’s lukewarm at best and people’s desire to be sentimental undermines their ability to make sense."

Tattoo by Cavan Infante

Tattoo by Cavan Infante

According to a user on Yahoo Answers who has the tattoo herself, she says that the piece represents stability:

"I actually have a tattoo like that. I didn't know it was actually a big thing until I looked up a style for it... People say it's silly because anchors sink, but that's not the whole point of the tattoo. The anchor is underneath the words and unattached, so the anchor isn't pulling the words down. The entire point of the anchor is that it symbolizes hope. It can be referenced back to a bible verse, "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure". So, yes I can see how the two can clash, but the anchor isn't meant to pull you down into the depths, it's meant to be a firm sign of hope for you to hold onto. Anyway, if you're only getting it because it's something everyone is doing, don't bother. I spent a long time deciding on mine. A tattoo should always have deeper meaning. I chose mine because it resonated with me and my life. And if you find it really does resonate with you, then what other people think of it really shouldn't matter."—Alexa

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There's nothing wrong with getting a tattoo if you love the design and we hope that everyone who has this script is happy with their decision. At the end of the day, we're not here to shame people who have an "I refuse to sink" anchor tattoo. But it is important for people to understand how contradictory this design has become. 

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What do you think about this tattoo? Do you have an anchor tattoo? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section.