Fairies (faeries) are known by many names, such as fay (fae), sprites, pixies, gnomes, fair folk, wee folk, and brownies to name a few. According to legend, they are magical creatures who can be enormously helpful or incredibly destructive. In general, fairies look exactly like humans, but are often described as being incredibly small, having wings, having pointed 'elf' ears, having fangs, being part demon, or being dead.
Traditionally, most stories and tales about fairies primarily focus on keeping them away and protecting both family and property from their influence. Perhaps the most atrocious activity associated with fairies is their penchant for swapping healthy babies with changelings, which are often described as unhealthy, weak children who fail to thrive. In olden days, a child who was born healthy but later became sick, weak, or fussy was believed to be a changeling and fairies were blamed.
Fairy tattoos represent a link to the magical and enchanted aspects of nature. The fairy tattoo motif often represents childhood or youthful innocence because of the obvious connection between fairies and fairy tales, or children's stories that have fantastical elements and a happy ending. In most tales, fairies are predominantly female characters, with few exceptions. The modern myths paint them as beautiful, tiny, winged females who clothe themselves with flower petals and leaves. This starkly contrasts older stories of fairies, which describes them as human-sized, walking among mortals, and frequently dead.
Of the two genders, women are more likely to choose fairy tattoos than men. Fairy tattoos can either be cartoon-looking or realistic, but are usually colored or very detailed. Because fairies are considered to be small, they translate well into small tattoos, which is partly why they are a popular tattoo theme. Fairy tattoo designs fit well in a variety of places on the body, like shoulders, hips, lower back, ankles, etc. Fairies can be depicted in a variety of positions, like standing, flying, sitting, reclining, or crouching. Fairy tattoo designs can also be elaborated to include flowers, petals, mushrooms, toadstools, butterflies, hummingbirds, dragonflies, frogs, or leaves. Fairy tattoos also vary greatly in their overall design of the fairies.
When men choose fairy tattoo designs, the fairies are drastically different from the tattoo designs women choose. Men often pick fairy tattoos that depict the fairies as pin-ups, or seductive women. These fairies are frequently naked, and represent exotic or impossible seduction, rather than innocence or childhood, just like the men's mermaid tattoos are very different from those chosen by women. For this reason, the male fairy tattoo is more likely to harken to the more sinister traditions and aspects of fairy folklore. The male fairy tattoo is seductive, but also dangerous.
Sometimes, women choose specific fairies, like Thumbelina or Crysta from Ferngully. These tattoos are typically accurate representations of the characters as they were in the films. With character fairy tattoos, the meaning behind the tattoo has less to do with a love of fairy folklore or what fairies represent, and more to do with connotations and feelings associated with that specific work. For example, a woman with a Tinkerbell tattoo might only care for that character, and have no particular love of other fairy designs. Fairy tattoos, because of their symbolism for childhood and children's stories, are sometimes used as commemoration or memorial tattoos for children who have passed away. These tattoos might mean that those lost children are forever innocent, childlike, and pure.
Fairy tattoos spiked in popularity around the same time as butterfly and dragonfly tattoos. This might be because women are drawn to the magical and mystical aspects of these creatures, their deep symbolism and historical significance, their delicate natures and innate fragility, and their distinctly feminine characteristics. Fairy tattoos continue to be a common motif and fairies in general are becoming increasingly popular.