Somewhere in a northern suburb of Bogotá, a young costeño male is showing his family the strange tattooed foreign girl he’d photographed on his journey home that day on TransMilenio.
They marvel at the bright colours and intricate designs of the vibrant inked Dia De Los Muertos style skulls and the sensual gaze from the eerily lifelike green eyes of the zombie ‘Catrina’ on her upper arm.
That girl is me… and I think it would be a strange week if someone didn’t ask me about my full arm sleeve tattoo.
We’ve heard the same words from our loved ones… “It’s just a phase”
I got my first ink when I was 18, and as I got older they increased in size and color — and of course quality. When I look in the mirror and see my pale skin vivid with bright color and stunning design I smile and feel fabulous.
It might surprise you to know that according to recent public polls, the number of tattooed women outweighs the number of men. Apparently in the US at least 47 percent of women under 35 have ink compared to 25 percent of men in the same age group.
The first professionally tattooed woman in the U.S. was Nora Hildebrandt who was inked neck to toe by her father with 365 designs. She exhibited herself in the Barnum & Bailey circus during the 1890s, where she was a top sideshow attraction and was particularly popular with the male audience.
So more than a century on I wonder what kind of image does a modern day alternative tattooed woman face from society today?
My experiences in Colombia as a tattooed woman ring true to the feeling of being a sort of sideshow attraction with people staring and taking photos of me. I secretly love it, although I do wonder why in this day and age it’s still seen as such a cultural taboo.
People have told me they imagine that where I come from, England is a much more accepting society when it comes to looking different. The truth is it’s all the same. Difference is usually met with opposition and resistance.
So is it really a question of culture?
I decided to ask the highly-skilled tattoo artist Lorena Correa aka “Skunk Rocker” what she believed were the issues with being tattooed, pierced and in her case… punk.FROM THE ARCHIVES | Bogotá: Punk’s not dead
I interviewed her as she meticulously drew out a digital design for her next customer full of bright graffiti style colors on one of her trademark hyena designs. She tells me hyenas are beautiful misunderstood creatures misrepresented as dirty scavengers.
For her they are the punks of the animal kingdom.
As I began to ask her questions it became clear she also had experienced the typical, almost cliche response from her family. It seems with girls we usually face the same disappointed looks and head shaking from our fathers as we choose to wear black jeans, army boots and a band t-shirt with skulls on instead of an elegant flowing floral dress and high heeled shoes for the family get-together.
We’ve also heard the same words from our loved ones… “It’s just a phase you’ll grow out of it soon.”
It seems no matter what your cultural background is, this lifestyle choice is viewed as a typical rebellious stage for a teenager rather than an acceptable way to live your life as an adult.
We both come from an artistic educational background. Perhaps because it’s one of the few career paths where your pink hair and tattooed arm is seen as an expression of your personality rather than a clear sign you have been to jail once or twice.
Art can manifest itself in many forms, and more than just the high class gallery artist selling work for obscene sums of money.
Lorena applied her artistic flair to the human canvas with a job at Arkham Tattoo but was met with disappointment from her parents. Her family’s opinion was that tattooing was like “making a pact with the Devil” and was disfigurement of the body.
They didn’t talk to her for at least a month when they found out.
They said they hadn’t paid for an expensive university course for her to be wasting her talent in a tattoo shop in Chapinero. Despite this painful resistance, she is now a success and not only in tattoos. She also continues with her painting and street murals.FROM THE ARCHIVES | Bodies by design
When I first thought about writing this article, I imagined it was going to be a story about social acceptance and whether or not being tattooed would mean the difference between getting a job and standing in the bread line.
But the more Lorena and I talked, the more I saw there was a much deeper issue we women had to deal with.
Our femininity. She had been told countless times by other women what a shame it was that her beauty was ruined by her piercings and radical hairstyle. If only she’d get rid of it all she would be such a pretty girl and men would like her more.
Having being told the same I understood where she was coming from. It seems that a tattooed or alternatively dressed woman becomes both less attractive and seen as less feminine. We had even both had our sexuality questioned simply because of the way we look.
The truth is my tattoos make me me feel more like a woman that I ever have before. I’m comfortable in my colourful skin and to me my real beauty shows because I am confident with who I am.
I used to feel shy and self conscious about the way I looked. If anything, I discovered I could be feminine thanks to my lifestyle choices and I know that goes for a lot of beautiful tattooed women.
There is still a long way to go before tattooing and the alternative lifestyle is accepted by a global society and who knows maybe being a taboo is part of it’s charm.
However, tattoos are a way of self expression for many people, and there are wonderful artists out there who can make your body as beautiful on the outside as you are on the inside.
Make sure your tattoo artist is clean, respectful and knows what they are doing because your art is for life.
There’s nothing worse than a beautiful woman with an ugly tattoo.