It seems as if one of the main requirements of being a woman and inhabiting the body of a woman is that we preserve, protect and sanitise it at all costs. Virginity is the most highly prized feminine trait. Body hair is unthinkable. Proof of ageing must be combated decades in advance. Stretch marks are a secret shame. Women’s bodies should be unblemished, unmarked, smooth and pure. Signs that our bodies have deviated from this path, that we do not wrap our bodies in cotton wool, are an assault to the perception of what it means to be a woman, an assault to what we owe those that look at our bodies.
Tattoos, then, are surely the greatest attack on a collective belief in ‘pure’ womanhood. They’re a sign that a woman owns her body, that she’s refusing to accept ‘unmarked’ as a condition of femininity.
One of the most common criticisms of women with tattoos is that they are ‘unladylike’, but I take exception to this. They’re a method of reclaiming what it means to be a ‘lady’, or better, a woman. They’re a choice, they’re a commitment, they’re an expression of the self, and I’m completely sure that women have claims to these. Choosing to have tattoos means I choose to own my body, to see it as a permanent vehicle for my sense of self and that I’m choosing what I say with it.
The most perplexing part of the equation is that no one changes when they get a tattoo. Their behaviour doesn’t change, the way they relate to the world doesn’t change, it’s just, in the words of Joni Mitchell, ‘ink on a pin underneath the skin’. So why we think we can tell a good woman from a bad one by whether or not she has a tattoo is evidence again of the obsession with keeping women ‘pure’ and palatable. Heaven forbid a woman has a tattoo across her lower back, since apparently this is the litmus test for whether or not she is a ‘tramp’. So here two things are combined: desire to control women’s bodies and whether or not they have sex.
Tattoos on women offend the collective sensibility because they are bold, unmissable and non-negotiable, and those are traits I’m quite happy to associate myself with. ❦
I fell in love with Cris Cleen’s work the moment I first saw it.
Cris Cleen – artist and tattooer
His work encompasses everything I love in art and tattoos, he has a very traditional and antique style that also has a softness and femininity about it. He has created a world of ladies, flowers and butterflies that instantly drew me in when I saw his documentary short on Vimeo last year.
In this documentary, Cleen talks about the history of tattooing and how the old guys impact the way he looks and what he surrounds himself with. For Cleen, tattooing is about the whole experience, the way you look and act make a big difference and he is dedicated to giving people unique tattoos. His work and his style are almost of another era, but at the same time they are timeless and romantic, even erotic.
I have recently emailed Cris Cleen about booking an appointment with him when I go to New York next year. And luckily for me, he said he would happily tattoo me. Now all I have to do is save my pennies… (luckily I have this – New York ink fund).
New guest blog post from Christina Owen featuring the cutest little Russian doll tattoos I have ever seen…here is the story of Christina and Jess’s matching tattoos.
Christina and Jess
My friend Jess and I live a couple of hundred miles apart. She lives in Cardiff, I live in London. We work busy schedules and we don’t get to see each other much. We also both love tattoos and don’t take ourselves too seriously. So when I found time to go and see Jess for a couple of days in June, we decided the best course of action would be to get matching tattoos, for no other reason than because we are great friends, and because it will remind us that we’re always there, even though most of the time we’re, er…not.
Our friends mean the world to us. And we express that in different ways. Jess and I chose a little, girly Russian Doll tattoo, for no other reason than because we LIKED it (and that’s reason enough). Some of our friends shook their heads at us and called us silly, but to us (and to every girl out there who loves tattoos and is comfortable in her own – colourful – skin) it made perfect sense.
Jess headed to Physical Graffiti in Cardiff and spoke to Tasha Pollendine, whose cute and colourful style of tattoos we had looked up online and loved. Tasha drew us a pair of gorgeous pink matching dolls based on a picture Jess showed her. All that was left was for me to take the National Express to Cardiff and for us both to jump in the chair…
While we had our tattoos done, we both chatted to Tasha who was easygoing, friendly, patient and very talented. I grilled her, interview-style on how, why and when she got into tattooing, and made her snort with laughter and have to stop tattooing me at one stage, when I asked her if she’s ever sneezed and accidentally drawn a huge ink line down someone’s arm (probably better not to put a tattoo artist off like that when they are making permanent marks on your skin, guys). The atmosphere in the shop was relaxed, and we spent a fun couple of hours talking to the other tattoo artists and customers. Jess and I chose to have our tattoos in different places on our bodies (a nod to our own individual personalities) – she chose the back of her left ankle and I chose the back of my right upper arm.
I’m back in London now, and don’t know when I’ll see Jess next. But I now have mini-Jess on my arm to remind me that distance doesn’t really matter – good friends will always make time for one another.
I think that Mini-Jess is definitely the cutest tattoo in my collection so far. Thanks Tasha – I’m sure I’ll be back to get tattooed by you again!
Name: Christina Owen
Location: south London
Occupation: student paramedic
My name is Christina Owen, I’m 28, I live in south London and I’m a student paramedic and photographer. I could write a book about my tattoos. I have 24 at the moment. I collect them – they are mostly very bright and very bold and I’m hoping that over time I will collect enough small pieces to be built up into bigger sleeves. I prefer getting them done bit by bit, as they tell a story of my life. I’m about to start a photography project about tattoos and the stories they tell.
I’m also training to be a Paramedic and so many of my patients want to talk about my tattoos all the time – it’s a great conversation starter and seems to take their mind off the reasons why they’re in the ambulance! Amazing how many people you wouldn’t expect find them interesting, like little old ladies and children.
Where did you get your tattoos done? All over the place! My favourite tattoo shop in the UK is Frith Street in London, but I’ve had some done in Brighton, some at other places in London, one in New York and one in Copenhagen. At Frith Street I’ve had a few tattoos by Valerie Vargas, who’s an absolutely amazing artist, and one by Frank Carter – who rendered me so starstruck that I couldn’t speak to him.
What got you into tattoos and what was your first tattoo? My first tattoo was a Chinese symbol on my stomach that means ‘fish’ (apparently!). I got it when I was 18 at my local tattoo shop because everyone else was doing it. A couple of years later I discovered SuicideGirls and couldn’t believe that tattoos could be so beautiful and so much like art. Up until then my experience was of tiny black and grey shapes that you would pick off a wall and have slapped somewhere on you, so you could say you’d done it. I thought the women on this site were wonderful and their tattoos completely captivated me.
Are you planning any more tattoos? Oh yes! I have about seven on my to-do list at the moment, but beyond a great idea for a tattoo, it’s also about finding the right artist to do it, and having the time and money to get it done. I’m impatient but I don’t want to rush – they need to be done properly, in the right place, at the right time. I’m quite picky about when the right time is to get a tattoo! I need to be in a good mood, things going well, the sun needs to be in the 5th house and the day needs to have a Y in it etc etc. It’s quite annoying…
Where did your inspiration come from? I mainly find inspiration in patterns and shapes that surround me. The stars on my chest come from part of a windchime that I got for my 20th birthday. It fell apart, and the stained glass star shape was all that was left. I stuck it on my bedroom wall in every place I lived, and fell in love with the design to the point where I wanted it on me forever! Sailors would get swallows tattooed on each side of their chest when they had travelled a certain distance away from home and I got stars, because of the star that I took with me everywhere I went.
I recently got the design from a pot that belonged to my grandmother on my arm, and I have this ancient biscuit tin that has yellow flowers on it that belonged to my Mum – I want the flowers tattooed on me somewhere.
I collect patterns from things that I have grown up with. Apart from that, I love traditional sailor flash designs and also pop art. I have a traditional arm and a contemporary arm to reflect both.
How would you describe your style? Bright! And nothing matches! But hopefully everything will somehow go together in the end. Like a living room where none of the furniture matches, but it looks good anyway.
Is there anyone you would like to get tattooed by? I’m going to Nashville next month and I’d like to get a tattoo by Amanda Leadman at Black13 Tattoo, but whether or not that will happen remains to be seen. There’s also a female tattoo artist who’s photographs I follow on Flickr and her tattoos and art are amazing. She works somewhere in America – it frustrates me that artists live in places you can’t just nip to on your day off! And I would love an entire sleeve by Miss Led, but she doesn’t tattoo as far as I know.
Do you have a favourite tattoo? People ask me this a lot and I don’t want to pick a favourite because it’s like picking a favourite child…but the stars on my chest are the best thing I’ve ever done. Also, the words on my feet – 2nd best thing I’ve ever done (they say Didi and Gogo which are the nicknames of the characters in Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett).
Do your tattoos have meanings? Yes – they have surface meanings and some have deeper meanings too, and those meanings don’t get told when people ask. But the surface meanings do. And some of them only have surface meanings. I got a black cat tattooed on my wrist when I was 20 purely to impress a boy (it didn’t) and I had an anchor tattooed on my arm at the oldest functioning tattoo shop in the world, which is Tattoo Ole in Copenhagen, only because I wanted to be like a sailor and walk in off the docks and pick a design off the wall. The quality isn’t great, but I love it because of where it’s from.
I recently blogged about my lovely iPhone cover by Rachel McCarthy, and now I have to blog about another beautiful new iPhone cover by Rachel McCarthy. This one’s for my sister.
My little sister, Olivia, is moving to Australia this weekend. I couldn’t let her leave without a little gift to remind her of home and as she loved my iPhone cover so much, I got one specially made for her. I guess we’ll be speaking on the phone a lot while she’s away too, so her phone should look pretty if it will always be by her ear.
I simply sent Rachel McCarthy an email describing what Olivia likes and what the gift was in aid of.
Olivia is the gypsy queen of jewellery and has own jewellery brand (Gypsy East) with her friend Emily. She loves vintage treasures and lives in black nail varnish. She is moving to Australia and I would like her to have an iPhone cover as unique as mine. (to remind her of her big sis!)
Thanks Rachel, the iPhone cover you created for my sister is just perfect. I hope she enjoys it while she is away in Australia.
And sis, I will miss you lots. Love you xxx
You can get Rachel to create you an iPhone cover – go to her Etsy shop.