I like my body. My body is jiggly, and curvy and covered in imperfections. And yet, it is mine; it is adorned with markings I chose and some I didn’t. My body has scars and cellulite and wobbles when I walk. My body is mine, it has fought for 23 years for me to love it. It has loved me and supported me even when I refused to do the same for it. The jiggle when I walk comes from me trying to improve myself and be healthier. The cellulite on my thighs is from woman-hood, an honour I accept graciously. The stretch marks across my chest come from becoming a woman and my vain attempts to shun it. I have scars from when I did not appreciate the skin I was in. My body is strong and powerful, my body supports me and lifts me up when I fall; it lies me down when I need rest. My body has tolerated everything I’ve put it through, the chemicals and substances, and yet it still stands by me. I feel my body ready to fail me through no fault of it’s own. I feel my hips start to ache and my back stiffen and I know that if I gave my body half the love it gives me it can be strong once again. My body is sacred, and can create life. My body can create another similar to itself and while at this time I do not want this, I can accept that my body can do this. I’ve heard the phrase ‘your body is your temple’ but only in recent months have I been willing to accept this. Yes, my body is a temple. I am the god it is dedicated to. Because if my body can survive every abuse I throw at it, I owe my body the respect to love it. My body is not perfect, far from the ideal standard or my own, but my body is my body nonetheless and I love it for everything it is.
The tattoo world is tough. I mean really tough. The constant exhaustion, lack of food, the inability to focus on anything other than tattoos, the never-ending criticism. It’s a rough life.
I’ve been working in the tattoo ‘industry’ since I was 16; that’s 7 years. 7 years of proving my worth, 7 years of fighting the difficult fight… I started my apprenticeship part-time, managing it alongside a full time college course and a part-time job. I was learning about blood borne pathogens whilst learning how to screen print. How to clean a tattoo station while writing a university application that I never used (or wanted to use in the first place). It was hard. Whilst most 16 year olds are out having a good time and getting drunk in a park, I was building my future. At the time I felt like I was missing out, I was scared I was losing my youth to something that I wasn’t sure would last.
At 18 I graduated college with a degree under my belt and pursued the whole tattoo thing full time. I didn’t start actually learning to tattoo until then. I had to prove my commitment, that I wouldn’t back out. Starting to tattoo was the most difficult thing I’ve ever attempted. It was stressful and terrifying. It reached a point where I would have a panic attack before every single tattoo I did. Admittedly I wasn’t doing many tattoos at this point, but each one felt like the make or break moment. Which in a sense it was, although every client was made aware of the fact that I wasn’t a fully qualified tattoo artist at that time and that some mishaps were possible. Although fortunately I never made any mistakes that couldn’t quickly be fixed by my boss.
After I started in my first studio in Gloucester things hit a new momentum. Due to the lack of professionalism by the studio owners the studio shut down and me and my boss moved to another studio in the area. We quickly established ourselves as invaluable to them as they had never met a team quite like us. We were resourceful, practical, and friendly to all customers and staff. This studio was reluctant to take me on as well as my boss due to limited space, but after seeing some of my artwork and talking with me about my experience and feelings towards tattooing it was made very clear that I would be an asset… That and the fact that my boss refused to work there without me!!
We become such a popular team in the studio that I was tasked with responsibilities that I was in no way prepared for. I took on the role of assistant shop manager and essentially become the apprentice for the 3 artists who worked there. All of this on top of my existing responsibility was difficult to say the least. I got very good at time management, very quickly!! Adapting my methods to each artists preferences for station set-ups etc was awkward as I knew there was a more practical and efficient way for them to work but I had to keep tight lipped and do my job.
As our skills progressed my boss was asked to assist with one of the other shops the owner had as the current staff were doing a shoddy job. We stopped working in Gloucester and headed up to Leominster. It was a small shop in a farming town just outside Hereford. We turned up and went to work on the place. All of the previous staff had been fired and it was down to us to make it work. Whilst the studio was busy it should have been busier, so my boss spoke to the owner of the shop and proposed the idea of closing Leominster and moving to Hereford as it was only a few minutes away and a much busier city. A few months later and that was it, we moved to Hereford!!
Throughout all our time in the midlands, me and my boss were both living in Bath, 60 miles from Gloucester and almost 100 miles from Hereford. We would stay in hotels 5-6 nights a week and travel home for 1-2 nights a week. It was hard being away from home so much and I struggled with the distance and never ending work.
When we started in Hereford my boss was the lead artist, a position he massively deserved for the amount of hell he’d gone through to get this studio going. In hindsight it seems like this would have happened over several years but from our start in Gloucester to Hereford it had only been about 18 months at most. We were (and still are) hard workers who dedicate themselves to the business and never give in to pressure. So it wasn’t too surprising how quickly we progressed. In Hereford I started to really get my start in tattooing, I would tattoo myself and my boss frequently until the owner offered me a chance to start tattooing clients. The first time was terrifying, I panicked so much I had to ask my boss to finish the tattoo as I was shaking to much, fortunately the client was very understanding and afterwards reassured me she loved the parts I had managed to do on her and that it wasn’t a problem that I panicked. Which was very reassuring for me after having a full blown meltdown!!
Around December of that year my boss decided it was time to move on. We’d reached a stagnant point and couldn’t progress any further with the current studio. After much toing and froing the owner finally agreed to let us leave in peace. And so we moved back down to Bath and breathed a sigh of relief for being home again.
Itchy feet set in very quickly, and we quickly started looking for another shop. It wasn’t long before my boss had set up several interviews with studios a bit more local. Our first was with a gent who planned to open a studio in the next few months. He had invited us to a pub at 11 in the morning, and invited us under the pretence that he already had a shop. After he downed several pints we’d made the decision to perhaps not pursue this studio. On our way back to Bath we had a second interview, this is the studio were we settled. The studio was in trouble, of course. And so we set to work and started digging it out of the ground.
The studio stabilised fairly quickly and after about a year the itchy feet set in again and so my boss started looking into opening another studio. After a few attempts at renting a property and being shut down as the towns we were investigating didn’t want a tattoo studio, he started looking for someone selling an existing studio. It wasn’t long before that studio was found, visited, and purchased. This is where I am today. This is where I am everyday. I work here a minimum of five days a week up to 7 days.
It’s been almost two years now since I started at this studio, my boss still runs the other studio. All this time my boss is someone very close to me; he’s my Dad.
I would love to be able to say that tattooing is a beautiful, sparkling land filled with unicorns and rainbows where no one is ever judged, where you can be a woman, a man, or whoever you are and it not be a problem; but unfortunately that’s not the world I work in. I work in the very male-dominated field of tattooing.
Whilst female tattooers are more common now, we’re still far from being 50/50. Sexism is an everyday thing for myself and the women I work with. I’ve been told I tattoo well for a girl. I’ve had people correspond with me through dozens of messages before going off the radar when they realise I’m a woman, only to go to a rival shop with my designs and ideas and have the tattoo done by a man instead.
Don’t get me wrong, the world is changing; and I’m utterly delighted to see it. But, just in the way tattoos will always have a stigma attached, so will female tattooists. Members of my family have questioned my choice to continue in a job with so much negativity attached to it via the perceived social standards, I’ve also been asked by those close to me when I’m going to find a nice man, settle down, quit my job and raise some kids. An alternative job is not a death sentence. I can have a career I’m passionate about and this does not mean that I can never settle down if I so choose.
For women, tattooing can be a very cut throat industry. We’re made to compete for our work, for our right to tattoo and for our right to be taken seriously. We’re supposed to be sexy and promiscuous. We’re supposed to be the bad girls that should never be taken home to your mother. We are more than that, I am more than that. I am a woman, I’m an artist, I’m a creator, I’m a lover and I’m a fighter.
I am the protector of my tattoo sisters. I won’t tear women down in the name of success, I will build you up and praise you for the creative goddess you are. I will encourage your strengths and pick you up when you feel weak.
I work with 2 other women, they are so important to me. They are truly my family and we provide a mutual support network for each other. Whether it’s helping through serious issues, advising on tattoo techniques, or even if it’s just making sure someone eats that day and gets at least a little giggle into their day.
Female tattooists are here to stay. We won’t be pushed out so easily so instead of hindering women in tattooing, help them. And any female tattooers who might read this, support your sisters, don’t let them be forced out because of your insecurities. Learn to love and care for each other and you’ll be shocked at the magic that women can create when they stand together.
Picture: Cindy-Ray, Australian tattoo artist.