Working in the fashion and fine art industries, I love seeing editors or gallerists’ with ink crawling up their skin. I get even more excited to see it filtering into the modeling industry. That unapologetic confidence and conviction is something we need to see more of. But why is it that there only seems to be a market for heavily tattooed men and not the same for women? Over and over again editorials come out with a guy tattooed head-to-toe and the women tattoo-free like a modern Virgin Mary.

I’m astounded by the lack of presence feminine tattoos have in our mass media. Sure, there are niche markets like Inked Girls or a trending moment on Cara Delevingne’s puny finger lion tat, but, overall, tattooed women are given no representation in the market as anything other than a sideshow attraction. So I decided to interview 4 emerging female artists in New York who have devoted their skin to the beauty of ink.

My interviews started in Brooklyn with jewelry artisan Lavender Buttons. “I fantasized about the day I’d be covered in tattoos…. I was about to tattoo my hand and was told by an elder, ‘You do realize that’s a job stopper so think about where you want to be 5,10,20 years from now’ and that’s when I realized I like making my jewelry and I’m going to be making it 20 years from now.”

Jewelry Artisan Lavendar Buttons

Jewelry Artisan Lavendar Buttons

Lavender is a perfect example of the mentality that our generation has when it comes to tattoos. We are less concerned about conforming for a job and would rather create our own career where we can proudly express ourselves. Lavender who was the only woman I interviewed with face tattoos and made a strong point about how they have affected her life, “For me the face tattoo’s were like becoming a phoenix. I’ve had artists congratulate me on pursuing the life of an artist instead of going down another path. I’m dedicated and serious about what I’m doing. I feel like the face tattoos explain to people without me having to use words about my passion and dedication to the path I’ve chosen. It’s like a protection and saves me the pain of having to deal with people that don’t understand them.”

As my interviews continued I realized how much each girls tattoos have helped them in their professional life by validating their artistry but had hindered them as well.

Actress Emily Shephard

Actress Emily Shephard

Huddled in the corner of actor/dancer Emily Shephards’ dressing room after her last performance of the night she disclosed, “They’ve greatly impacted my work as an actress. It gives me more chances in the type cast realm but outside of that I have to work harder.” “I was always obsessed with art. So much so that even as a child my dad threatened me to not get a tattoo…instead of porn magazines under my bed I had tattoo magazines.”

When I asked how her tattoos had affected her relationships Emily recounted, “My tattoo’s have changed my outlook on people. There seems to be this thing that men, when they see a woman tattooed, she is promiscuous or lives a wild and crazy life but I am a nerd. I like to go home, smoke and snuggle with my dog. I might be a glorified stripper and be tattooed but I am a home-body.”

 Model Clara Rae in her bedroom

Model Clara Rae in her bedroom

Clara Rae, makeup artist by way of a secure income but model at heart shared, “In my paying job it’s never been an issue. I’ve always worked in places that everyone has them…if I knew I was going to do modeling I probably wouldn’t have ever gotten tattoo’s. It’s hit or miss—I think they hold me back in doing fashion but I want young people to see that you can be a professional and still have tattoos.”

Surprised by Clara’s comment on wishing she hadn’t gotten tattoos for modeling I asked why she had gotten so many. “Tattoo’s explain myself without having to speak and help people ‘get it’. I never liked myself…. I always hated my body and it was a way to make me like myself that made sense to me. It makes me feel safe in my body; it’s like armor.”

At least once each woman mentioned that her tattoo’s had become a shield to them whether it be in avoiding uniform jobs or avoiding people that just don’t “get it.”

Photographer Ashley Kolonder relaxing in her home.

Photographer Ashley Kolonder relaxing in her home.

“My tattoos scare off the people that I don’t want to deal with“ shared photographer/model Ashley Kolodner. “My mother hates my tattoos.”  I asked her why she had gotten them and proudly she began to break down the story. “We look back at art and even if they’re just stick figures they tell a story about what we’ve learned and where we’ve come from. For me one side of my body is for my adopted family, the other side for my birth family and the middle is how they’ve influenced me.” “When people ask about them I get to talk about them and strengthen them.”

The last question that I asked each girl was if they could would they get rid of any of their tattoos. The overall consensus: no. “For me my first tattoo was like a right of passage…they’ve made me stronger, get to know myself more and trust my convictions. I hope they help people learn more and trust themselves more.” Wise closing words from Ms. Buttons as we finished up our talk late in the night.

As a woman with one tattoo often hidden under my sleeve I left each interview feeling empowered and simultaneously disappointed in myself for not having the same conviction. Though I may be strong these women took it to a whole other level of proclamation of self that so many people are scared to even approach as a thought.  It’s a shame that the media hasn’t given them the representation they deserve outside of scandalous niched markets. These are the people that truly express our generation rather than Kendalle Jenner. It’s time the media starts to pay attention as these are the people that truly shape our society and our mentalities.

 

Body As Canvas – all images c/o the artist

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