Today's Tattooed Ladies

Deborah Gough - January 20, 2008

Katie Pink talks about her tattoos the way some women think about diamonds: they are her best friends.

"I feel better when I get more ink on my body," she says. "It gives me a bit more confidence and it allows me to express myself."

Ms Pink, 23, is part of an emerging urban trend: the full-chest tattoo, for women. While many female bodies might be secretly "inked", Ms Pink's two porcelain doll faces fan out from her cleavage for the world to see. "I've always been a different kind of girl," she says.

Different, but not alone. Chapel Tattoo co-owner and tattooist Jane Laver is doing a chest piece every fortnight, despite the pain involved for her clients. "I would say the sternum is probably the most painful and because the chest moves with breathing it is also a difficult place to tattoo," she says.

"For females, the trend has only appeared in the last five years. Now it's pretty steady. We see about two girls each month who want a chest piece.

"Traditional American style is very popular on the chest. Designs such as roses, bluebirds and sacred hearts."

Tattoo Magic, in Fitzroy, has seen a similar increase in large tattoos and chest tattoos. Studio manager Cass Scott says many young women are seeking original designs for their chests, and see their bodies as art canvases.

"They are picking a work of art, (but) not just a gimmicky little thing that they don't see; they want to show it off," Ms Scott says.

It is impossible to miss Blanche Noir's giant butterfly. It flames across the 24-year-old's chest in lurid red and orange. "I wanted something big and bold, something that would make a lasting impression on people," she says.

"People ask me about it every day. I try to stay as ladylike as I can. Most of my tattoos are really feminine."

Exact figures on the extent of the tattoo wave are hard to obtain, though internet forums such as report that 60% of the world's women have some kind of tattoo.

Macquarie University academic Dr Nikki Sullivan, author of Tattooed Bodies, says society's attitude to tattoos is changing. Until recently, they were linked with criminal elements or the pyschologically abnormal.

"Up until the 1970s, you only found visible tattoos on a certain kind of woman: sex workers, prisoner women, sideshow or burlesque; they weren't the only ones to have them, but it was most common among them," Dr Sullivan says.

"Now it is more done for a sense of belonging to a particular kind of group or community, or to have meaning, but they want their tattoo to be seen as a form of art in the way that jewellery has been for a long time."

Female tattoos are common among several urban tribes, including the rockabilly set, whose members include Ms Pink. Her tatts have been inspired by 1940s and 1950s fashions and old-style "Sailor Jerry" designs. Sailor Jerry was a Honolulu tattooist who designed many of the well-known anchor, bombshell beauty, rose and dagger designs still common today. "I have grown up with it (rockabilly) and the tattoos are part of it," says Ms Pink, who works in rockabilly store Faster Pussycat in Fitzroy.

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