Women tell their tattoo stories

For some, getting a tattoo is an act or rebellion, for others, it is a matter of self-reassurance
Last Updated 15 February 2019, 13:10 IST

A feminist photographer is visiting cities across India to document stories of women wearing tattoos.

“If a man gets a tattoo, he is a stud. But, if a woman gets one, she is judged about her lifestyle,” says Sanjukta Basu, who launched a project called ‘Women With Tattoos’ in July 2017.

This ongoing project is a search for the ‘self’ behind the tattoo, she told Metrolife.

“I toured five Indian cities to find women with tattoos. I met 15 women from various backgrounds and poignant stories emerged from them,” says Sanjukta. Their violence, pain, heartbreak, triumph and courage inspired her to document their stories.

Metrolife spoke to Bengaluru women about what tattoos mean to them.

Femi Antony, Psychologist

Femi Antony has a ‘J’ shaped semicolon tattoo with the message ‘Just breathe’. Inked on her left arm, the tattoo acts as a reminder, she says. Femi got the tattoo when she was going through a depression. “I learnt about the semicolon tattoo movement and it cheered me up,” she says.

A semicolon tattoo (;) symbolises affirmation and solidarity against suicide, depression, addiction, and mental health problems, she says. “A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end the sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life. This thought inspired me to get one,” she says. “I came out okay as there were no negative vibes from my family. My tattoo defines me and says things that I might not be vocal about,” she says.

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Skull cat tattoo on Shreyasi Bose’s ankle.

Shreyasi Bose, Content designer

The 28-year old says she got the first of her 10 tattoos when she was 22. “I have bipolar and panic disorder. The tattoos sort of cover the self-harm scars,” she says.
To be an independent woman in India is not easy, she says. “My tattoo defines me and is my way of living my life,” she declares. Shreyasi faced tattoo-related queries during her job interviews. “It is strange how they judge us from our hair colour and piercings,” she says.

Soorya Nair, Psychology student

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Soorya Nair

Born into an orthodox family, 21-year-old Soorya Nair faced many restrictions as a girl. “I felt I was tied down. Getting a tattoo was like liberation,” she says.

Her tattoo reads ‘Free bird,’ and is accompanied by a bird picture. It is inked on her collar bone. She says it gives her confidence to express her thoughts, “overcoming fear and inhibitions.”

Shatarupa Bhattacharyya, Theatre artiste

Thirty-three-year-old Shatarpura Bhattacharyya says her tattoos complete her. Hailing from Kolkata, and now a resident of Bengaluru, she has three tattoos.

A roaring lion tattoo motivates her to rise, no matter how hard she falls.

“I love the fierceness and got it done at a time when there were no doors open for me. It gave me the spirit to breathe, live and fight… the fight it is not over,” she says. The tattoo is on her right ankle. Another tattoo of a winking sun was done on impulse with someone close to her.

“He is no longer part of my life but the tattoo remains and I do not regret it for one second as it brings back wonderful memories,” she says. She got it done on her left arm when she was 25. Her mother is not for tattoos, but is not against it entirely either. “She has got accustomed to it,” says Shatarpura.

What tattoo artists say

“Most women these days prefer ‘non-feminine’ designs. Hearts, feathers, dreamcatchers are some common preferences,” says Kumar from Skin Deep Tattoo Studio in Indiranagar.

He mentions that ankles, hands, wrists, collar bones and the rib cage as places where girls like to get inked.

“Sixty per cent of our clients are women. Dreamcatchers and mandalas are very popular,” says Pradeep from Astron Tattoo.

A tattoo artist for nine years, he has noticed a tremendous change in Indian tattoo culture over the last three years.

“A lot of celebrities are getting inked and this has inspired many young girls to get tattoos,” he says.

Tattoo risks

Although tattoos and piercings have grown in popularity, they are not without risks.

  • Every time the tattoo device makes a hole in the body, it injects ink into the dermis(second layer of skin) and might lead to an allergic reaction, many lead to skin infections.
  • Blood-borne diseases, such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV, and tetanus can be contracted by using contaminated tattoo needles.
  • Interference with future magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) tests is a possibility.
  • Some studies say that tattoos can hide skin cancer.
(Published 15 February 2019, 12:36 IST)

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