A new generation of mums is breaking the... Tattoo taboo
There's no 'regretting it when you grow up' if you get inked in your 40s, writes Chrissie Russell
Published 03/01/2013 | 06:00
For generations, mothers have been advising their daughters not to get tattoos because they'll regret them when they're older.
But now it's the mums who are the ones likely to get inked.
It's one solution to the 'regret it when you're older' debate, waiting until you've notched up a few major birthdays, then celebrating your maturity with an inky act of rebellion.
Mum-of-one Kate Moss has revealed she'd had a £1m tattoo done by celebrity artist Lucian Freud.
The 38-year-old has two tiny swallows, hand-drawn by Freud, an artistic expression now reckoned to be valued in the millions since the artist's death last year.
Of course, Moss, who was also painted in the nude while pregnant by Freud, is easily given to rebellion. But even non-hell-raiser mums are getting in on the act.
Actress Felicity Kendal (66) recently declared that, after a certain age, botox just looks "silly" but tattoos are ideal for pensioners looking to channel their youthful rock chick.
Inspired by Kendal, Strictly Come Dancing contestant Fern Britton (53) got two butterfly tattoos done on her tummy.
"It's Felicity Kendal's fault," she laughed. "I read about hers and thought 'why not?'"
British aristocrat Lady Judy Steel, wife of the former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Steel, outdid everyone by celebrating her 70th birthday with a pink jaguar tattoo emblazoned on her shoulder.
"I get people telling me it's their midlife crisis," says tattoo artist Joel Tamsalu at Ata Tattoo in Wicklow town. "They say it's either a tattoo or a sports car."
But even if it's not done by one of the greatest artists of the 20th century, Joel still believes that for less than €100, customers are getting a piece of art.
"It's like an investment in a piece of art or jewellery you never have to take off," he says.
"You can get something really unique to you, that no one else has, without spending the earth."
Anecdotally, Joel has been aware of a growing stream of older Irish female clients coming in for their first tattoo.
He says: "I think for a lot of them it's something they wanted to do when they were younger but attitudes were different.
"Now it's more acceptable to have a tattoo and standards have improved. Tattoo artists have often graduated from art college and customers can come in and discuss what they want, they can be involved in the experience and make it personal to them instead of just picking something off a wall."
Fran Hartnett from Zulu tattoo in Dublin city centre agrees with Joel's observation.
"There's definitely more women getting inked these days," he says. "I think about 60pc of our customers are women and I'd say 25pc of those would be 40-plus." Reasons for where and what women are getting inked depend on the individual but it's often something of personal significance.
"Women over 40 are more likely to know exactly what they want and feel confident in their decision," Joel says.
"They're not choosing something to just look pretty, it's often a tribute to a deceased parent or symbolising their children, a quote or image that has personal significance."
Last year, former Friends star Jennifer Aniston got her first tattoo at the age of 42. The actress got the name Norman etched on her foot after her dog, a Welsh corgi-terrier mix called Norman, died last May, explaining: "It's just my way to pay homage to him forever."
I t might not be a problem for the age-defying Aniston but for many older ladies, it's worth remembering that flesh is unlikely to be as supple as it was when one was first hankering after a butterfly on one's breast.
To quote comedian Billy Elmer, "that butterfly on your breast looks great when you're 20 or 30 but when you get to 70, it stretches into a condor".
The Good Life star Kendal recently explained the benefits of waiting until nature has done its business.
"I know why I'm doing it now – it's because I know where the wrinkly bits are," she jokes. "I know where not to put one, because it would have a little curtain."
As well as a star and a moon surrounded by feathers, which represent her sons and grandchildren, Kendal is planning a turtle for her shoulder.
She adds: "You wouldn't, at my age, have one on your tummy because it might get hidden. Bits like shoulders stay flat, they don't wrinkle and they don't get larger."
It's something Joel says he finds more mature female clients are well aware of.
"Ankles, shoulders and feet are very popular," he says. "Usually places that can be easily hidden, it's not about other people seeing it, it's about something personal to them."
He adds: "I find they also enjoy the experience of sitting in the chair and getting the tattoo done.
"It's a break from everything else and something that is just for them."
He laughs: "When I started working a year or so ago, I thought I would just be doing bikers, but it's never really been like that – it's mostly mums."
What were you inking?
We ask two Irish women why they decided to go under the tattooist's needle after 40
What were you inking? We ask two Irish women why they decided to go under the tattooist's needle after 40
Mature student and former Green Party councillor Caroline Burrell (48) got her first tattoo as a present to herself eight years ago. The Co Wicklow mum of two explains:
"I ran for the Green Party in 2004, got elected and decided my tattoo would be my present to myself.
"I'd also turned 40 that year and I was year of the Dragon so I got a little dragon on my left upper arm for €50.
"I talked it over a little bit with friends and family before getting it and they all said go for it – they're used to me doing things like that!
"I'm still really happy with it. If I'm wearing sleeves you wouldn't know I had it but I've seen some people give it a second look if I'm at an event and wearing a dress.
"I'm aware that there are still some people who think there's a common element to tattoos or who are surprised when they find out its something I got done recently, but I'm not too bothered by what people think and, at my age.
"My son and daughter are 12 and 14. I wouldn't be happy if they got tattoos as teenagers because I would want them to be sure, but after 21 it's their decision.
"But I'd want them to realise its not just a case of going in and sitting in a chair, it's painful and you have to take care of it. I made sure I went to a place with a good reputation.
"I said that if I'd been re-elected in 2009 I would have got another small something, but as it stands this will do me for now."
Kathleen Hogg (62), from Clonmel, Co Tipperary, decided she no longer cared what other people thought about tattoos – she was getting one anyway. She says:
"I'd always wanted a tattoo but didn't do it when I was younger because it was frowned upon.
"Now I don't care what other people think! I got a spider tattooed on my wrist for my 50th birthday.
"It was a present from my daughter. I told her I wanted to get one so she got mine and got also got one done herself as part of her present to me.
"I like spiders so I got a small spider done on my wrist for €30. I wanted it somewhere I could see it myself, I don't see the point in getting one done on your back where you're never going to see it.
"I had a big party for my 50th and unveiled it then. Some people were shocked and wanted to do know 'what did you do that for?' but others didn't care and some thought it was great.
"I do craft work classes with children and they think it's really cool.
"It was just something I did for myself and I've no worries about regretting it later in life, by 50 I should know what I want!"