'You know that you will have that forever? Even on your wedding day? And when you're old and decrepit?"
That's the general response that women get when they show off new ink or as one commenter on a famous gossip site said under a story about Cheryl Cole's recent rose tattoo on her rear: "A beautiful woman defacing her body. When she's older it will look hideous and will now spoil a swimming costume. So sad." Along with our Chezza, Brona Haugh, Victoria Curtis, Sorcha Loughrey-Hoey and Maggie Coleman are proud tattooed ladies who believe that going under the needle makes for tougher skin. Brona began her collection of tattoos on the day she turned 18.
Now, aged 27 and studying zoology and environmental science in Trinity College, she has a total of nine tattoos with plans to round that off to an even ten. Behind her ear, between her shoulder blades or across her calves, you will find a constellation of stars or a pair of wings but it's a shamrock tattoo that has the most meaning. "I got it done in a little studio in Canada the year I finished school. My best friend Emma was moving there for college so I tagged along as a goodbye", she says. "It was her birthday and I got that tattoo and she has the same one to match – which I got as a gift for her – so we will always have that no matter the distance between us."
Other than tattoos being an eternal friendship bracelet, Maggie (26) notes that sometimes you just need a pal there to egg you on. The oncology nurse was 19 when she got her first tattoo; three interlinking stars for the women in her family, and it was designed by her friend Avril, who came along for support. "Every tattoo is so personal. Some people get them as trophies for overcoming life events", she explains. "I am really bad at art so I got my friend who was living in Berlin at the time to draw it so it has extra meaning. Even if in 20 years time we don't speak to each other, it's a good memory to have."
Victoria, who is 33 and works as a production assistant, jokes that her 15 or so tattoos are like her children and they are mementos of things that make her happy. A number of her tattoos represent family members, including a teapot to soften her nanny who isn't too keen on tattoos. She has Mary written across her wrist in memory of her late mother and 'I took from the mountain not some gold, but a piece of heaven to nourish my soul' is inscribed across her bicep in honour of her uncle. "My friends had bought me a voucher for a tattoo parlour for my birthday and a few weeks later my uncle passed away suddenly. He wrote poetry in his spare time and that was from one of his poems, so that one is really special to me."
Sorcha's colourful tattoos of cherries and a flapper dancer fall in line with her work as a make-up artist, and her alter ego, burlesque star Ms Harlot DeVille. As a positive body image campaigner, Sorcha, 33, believes that self-confidence shouldn't be about what's visible to others. "I think it is vital to love and be comfortable in our skin, irrespective of tattoos, weight, shape or sexuality", she says. "Everybody has had some experience of body issues in their lifetime. These can only be addressed through healthy, open discussion which is why I try to promote that. Once someone starts to attach a desire to alter their physical self in order to address something mentally, that concerns me. I believe that you cannot address any issue you have mentally through body modification, it needs to be dealt with entirely separately."
While Sorcha's tattoos reflect her 1950s-style glamour, Victoria sees hers as a way of owning her body. "When you get a tattoo I think its a proclamation of reclaiming your own body. By getting a tattoo and especially visible ones I think it is you taking control of other people's perceptions of you," she explains. "I have visible tattoos and a very short haircut. I know from the looks I get walking down the street in a T-shirt and shorts strangers think, "there's a butch dyke", and they can think that but I know that that's not me or my truth. I go by the mantra – your body is not a temple but a canvas, paint it."
In a world where women are often told what to do with their bodies, Maggie has Agnes – a saucy pin-up lady with a short skirt and stockings – on her lower back as a celebration of the fact that it was her choice. Brona believes that her tattoos have made her more comfortable in her own skin. "They are definitely empowering", she states without a flicker of doubt. "I suppose mine take away from the fact I've always had issues with my weight. They make me feel exciting and in some way make up for the fact I don't have the body I want.
"The fairy was definitely a mistake," she adds as a warning against whimsical trips to the tattoo parlour. "I was 19 and silly and it was offered to me for free at short notice. It wasn't my choice or design but they said 'FREE!' so I didn't think it through."
Sorcha got her first tattoo when she was 19 but she wishes she had waited until she was older. "I got a big, black tribal piece on my back. It didn't suit me, in any way, I picked flash on the wall and just went for it. I was a teenager from Kildare, it's far from a tribe I was raised." she says. "I was discussing this with a friend recently and we both wish we had begun our tattoo adventures at a later stage. For me 25–30 would have been a better age for me to start." The process of getting a tattoo can be quite personal but – surprise, surprise – it can also be painful. When Maggie was getting her inner arm tattooed with a depiction of the famous French feline, Le Chat Noir, she was pleasantly surprised by the lack of pain. "I expected that to be so sore and it just wasn't. I got my eyebrows threaded the next day and that was so much more painful," she laughs. "It really was."
Maggie disputes the argument that women and tattoos shouldn't mix because people from all over the world have expressed their life story, culture or even just a love for their favourite band through body art. "Before weddings in India, brides get their hands and feet decorated with henna. It's so feminine and beautiful," she says. "There are a lot of people who think that it's not a feminine thing to do but tattoos can be extremely feminine.
"People like David Beckham and Tom Hardy have made tattooed men appear cool and desirable, whereas women with tattoos are constantly shamed in the press," adds Sorcha. "Tattoos are hugely divisive. I had a lady approach me and tell me that she loved my dress, my tattoo on my left arm, 'But that one on your right arm is ugly!' I would never dream of speaking to someone like that, whatever my opinion on their style."
These women are confident in the decisions that they made with their bodies and their tattoos are a part of who they are. Brona looks forward to growing old with her tattoos and she has an answer for whoever dares to question that. "I'll be old and wrinkly anyways so this will just make me awesome. I'll be an awesome granny. And I'll hardly be showing them off in a bikini when I'm 80," she adds.
First published in INSIDER Magazine, exclusive to Thursday's Irish Independent