Body Language: Commemorating life's significant events
Tattoos and piercings may have moved from being risque to mainstream, but, for most, body art is still a deeply personal thing, an expression of interest, allegiance and individual vision. Emily Hourican spoke to 10 men and women who have chosen to commemorate life’s most significant events in ink and steel, marking everything from adulthood and aspiration, through death and desire, to love, faith and birth.
I used to have my tongue pierced and my belly button, and three holes in each ear. But with modelling, you have to keep taking them out, because you need to be like a blank canvas for the client. Then I would forget to put them back in and the holes would close over. The tongue, in particular, closes really fast, and I always had to take that out because any laughing shots would show it.
So now I just have one set of holes in my ears. It’s a pity. I like how piercings look;
I think they can be really stylish.
I had my ears done first when I was seven, and my tongue when I was 14. It was cool then, something different that I wanted to do as a teenager. The belly button I got done because it was a ‘thing’. All the girls had theirs done at the time, so I did it. I had it in until about four years ago, but I wouldn’t be tempted to do it again. The tongue, yes, I really liked it. I probably won’t get it re-done, but never say never.
I wanted to do nipple piercing with my boyfriend, as a kind of fun thing for us to do together, but he said, ‘No way!’
We’re considering a tattoo instead, but it would have to be somewhere very secret, or my agent would kill me.
I have one tattoo, on my shoulder, and I got it done at what was probably the worst time of my life, when Mike and I were splitting up. All my life I have played straight and by the rules. I had never done anything unexpected or out of character and then, that day, I decided, for once, I was going to do something totally spontaneous.
I didn’t go into deep thought about it, it was just a spur-of-the-moment thing. I wanted to make a gesture towards a
new way of living, and that was it. I chose two musical notes, A and G, from
The Way We Were. It’s a song I used to play on the piano and sing, and it means something to all of my family. My son and daughters said they would come with me. My daughter drew out the notes, and we all went into town together. The girl in the tattoo parlour took one look and laughed and said, ‘What’s this, a family outing?’
That was a very memorable day. It was a bit of fun, although it was a sad time for all of us. It brought a bit of laughter into our lives. I was delighted with myself, and then I forgot all about it. I only remember it now when I’m wearing something that reveals the tattoo and someone else comments. At one stage I went to a plastic surgeon I know to talk about getting it removed. He said, ‘I think it’s very sexy, I wouldn’t get rid of it.’ So I didn’t. I don’t regret it at all; there is a story behind it. I wouldn’t be bothered getting another, though; that was my swansong.
My first tattoo, I was 15. I spent my first wage packet as a working man — I was a car mechanic — on it. I remember I went into town on the 29a bus, with my wages, £55, in a brown envelope. I was going in, alone, to buy a pair of trainers, and I saw a little tattoo shop and thought, ‘I fancy one of them.’
So I hopped off the bus, a spur of the moment thing, and went in and had a look round. The guy said, ‘Are you 18?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’ I picked a big grim reaper and got it on my back. I didn’t tell anyone — not my best friend, my parents, no one, and no one knew until two years later, when we made the first Boyzone video.
It’s visible in the video, and I knew my family were all waiting to see it, and I couldn’t make up my mind to tell them, or just let them see it. In the end, I said to my parents, ‘I need to talk to you . . . ’
I told them, and my old man said, ‘Is that it? I thought you were going to tell me you’d got some girl pregnant . . .’
After that, I travelled the world with Boyzone, and I got a tattoo in nearly every country we went to. Some were to mark dates and occasions, others are just art I liked. I have motor-sport images — cars, flags, engine parts. I also have music images —microphones, fiddles, bodhrans. They signify the two worlds I live in.
My big projects at the moment are Ver2 Vodka — a party vodka with caffeine and guarana in it, which is UK-based mostly, but we’re about to land into Dublin — and the fragrance, which was launched just before Christmas, and went great. On the back of that I’m doing a range of loungewear — vests, hooded tops, chill-out clothes, underwear — that is LA-based at the moment, and will be widely marketed over the next six months.
I have no tattoos of names, not even my kids’, except Jesus, across my back. I’m into crosses, rosary beads, religious images, and I love my Jesus.
I have two piercings in each ear, two sleepers — hoops — and two studs. I got the first set in the 1970s when I was about 12. A friend did them in my kitchen with a hot needle, ice and a cork. Heat the needle to disinfect it, numb the area, hold the cork against the back of the ear and push.
The pain was so bad I nearly passed out, but I wanted them done more than I was bothered by the pain. The reason? David Bowie had his done, and I was a big fan. Kids are impressionable. It was around the time of Ziggy Stardust. There was a whole thing about if you got the right side pierced, it meant one thing, and if you got the left side done it meant something else. I didn’t care about any of that, I liked the look of two.
The most trying thing was dealing with my father, and the kids around the area who didn’t like me. I’d come home and my mum would say, ‘Take them out, love, before your father gets home.’ He’d come in and check whether I was wearing them. Sunday lunch I had to take them out, too, or there would be a row and dinner might end up on the floor.
Punk really escalated the use of piercings — safety pins in the nose, the lips, the eyebrows; I would put the occasional safety pin in, to shock. I got the second set of earrings around the time of the Virgin Prunes, in 1978. I had them done in the George’s Street Arcade.
I’m 54 now, and I’ve worn the earrings constantly, so it’s as natural as putting on socks in the morning. It’s an old Romany gypsy tradition, and a sailor’s tradition. I like those idioms, but, also, I like the earrings the way other people might like shirts, or ties. I feel a bit naked without them now.
For me, a tattoo has to symbolise something. Last year, me, my husband Kas and our son Thor went on a big holiday — we went around America, to New York, Miami, LA. It was such a big thing in our lives, such a significant, important time, that I wanted to mark it in some way.
So I made an appointment at the
Love Hate Tattoo Studio, the place the reality-TV show Miami Ink was made about, and I got a really delicate tattoo on the inside of my wrist. It’s of Thor’s name, and Kas and I designed it together. He found the lettering. The ‘T’ turns into a love heart, and it’s really beautiful.
I have one on my foot as well, a little crown with Kas’s initials inside. I did that in Oslo, after Kas and I were together about a month. It was one of those
moments — you meet someone and you’re madly in love, and that amazing thing happens. I suppose it was a huge gamble. And a small part of me did think, ‘Well, I could always colour it in . . . ’ But really, I was just so sure that we were going to be together for life.
I don’t want my tattoos to be visible on my body, I want to be able to cover them up if needs be. If I have more kids, I don’t think I’ll get their names done, although I might do a little love heart or something, so they don’t get jealous of Thor.
If it wasn’t for my job, and if Irish people were less judgmental, I’d get tattoos right down to my fingers. I'd like to go up a bit from my neck too, get my throat done, but my girlfriend’s not having that. She says, ‘If you’re struggling to get the job you want now, what’ll it be like if you get that done?’ She’s thinking sensibly, and she’s the boss, so that’s that.
I have two full sleeves — both religious art — and half my chest done. I’m getting the other half done. The tattoos aren’t really for religious reasons, it’s more about the art. I do go to Mass once a week, but that’s for my family. I don’t have any colour in my tattoos, they’re all black and white, like ancient drawings, although I might eventually get a bit of red into them somewhere.
I used to be a semi-professional footballer. I played in America when I was 21, on a soccer scholarship in Buffalo. I came home and played for Waterford for a year, then, in the season final, I did my cruciate ligament in and I was out for eight months. I kind of lost interest in that time, and since then I have just played amateur.
At the moment, I do security for the FAI — VIP security for the Irish team. We wear suits and stand where the presidents are, the Uefa officials. You can’t go round with tattoos all over you, so they go to my wrist and no further. Once I’m wearing a suit, no one would ever know.
People do react. I definitely feel I have been turned down for jobs I was qualified for, because of the tats.
The first tattoo I got was ‘Best’ on my lower back when I was 15, in Venice Beach. Where I was growing up in LA, it was very popular at the time to get your last name, and all my friends were getting it done, so I did too. I’d say my most significant tattoo is either my dad’s initials and his date of birth on my neck, or a rib script I have, saying, ‘trouble to triumph,’ which describes turning my life around.
Since the first tattoo, I have been addicted. I get new ones all the time. Sometimes I don’t think twice and then years later I feel regret, but then I think, ‘No regrets!’ Anyway, each tattoo represents a different time or place or feeling in my life at that time, and they were a big part of the culture and lifestyle I have lived through, as young man, and even now. But there’s no chance I would get a girlfriend’s name tattooed onto me!
I use my body art to express myself. For
example, although my Best tattoo is my oldest and worst-drawn, it’s something I used to create the logo for my first fragrance, which has continued to sell amazingly for me for seven years now.
My father wasn’t crazy about my tattoos, but then, I think he knew that I wasn’t crazy about a lot of what he got up to, so he never questioned it. And, in fairness, most of my tattoos express a thought or feeling related to my old man, or how I have felt in life about a situation created with him.
I have tattoos everywhere, and many have personal significance. I have a 1970s microphone and a strip of music from a song I wrote about my grandad scrolling up one arm. On the other arm, I have a Jack of hearts with an ‘M’ in the middle of it, and a male pin-up of a sailor and anchor. I wanted that because so many of my tattooed friends have highly sexualised images of women; it’s a macho thing, and I wanted to reference that, but have a man instead.
My most recent tattoo is about
marriage equality — two Victorian men in a heart, with my husband’s name over it. We got married in Cape Town four years ago, and I did the tattoo last
Valentine’s Day. I didn’t feel any
trepidation getting that done — getting his initial, ‘M’ in the middle of the Jack of hearts was a far bigger deal because I did that very early in the relationship.
I got my first tattoo, a dolphin, when I was 15. I was a bit of a punk at the time, but I had a thing for Take That, and one of them had a dolphin. Once I got one, I wanted more, and I’ve been getting them since then. The bigger pieces take three or four hours, and at the end of each session I say, ‘Right, that’s the last one, I’m not doing that again,’ but after a few months, I feel the urge.
I have a tattoo of a treble clef behind my ear. When I got it done, 10 years ago, the tattoo artist called it the I’ll-never-get-a-job-again tattoo, but so much has changed in that time. I think the stigma is now completely gone.
I’ve wanted tattoos since I was about three, but I waited until I was 18 to get my first. From very young, I knew that I wanted to be completely covered, so this isn’t something that just happened, it is something I planned. The way I see it is, everyone has the same boring skin — I like pretty pictures, I like to wear the art of artists I admire.
Everyone expects me to have a big, long meaningful story behind every tattoo, but most of them I have just because I like the look.
One or two have meaning, like I have my dog’s portrait on the back of my leg, and a raven on the inside of my leg, because my dad, who is dead, had a pet raven for 22 years that could talk.
My mum is mostly cool with it — the only ones she was a bit unsure of were the ones on my hands, because you can’t cover them up, so she gave me grief about them. Then, a few months later she went and got a tattoo on her hand.
I run a tattoo stall in Galway, and we have some of the top artists in the world working with us, but not everyone wants to pay for quality. I’m still amazed that people will happily spend €100 on pair of jeans they might wear twice, and then scrimp on a bad tattoo, going for the guy who charges €50 less. They often then spend a fortune covering it up or getting laser.
Years ago, it wasn’t common for girls to have tattoos, and people would ask me, ‘But what are you going to do when you get married and have to wear a wedding dress?’
Now, tattoos are so common that practically everyone has one. That said, people can still be judgmental — they might think I’m wild or reckless because of the way I look. In fact, I’m the opposite; I don’t do drugs or even drink much; bed by nine most nights.
I have my nose and eyebrow pierced, four earrings in the left ear, and two in the right. I have a full sleeve of tattoos on my right arm, and ‘bona fide’ tattooed across my knuckles. It’s Latin for ‘good faith’ but also can mean authentic, sincere, true; so everything I touch, I bring positive, truthful vibes to.
Eventually, I will be completely covered in tattoos — I always knew I wanted that — and it’s important to me that on my hands I have something meaningful. Some of the tattoos are just images, of no particular significance, but they all mean something to me because they’re mine. And even though the images might not have significance, the actual moment of getting them done does.
A session is not something you forget. It’s very memorable because of the pain, and so I can remember all the different stages of my life, the things I was thinking and living at the time, through the memory of those moments.
No parent is going to want their kid to do what I’ve done, and at first, my mom was definitely like, ‘Why?’ Now she understands it wasn’t a stupid, childish, whimsical thing for me — that I really do love them and I know what I was doing — so she understands a bit better. Anyway, you have to love your kids for who they are, and you have to let them find out who they are for themselves.
I would never get my face done, though. I just feel anywhere else is cool, but the face is the one part of you everybody sees all day long. I can still put a jumper on, or wear rings, and no one will notice the tattoos. And its nice not to be a walking tattoo sometimes; to blend in a bit more. I’m sure some guys think I’m not the type of person they want to bring home to their mom, but that’s just a stereotype.
Teodora’s jewellery, Loulerie,
14b Chatham St ,D2, tel: (01) 672-4024,
or see loulerie.com
Melissa’s headband, Our Little Secret,
All other clothes or jewellery, models’ own
Teodora, Eileen, and Peter, photographed by Kip Carroll
Styling by Nikki Cummins
Hair by Richard O’Sullivan;
make-up by Dearbhla Keenan; assisted by Jennifer Penny Garry and Kim Delahunty,
all Brown Sugar, 50 Sth William St, D2, tel: (01) 616-9967, or see brownsugar.ie
Photographed at No 10, Ormond Quay, D1, tel: (01) 878-7416, or see.No10dublin.com
Gavin, Virginia, Orla, Melissa and Jaime, photographed by Kip Carroll
Styling by Nikki Cummins
Hair by Jennifer Lil Buckley; make-up by Dearbhla Keenan, both Brown Sugar,
50 Sth William St, D2, tel (01) 616-9967, or see brownsugar.ie
Peter Keegan courtesy of frasermodelsandactors.ie
Calum Best, photographed by Adam Hoskins, see adamhoskins.com
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