Tattoo lovers draw on art of body beauty

Tattoos are not for everyone, but for those who like them they can be a flamboyant way of emphasising personality.

A TATTOOIST last week accused Councillor Marilyne MacLaren of holding archaic views on tattoo parlours after she objected to his licence renewal application.

But while some still see tattoos as being slightly seedy, a growing band of people of all ages and walks of life are getting a taste for decorating their bodies in this way.

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JOANNA VALLELY asked five Edinburgh people why they had decided – like stars such as David Beckham, Angelina Jolie and Amy Winehouse – to have tattoos.

Elizabeth Thomson, 38, a sales adviser for Sky TV, and her mum Mary, 76, from Livingston both have tattoos

Punk fan Elizabeth got her first tattoos when she was 19 in honour of her favourite band, The Damned, before attending their concert.

But the body art on one arm and shoulder left her feeling she needed one on the other arm to balance it up – and another, and another.

Two decades on and Elizabeth says she is a "tattoo addict", having about 40, and worries she might finally be running out of space. "That's the stupidity behind it," she admits with a laugh. "I'd sit in the bath and look at my legs and say there's a bit of space there. What will I get?

"It's very addictive. I'll go into Ritchie at Boneyard Tattoo just to say hello and just the smell of it will make me say: "Are you busy?" and I'll run over to the cash machine."

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Currently single, Elizabeth believes some of her partners have been put off by her tattoos. "I've had people ask me not to get any more because it doesn't look nice. Then there's the other side of it – people who think they look absolutely amazing."

However, Elizabeth says she generally keeps them covered. "I'm a great believer in getting them where I can cover them," she says. "The sun ages them dramatically and the last thing I want is a tattoo that looks 100 years old."

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Though her workmates often compliment her tattoos, Elizabeth was picked on in a previous job by a training adviser who used to point out her tattooed arms to visitors. "I was ridiculed to the point of being really upset. I should have reported it, it was so narrow-minded," she says.

Elizabeth lives with her mum Mary, a widow, who says she has shed many a tear over her daughter's ever-increasing tattoos.

Mary, 76, admits: "I never liked them and I never liked Elizabeth getting them. I felt she had too many. She has more tattoos than body because she's tiny."

But two years ago Mary, a retired factory worker, went on holiday to Bulgaria and stunned everyone when she came back with a cheeky red devil on her arm.

"Elizabeth was always daring me and I thought I'd give her a surprise," she laughs. "Since then I've had Betty Boop done on my other arm. She was my favourite as a child.

"My Betty Boop's gorgeous. I'm quite chuffed with it. I went on holiday to Blackpool and a boy at the hotel asked me my age and I said 'I'm 75'. He asked to take photos of me with my tattoos."

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Elizabeth teases her mum about getting a third one, but Mary holds her hands up in protest. "Two is my limit – it's too sore," she laughs.

Laura Blair, 29, a receptionist, and Chris Cowan, 27, an assistant shop manager, met through their love of tattoos and now buy them for each other as gifts

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Welcoming customers with a brilliant smile, receptionist Laura Blair is an impeccably groomed first point of contact at busy hairdressers Cheynes on Drumsheugh Place.

When her sleeve falls back as she lifts the phone – revealing one of six tattoos – most clients at the fashionable salon don't bat an eyelid.

But there is still a certain mindset which associates tattoos with muscle-men sailors and truckers rather than pretty young women.

"Now it's more fashionable for girls to have tattoos, but I still get a shocked reaction from older people," admits Laura, from Loanhead, who got her first tattoo aged 18 and now has 500 worth on her wrist, shoulder, foot and big toe.

"In my last place of employment they said they would have preferred me not to have tattoos. They had a lot of older, distinguished clients coming in who didn't really understand," she says.

"Luckily it's more acceptable in the fashion industry and now lots of girls have them. I think it has to do with celebrities like Posh and Becks – they have made them more acceptable." Laura's boyfriend Chris, 27, also got his first tattoo aged 18. The pair got together three years ago after striking up a conversation on the bus about their tattoos.

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Chris, who is assistant manager at G Star on Multrees Walk, reckons he has 13 or 14 which have cost him just short of 1000 in total. "I've always liked tattoos," he explains, "Laura and I have a shared interest and I think women look good with tattoos if they are classily done."

Chris says no-one at work has ever criticised his tattoos, which include a star and a Celtic band on his knuckles and the beginnings of a "full sleeve".

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"It might be an issue if I go somewhere else," he concedes, "as I didn't have so many when I started."

He bought Laura a tattoo on her wrist and she has paid for his "sleeve", or full arm tattoo. "It's a nice thing to do as you'll always have it. Even if you split up it's a memory of your life," he says.

"I'm not bothered if people are against them. If everyone liked the same things the world would be a boring place."

Sales executive Nikki Watt, 24, from Meadowbank, regrets the tattoo she had done as a teenager

Nikki Watt managed to persuade a tattooist that she was old enough to have a tattoo when she was aged just 15.

"It was at the base of my spine. Everyone warned me not to get it because I would regret it and I definitely have done in the last few years," she says, ruefully.

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"It was a Japanese symbol with two love hearts behind it. It was in fashion but I didn't really think about it enough."

Nikki grew increasingly fed up with her unwanted tattoo, so when a friend from her university course opened a tattoo parlour, Nikki asked for help.

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"Laser treatment is meant to be more painful than a tattoo, so when my friend Brooke Mackay-Brock opened her shop Love Hate Tattoo, I asked her to help me design something to go over it. I just wanted to cover it up, she says" Luckily Nikki was delighted with the results of her extravagant white, pink and green swirling lilies, which took four sessions under the needle to complete.

"Now I'd say it was a nice tattoo. It was sheer hell to get done but everyone loves it," Nikki says.

So what would she say to anyone who said tattoos weren't for girls?

"It's much more appropriate now for girls to have tattoos. I think it will become much more normal for old people to have tattoos soon," she says.

"Fifty per cent of my friends have them and I'm really pleased with mine. It's exactly what I envisaged."