Emma Cowing: Cheryl Cole’s tattoo is a real pain

I HAVE a tattoo. It is of the Egyptian eye of Horus, and it is on my ankle. I had it done when I was a teenager. This was an enormous mistake, not because I later regretted it – I don’t, I still love it – but because I couldn’t tell my parents.

Cheryl Cole revealed a new tattoo this weekend. Picture: Getty
Cheryl Cole revealed a new tattoo this weekend. Picture: Getty

For years, every time I was in their company I wore knee-high socks or long, trailing skirts, ludicrous outfits designed to hide the offending ink. On one memorable occasion, at no less an event than a Royal Garden Party, I ingeniously covered my tattoo with an enormous bandage and pretended I’d had a nasty accident with a razor. It wasn’t until I was 26, on holiday with my mother in sweltering temperatures, that I finally came clean. Her reaction was low key. “Oh,” she remarked. “That’s nice.”

The reaction to Cheryl Cole’s recent tattoo has been far from similar. The pop singer unveiled a new inking this weekend that is extreme, to say the least. Rather than a butterfly on her shoulder or a small Celtic design on her lower back, Cole has had her entire bottom covered in black and red roses. And when I say entire, I mean ALL of it. Not an inch of flesh, or rather flesh-coloured flesh, remains.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

The design covers both, ahem, cheeks, the tops of her thighs and her lower back. It features a lot of black, a deep red, some green and even a bit of yellow. It looks rather like she sat on a radiator in a paint studio and has yet to have a go with the white spirit. How do I know all of these details? Because a picture of it, modesty protected by a tasteful (again, ahem) pink lace thong, was posted on Twitter. Of course.

Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. This is, after all, the woman who had “Mrs C” inked on the back of her neck when she married Ashley Cole – and opted not to have it removed when she divorced him.

I suspect Cole is trying to tell us something about her delicate temperament with this tattoo. But let’s face it Cheryl, if you need to have giant English roses inked all over your backside, then the chances are that you are probably not an English rose.

I am not anti-tattoos. This is not just because I have one myself, which I adore, have never regretted, and will always think of as “part of me”. In many cases, tattoos are a demonstration of personal freedom – the ultimate feminist statement of “this is my body, I’ll do what I want to it”. People have tattoos for all sorts of reasons: celebrating a change in life, commemorating a loved one, or simply because they think a picture of a Tweety Pie with a speech bubble saying “I need a hug” is just what their upper torso has been missing. And I’m all for that. Why not? If a woman wants to change her body, then she should. It’s her right. But, as with any cosmetic decoration, there are limits.

The former Girls Aloud singer’s tattoo is the equivalent of floor-length hair extensions; false eyelashes that curl up to the eyebrows; or football-sized breast implants. It is extreme, and, as with every thing that a celebrity who has a young following possesses, has the potential to be aped by young women desperate to look like their idol.

After the picture was tweeted at the weekend, to predictable outrage and horror, particularly from the tabloids (“Star’s shocking new look” tutted the Sun), Cole reacted to the criticism by remarking: “People are entitled to their own opinion. Personally, I’ve never really concerned myself with other people’s body parts!”

Which is all very well, except that by making the tattoo public – which she had no need to do; Cole, after all, doesn’t have her bum on show every day of the week, unlike some other current pop acts, including Miley Cyrus or Rihanna – she is rather asking people to become concerned with other people’s body parts. Because it won’t just be hers that is affected.

For every young woman who gets an enormous tattoo the size of Cole’s and is happy with it, there will be ten who will regret it before they’ve even left the tattoo parlour. A tattoo of that size not only permanently alters your appearance, it can also be life changing. By making it public, Cole has essentially advocated getting such a tattoo to the thousands of young and impressionable women who like her music, her style and her attitude, and essentially want to “be her”.

A lot of people have commented that the tattoo will, uh, sag, as she ages. This is true, and should act as a caution. But, worse than that, it just looks like an over the top, silly mess. Surely that, if nothing else, should have been motivation enough to keep it under wraps?