Hong Kong women shrug off tattoo taboo

Spurred-on by celebrity style or simply looking for a new way to stand out in a city of seven million, Hong Kong women are increasingly taking to tattoos -- an art form long considered taboo.

(AFP) -

Spurred-on by celebrity style or simply looking for a new way to stand out in a city of seven million, Hong Kong women are increasingly taking to tattoos - an art form long considered taboo.

Hidden demurely behind blouses and stockings during office hours, the walking, talking, body-art galleries are flaunted at the beach or in Hong Kong's trendy nightspots.

"Most women here who want tattoos are between 20 and 40 years old," says tattooist Joey Pang, who went a step further than most and opened her own parlour, the Tattoo Temple.

"At first they want smaller tattoos, more for beauty, more feminine designs. For their first one, most of the female customers want lower back tattoos, very popular.

"We educate them; they can have more choice, but they still don't want to show off."

Historically a firm favourite with male-dominated triad gangs, tattoos have been slow to gain popularity among women in the southern Chinese territory.

But with the ancient art now flashed on the pampered skin of a range of celebrities from movie star Angelina Jolie to party girl Paris Hilton, Pang says there has been a sharp rise in female customers eager to "get inked".

Tattooist Kenny Chin of Solo tattoo agrees that the old stigma attached to body-art is fading.

"Some men in Hong Kong do not accept their girlfriends having tattoos," he said. "But people are more open now - the tattoo is loosing the bad-guy status it once had."

For young women the decision to go under the gun now revolves more around the reaction of their parents than touchy gangsters - something Hong Kong student and apprentice tattoo artist Jeyers knows well.

"I had to hide my first tattoos because my parents are pretty traditional - and especially because they work in the medical field," she says, asking for her full identity to be withheld.

"They still don't know that in my spare time I work as an apprentice tattoo artist," she adds, recalling that when her mother found out about the first tattoos she initially wanted them removed by laser.

The 25-year-old, whose collection of body-art includes a hand-sized portrait of her surgeon father at work, located on her left shoulder, feels that mass media has played an important role in the rise of the female tattoo.

"Ten years ago tattoos were more underground; you didn't see a lot of tattoos on the streets, so I didn't know much about them."

But she says she saw more and more tattoos popping up in magazines and on the internet, and was attracted to them immediately.

"Before, there was not much choice, but it has evolved a lot more now," Jeyers says. "There are portraits, colour works, Japanese works, all kinds of styles, and I am so amazed by the work that you can put on people's skin."

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