Taxpayer to fund tattoo removal

UNEMPLOYED PEOPLE will have tattoos removed at the taxpayer's expense as part of the New Deal back-to-work initiative. An 18-month pilot project has been set up in Coventry by the city careers service, council, employment service and chamber of commerce.

Under the scheme, which has received pounds 2m from the Government, job seekers over 25 will be given money to have tattoos removed if it is deemed necessary, according to the project manager, Louise Proctor. "We are trying to tackle the barriers that they may face and take an individual approach. In some instances people have had a tattoo in the past and regret it now. Employers in some instances may turn them down because of a tattoo."

Dawn Downham had such an experience. Ms Downham, from Battersea, south London, has tattoos on the side of her neck, down her arms, the back of her hands and down her legs.

Before she had visible tattoos she had worked in two London department stores. But when she went for a sales job in a skateboard shop last week she was told for the first time her tattoos were a problem.

"I had never experienced prejudice before," she said. "I have lots of retail experience. The manager told me he wanted me for the job but he would have to discuss my appearance with his retail manager. By the time I got home I was furious. If it had been about the colour of my skin, there would be laws to protect me."

Martin Skinner, a social psychologist and lecturer in psychology at Warwick University, said: "It is very in-your-face, which may be how they felt at the time. But not all tattoos are aggressive. People may be put off them because of the associations they make. Even an ornate butterfly might suggest something about self-inflicted pain, which is an unpleasant association. People might find it uncomfortable to see."

Tattoo artists are the first to acknowledge that many people - the quoted figure is 75 per cent - eventually regret having a tattoo. Martin Clark, of New Wave Tattoo Studio, in Muswell Hill, north London, said: "If a pretty young girl comes in here and says she wants a tattoo on her face, we would say no. You have got to live with people looking at you all the time. Some people with total face tattoos have ended up mentally ill. You are treated like a freak."

Nevertheless, an influx of art-college students into tattooing has helped to turn the practice into an art form endorsed by models and other celebrities. Liam Gallagher and Patsy Kensit had "his" and "hers" done when they married, while Melanie Chisholm, aka Sporty Spice, restarted the craze among schoolchildren for stick-on transfers copying the Celtic-design tattoo on her arm.

Sally Feltz, editor of the magazine Skin Deep, said: "Over the last 10 to 20 years some very creative people have come into the tattoo world. Better equipment and inks ... have brought more colours and there are now custom designs. Years ago you went into a shop and said, `I'll have number 25'."

The Celtic patterns that were de rigueur three or four years ago have now been replaced as the most popular motif by plain black tribal designs derived from Maori facial markings.

The pop star Robbie Williams opted for this when he spent three hours this month having his life story tattooed down his arm.

Famously Illustrated People

Johnny Depp had "Winona Forever" on his arm for girlfriend actress Winona Ryder. They split up

Kate Moss, the next love in Depp's life, has a swallow on her shoulder

Brigitte Nielsen has a tribute to boyfriend Mark Gastineau on her bottom

Pamela Anderson had "Tommy" on her wedding ring finger for her husband. She had it changed to "Pammy" after they split

Sporty Spice, Melanie Chisholm, of the Spice Girls has a Celtic design on her arm and stomach

Barbie (the doll), in her new Nineties version has a stomach tattoo, a la Sporty. She also came with extra replaceable ones

Madonna this year sported henna tattoos on her hands

Melanie Blatt of All Saints has a black tribal dragon down her side

Shaznay also in All Saints has a tribal sun on the back of her shoulder

Ulrika Jonsson has three crowns on one ankle and a Tasmanian Devil on her bottom

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