By Alex Bruce-Smith
Women in their twenties are the largest group of Australians seeking laser surgery to remove unwanted tattoos.
According to the Australian Cosmetic Physicians Society tattoo removal has grown by 15 to 20 per cent over the past three years.
Darren Speight, managing director of tattoo removal clinic Vanishing Ink, estimates that 65 to 70 per cent of his 300 clients are women, and 70 per cent are under 30.
“When we first set the business up in 2011, we expected an older clientele in their mid-30s,” he says. “By that stage, people have both the inclination and the income to remove their tattoos. But we were surprised.”
One in seven Australians is now sporting a tattoo, according to a study published last year by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) that looked at 8,656 Australians between the ages of 16 and 64. The report also found that in the 20 to 29 year age bracket, women with tattoos outnumbered men, the only age bracket to do so.
Dan Galloway, a tattoo artist at Tattoo Parlour in King Street, has seen an increase in the number of women getting tattoos over the past four years.
“It’s becoming far more acceptable now,” he says, adding that reality TV may have been a contributing factor. Female reality TV stars often have very visible tattoos, while several reality shows often feature their stars heading to the tattoo parlour.
“It was a big deal for a woman to have tattoos when I started tattooing in 1998, but now not so much,” Dan says.
But as the number of women getting tattoos increases so, too, do the number of women having them removed.
A study conducted this year by McCrindle Research found that 34 per cent of Australians regret their tattoo to some extent.
It isn’t simply ‘bad’ tattoos that are getting removed. “You do see a few tattoos where you say ‘what were you thinking?’ but that’s a minority by far,” Darren Speight says. “You could count on one hand ‘bad’ tattoos.”
He believes that a far more common reason people want to have their tattoo removed is that it is no longer ‘who they are’. People often choose their tattoos as a reflection of their interests or personality and find, after a number of years, this is no longer the case.
The Southern Cross tattoo is a perfect example of a tattoo people no longer want. Once seen as a symbol of pride in Australia, the tattoo became synonymous with racism after the 2005 Cronulla riots. “It became more of a racial slur than anything else,” Mr Speight says.
Mary Simpson, 23, is a sales executive who is having her Southern Cross tattoo removed.
“I don’t want to be associated with the stigma anymore,” she says. “I got it at schoolies when I was 17 and foolish, and obviously didn’t understand the wider society’s perceived meaning of the tattoo. I just liked the look of it.”
Missing out on job offers or promotions is another common reason for tattoo removal. Darren Speight says women working in education, modelling or the airline industry are the most likely to get their tattoos removed. For men, this is the police force, the defence force, and acting.
However, not every woman in her 20s is in such a rush to get her ink removed. Erin Steinhauer, a 25-year old public relations executive, loves her multiple tattoos.
“Tattoos are ornamentation and reflect who you are at the time they were painstakingly etched into your skin,” she says. “I’ve made choices as to the location of my tattoos so as to not jeopardise my career progression.
For Ms Steinhauer, her tattoos do not necessarily need to be relevant throughout her entire life.
“The best part of having a tattoo is seeing it and remembering your youth and what’s defined you,” she says. “Why would I want to deny the 18-year-old version of myself the opportunity of expression?”