Belfast Telegraph

Tramp stamp? I’ll never regret my hip little tattoo

By Maureen Coleman

The subject of body art has been back in the headlines after a tattooed female player at Wimbledon raised a few eyebrows among the conservative set.

Just a week after race-goer Joanna Southgate caused a right royal rumpus at Ascot when she showed off her heavily tattooed arms, 6ft tennis star Karolina Pliskova and her inked flesh had the good folks of SW19 spluttering over their Pimm’s.

Until recently, a respectable, middle-class, professional woman sporting a tattoo was unthinkable. But it's not just the likes of Rihanna and Cheryl Cole who have decided to decorate their bodies with ink. Samantha Cameron, Fern Britton and Felicity Kendal also have ‘tramp stamps', as some sections of the press so eloquently describe them.

In a Daily Telegraph article, a female columnist lambasted these women, saying tattoos were tacky, unsightly and uncool and that they would live to regret ever having them done. Well, I have news for her. I have a ‘tramp stamp' and I'm proud of mine. Granted, not too many people can see it, but still, it's there, in all its colourful glory.

Yep, Betty Boop and I are joined at the hip. Quite literally.

Some years ago, following the break-up of a long-term relationship, I decided to do something unconventional to celebrate my new-found single status. Many women, post-love split, chop off their hair, others go on a diet to reinvent themselves. I opted for a more permanent memento to mark the occasion, one that involved indelible ink and a cartoon character.

In my teens and early twenties, I had acquired the nickname Betty Boop, on account of my short, dark hair with little kiss-curls and my love of red lippy. I was actually trying to emulate pop star Lisa Stansfield at the time, but Betty Boop stuck.

So fast forward 10 years and I'm standing in a reputable tattoo parlour, clutching a photo of Miss Boop, in a tiny red dress and matching stilettos.

That's Betty, not me. I'd brought a friend along for moral support — and to squeeze her hand if the pain became too much. She was already a fully paid-up member of the Tats R Us society, with a Star of David on her upper arm, and she assured me I'd be just fine.

The tattooist, a burly man with a huge beard, told me to drop my trousers (I'm not joking) and lie down. Then he started to work on his masterpiece.

“It's very intricate, this tattoo you've chosen,” he warned me. “It's going to take a bit of time.” Two and a half hours, to be precise. Bizarrely, I didn't really feel the pain. I think my embarrassment had numbed my skin. The fact that the tattoo was on a fleshy part of my anatomy seemed to help too. Thank goodness for padding.

“You're very brave,” the bearded man said. “I've seen grown men burst into tears.”

After he'd finished, he asked me to stand up. There I was, in a pair of knee high boots and my undies, with a strange man taking photographs of my flesh. And he took a lot of pictures. Then, just when I thought the ground was going to open and swallow me up, he invited his customers in to have a nosy — I kid you not. But judging by the oohs and aahs, Betty was a great success.

Over the years my tattoo has been something of an ice-breaker in conversations on the beach or at the gym. Of course, there have been other times when she has aroused curiosity — but that's between Betty and me.

I know there are plenty of people who think body art is ugly and cheap and I've been told that I’ll live to regret it when I'm old and wrinkly and residing in a nursing home. But by that stage, I don't think I'll care too much.

I've had some great adventures with Betty and if truth be told, we've become quite attached. Which is just as well, really.

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