Tattoo too much? Meet the women turning their bodies into works of art, just like Cheryl Cole

The pop star's new tattoo hit a bum note with some but, as Roisin Delaney finds out, others just like to, er, ink big

Cheryl Cole's new tattoo
Cheryl Cole's new tattoo
Hands on: Emma Smyth and some of her 16 tattoos
Body of work: Maria Owens and partner Lou and having fun with her baby AJ

When Cheryl Cole revealed her latest tattoo – a bunch of bright red roses tattooed across her lower back, buttocks and legs – the nation seemed united in a mixture of fascination, bafflement and, yes, mild horror.

Why would the woman once dubbed the nation's sweetheart want to do something so, er, blooming ridiculous to what was a rather perfect posterior?

And what would this extravagant piece of body art look like when the roses started to grow old and wilt?

But Cheryl brushed off the criticism, saying that the tattoo has "personal meaning behind it" and adding that "English roses are my favourite flowers".

While the pop star clearly believes she won't regret getting the inking done, Fearne Cotton, has now admitted she wishes she hadn't had so many tattoos.

The new mum – who has more than 11 tattoos on her body – said: "There may be one or two tattoos I regret now that I have the wisdom to know not to put certain things on your body." She did add, however: "But it's all beautiful art."

So just why do some women think nature can be improved upon ... with lashings of colourful ink? We get to the art of the matter with three of them.

'Mum asks me what I'll do with them when I'm older?'

Emma Smyth (29) recently finished her studies in music technology and hopes to pursue her education in medical science. She has 16 tattoos and lives with her fiance Chris in south Belfast. She says:

"When I get asked how many tattoos I have I usually need to count them. I have various types too so there's no specific trend or theme to mine.

Tattoos have always been something I've really been interested in ever since I was a teenager.

I went down the road of getting my first piece of body art when I turned 18. It was a design I'd drawn by myself and for myself so it still has real meaning all these years later. It's a tribal design and sits at the top of my back. Obviously the tattoo artist had to tweak the design to make it workable but it was really my personal way of marking my 18th birthday. I had thought about it for a while and I knew it was definitely what I wanted.

When I lived in Amsterdam I had my arms done. I felt that if I got them done while I was there, then I would always associate them with that time in my life. I had a vision of getting sleeves but kept changing my mind. In the end I decided to get matching tribal pieces on both arms for symmetry.

I face the needle primarily to be able to mark milestones in my life. The rest of my tattoos are either cartoon drawings, zombie inspired or are in keeping with the tribal feel of my first tattoo.

I don't think of it as an addiction but more of a hobby. I have been inked in places that are easy to cover, like my forearm, rib cage and ankle. It's not like I got them so I could show them off to the world all the time – after all, they're personal to me. My tattoos represent a transition in my life from travelling the world to coming home and returning to my education.

I've seen pictures of Cheryl Cole's latest tattoo in the newspapers. Designs with roses are so popular with women nowadays although her version is quite different. It looks pretty now and it's the sort of thing she is clearly into but I don't think it will look as good when she starts to age.

Mind you, my mum always asks 'What are you going to do with them when you get older and you have wrinkles?' I usually respond by saying that with any luck I'll age gracefully and it will all look fine.

If they begin to appear desperately bad in the years to come at least I can cover them with clothing. Anyway as long as you're happy with your own skin that's all that matters."

'I've picked places that are not easily seen'

Jessica Odell (37) grew up in Florida and now lives in Lisburn. Jessica is a private tutor in science and mathematics and has six tattoos. She says:

"I began thinking about the idea of getting a tattoo when I was 19. A couple of years later when I was 21 I got my first one – it is of a small, native American dream-catcher type design. I had it done in St Petersburg for around $50 (£32), which I think wasn't too expensive.

After my first experience with ink I began to develop an interest in body art and decided that I would get more. All of my tattoos are important to me and all of them derive from interests I had at university. They range from symbols of native American culture to Celtic designs to my achievements in martial arts. I think the important thing about getting a tattoo is that it holds meaning to your life in some way; at least that way you won't wake up some day despising it.

One of my favourite designs is the Celtic spiral on my ankle. Admittedly, I didn't really get that one to represent anything that happened in life but I loved the design so that's what makes it different from the rest on my body. Of course, my first tattoo will always be special to me, too.

Things can go wrong. Unfortunately I have one tattoo of a tiger on my back that wasn't done well; now the black lines have started to fade and there is some evidence of scarring on the skin. I'll have it treated with a laser at some point and then have something else inked over it.

I also have a dragon, a Trinity Cross and a design symbolic of the Book of Kells. They all mean something to me and my life and that's why I like them. I'll probably get more in the future.

The ageing process is something that definitely crossed my mind when first getting a tattoo but I have put a lot of thought into my body art and I've picked places on my body that are not easily seen – for example, the back is always a good place as it's normally covered. If I had a body that I wasn't comfortable in then I might not get tattoos in parts I wasn't happy with but thankfully for now that's not an issue.

My most recent experience with ink was nearly four years ago in Banbridge. I got the name of my martial arts club written in Japanese along my spine.

For me it marks the occasion that I received my black belt in martial arts. Everyone asks how bad the pain of getting the lettering done on my spine was but in all honesty it wasn't half as sore as people think. I don't find getting a tattoo terribly painful and I'm not going to stop getting them.

I heard about Cheryl Cole's tattoo on her lower back and bum so I looked it up online. As someone who has a real interest in this sort of art, I think it's rather pretty. I reckon that she had this tattoo done to cover up some older ones. If you look closely you can see some of the outlines she had inked on previously.

It looks to me to be a well thought out design but far beyond anything that I would ever get on my own body."

'After first one I was hooked'

Maria Owens (38), who works in retail, lives in Lisburn with her partner, Lou, and their six-month old baby Aaron Jackson (AJ). She says:

"I got my first tattoo when I was 21. It's a little rose and it lies on my chest, just above my breast. Getting into body art was something I'd wanted to do for a long time but I'd never had the courage to go and do it. The first time I was nervous and went to the tattoo parlour with my sister. I didn't really know what I wanted and ended up with this wee rose.

Contrary to what people think, getting a tattoo doesn't hurt in the way you would imagine. Once the process begins your body adjusts to standing the pain. After my first tattoo I was hooked and wanted more.

Many people get designs to mark special occasions or milestones in their lives, but I'm more into the artistic side of body art. I've one sleeve filled with famous female actresses and icons like Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn. And when I went to New York to visit my brother I treated myself to a praying hands tattoo on my legs. Now, I'm currently in the process of getting my left arm done at Skinworks in Belfast but that will take a few months to complete. I've had my back done, too.

I'll never have enough tattoos, but as it's a hobby and a genuine interest I don't mind having to spend money on it. For example, the Marilyn Monroe one probably cost around £300. The way I see it, some people buy art for their walls, I buy art for my skin.

I can't wait to get my left sleeve finished. I'm going for the same theme as my right sleeve but this time I want a more modern design of iconic women in the candy girl style.

Lou and I have been in a relationship for almost 14 years and having a baby was something we'd thought about seriously for some time. About two years ago we decided we wanted to start a family and went to the fertility clinic and talked everything through with the doctors. We decided that I'd carry the baby and now we're overjoyed to have AJ in our lives.

When he's a few years older and his facial features are more defined I plan to get a tattoo of his portrait on my chest so he'll always be close to my heart.

Do I worry about what my tattoos will look like as I get older? Not really. I imagine that if my skin changes at least my tattoos will change a little too – who knows, they could even look better then?

I think Cheryl Cole (left) can pull off her new tattoo. It's her style and it suits her perfectly. It's not to my taste but with tattoos it really is a case of having art that suits you and the roses suit Cheryl.

Thankfully, tattoos are now more socially acceptable. There is less stigma in society surrounding body art, and tattoos have even become a part of the fashion world. Long gone are the days of getting a tattoo to rebel against the norm."

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