It’s sad that these topics have to be covered, but over the past few years numerous cases have come to light of artists taking advantage of clients and fellow artists. Their behaviour has been exposed through the bravery of the #tattoometoo movement, an offshoot of the larger Me Too movement.
We don’t want to scare you away from getting tattooed, but being informed about what is normal behaviour during the tattooing process, and what may be abusive, is never a bad thing. We just want everyone to be safe, and feel comfortable, while getting tattooed!
What you should expect when being tattooed
Generally speaking, conversations with a tattoo artist should be professional, and kept on the topic of your tattoo plans. Overly friendly chat, that goes off topic and becomes flirtatious is a big red flag. Of course, if you are mates with your tattooist, this is a different situation and your conversations are likely a lot more casual.
When booking a tattoo it’s expected of you to explain where you want the tattoo, how big it should be, what colours etc. Your tattooist may ask you to send a picture of the area where you want it. This may be necessary if you already have a lot of tattoos and they need to design it to fit around them. But, if you are getting a tattoo in a more intimate area, there is no need at all for you to send them pictures of you naked in this way, and you should never be asked to do so.
When it comes to your actual appointment, depending on where your tattoo is, you may need to be partially naked. You should always be offered nipple covers or an alternative to keep yourself covered as much as you need, and you should never be asked to take off any more clothing than is absolutely necessary. It helps to wear clothing that reveals the area you need, without revealing too much. For example, wear shorts if you are getting a thigh piece, or maybe a crop top or sports bra if you are getting a stomach piece. If you are getting a back piece, you could try wearing a button up shirt that you can wear backwards, so your back is exposed but your chest is covered. These ideas might not work for all pieces, depending on size and placement, but wearing clothes that make you feel more comfortable is never a bad idea!
In terms of the tattooists behaviour while tattooing, again, they should always be friendly but professional. It’s common for them to need to stretch your skin somewhat while tattooing, but if they are hurting you in any way, or touching areas that make you uncomfortable, make sure you mention it. They might not have meant to hurt you at all, and a good artist will always check with you that everything feels okay as they are tattooing. They should never be unnecessarily physical with you, for example, sitting on the bed with you or putting their weight on you, pinning you down. While they may rest their arm on you somewhat while tattooing, it should never feel uncomfortable for you, and a good artist will always ask before touching you, and especially before moving any clothing.
It’s unusual for you to be the only person in the shop getting tattooed, unless it is a private studio. On occasion, if you are having a piece that takes a long time, you may be the last person left. You can ask on these occasions to finish it another day if you would feel more comfortable being tattooed when there’s other people in the studio. Your artist should also not intentionally schedule your tattoo for a time when nobody else will be there, and it could be a red flag if they do this.
Tattooing is an act that requires a lot of trust, and artists should always respect the vulnerability that comes with this. You allowing them to give you a tattoo is not the same as you allowing them control over your body, in any way, so please don’t forget this. If your tattooist can do anything that would make you feel more comfortable, just ask! Any artist worth their salt will be accommodating and helpful.
Red flags to watch out for
- Inappropriate jokes and topics that are overtly sexual or flirty are a red flag for sure.
- Unprofessional methods of contact, ie. messaging on a personal account, taking your phone number from a consent form.
- Asking you to come after the studio has closed.
- Asking for nude/partially nude images when booking in. Even if the tattoo is going to be on an intimate part of your body, this is not necessary, and not professional.
- Overly personal conversation. “So, have you got a boyfriend?” (you know what we mean here) if they are choosing topics of conversation either in person or over messages, this could be a red flag and show their deeper intentions.
- Bad reviews, word of mouth suggesting they might be a dodgy character. Listen to what other people have to say, ask around about any new artists to get an idea of who they are, what they are like. If people have had bad experiences in the past, it could happen again.
- Tattooist not in a fit state to tattoo. If your tattooist turns up hungover, or still drunk, this is a red flag for sure. It’s not safe to be tattooed by someone in this state, and shows they aren’t prioritising your safety and comfort.
- Comments about your body, positive or negative. Simply put, they are unprofessional and unnecessary.
If you aren’t sure about getting tattooed by someone, firstly, ask around to see what other people’s experiences have been like. If they have a large following, it’s likely that searching their name online would reveal any drama or exposure of abuse on their part.
Always trust your gut. If you don’t feel safe or comfortable with someone, don’t book in with them. You deserve to always be treated professionally, with your safety and comfort as the highest priority. Some people in positions of power, such as successful tattooists, will see their status as a way to get what they want. As a community we need to speak out about such behaviour, and stand with victims.
If your artist does anything at all that makes you uncomfortable, make it known. They should immediately try to rectify the situation, and help you, and they definitely should not blame you in any way.
As we mentioned, we really don't want to scare you off. Tattooing is a wonderful thing, and the vast majority of artists are respectful, professional people who only want you to be pleased with their work, and hopefully come back for more. But these things do happen, in any industry, and personal safety is something we really want to promote.
We really hope they will never be needed, but if you are a victim of assault these services may help:
NHS Choices - What should I do immediately after a sexual assault or rape?
NHS Direct Helpline: 111
Women's Aid Federation
National Domestic Violence Helpline (24hrs): 08457 023 047
Survivors UK – Male Rape and Sexual Abuse Support
National Helpline: 0845 122 1201
Tattoo Sexual Abuse Survivor Support