Women ink in enthusiasm for tattoos

They may need more work to look like screen beauty Angelina Jolie or pop star Lady Gaga, but growing numbers of women are taking a step toward emulating the stars by having their skin tattooed.

At the annual New York City Tattoo Convention last weekend, tattoo artists from Brazil, Europe, Japan and other spots around the globe unveiled their wares to a mixed crowd, and women were a strong presence.

Lucy Challenger came all the way from London to finish a huge tattoo that had been started two years earlier by a Chinese artist, who herself had flown in from Los Angeles.

Challenger, a 28-year-old actress, lay almost unclothed on her stomach, headphones on and an iPad in front of her, while the artist worked on the design, a phoenix rising up from her left buttock. Her session lasted eight hours, from 4:00 pm to midnight, and cost $1,000 -- not to mention the price of an air ticket from London.

The work will have taken a total of 35 hours under the tattoo needle, two trips to Los Angeles, one session in London and one in New York, totalling thousands of dollars.

"It is a big investment. Not everyone can spend that amount of money, but it is once in a lifetime," Challenger said, pointing to the flames drawn over her back and describing the design as "very feminine".

US women took over men for the first time this year in terms of numbers of tattoos, with 23 percent of females bearing a tattoo, compared to 19 percent of men, according to a Harris poll.

Bill Tarr, owner of Totem Tattoo, said he saw the trend in his salon and that he'd be happy to see only women.

Their tattoos are "not as violent", he said. "It doesn't express aggression and I like that. There is enough of that going on in the real world. I like to do feminine and positive tattoo things."

Tarr was tattooing the neck of Ruth Washington, 25. She had a picture of the seaside to remember her grandparents on her arms and her parents' marriage vows on her back. She said she favors butterflies, fairies, rabbits and especially color.

Both Washington and Bill Tarr's wife Ruth said female tattoos are now mainstream.

"People used to stare at me, but now it's so much more accepted," said Washington, who shelled out $3,500 for the tattoos on one of her legs. "It used to bother me, but not any more."

For some, tattoos still feel rebellious. Rosemarie Osborn, a former policewoman, said she'd taken the plunge at 35 to celebrate her divorce.

Wendy Richard got hers on arrival in New York from her home state of Wisconsin.

"It's a culture thing and I am part of that culture," she said. "It shows you are strong and tough... It's a confidence thing, it shows you are not afraid of pain, and that you can make choices for life."

She went to the convention to find a new artist.

Hannah Gopa, a photography student, was one of the rare visitors to the convention who did not already have a tattoo.

She said she was "considering" the move because her friends already have them. But she was still hesitating.

"It's a way of showing your inner self without saying, 'but I still don't know who I am,'" she said.

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