Adventures in the Land of “Tatted Up Bitches”

Erick Rivero, me and Jesus Lopez at Tattoolapalooza

A few weeks ago, a very well-respected tattoo blogger I follow tweeted about her misgivings on the upcoming Philadelphia Tattoo Convention.

While I would never openly suggest (unless I was really pissed at the organizers) that a tattoo convention or its patrons might pose a biomedical hazard, I so understand where she’s coming from. As far as the specific convention that is being referred to, when I went to Philadelphia in 2010 I spent most of my time concerned with the difficulty of going up and down stairs to get overpriced beers with a big thigh piece in progress, and having nothing to wear that was both comfortable to my new tattoo and warm enough for a thin-blooded Floridian. The convention was also ridiculously crowded. It took over an hour to walk the whole thing, and since I was working in addition to getting tattooed, I didn’t really have time to soak up some of the more salacious displays. I was also brand new to tattooing and in the middle of breaking up with my then-husband, so I had other things on my mind that probably veiled me from some of the tatted-up T & A surrounding me, so I guess I wasn’t particularly offended.

Fast-forward to Tattoolapalooza Miami, January 2012. It’s been almost two years since I was in Philadelphia, the second convention I’d ever attended. I’ve easily accumulated another ten tattoos, gained probably the same number of pounds, started tattooing proficiently, finalized my divorce, moved in with my former co-apprentice, worked several more conventions, and most recently, left the shop where I learned to tattoo. I’ve learned that: There are certain things I’m supposed to get tattooed, a certain way I’m supposed to look. I was brought on as an apprentice because they were looking for a front desk girl, and this way they got both for free. Everything I do is “cute.” Everyone will assume I’m fucking one or all of my co-workers at any given time, including my co-workers. At the end of the day, it’s still expected (SN: this is based on my own personal experience, I don’t think this is necessarily the industry norm) that I should be prettier, nicer, cleaner, great at answering the phone, singularly devoted and more eternally grateful than my male counterparts for being allowed to play with the boys.

My point is, I’m in no place to suggest that being a female in this industry is an easy line to walk. It’s not easy for people, especially young women, to assert their identity in society, especially in a tightly knit, decades-old and rapidly transforming “scene” filled with unwritten rules and ambiguous gender roles. I’ve never really been particularly intimidated, enticed, or disgusted either way by the behavior of my fellow females because I really try not to judge. Whatever people need to do in order to figure themselves out, that’s cool. And for the most part, for every girl at a convention that’s there to get sexual attention or “scene cred”, there are easily three legit tattoo collectors who are there to behave like regular people. So if a few ladies want to draw attention to themselves with their bodies, that’s alright with me, this is not a feminist manifesto and that’s arguably what all tattooed people are doing anyway. I’ll be over here with my art and tattoos and stuff for the people who have paid to come here to look at that. The real problem is that conventions seem expected to go out on a limb to entertain the people who aren’t.

This is what a tattooed model looks like! Cutest couple ever, Miss Mary Leigh and Myke Chambers

There’s been a lot of backlash about the mainstreaming of tattoo culture that has started happening ever since reality TV, instructional DVDs and the internet came into the picture. I guess for those folks who prefer that tattooing keep its outlaw image intact, conventions featuring things like Wet T-Shirt and Most Erotic Piercing Contests and Slip and Slide Bowling definitely keep things R-rated. But for those of us who aren’t rock stars, have families to go home to or other jobs during the week that preclude us from publicly wearing fetish gear, and generally got into this line of work because we like to make tattoos, we could take it or leave it. Mostly leave it. If the tattoo world wants to be taken seriously, not subjected to zoning laws that shelve us with strip clubs and penny arcades, we need to be highlighting the differences between those and our industries, not trying to entertain the masses.

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About Kristyn Michele Bat

Teacher, tattooer, artist.

7 comments

  1. Shawn Porter

    The Philly show suffered from a serious overcrowding problem, it’s true.
    Last year I attempted to go, walked over to the hotel, saw a line leading to the line leading to the convention and walked away.

    This year it’s going to be at the Convention Center; bigger space. Hopefully that means that there will be more walking space not more tattooers; but who knows.

    • That’s a good point, a bigger venue is a good thing, dilute the crowds. Not to mention the fact that the year I went to Philly the hotel was …. DESTROYED. I wonder if that’s part of the reason for the move. Thanks for commenting. šŸ™‚

      • Shawn Porter

        I think the reason for the move was based more on volume; having the fire marshall come in and meter the people allowed upstairs was beyond f’d. My buddy Rick had tattooed me from 9am-noon and then headed to the convention for a full day of tattooing. His wife went downstairs to get him some dinner, and the fire marshall wouldn’t let her back up; even with an artist/vendor badge. That left a bad taste in people’s mouths.

        When I went to Richmond this year, it was SO wide open. Like.. you could park a car in the aisles. So no matter how many folks came, it looked ‘dead’. The ‘tattoo people’ were loving it, but the ‘I want to rock out at the tat con’ types were pissed that it wasn’t a zoo.

      • I would have raised some serious hell if I’d left all my stuff at a booth and then wasn’t allowed to get back in. Poor organization! Wish I could make it up this year and check out the new venue.

  2. Shawn Porter

    So.
    I had planned a full report for OV and Needles and Sinns; but I left the convention after 2 hours. The new space was HUGE. Which meant more booths. I think the number I heard most was 450 booths. Sure, than included vendors, but it’s still a MASSIVE convention. The number I heard for tattooers was over 700.

    That’s not a typo.

    The announcer kept interrupting over the PA system to announce that plagiarist reality show “tattooist’ Al Fliction was in the house. Considering that you had some real A-list talent onsite, it was sort of disrespectful to keep announcing that this gadfly was at the show. That and the huge line to meet some tattooer from NY INK who’s name sounded vaguely Suicide Girl-ish. Strange to see a line of people waiting to meet a tattooer AT a tattoo convention.

    The worst part for me was the adoptable Pit Bulls that were wandering around the convention. I’ve already stated that I have no breed specific issue with the dog, just that dogs shouldn’t be wandering around a convention.

    All in all, I’m glad I used a comp’d pass to get in.

    • Good thing I didn’t travel out there for it, and it’s too bad that I won’t be inclined to do so ever again, because I really like Philly. I think a few people from the shop I used to work at went out there, and I’m sure they had a great time, they’re into the celebrities/animals/dogs scene.

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