Painted over pricks: Fake tattoos ease the pain

by Beacon Staff • February 27, 2008

"Temporary tattoos are back," said Michael Benjamin in Ruth La Ferla's Jan. 24 article in The New York Times. Benjamin sells fake tattoos in New York City, and La Ferla said his sales have recently increased. The article, "Tattooed for a Day, Wild for a Night," commented on temporary tattoos appearing on runways and in fashion magazines, and even on the arms and legs of the average New York City career-person.

Body modification existed as an art form long before modern society turned it into a facet of pop culture. The Maori people, who participate in a tattooing practice called moko, only turn their bodies into art after serious deliberation, according to a Feb. 20 article in The Phoenix.Writer Sally Cragin featured the Peabody Essex Museum's exhibition called "Body Politics: Maori Tattoo Today," in which moko, or spiral face and body painting, was illustrated in a series of photographs.

According to Cragin's article, moko is "a sign of cultural solidarity and individual expression." Cultural solidarity is not temporary for the Maori, who believe, according to curator Kramer Russell, moko "takes on a life of their own."

Tattooing is a trend even on Emerson's campus, with many loyal followers, including junior writing, literature and publishing major Kavi Williams.

"I've wanted to be tattooed since I was 15. Not just get a tattoo-be downright covered," she said. Williams currently has five tattoos with a sixth on the way, and can easily be considered part of a tattoo culture similar to that of the Maori. She said that having one tattoo is perfectly fine, but to be a "tattooed person" requires an elevated level of commitment.

In a report conducted in 2007 by The Pew Research Center, more than half of 18-25 year-olds had committed to a permanent tattoo.

For some, the chance to remain uncommitted but still participate in body modification is appealing.

"I think [fake tattoos] are awesome," said Scott Clayton, a freshman writing for film major with no tattoos of his own. "They're like real tattoos, but a dry run. A try before you buy."

Tattoos' fake counterparts have come a long way since seven year olds stuck Superman on their arms with a cloth and some water. Today, temps, according to La Ferla, include hand-painting by esteemed artists which can cost over $1,000, much more than the price of the average permanent tattoo, which can go for under $100. Other temporary body arts include henna and the newest anticipated ink, Freedom-2, which involves receiving a real tattoo that can be easily removed at a later date in one laser treatment.

Other Emerson students remain skeptical.

"It's a cop out," said Evan Chapman, a freshman organizational and political communication major.

"If you're going to get [a tattoo], you might as well get the real thing." Chapman currently has no tattoos of his own due to lack of funds.

Tattoo culture is alluring for many and the chance to become part of it, if only for a day, is tempting. "I think if somebody's not really committed to an idea, and they just want to test it out.people should," said Roz Thompson of Fat Ram's Pumpkin Tattoo in Jamaica Plain. "A lot of people get cover ups and are not happy with something they got." Fat Ram's offers stick on fake-tattoos in their shop.

Matt Myrdal, a 34-year-old tattoo artist from Pino Bros in Cambridge, shares in Thompson's opinion.

"Fake tattoos don't bother me. Some people just aren't ready to make that commitment to a permanent tattoo," he said in a phone interview. "If anything, [a fake tattoo] might be smarter for them. Too many people rush into getting a tattoo."

Temporary body art is not a new phenomenon. Henna has existed for centuries in many countries as a traditional art form for weddings and other ceremonies. According to hennatribe.com, henna powder comes from the henna plant or Lawsonia inermis. This powder is used to make a dye which leaves the desired design stained onto skin.

Nick Cartier, a local henna artist with many permanent tattoos, appreciates the importance of both permanent and temporary body art. "It's good that people are becoming more willing to just have art on their bodies," he said. "It advances the cause for people with tattoos."

Freedom-2, the newest kind of ink in development, is taking temporary tattooing to another level. At freedom2ink.com, people are offered "100 percent freedom and zero regret." The idea behind this new ink, as explained on the Web site, involves easier and "lower-cost removability," with ink specially designed to be both permanent and easily purged from the skin with laser therapy.

This ink uses "microencapsulated biodegradable and bioabsorbable dyes within safe, colorless polymer beads." The innovation lay within the beads, where there is a "resorbable" pigment which, when targeted by a laser, will be "resorbed"" by the body.

A Fox News article from last May quoted CEO of Freedom-2, Martin Schmieg, who said tattoos using this ink will cost about $30 more than normal tattoos. Removal costs, however, will diminish due to Freedom-2's claim to be removed in only one laser therapy session, opposed to tattoos applied with regular ink which take several laser sessions to efficiently erase.

While she had no issue with temporary tattoos, Thompson of Fat Ram's did not appreciate Freedom-2 ink.

"It takes away a lot of meaning behind getting tattooed in the first place. It's like legal graffiti walls. Is it even graffiti it it's legal?"" she said. "The concept and meaning behind getting a tattoo is that it's going to be there forever. This [ink] changes the meaning a lot."

Monica Casanova, a junior organizational and political communication major, is a proponent of the new ink, predominantly for career purposes. Its potential for safe and efficient removal is appealing, she said, in case her future in public life ever required her to get a tattoo removed.

"Some people are opposed to it," she said. "But you know what? I am realistic. I want to be able to enjoy art without the negative social repercussions."

While Freedom-2 ink is still in its production stages, temporary tattooing with paint or airbrushing has gained footing in New York City. Body modification without commitment is the newest appeal to the fashion world.

"I think it's a fad," said Williams. "Like doing eye make-up a certain way. You can go home and take it off."