Under the Skin: Harassment in the Tattoo Industry and Beyond

By Sydney Cooper on January 17, 2017

Needles buzz to music on the speakers and the metallic scent of ink fills the florescent-lit room on the Square in Denton.

Deanna Smith, 24, is intently focused on her client while seated around antique art. She is creating a new piece of art on her client’s arm.

Smith has been a practicing tattoo artist for seven years and has been a full-time artist for three years. She moved to Denton to specifically work at Dark Age Tattoo Studio.

As a beginner artist, she said she had to work compared to her male counterparts. She said the tattoo industry is still old school with its hazing and sexism.

“Being a female is the reason why my apprenticeship was so long and the reason I have to work harder than I feel like a lot of other people is because of that fact,” Smith said. “Because people may not see that I can achieve as much as I can. So, when you are a beginner you just kind of have to fight those stereotypes.”

Female tattoo artists are a rarity in tattoo shops, Smith said.

“It’s a very masculine art form still,” Smith said. “I feel like a lot of women aren’t very interested yet in tattooing. I have seen a lot more interested, but they’ll try to get into the industry and they’ll also see how difficult it can be for us and maybe not want to go through with it. It is very hard for a lady to get into the industry, so you have to put in that extra work.”

Smith is an average height woman, beautiful, with cat eye glasses, long burgundy hair tied back to expose her heart-shaped face, accented with a cheek piercing and nude colored makeup. Her ensemble is composed of mostly black garments. She wears a low-cut crop top tank, leggings and slightly open-toed heels to match. Smith completes the look with a blue and white flannel tied around her waist.

Francisco “Frank” Sanchez, 28, owner of Dark Age Tattoo Studio said there may be a lack of female tattoo artists.

“Well I think it’s not always the right environment for females in the industry,” Sanchez said.

But that doesn’t stop him from hiring females.

“If you notice at our studio, we have four female artists and it works great,” Sanchez said.

In the past, as described by Sanchez, Dark Age was looking for a female apprentice and was unfortunately met with backlash from their followers on social media.

“Whenever we were seeking a new one we were like man, I think it’d be great if we had a girl you know we have so many girls that get tattooed here and I think it can definitely be great for an environment,” Sanchez said. “We got a lot of backlash for it, social media saying that it wasn’t fair, that we were discriminating and we’re like no, that’s not true, if any guy came to us and showed us a decent portfolio, we’d hire him.”

Sanchez wanted to find a female apprentice because he understood, based off his female employees’ experience and hardship, that it was difficult for them to get into the industry. No matter what a person’s sex, color or gender, Sanchez would give a tattoo artist an apprenticeship that deserved it.

Shaunti Cameron, 31, another Dark Age artist who has practiced for four years, said it’s not easy being a female tattoo artist.

“There really just isn’t a lot of female tattoo artists in the industry,” Cameron said. “Last I heard it was about 10 percent. I think by now the number has gone up but not by a whole lot. This is a very male dominated industry and it has been since basically the beginning and that can be pretty intimidating for a lot of women to work in.”

Cameron said she ran into her fair share of issues as a female artist when she first started.

“Sometimes women encounter a lot of problems, like myself,” Cameron said. “I just couldn’t get anyone to talk to me just because I was a girl.”

Not only do female artists have the struggle just to make their way into the industry, they also face being sexualized just for being inked, Smith said.

“Sometimes it’s a not so great thing to get so noticed and it’s been giving me a lot of anxiety to go to places even if it’s going to a bar or something,” Smith said. “I just got this one guy kicked out because he just wouldn’t stop talking to me and the first thing he said was ‘I see you have tattoos, does that mean you’re naughty or something?’”

Females within the industry are not the only ones who feel looked down upon or sexualized. Female students who have gotten tattoos suffer the same ridicule and foul treatment.

Bryn Crowell, 22, a senior International Studies major at the University of North Texas is tattooed and pierced. She discusses what treatment she has gotten from complete strangers just for her body modifications.

“Because I have piercings in a sexualized place, that gives them the ability to sometimes touch me in a joking manner,” she said.

Bailey Hughes, 21, a senior biochemistry major, said that her boyfriend did not like that she had tattoos, though they are not visible to the public.

Dark Age Tattoo Studio is the place of acceptance and opportunity and Smith enjoys her career here.

“It’s an amazing shop,” Smith said. “We have working artists and the owners are some of the biggest in the industry so it’s really just a pleasure to learn from everyone and it’s in the heart of the Square. It’s just a great location for clients in general.”

Sophomore at the University of North Texas. Majoring in Digital and Print Journalism while minoring in English (Creative Writing Nonfiction) and Sociology. Just being pulled by the rope of life and exploring writing genres to find my place in the future.

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