The Tattoo Industry Needs a Makeover

Ironic that the tattoo industry is all about adding beauty to a person’s skin, and yet there is a darkness in the industry itself that is anything but beautiful. A pervasive us-versus-them attitude when it comes to who is allowed to be a tattooer. There’s a very staunch “this is the right way to do it” message. And most troubling, a misogynistic underbelly that is difficult to avoid.

Oddly, if you choose from a young age to do ART of any kind, you usually get support and encouragement to pursue the many mediums–from paint to chalk to papier mache–with no hesitation. But choosing tattooing as your career generally opens you to reluctance and fear from your parents and sideways glances from authority figures. I can understand the concern, considering there are grimy corners of this tattoo universe, that aren’t particularly pleasant.

The general message out there is: to become a tattooer you must be prepared to welcome degradation, condescension and abasement, through the process of an apprenticeship, before you earn the right to even hold a tattoo machine.

In other words;

gird your loins, put up your psychic shields and get ready to be treated like garbage. What does this have to do with art? This isn’t the military! [not that I agree with the shitty treatment of anyone, even in the armed forces]. This is a career, a vocation, an artistic calling.

{Join my CREATE HAPPY community by adding your name and email here! You’ll get a few free things, and some “Shells of Wisdom”.  <—–See what I did there?}

And if you are a woman?

Sadly, in way too many shops there are still the sexual jokes, chauvinism, disparagement and persistent self-importance. Aren’t we beyond this?

There’s a lot to be said for tradition. The OLD ways. Learning from those who trekked before you. Sure, the history can be intriguing, the stories colorful, and giving props to the forerunners is generally a smart idea. BUT when things are broken, ugly or abusive, they need to change. We’ve come so far–enlivened and enlightened ourselves. And we’ve proved that tattooing can be as intricate, difficult and awe-inspiring as any high-level art can be.

However, there is still this hatery, harsh and hurtful attitude that tends to get almost a mob mentality of followers. Do it our way, the old way, the “right” way, or you are disrespecting, you are unworthy, you are a piece of shit, you want to ruin everything.  We will attack and use all the cruel words in our power to SHOW you–you are wrong and you are destroying the industry!

 For example;

Since I recently published my tattoo textbook, I have received numerous ugly messages (hate to say it, but 95% from men) that illustrate this nasty, thoughtless mentality. Here’s just a few examples:

Holy w t f?  In any other art forms—pastels, photography, digital art, watercolor—nobody is threatening you if you go ‘off script’. If you don’t fit in. If you use different tools. Or if you don’t know the name of every artist who came before you. No one is going to claim you are a loser or a scam if you decide to write a book, teaching what you know about the artform.  Why is it so acceptable to be so mean in the tat world? (Don’t even get my started on the cyberbullying I experienced a few years ago JUST because I own a tattoo school. You can watch my silly video about it here)

Well I’m gonna say it damn well is NOT acceptable.  This sucks. It’s destructive, ostracizing, narrow-minded and offensive. (Good thing I grew a thick skin!)

Time to evolve.

It’s time to stand up for what is right, what is good, what is beautiful and what makes the most sense to further the art.

Open your mind: treat women as equals, apprentices & students with dignity and clients with respect.  I know this works because I’ve seen it play out for the last 8+ years.  No need for sarcasm, arrogance, harassment or coarse put-downs. ALL THE NEED for support, consideration, compassion and courteous exchange.

The tattoo industry can move out of the crude middle school mentality and into a mature, grown-up graceful civilized place. I am standing for this possibility, as I watch more and more elegant, kind people pass through my studio doors. In this ‘keyboard warrior, social media put-down era’…many people are desperate for equality, inclusion and gentleness. A tattoo revolution, so to speak. Or maybe a tattoo evolution? The tattoo industry needs a makeover.

Doesn’t mean there isn’t a place for dark & edgy, wild & sexy —I can guzzle tequila, dance the night away and “give-no-fucks” with the best of them.  I can be my crazy, boisterous and stormy self WITHOUT hurting or humiliating others.  WITH inclusivity, appropriateness and caution.

Long Gone

Wouldn’t it be phenomenal to look back on this time and say “wow look how much we have transformed? The days of humiliation and sexism are long gone.”

“Yes, your transformation will be hard. Yes, you will feel frightened, messed up and knocked down. Yes, you’ll want to stop. Yes, it’s the best work you’ll ever do.” Robin Sharma, author

Stepping off my soapbox in 3…2…1.  But it doesn’t mean I won’t hop up there again very soon.

Be fierce. Play kind. Be badass.

Shelly Dax

The Fierce Pollyanna


PS: here’s the link to my book–yes it is a REAL textbook, the only one of it’s kind, and yes it CAN support learning to tattoo, along with having a teacher/mentor. And it’s a fab book, if I do say so myself.

PSS: Also, just for fun, cause I love playfulness, here is a link to my brand new illustrated children’s book!  Ages 4-12ish.  It’s a hoot.