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Women make a mark at World Tattoo Show in Las Vegas

Updated November 2, 2018 - 5:57 pm

Customers walking into Jacqueline Beach’s Michigan office space might mistake it for a family living room, with a crimson couch sitting against a blue wall and surrounded by antique items, including a rug, chairs, paintings and mirrors.

The adjacent room resembles a medical spa office with a reclined chair, an overhead work light and bright walls covered with black and white beauty portraits of women.

This is where Beach — one of a growing number of women tattoo artists — forever alters the bodies of her clients, who are also increasingly women.

Beach is in town for the inaugural World Tattoo Show and Convention in Las Vegas, open to the public Saturday and Sunday at Planet Hollywood Resort.

The U.S. tattoo industry, which research firm IBISWorld estimates at $2 billion, was once the province of men on the fringe of society, such as bikers and former prisoners. But over the last few decades the tattoo has transformed into an art form and means of personal expression as it has become more accepted in society.

As of 2012, more women had tattoos than men, according to a Harris Poll.

“Women are the driving factor of the tattoo industry,” said Mario Barth, show organizer and president of the Coalition for Tattoo Safety. He estimates women now make up as much as 15 percent of all tattoo artists, compared with about 1 percent a decade ago. He expects the number of female artists to continue to increase.

Beach, a former university English composition teacher, said her typical client coming in for a first tattoo is more likely to be a woman near retirement age than a millennial.

“These older women no longer have inhibitions,” said Beach, who is teaching a medical safety training class Saturday at the convention. “The social and financial barriers that prevented them from doing it years ago are no longer there.”

Selina Medina, a custom tattoo artist based in Jacksonville, Florida, sees another group of female clients requesting her services — those who have had mastectomies or other surgeries impacting their appearance. Medina said she has helped hundreds of women cover their scars with tattoos over her 16-year career. She is also lecturing at the show.

“In the last five years, I have done a lot more scar correction and scar correction, particularly mastectomy scars,” said Medina, adding women prefer female artists for such work.

Industry changes

Barth, who owns five tattoo parlors — including two in Las Vegas — said the creation of modern, “clean, comfortable” studios in high-traffic areas was a big step in attracting the new demographic.

“Women took over when tattoo salons became a safe environment,” he said.

For decades through the 1990s, tattoo parlors were often gritty joints located at the edge of a city or were underground operations, said Barth, who opened his first studio in 1989.

That kind of environment — as well as the social norms of the day — kept women away, he said.

The internet and social media helped shatter some hard-held stereotypes, but there is work to be done in modernizing the industry, Barth said.

“This industry is still not structured correctly. Proper training and education is still low,” he said. Shop owners “need to get their books right, their attorneys right.”

Years in the making

Barth said the convention was seven years in the making. The four-day show started Thursday, with the first two days dedicated to classes and workshops on color realism, first aid, business and marketing, as well as legal issues facing tattoo artists. About 240 tattoo artists from around the world are attending.

On Saturday, visitors can get tattoos on the spot from 200 artists, including 35 women. Tattoo prices can range from $75 into the thousands, depending on the size and artistic work required. Entrance to the show is free for Nevada residents.

The show also features about 60 exhibitors, including pigment makers, ink manufacturers, machine builders, needle and tube producers and aftercare companies.

Contact Todd Prince at 702-383-0386 or tprince@reviewjournal.com. Follow @toddprincetv on Twitter.

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