Updated: Jun 21, 2018
In the back of the well-lit tattoo parlor, over the incessant buzzing of the guns and the smell of disinfectant, newly turned 20-year-old Lyncia Berry mutters “beauty is pain” repeatedly under her breath. Berry winces as the needle hits her skin and relaxes as the tattooer lifts the needle, wiping away the excess ink and blood.
Shannon Stoner has been tattooing for 10 years. Her office is in the back of Ocean Mystique, located at 2100 Monticello Ave. in Norfolk. Her walls are covered in drawings and designs, including a “Twin Peaks” picture board and doodles of Boston Terriers. Stoner’s hair, a light pink dye fading away to blonde, is tied up in a messy bun. The rubber gloves snap as she puts them on before she starts the gun up.
“I wanted to be a tattoo artist when I was young,” Stoner says. “But in the process of finding an apprenticeship, there was definitely a time when I thought I wasn’t going to be a tattooer. When I started, there weren’t very many females.”
Stoner continues to explain that being female has hindered her chances of becoming a tattooer. “I think now it’s become more accepting, but it definitely was a man’s industry.”
“I’ll start you out with a small line so you can get used to it first,” Stoner tells Berry, turning on the gun and making sure it’s running correctly. Berry takes one last look at her shoulder, where a simple rose tattoo outline sits. Berry takes a deep breath, and Stoner presses the needle into her skin. “Let me know if you need a break,” Stoner says.
Berry smiles and responds “I’m a trooper, it’s just been a while.”
Though Stoner has said that getting her start as a tattooer was a struggle because of her sex, she has a solid business and client base in Norfolk. She’s the only female artist at Ocean Mystique. Even with tattooing becoming a more mainstream idea, women still face a certain stigma that men don’t when it comes to tattoos.
Stoner’s experience becoming a tattoo artist is not an isolated experience. Women are generally considered to be less credible with tattoos than men. Poorna Bell, an executive editor for the Huffington Post UK even said, “With guys, it’s a hipster thing - you’re seen as cool and edgy. With women, a lot of people assume you must be compensating for something or you’re somehow looser with your morals.”
Clearly, Stoner isn’t all too ashamed of her art. Bright colors and designs decorate her chest and go all the way down to her feet. Her patchwork of tattoos is something she shows off proudly but has admitted that she has a few regrets and has had some covered up.
Stoner started getting tattoos when she was young. “I got it [first tattoo] for my 18th birthday,” Stoner says. “I have no idea how many I have now,” she laughs. “The last time my two step-daughters checked they counted like 65 or something.”
“This is my 10th,” Berry says. “I got my first one for my 18th birthday too, and now I have gotten one every year for my birthday.” Berry’s tattoos litter her arms and frame her ankles. Little outlines and favorite quotes make up the bulk of her tattoos, but her favorite is the first one she got. A simple design of mountains with the lyrics “The sun will rise and we will try again” is inked on her inner arm.
According to The Harris Poll, 47% of millennials have tattoos. 3 in 10 adults in the U.S. have tattoos, they also report, which is a rise from the 2 in 10 adults that were reported to have them in 2012.
Ashley Mason is another who has already committed to many tattoos. She has two sting rays inked on her side. “They’re my favorite animal,” she explains. Mason got the tattoo when she was 19 and says she has no regrets and plans on getting more. She has never felt discriminated against for being a woman with tattoos but believes in a stigma. “I feel like it’s been more of a thing men did, but now everyone does it,” Mason says.
Back in the tattoo shop, Berry stands and looks at her newly tattooed shoulder in the mirror. She takes a few minutes before turning back to Stoner, “I think I would like some shading,” she eventually says. Stoner nods her head and starts setting up the fresh ink. Berry turns to me, “you think it’ll look okay with shading?” she asks.
It’s a risky move, adding something permanent to your body without knowing exactly how it’s going to turn out. Berry doesn’t look worried, though, as she sits back down in the seat. Berry is an art major, currently attending Tidewater Community College. She doesn’t hesitate much when it comes to putting new ink on her body.
Before Stoner can begin the shading, another artist walks into her office. He holds out a sketch to Stoner and asks her what she thinks. She thinks for a moment before saying “I would make the font a little bigger, but other than that it’s good.”
At another local tattoo shop, The Independence Tattoo, located on 952 West 21st St., Norfolk, tattooer Jeff Malota finishes up a tattoo. It’s a simple floral design, framing someone’s chest. He carefully wraps the tattoo in plastic wrap before taping it down.
“I think that tattoos are for women or men. I don't think that a woman's tattoo is any different than a man's tattoo but discrimination does naturally occur. I think it’s getting better, though. There are more women tattoo artists than there used to be and there are more women with tattoos. It’s cool,” says Malota when asked about discrimination against women with tattoos.
Though the tattoo industry is male-dominated, with only one in six artists being female, that doesn’t mean it’s not changing. Even the show “Ink Master,” which has run for eight seasons, just announced its first female winner.
Stoner may have faced discrimination when starting out, but she has a strong client base and a good following. She mentions one client who she sees often. “He always gets weird shit,” she laughs. “He got an astronaut, but he’s only wearing a spacesuit from here [waist] up, and then he’s wearing short shorts and flip-flops. I love it, he’s one of my favorite customers.”
Stoner turns her attention to Berry, pressing the needle back into her arm. Berry doesn’t flinch this time, though. “I don’t even feel it now. People always freak out about shading, but it doesn’t really bother me,” she says.
Berry admits that she hasn’t faced any discrimination when it comes to her tattoos, but she recognizes the stigma surrounding women with tattoos and female tattoo artists. “I feel like men with tattoos are praised way more than women. Women are made out to be conservative and ‘pure.’ It’s totally bullshit because what gives a man the right to do that and not be labeled like us? It’s an individual choice.”
“We get our tattoos to feel better about ourselves, to love ourselves and to empower ourselves. It’s bullshit how society doesn’t see that,” Berry says.
Stoner takes one last look at the tattoo, wiping it down. She puts the gun down and tells Berry to take a look in the mirror, as Stoner starts to take off her rubber gloves. Berry gets up from the chair one more time and looks at her new tattoo in the mirror. “I’m glad I got the shading,” she says, admiring the roses. “Look how beautiful it is.”