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A Newbie’s Guide To Getting A Tattoo: The Hows And Whats

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By Savera Mehta:

So you think you’re ready to get your first tattoo. You’ve obviously come of age for it to be legitimate. You’ve had a few glimpses of the tattoo studio and wondered how to go about it.

The few questions puzzling your mind are:

  • What tattoo design/illustration/text would satisfy me?
  • How safe is getting inked?
  • How much is this going to cost me?
  • How do I pick my artist?
  • And last but not least, how bad is it going to HURT?

Being a part of the ‘ink-clan’, let me tell you, your fellow clan-members will not shy away from showing off their tattoos and sharing their experiences. Getting your first tattoo is almost like an orientation of some sort. You will have to do your share of research and once you are ready, let the ink flow!

For starters, I would recommend that you find someone who has already had the enthralling experience of being inked. It is quite valuable to learn from someone who has been there and done that.

Every coin has two sides to it, and in this case, you’ll find two kinds of people:

  1. The ones who regret
  2. The ones who don’t

The ones who regret are rare to come across but surely do exist. Even in this category, there are sub-divisions.

The guy/girl who out of pressure or being plastered love-drunk, got a silly looking heart with his/her ‘then’ spouse’s name on it. The tough guy across your street who watched ‘American History X’ 28 times!! The person who walked into the tattoo studio because he/she thought it was cool; hastily picking a cliché design and later coming to the conclusion that he let his adolescent mind take over his rationale. I could go on about them but let’s get straight to the point; needless to say, they should’ve read this article.

On the other hand, the ones who don’t regret are a lot easier to find and have a great story to tell. The difference between the two lied in one thing only, they planned!

A tattoo is going to stay with you. You are going to look at it every single day of your life. It is going to bring back memories of what you once believed and hopefully what you still do.

Which is why, take your time and think it through.

I want you to do this — whatever your tattoo idea is, be it an illustration, a lyric, a name, a picture of some sort – think of what it means to you at this point in time. Write it all down in that little book where you confide. Think of what it will mean to you ten years down the line. Will you still abide by it?

Another thing that helped me was visualizing the design and actually sketching it out on my body and just living with it for a week. Yes, I showered; I just redid it every day. Try it, it works!

So let’s hope that takes care of the first question.

This brings us to the second question. How safe is it getting inked? Well, this is one of the most important aspects that you should take into consideration.

Locate and walk into a studio to get an idea of their work ethic. Go through the portfolio of every artist. Ensure that the studio is completely hygienic and that they maintain a high-quality code of conduct. Be aware of the kind of skin diseases and other medical threats that are probable (Herpes, forms of hepatitis, Tetanus, HIV etc). Although, in America, there hasn’t been a record of HIV being contracted due to ‘commercially-applied tattoos’, it’s always best to be safe. If you did or do have allergies or any kind of blood deficiency its best to consult a doctor before moving forward. You could also ask your artist. Make sure you take at least 3-4 opinions.

How much is this going to cost me?

The cost of tattoos can vary from one studio to another or one artist to another. Also, a lot of it depends on the design and how elaborate it is. In studios, you will usually find a hierarchy of artists starting from the apprentices going up to the head of studio. Choosing whichever artist suits you will define the price. Then comes in your design. If it’s simple text, it’s unlikely that it should take more than an hour. However, if you have an elaborate design/illustration with added colors, it’s going to take longer and the cost is obviously going to increase. You can be expected to pay anywhere from Rs. 4000 to Rs. 5000 ($80 – $100)/hour. Before you plan to cut cost and settle for an apprentice, read the next topic being addressed.

How do I pick my artist?

It is my duty to direct you in right path, and if you’re choosing an artist solely based on cost, DON’T! Body art, the way I see it, is quite a sacred-journey. No, I’m not a tree hugging hippy (I wish) but I know one thing; I’ve never forgotten the various people who have tattooed my body. I always made sure the artist clearly understood what exactly the tattoo meant to me and how much I believe in it. Construct a healthy relationship with your artist and expect excellence from his/her side. In a non-intrusive manner, put your point across about how much this means to you and how thankful you are that they will deliver. You are the canvas so make the whole journey worthwhile for the artist and you.

And the biggest question! How much is it going to hurt?

“No pain, No gain”. Yes, it hurts.

How much it hurts differs from person to person. As you already know, everyone has a different threshold of pain. Getting a tattoo on your arm (bicep) isn’t as painful as getting one on your chest. A tattoo down your spine could be quite throbbing. The human body has a very efficient nervous system and the second that needle starts doing its thing, your nerves will graciously inform your brain. Make sure you are stocked up with a good amount of water and other hydrants such as glucose. Try shifting your focus to your respiration. If you feel like you need a break, ask for it. A good artist will make sure it is as easy on your body as possible (which is why, create a good relationship with him/her).

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Plan it at least a couple of months in advance
  • Read more about tattoo safety (precautions)
  • Ask your artist what they suggest for after-care
  • Be sure to take as many opinions as possible
  • Beyonce wouldn’t have been down with ‘I got 99 problems but a b**** ain’t one’ on Jay-z’s arm
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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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