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“Thank God it’s not permanent”: Singaporeans React to My Facial Tattoos

“Thank God it’s not permanent”: Singaporeans React to My Facial Tattoos

  • Culture
  • Life

From smaller, more delicate pieces to full-body works of art, we can all agree that tattoos have become a common and more accepted sight in Singapore.

But what about facial tattoos?    

Not for the faint of heart, facial tattoos are akin to the scarlet letter—branding someone a deviant, a freak, a ‘sure-to-be-stopped at the MRT for a bag check’ kind of guy (or girl).

Last year, we heard from the men at the Singapore Ink Show about the reasons behind their facial tattoos. At the same time, I wanted to find out for myself how people would react if I got facial tattoos done. Being too commitment-phobic to get an actual facial tattoo, I opted for a few temporary ones instead.

Here’s what people said to me.

“You young, pretty, don’t do this to your face.”

I was on the bus on my way to church when I noticed that people were staring. Hard. One man even bothered to turn around in his seat to give me a good, long look.

But that was just the tip of the iceberg.  

Soon, I realised that people were avoiding me. Even as the bus continued to fill up, the seat next to mine remained conspicuously vacant.

Eventually, every other available seat was taken—including the seats at the furthest corners of the back row, as well as those positioned directly over the rear wheels of the bus. Surprisingly, people would rather endure a sore bum than sit beside my tattooed face.

Finally, an elderly woman in her seventies sat down next to me. My relief was short-lived however as she quickly made it clear just how much she disliked what I’d done to my face.

“Not nice, not nice. How can this be nice? So black. So big.”

In hindsight, she probably meant well. But since the only things on her face were wrinkles, I didn’t expect her to understand.

“It suits you. Actually you look quite badass.”

My first win of the day came from no other than a friend and fellow millennial.

After church service had ended, she came up to me and raised her hands to either side of my face, giving me a once over.

“Quite cool,” she said. “I like it.”  

I liked how I looked too, if I could be honest. After all, tattoos are your choice and your expression of yourself. Naturally then, I’d chosen a design and placement that spoke to me (though not necessarily to other people).

Hence, even though my personality and dress sense couldn’t have been further from the stereotype of someone who gets facial tattoos done, I was still able to pull it off.

Perhaps their response would’ve been quite different had I gone with skulls, dragons and daggers. Yet somehow, with an extra pair of eyes, scorpions running up the side of my face and a fox on the other side, I managed to look cool.  

“Mummy, her face got insect!”

Ah, reason #457 why I hate children.

The remark came from what appeared to be an 8-year-old girl sitting in a large pram. I’m willing to bet that said 8-year-old is probably described on her report card as an “outspoken individual” who “is not afraid of speaking up in front of others.”

Three red-faced apologies from her mother and one curt “It’s okay” from me later, I locked myself in the nearest bathroom and pulled out a mirror to examine my face.

To be fair, the brat wasn’t wrong, I did have 4 scorpions crawling up the side of my face and into my ear.

Was I asking for it?

Whatever the case, I’m just grateful that she didn’t hold up a can of Baygon to my face as well.

“Thank God it’s not permanent.”

If there’s one thing I’ve learnt from this entire experience, it’s that Singaporeans aren’t good at playing it cool. In less than 12 hours, I’d witnessed countless stares and double takes that I’m surprised didn’t result in whiplash.

Nearing the end of the day, I was shopping at Guardian when I bumped into a middle-aged lady who took one look at my face and let out a loud gasp. Her hands flew to her mouth, her eyes widened, and the blood seemed to drain from her face.

I wish I were exaggerating.

As she eyed me uneasily, I felt obliged to put her out of her discomfort and revealed that it was just temporary.

“You shouldn’t do things like this!” she scolded. “Make people frightened only.”


Rachel Lau Staff writer