A few years ago I was hanging out at my friend’s clothing store when a guy with face tattoos came in and asked her if she could split a ten dollar bill. Laura, an otherwise pleasant girl, told him to fuck off and get out. Face-tattoo and I were both shocked. When I asked why she did that she said, “You know, when you get a tattoo on your face you're basically opting out of society. He wanted me to kick him out.”
I agreed with her at the time (because I was trying to sleep with Laura) but I've since questioned her stance. Do people with face tattoos want to be treated like garbage? The answer is obviously, “No,” but when Vice asked me to actually see what it was like to walk round with my mug decorated like a homeless anarchist that keeps a dog on a rope I had to find out for myself.
The first step was finding someone to do the deed. I found a movie makeup expert named Rachel Renna on Craigslist who agreed to come to my house and create a believable, tribal-style tattoo on my face. She told me in advance that the “tattoo” would last as long as I wanted with daily, minor touchups and could only be taken off completely with 99% alcohol.
For the record I have no tattoos and I’ll likely never get any. Not because I don’t want tattoos or that I’m a huge pussy, but because if I got one I probably wouldn’t stop and I’d end up like that guy who looks like a cat. Which would be great if I was allergic to sex.
Rachel arrived and started on the tattoo while my roommates crowded around laughing and calling me Lil Wayne. I got nervous. Everyone has an image of themselves in their head of who they are and this definitely isn’t me. People who do this for real must have huge egos or maybe none at all.
The First Days
When you have a face tattoo people will give you two kinds of stares: the long stare or the short stare. The short stare is when they give a quick glance and then their eyes go straight to the ground, on the inside you can tell they’re going, “Don’t look - don’t look - don’t look!” The long stare is when someone’s whole body stops, their eyes get confused and angry, and you get the feeling they want to yell at you, punch you in the face, or call your mother to tell her that she should have had an abortion. Either way, both stares made me feel both socially superior and completely uncomfortable.
I ran into people I knew all day. Their criticisms of my new life choice ranged from, “You ruined your pretty face,” to, “You ruined your life.” Strangers stared at me everywhere I went. The attention became so annoying that I couldn’t take their staring anymore and I went home and locked myself away in my bedroom like an angry goth teen.
I later got a text from some friends to join them at the bar so, feeling like a few drinks would ease my shitty mood, I picked up my stupid face from my bed and I went out to join them. My memories from the night are hazy but I do remember some guy outside the bar who said to me, “What’s up, Mike Tyson?”
The next morning I woke up hungover looking like a Quebecois cougar who had too many long island ice teas at “le bar”. The makeup was smudged and disgusting. The forehead and nose portions of my tattoo were broken and unsalvageable from all the drunk sweat of the night before so my girlfriend sat me down and fixed my face. Left with temple and cheek pieces we both agreed that I hadn’t before but now, yes, I kind of resembled Mike Tyson if he were a hairy, effete white boy from Canada.
Working a Job
I work as a server in a pretty casual restaurant. I’d texted my manager some days before to tell her about my face tattoo and to ask if I could still come in to work. She said she didn’t like the idea but as long as I didn’t have a dick tattooed to my face it would probably be okay. She also said that if the owner of the restaurant came in he’d tell me I couldn’t work like that and he’d send me home. I secretly hoped I’d get fired.
Most people ignored me but about a dozen tables drunkenly engaged me in conversation about my face. A couple of women in their late thirties fawned over me and one of them said, “It makes me wonder what kind of fucked up things must be going through your head.” I could feel her undressing me with her eyes and I got more nervous every time I walked past them. Another guy high fived me and said, “Welcome. Your life is now theatre.”
I made it through the night without getting fired. Which was a bummer because I had spent the days previous applying for new serving jobs through Craigslist, just in case. One place even called me and set up an interview. So the day of the interview I woke up early, dressed myself up real nice and set out for an interview at a casual fine dining restaurant in Toronto’s financial district.
My potential new employer sighed and gaves me the long stare when I walked in and invited me to sit. He looked over my resume and told me that I have a lot of experience in the restaurant industry, to which I agreed. He asked me if I’m stronger serving or bartending. I told him, in a confident and detailed manner, that I’m quite strong doing both. My answer was greeted with, “Great, you’ll hear from us within the week,” as he stood up to show me out. I thanked him for his time and shook his hand. The interview lasted less than five minutes.
Surprisingly, I never got that call.
The Last Days
My girlfriend eventually told me that the face tattoo was affecting how she felt about me. I got angry, we started to fight and I found myself almost laughing as I said, “I’m still the same person underneath!” Which was corny but true.
I decided that I couldn’t let this face tattoo beat me, that I’d do some things that would make me feel better about myself.
So I went to visit my cousin and his year old daughter, Ariyah, in the suburbs. Ariyah, is totally adorable and I always feel great after spending some quality time with her.
Ariyah cried every time she looked at me. I’m pretty sure I scarred her for life. When she’s a teenager she won’t trust me and she won’t know why.
Resigned to a life of ridicule, I went out for a drink with a couple friends. We sat down and a table across the bar continued to stare at me long enough to make me uncomfortable so I stared back at them in challenge. Then a girl got up, walked over to me and said, “That can’t be real.” Tired of this conversation but unable to break the ruse I said, “It is real.”
“But you don’t look like you’ve been doing a lifetime of drugs. It can’t be real.” She insisted on touching my tattoo and started to aggressively paw at my face. I tried to fight back but she had drunk girl strength and I was forced to let her touch my face.
The makeup on my face is strong so it didn’t smudge. She looked at her finger took a step back and said “Oh my god...” She went to the bathroom and came out with a wet paper towel and tried to scrub the tattoo off my face. I finally admitted defeat and told her it’s fake.
Admittedly, having a face tattoo was fun most of the time and taking it off made me feel, in the days following, like something was missing. Through the entire week not a single person gave me a good reason why I shouldn’t have one. You never have to worry about being invisible, everybody seems to notice you, strangers want to talk to you, some people even go out of their way to show you how cool they are with your decision to permanently ruin your face by buying you drinks or by smiling way too much as they shake your hand enthusiastically. Sure you can probably never get a decent job and your girlfriend thinks your new grill is a total boner kill, but really the most difficult part of having a face tattoo is spending your day explaining your shitty life decision to every single person you meet.