Ten Questions You Always Wanted to Ask a Person with a Face Tattoo
"I can see people staring at me from miles away."
Photos by Kas van Vliet
Having a face tattoo is quite the statement. There's no hiding it—not when you're just popping into the newsagent's for a carton of milk and a KitKat, not during your first meeting with the parents of the love of your life. It's always there, making as much contact with the person you're communicating with as your eyes and your mouth.
Bram Zaliger has had a tattoo on his face for decades. It's a flame, right in the middle of his forehead. Although it's relatively small, it's still rather inescapable. I've always wanted to know what that's like to have a face tattoo, so I asked Zaliger all about it.
VICE: Why did you decide to get a tattoo on your forehead?
Bram Zaliger: I got it in 1982 in Amsterdam, when I was almost 30. I was a little rebellious at the time—I was part of the squatting movement in Amsterdam, and I wanted a tattoo in a place where most people didn't have one. That's how it ended up on my forehead.
What did your mom say when she saw it?
I had no contact with my parents at that time, so I never saw their reaction. My friends really had to get used to it. And you constantly have to explain what's on your face—what it means and why you have it. You're always the center of attention. I got used to that over the years. The attention doesn't bother me anymore. It's just a bit annoying when people keep asking questions about it.
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Sorry. What are the dumbest questions you get about it?
It's mostly just the way people approach me that's really stupid. I can see people staring at me from miles away. Then they circle around me for a couple of minutes, finally come up to me and say: "Can I ask you something?" Fuck off. It may sound a bit dramatic, but it feels like they're violating my privacy. And sometimes people ask me if I'm a fireman.
Why the flame?
I don't remember, really. I believe it had something to do with fire of the spirit. It used to be tiny, but I had it made bigger when the colors started to fade. That happens every couple of years, especially if the tattoo is constantly exposed to sunlight. After a while, there was only a small doodle left. Everyone thought it was supposed to be a droplet, but it wasn't—it's a flame. To make sure people knew, I had it done again—and bigger that time.
Do people ever think your tattoo represents some kind of extreme political conviction?
They mostly wonder whether I got it for religious reasons. I think they sometimes confuse it with those dots Hindus have on their foreheads—the ones that represent a third eye. Anyway, I'm not really a religious person. My tattoo is purely decorative.
Is it more painful to get a tattoo on your face?
I did really feel the drilling on my skull. There's no fat between the skin and the bone, and the skin is very thin. So that wasn't very comfortable. Luckily, I had been drinking a little to ease the pain, so it wasn't that bad.
Have you ever had issues at work because of your tattoo?
No. Before I got it, I had already decided to never get a job again in a place where that would be a problem. I worked at a tree farm, and I'd had a couple of desk jobs before, but when I got my tattoo, I knew that I never wanted to do anything like that again. I've tried a lot of different jobs, and right now, I work at a bar in a rehearsal studio for bands. The music world is pretty used to tattoos, of course.
Have you ever glanced at the mirror and thought, Oh, Christ?
Yes, that happens, but those moments go as quickly as they come. Especially in the beginning, when I constantly had to explain to my family, friends, and acquaintances why I had done it—I sometimes cursed myself for having it. But that feeling only lasted for about a year.
Does your tattoo get you laid more?
I wouldn't know. I used to have a girlfriend, who was crazy about it. I also dated a woman for while who had a tattoo of a snake on the back of her head. It was covered by her hair, but every once in a while, she would shave her head so that the snake would pop up.
Do you ever consider getting more tattoos on your face?
I've definitely thought about it, but I like it the way it is. I don't want my face to be covered in tattoos. I have them on other places—a rose on my arm, a bull's head, and a tramp stamp on my lower back. That last one was because a girlfriend really wanted me to have one as a symbol for our relationship. I'm not sure why, but I just did it.