This week, Schoolies—the nationwide release valve for the pressure of year 12—kicks off. And after 11 months of study and turmoil, 18-year-olds just want to get lit and make questionable decisions. And there are few teen decisions more questionable than getting a tattoo. Hey we understand, you're young, summer never ends, you're all going to be friends forever, your mum probably won't notice, and even if she does she's a bitch anyway and you can always go live with dad.
On the other side of this are the tattoo artists, who for three weeks a year, have to stand in as proxy parents for teenagers who really haven't thought any of this through. VICE spoke to Chel, a tattoo artist at Dermagraphic Impressions Tattoo Studio in Byron Bay, about peer pressure and making sure no one gets murdered by their parents when they get home
VICE: It feels like Schoolies is prime impulse tattoo territory. Do you guys get super busy?
Chel: Last year we had quite a lot of foot traffic and there were a lot of people around, but there were only ever a couple of guys in each group who were old enough, or had money, to get a tattoo.
Do a lot of wasted teenagers stumble in?
Every now and then. We had some interesting young fellows come in and try get little apples tattooed onto their bums. They were both pretty intoxicated so we didn't do it.
We've currently got a group of 10 or so boys from Schoolies booked into the holiday apartments above our studio. Yesterday I was in the middle of a tattoo when I hear this huge cheer coming from upstairs. Five minutes later two boys come down, one of them asked for his friend's date of birth tattooed on him. We found out he'd just lost a bet. I told him to come back during the week if he still wanted it.
Is there a lot of that, telling kids to rethink shit ideas?
Yes. Last Schoolies I had a lovely little French girl come in and asked to have the southern cross tattooed on her. I had to explain to her that these days it means something different to what it did, say, 20 years ago. As far as we've seen, the people and crowd getting it now tend to be rougher and more racist. I didn't want her walking around not knowing that people are associating this nice little French girl with this group.
Did she listen to you?
Yeah, she didn't end up getting it. Which I feel pretty good about.
In general, are Schoolies tattoos impulse decisions, or something they've been thinking about all year?
Generally they're in the moment. They don't seem to think too much about it. They're just trying to do it while they still have the guts, or before their friends talk them out of it or they overthink it.
Do you ever refuse to do a tattoo because you think they'll regret it?
Yeah, especially with silly little tattoos. You have to really make them think about it. We want to make sure they're not going home to an angry parent. Generally they're pretty set, it's not very often someone changes their mind so we're turning people away all the time.
Have you noticed trends among what Schoolies ask for?
It's different between the genders. Girls tend to get the one-line wave. It's literally a line with a wave in the middle of it. A lot of girls like that. Guys want something silly—like those guys yesterday. It's often a bet. Recently we had a guy come in with his girlfriend and she really wanted him to get a turtle. He didn't seem too convinced, but he did it anyway.
If you could ban one tattoo, what would it be?
One-line waves. Time and time again, it's always the same thing.
Overall though, how are they as customers?
They're usually pretty good. There are usually only a couple of people in each group who are old enough, or can afford to have it done. It's funny when they come in with all their their friends and bask in the limelight for a moment. It's like they're briefly this famous dude, their mates all sit around and watch in awe. It's kind of nice.
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