Defiance may have prompted some of their original tattoos, but members of the Modified Dolls say their permanent ink has become a badge of courage.
“All our tattoos have meaning,” says Nichol Dominguez, pointing to an image of Frankenstein on her right forearm: “He’s a medical experiment like me.”
Dominguez, 25, a local office manager, was recently diagnosed with brain and spinal cord diseases.
It affects her balance and often immobilizes her: “It’s pain, lots of pain and weakness.”
Her tattoos remind her that she can take it, she says.
Miranda Davi, 26, says she started the Albuquerque chapter of Modified Dolls, a group of women with visible tattoos and body piercings, when rules against her tattoos prevented her from volunteering at a local homeless shelter.
“They were really nice about it,” she says, declining to name the shelter. But “they said that due to my tattoos they couldn’t accept me. I still have the email. I wanted to volunteer, but I was turned away.”
The Modified Dolls is an international organization aimed at improving the image of women with tattoos and piercings, and breaking down negative stereotypes, through community service. The Albuquerque chapter, formed about a year ago, is finalizing its plans for a motorcycle rally fundraiser later this month for the Wounded Warrior Project.
Davi says while the tattoos may not be private, they are personal – a way to outwardly express her inner thoughts and feelings.
She has a heart with roses on her chest and the names of her children inked around her wrist. A tribal graphic design inches up her leg. “To me, they’re beautiful.”
A tattoo artist before she had children, she remembers the designs and colors made her feel better when she was down. “I tattooed ‘losing touch.’ I didn’t know I was depressed then, but the tattoo helped,” she recalls and says it serves as a reminder that she can take care of herself and feel better.
She says finding and joining the national organization was exciting, but then a little disappointing when she discovered there were only two other members in New Mexico.
So she recruited RoseAnn Gutierrez, and now the group numbers about 14 women and some probationary members, says Davi, now known as Head Doll.
“We’re here to demolish those negative stereotypes,” says Gutierrez, 25, who acts as the group’s publicist. She says her permanent body art has prevented her from getting jobs she wanted. She’s back in school studying for a business degree so someday she can be her own boss.
Her first tattoo of roses and flames winds up her left calf: “It was the mid-’90s and everyone was getting tattoos. My friends’ parents would take them to get a tattoo, but my mom said I had to wait until I was 18 and I had to pay for it myself. So that’s what I did. My mom came with me.”
Gutierrez is working on an inked sleeve of musical symbols on her right arm and a Sacred Heart, designed by a good friend, blooms across her upper chest.
Although she admits it hurts, like getting snapped with a rubber band repeatedly during the tattooing and then like a bad sunburn while the image heals, the pain is cathartic somehow and the result is always worth it: “I see my body as a canvas. I design it and I make how I want. A lot of people collect art. I collect art on my body.”
Michele York, 30, in charge of organizing the upcoming motorcycle rally, recalls that she got her first tattoo when she was 16 because her parents forbade it.
Now she has nine, including a purple hibiscus on her wrist and an anchor and a pirate ship to honor her relatives in the U.S. Navy, which can be covered with long sleeves.
Before she had children, she was employed in a local emergency room as an emergency medical technician, where the rule was no visible tattoos, but “everybody had them – the doctors and the nurses. We were all about the same age, and we all had tattoos.”
According to a 2012 Harris poll, about one in five adults has a tattoo, up about 6 percent from a poll five years earlier. In the survey, more people in York’s age group, 30 to 39, had tattoos – about 38 percent – compared to other age groups, including those in their mid-20s. About 30 percent of that age group have tattoos. And although tattoos are escaping some of the negative stigma, about one in four people are still suspicious of those with tattoos and other permanent modifications, according to the poll.
A tough code
The women, who met recently to discuss their upcoming fundraiser, say they have banded together for support and community service.
So far they have raised about $2,000 for their projects.
Mayor Richard J. Berry recently recognized their group and other local volunteer groups as part of the Mayor’s Day of Volunteer Service celebration on Civic Plaza.
Although the Dolls would be happy to have more members, they have a strict moral code, established by the national headquarters to ensure that members boost the image of women with visible tattoos and piercings.
“We don’t allow any kind of illegal activity, and we don’t allow drama,” Davi says. So badmouthing other Dolls or petty acting out will get people booted out of the organization. “We’re all here because we want to be here. We work very hard, and we expect our members to work very hard.”
— This article appeared on page A01 of the Albuquerque Journal