INK’d: a blog series on self expression through tattoos and boudoir photography
Tattoos and boudoir photography featuring Shweta Dayal
I had a lot of time to think during the early days and weeks of Covid and I came up with the idea of doing a blog series on women who are INK’d: those who have chosen to express themselves and decorate their bodies through the art of tattoos and then featuring it with boudoir photography.
I personally already see the body itself as an art form, and am intrigued by how we add ink to our body as another layer of art. And then to be able to add my artistic expertise of boudoir photography was yet another layer of artistic excitement for me. With each woman I photographed, I was curious to know what led them to taking on the needles and what inspired them to creating their art on their bodies as a way of expressing themselves outwardly every single day.
This exploration of body art encompasses learning their stories about their body artwork and also creating images of it so that it could be featured and appreciated too. I hope you enjoy this series called INK’d.
Introducing Shweta Dayal
My first muse to join me for INK’d is the lovely Shweta Dayal. I asked her for a brief description of herself and here’s her description in her words:
I am a 26 year old wanderer, explorer from India.
I proudly call myself an ardent feminist.
I care about our beautiful planet, I try and recycle and avoid plastic and I’d encourage everyone to do so.
Growing up in India for any girl is definitely hard! Yes double standards are there in the entire world and patriarchy too but Indian culture while praying to goddesses doesn’t allow women inside temples if they’re on their periods.
First lesson I learnt was when an aunty asked me in 4th standard if I’ve started cooking and cleaning in order to marry a nice guy and make my in-laws happy.
My mum was continuously asked questions like oh! You have just 2 girls? No son? Oh poor you!
I’d decided that day that I’ll prove all of them wrong and become successful and independent.
I’ve faced crazy hurdles in life and it has made me strong.
Indian culture wants a girl to dress appropriately, cook,clean, bear with everyone’s tantrums and keep her mouth shut!
One time when I started my own Design company inscription interiors –inscripthomes.com I was interviewing carpenters and one of them told me oh I thought it’s a male boss! Sorry I can’t work under a female I’m not that needy.
Constant criticism for speaking my mind, for cutting my hair short or getting a tattoo.
My mum is my biggest inspiration and I am who I am because of her support. She always had my back when aunties came home and asked questions like oh you have so much acne, you need to stop playing sports and take care of your skin.
-don’t speak so loudly, wouldn’t help after marriage
-dont study TOO MUCH
-dont wear tight jeans/clothes
-dont sleep too late, how will you wake up early after marriage
And to top it all – “log kya kahenge” it’s a well known sentence in Hindi which means “WHAT WILL PEOPLE SAY”.
It was a huge issue when I refused to wear my wedding necklace (im only supposed to remove it if my husband passes away). Every woman is supposed to wear it.
I’ve fought all this and still fighting.
Shweta, what challenges have you faced in relation to your body? Did getting tattoos help with these challenges?
Okay! So the first tattoo that I got was the peace symbol on my right hand ring finger. The inspiration was war! I was so sick of watching news (still am) and seeing all the blood bath because of borders and religion.
I was 20 years old and I was going through a rough patch in life. I had lost my dad, quit talking to my mom and college life sucked.
Getting a tattoo didn’t really help, it was a mere distraction.
Did you face judgement when you got your tattoos? If so, how did you work through that?
Oh yes! Loads!
After my first few tattoos, I remember people coming and asking me questions like, “how’d your mum allow you to do that?” Because in India you cannot and I mean it, you can’t do anything without your parents approval/permission.
Lots of criticism from relatives too, they told me shit like, “who’s gonna marry you now? Your mother in law is so unlucky to have you? How can you ink your body which is a GOD’S GIFT? “
And I basically ignored most of them and responded to some who really needed to shut it.
How many tattoos do you have? What meaning/memories do they hold for you?
So I have 2 big tattoos and 3 small ones and I’ll get more soon! I have a cliche pineapple tattoo too which was with my best friend and a maa tattoo for my mom’s birthday.
So in the big tattoos I have my parrots who I rescued and they lived with me for 5 years, an arrow and compass to remind me to never stop exploring.
A meteor shower that symbolises my birth night geminid shower(every 14th December) also I’m obsessed with solar system /space.
I have a huge sea shell and waves that symbolise movement and stability.
My dog Cooper.
A tree- I’m eco friendly as fuck (I’d recycle you if I can).
And also after my first scuba dive, the ocean sort of changed my perspective towards life.
How have tattoos allowed you to express yourself?
Yes and no! Many times it’s interpreted as being bold and able to bear the pain. I’m definitely a strong and vocal person but I’m vulnerable too. I too can’t bear pain sometimes.
Living in India was so hard because every time someone looked at my tattoos they quickly judged me and labelled me as slutty and provocative.
It’s not Indian culture they said! One of my aunts told me that you can do whatever you want after marriage and after seeking your husband’s permission! It boggled my mind.
You’re now married to a lovely man from what we’re told. Did he judge you on your tattoos like your culture presumed he would?
So my first tattoo was with a friend and when he saw that he was happy and surprised and gave me a fist bump saying we’re both inked! (We were dating at a very early stage)
So he had a tattoo when we started dating and he was very supportive about my tattoos too! Especially with his parents! I kid you not my mom in law thought I’m in a cult because of my geometrical compass tattoo. She’s also an orthodox Christian so it was hard to convince her. My husband is Indian but he never had any issues with what I do! What I wear! Trust me if he did, I wouldn’t be with him! Haha
What advice would you give someone on the fence about getting a tattoo?
Think about it! It’s permanent!
It shouldn’t be something you saw on someone.
Create your own.
What did it feel like to have a photo session that focused on exploring the art of your body and on your body?
Initially I was nervous and conscious of my body but once Michele gets her camera ready, she’s the best person to trust
I loved every bit of it, it was a surreal experience and she’s absolutely amazing at what she does.
I’m so thankful to be connected to her to get to be a part of the brilliant work she’s doing!
We should trademark this sentence of hers- “I’LL PHOTOSHOP SOME OF YOUR ACNE BUT NOT YOUR BODY.”
How did you find your tattoo artist(s)? Do you have a favourite one you can recommend?
He’s in India. Chiraag. He’s the best, the tattoo studio is called “skindeep tattoo studio”.
What were some of the fears you had about doing a boudoir/intimate portrait session? Did those change during the process, the shoot or afterwards?
I’m definitely more comfortable with my body and even acne after the photoshoot! I’m learning to love myself and not be judgemental and disgusted with my body.
Anything else you want to share?
I love you Michele ️
Oh my gosh, Shweta, you are too sweet! At only 20 years old (now 26), I love that you already had the gumption and determination to be your own person and express yourself artistically in a meaningful way to you! You knew the societal and cultural pressures, stereotypes and impositions of a woman getting a tattoo, but you went ahead and did it anyway knowing that you were not that definition. To you it was an art form and a way to express yourself. Way to go Shweta!
Shall we get your body art memorialized in the form of a boudoir session? Please reach out to me if you have any questions. And you don’t have to have tattoos to do a boudoir session of course!
Photos shared with permission.
Michele Mateus is a Vancouver Boudoir & Portrait Photographer located in Coquitlam, BC.