In a country where tattoos are widely frowned upon, Ahn Li-na, 25, catches attention as a walking canvas of body art, with nearly 80 percent of her skin inked.
“The value of all my tattoos, if combined, could easily match that of quite an expensive car,” said Ahn, a tattoo artist herself, adding that only her face, scalp, front neck, knuckles and soles of her feet are left untouched.
Living with such overt body art comes with a hefty price here, as tattoos are often associated with deviant behavior in South Korea. Bearing a tattoo is not a crime, but displaying large tattoos in public can be punished by law as a misdemeanor. Ahn can attest to this from her own experience. She was once fined “for arousing revulsion in a public place” and was kicked out of a public bath. In addition, people have stared, sworn and even spat at her on the streets.
“Many old people who disapprove of tattoos abuse me viciously,” she said. “I don’t think I will ever get used to that.”
Ahn tries to evade such situations as best as she can. But that doesn’t mean she hides from the public eye. On the contrary, she is a star on YouTube and social media for defying stereotypes and fighting to change people’s perceptions of tattoos.
“Just today, on my way to this interview, an elderly lady with remarkable fashion style came up to me and, pointing at my tattoos, said, ‘They’re so pretty. I love them,’ before simply walking away. There are people who appreciate and respect me, and such warm attention is always welcome.