Lady Gaga celebrated Valentine’s Day by gifting herself not the cliché chocolates or jewelry, but rather an extra long tattoo of a rose. The piece traces her spine, running from the nape of her neck down to the small of her back. Gaga surrounded the art with text: “La Vie en Rose,” a nod to a pivotal scene from A Star Is Born.
This week, the ever-glamorous Halle Berry posted a photo on Instagram shot from behind. She stood in front of a stove, skillet in one hand, egg in another. She wore metallic lounge pants and no shirt—not the most responsible cooking attire, but definitely the chicest.
Berry wasn’t using the photo-op to prove she knew how to make an omelette. Instead, the 52-year-old showed off botanical-inspired ink that covered her entire spine.
“Who says I’m not a mermaid?” Berry captioned the domestic scene. Others had a more pressing question: Is the tattoo real? The answer remains as mysterious as Berry's breakfast order; representatives for the Oscar winner did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.
We know more about Gaga’s tattoo, which came courtesy of LA-based Daniel Winter. The artist, who also goes by the nom de needle Winter Stone, told The Hollywood Reporter that Gaga “wanted to make a statement” with her ink.
Consider the statement—and trend—made. Hector Daniels is a tattoo artist at NYC's uber-trendy Bang Bang, where months long waitlists for appointments are the norm and rates begin at $500 apiece. Daniels told The Daily Beast that he sees a “pretty consistent” demand for spine tattoos at the studio.
“I do expect more people wanting them in the coming months, for sure,” he said. “There’s no question celebrities have influence over these trends. They really sell it.”
Daniels has seen “lots of different things done down the spine.” Vertical text is popular, and he recently tattooed a Lord of the Rings quote on one man's back. (For Tolkienists, the exact quote was: “May it be a light for you in dark places when all other lights go out.”)
Mandala designs, or spiritual Hindu and Buddhist symbols that represent the universe, are also in demand, along with “literal straight lines” tracing each vertebrae.
“It flows with the body,” Daniels said. “You always want the tattoo to look like the person was born with it, or that it grew there.”
Brian Keith Thompson, owner of LA’s Body Electric Tattoo and piercer to the likes of Beyoncé, Emma Stone, and Jennifer Lawrence, thinks that “the back is a good place to start” for first-timers or commitment-phobes.
“It’s a good spot if you’re not sure about [tattoos],” he said. “If you ever want to forget that you have one, just don’t turn around and look in the mirror. You’ll forget all about it.”
So why go through the time and pain of a spine tattoo if you will only be able to appreciate it with a full-length mirror and quite a bit of flexibility. According to Kit Richardson, buyer and sex educator at New York’s Museum of Sex, it can be a quiet kind of exhibitionism.
“Backs are usually unexposed,” Richardson said. “Exposing one’s back to a partner, especially if it’s tattooed, is as if exposing a part of you that others have not seen. It's like a sexy secret, almost.”
BDSM culture urges kinksters not to hit backs or spines too hard. The area, a hotbed of nerves and bones, is considered a “high-risk zone.” But according to Richardson, “That does not mean it should go untouched. The back is one large erogenous zone that often goes overlooked.”
It does not hurt that the spine trails an entire figure from the neck to breasts, hips, and legs. “Engagement with the back and spine has many positive effects,” Richardson explained. “Not only do lower back massages help to relieve tension, but the stimulation can “increase blood flow to the pelvic area and increase sensitivity.”
After working with the UN, Richardson tattooed a map of the world on her back. “I wanted to emphasize that we should all carry the weight of the world and are responsible for making it a better place,” she said. With such chaste inspiration, “I never expected it to be a sexy tattoo or anything sensual.”
Then one night, a partner traced the outline of Richardson's tattoo with his finger, asking her to guess what country he was touching. In that moment, Richardson “couldn’t see the world tattoo, but I could feel it.”
Without her sense of sight, Richardson relied on touch alone to play the game. “I had to use my other senses and engage in a way that I hadn’t before,” she recalled.
Hot stuff, for sure, until you consider the logistics of a spine tattoo. Aftercare for a back piece can be tricky; artists encourage applying an ointment like Aquaphor to the tattoo up to three times a day for two weeks post-appointment. It is not an easy thing to do on that tough-to-reach area.
“You hope that the client has a loved one that can help them [apply ointment],” Daniels, the Bang Bang artist, said.
Thompson, who owns Body Electric, echoed the statement: “It would be great if you had a roommate, friend, or spouse to help put on lotion. But when I got my tattoo, my spouse was a plastic spatula.”