'It's a roller coaster of pain'

'It's a roller coaster of pain'
Maia Lee, a former Singapore Idol Finalist underwent a make-over last year by removing all her tattoos. She even has a blog to track her laser tattoo removal journey.

Each of her 33 tattoos was a mark of rebellion. They are also hard to remove. So while the rebel in Maia Lee faded as time passed, the 33 reminders of her past did not.

Lee, 31, a former Singapore Idol finalist, got her first tattoo at 16 and continued getting them till she was 25.

"It was a rebellious streak. I didn't want to conform to societal norms and at that point of time, I felt that body art was a way to make a statement," she said.

Lee said she decided to remove her tattoos because people tended to judge her by them. Also, removing them signalled a new phase in her life as she had converted to Christianity.

She said: "Sometimes, I go for a casting or apply for a project and my body art warrants an immediate 'no'. Then again, who would want to hire someone with angkong (tattoos in Hokkien) all over her body?

"People judge you based on first impressions and the social stigma of tattoos being a taboo will always be there," she said. "Even when I see someone on the street with tattoos, I will have a negative impression of them."

Since 2011, Lee has gone for more than 20 treatments, with each session to remove them costing $400 to $1,000, depending on the size.

Initially, the pain was bearable as she started with the smaller tattoos.

She said: "The first treatment was not as bad as I had expected, so I continued with the other tattoos that I can't hide - those on my arms, back and neck."

And with that, the pain increased. Sometimes, it was so intense she cried.

She described it as a "roller coaster of pain" and "mini-explosions" on her skin.

She said she would tremble before the laser was fired and she would wince in agony for sensitive areas like her lower back. Blisters would later form.

"My skin felt as if it was being hammered by a meat tenderiser. However, my tattoos got lighter with each session and that motivated me to continue," she said.

Lee's friends and family supported her decision to remove her tattoos. But the tattoo community branded her a traitor.

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