Searing away traces of her rebellious past

SINGAPORE - 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 in time, I felt that body art was a way to make a statement," she said.

Lee said she decided to remove her tattoos as people tended to judge her by them. Removing them also 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?

"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.

Initially, the pain was bearable as she started with her 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. She described it as a "roller coaster of pain" and "mini-explosions" on her skin.

She would tremble before the laser was fired and she would wince in agony when it came to sensitive areas like her lower back. Blisters would later form.

"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. That did not, however, deter her from sharing her journey with netizens.

But Lee stopped her treatments in 2012, when she was pregnant with her third child. She was afraid the lasers would cause complications during her pregnancy.

She told The New Paper that she is waiting for her doctor to give the green light before she resumes her treatments to remove the faded tattoos.

The mother of three children, who are aged between one and 12, now considers motherhood her priority, followed by her business, a children's clothing line called Poppykins Boutique.

So what will happen if her children get tattoos?

"Well, they better make sure it's somewhere that I can't see. I will drag them to my doctor and remove their tattoos on the spot," she said.

This article by The New Paper was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.