//Ana Reed and Meredith Cross-Dorsey discuss a tattoo design behind the desk at Smokey Banana tattoo shop on May 22. Photos by Annie Burky | firstname.lastname@example.org
Tattoo shops are working to find a safe way to reopen within the state’s requirements, but parlors like Smokey Banana have always put their customer’s safety and security first.
“We are having to wear masks, as well as our customers but otherwise, I think our plan is we keep the door locked and by appointment only and only if we have the space,” said Meredith Cross-Dorsey, manager and artist at Smokey Banana.
Along with wearing masks, all necessary precautions are being taken in reopening, including wiping down chairs after each customer and only allowing 10 people in the shop at a time. It was for this reason that Sandy and Patrick Morrissey stood with their hands cupped against the window while college-aged daughter, Rosemary, was inside preparing for her first tattoo.
Cross-Dorsey and her fellow artist and manager, Ana Reed, have long taken pride in providing a safe environment for their customers.
“Part of your job is to make people feel comfortable,” Reed said.
Cross-Dorsey and Reed have hoped to create a space where a specific group of clientele feels secure—women.
“So many women are getting tattoos, and they do feel way more comfortable going to a woman,” Reed said.
She went on to say that she’s heard from many clients who’ve been tattooed by men and had an uncomfortable experience, in some cases describing the male artists as “creepy.”
“I think being with another female, it takes a part of the scariness out of it so they can focus more on what they want.”
Sandy said it was the gender of the artists that convinced Rosemary to choose Cross-Dorsey. After looking at other shop’s websites and finding only male artists she settled on Smokey Banana.
In recent years, the number of women with tattoos in America has shot up as stigma has ebbed and the social media gospel of body art has flowed. Out of 1,000 respondents to the 2012 Lightspeed survey, 59%of American women and 41% of American men have tattoos.
“I would say that a majority of our clientele are female, whether that’s because of how we are as a shop or where we are,” Cross-Dorsey said.
Although the shop is woman-run, it is still owned by Cross-Dorsey’s father, Tom Cross, who has been gradually passing the reins to her. It was within his lifetime that the tattoo’s role in society has changed.
Between World War II and the 1980s, tattoos changed from a sign of patriotism to insolence. Sailors’ sparrows and prisoners’ stick and poke converged into American flash style that became the mark of subversion.
“Bikers, Chicanos, criminals and carnival workers, including freak show attractions, became the most visible and prominent tattooed individuals, and were often tattooed to express social rebellion and disassociation,” according to a 2013 article published by Colorado College.
“It was very mafia-type,” Cross-Dorsey said. “If you open a shop, your shop is gonna get burned down, your hands will be broken.”
The idea of opening a shop where mainstream customers felt safe seemed a near pipe dream, especially for female clientele. During this time female artists were few and far between. Women who were tattooed were additionally marginalized as socially deviant due to association with a rebellious attitude more afforded to men. However, as the ‘70s began, society shifted.
With second-wave feminism, women wanted to lay claim to their own bodies, Stephanie Tamez, an American tattoo artist, said on Netflix’s docu-series Explained. A new market for artists opened up as ink rippled across America.
MTV began broadcasting in 1981, exposing a generation to tattooed rockers and a new role for body art within society as self-expression, according to Explained.
Even as women were creating a space within this industry, they were still only granted certain exceptions. Many tattoo designs were seen as “for men only,” and women with tattoos were highly sexualized.
When Smokey Banana opened in 1991, Cross-Dorsey said her father would keep tattoo magazines behind the desk because all of them had photos of naked women.
In the last decade, the reputation of tattoos has changed. The episode of Explained reported a marked increase in tattoos with the launch of Instagram in 2010. Cross-Dorsey and Reed were ready to meet the demand in a safe space.
“We get so many women now because of things like Pinterest. I would say women get so many more tattoos than men because there are so many ideas out there for cute, small tattoos,” Reed said. “As the industry progresses I know a lot of artists are like, ‘No, I don’t want to do that shit.’ My car was bought [because] of tiny tattoos and that’s a good way to gain people’s trust.”
It was this same small act of trust that brought Rosemary in.
“She first came here for an ear-piercing,” Sandy said. “Meredith made her feel so comfortable that she wanted to come back for her first tattoo.”
This strategy has provided a strong customer base. Liz Carnival first came to Smokey Banana years ago in search of a small tattoo. Her first visit to Reed was for a dragonfly no bigger than a quarter. She liked Reed’s tattooing style and is now pursuing something larger.
These types of clients have made it possible for Cross-Dorsey and Reed to renovate their shop and save funds. The extra money has provided a cushion for the shop as business has slowed down during the pandemic.
“In this time with so much uncertainty, I wanted to get something that reminded me that there will be better times,” Rosemary said while pointing to her wrist.
It was there that Cross-Dorsey tattooed the bible verse John 1:5, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
When the ink was set, the bill paid, the door opened, closed and relocked Sandy and Parick hooped and hollered while looking at the fresh words upon their daughter’s wrist.
As tattooing and health regulations continue to change, creating a community where women and all their tattoos are accepted is more important than ever for shops like Smokey Banana, which will be ready to welcome a few customers at a time with open arms.