The tattoo taboo

8 July, 2012
Reporter: Alex Cullen
Producer: Paul Waterhouse

For some a tattoo is the most exciting decision of their life, for others it brings a lifetime of regret.

Once considered taboo, tattoos were mostly flaunted by footy stars, bogans and bikies. Now considered 'cool', many teenage kids count the days until they're allowed their first 'tatt' by their parents.

Australian model and DJ Ruby Rose considers her skin a canvas for tattoo art. For her, they symbolise freedom and beauty.

Her first tattoo was not so much an act of rebellion but a statement of self. And the number of people who share a similar outlook is growing.

Georgia Tribolet went for her first tattoo six days after her eighteenth birthday with the approval of her entire family.

Hollywood super star Mark Wahlberg was also once an advocate of tattoos. Now he is undergoing hours of painful laser surgery to remove his ink.

As a rising star Wahlberg thought there was nothing cooler than being inked. He got his first tattoo at 12.

Now he's a father in his forties he wants them gone.

"I don’t want my kids wanting to get tattoos and I’ve taken them a couple times to the removal process and they can see how painful it is," Wahlberg said.

The actor is not the first to have his attitude towards tattoos changed by fatherhood.

An angry teenager, Byron Widner was to become an even angrier racist and has the word 'hate' tattooed across his knuckles at the age of 15.

"I always liked the word 'hate'. I thought it was real cool at the time," Widner said.

Widner founded the Vinlanders social club - a notorious skinhead gang.

“I really was embracing the whole Nazi skinhead thing at that time, you can’t be a Nazi without SS bolts on you," Widner said.

"At the time it felt powerful, it felt great. That was what I wanted, I wanted them to be afraid, wanted them to veer away from me, to know that I’d bite."

Then Widner met Julie, a single mother with her own racist past. They fell in love, got married, had a son and along the way his hate began to wither.

Byron quit the Vinlanders, pledging to live a better life, but an indelible mark was left behind on his skin.

"It just got to the point where it’s, where it’s like I have to get them off or I was just going to drive myself nuts," Widner said.

What followed was 25 agonising operations.

"It’s like hot bacon grease being flicked on you over and over again, you could smell the burnt skin. It’s pretty bad," Widner said.

Sunday Night would like to thank the following for their help with filming...

And for more information on Bryon Widner's remarkable physical transformation, check out the documentary Erasing Hate.