updated 1 Aug 2014, 01:03
Login password or
Mon, Feb 14, 2011
The New Paper
Email Print Decrease text size Increase text size
I'm going to remove my 30 tattoos
by Tan Kee Yun

REGRET. Regret. Regret. Regret. Regret.

It was a word local singer-actress Maia Lee used no less than five times throughout our hour-long interview.

The 27-year-old former Singapore Idol finalist, whose wild-child reputation is entrenched in many minds, told The New Paper yesterday that she wants to remove every single tattooon her body.

And the petite artiste has lots of them - on her back, her arms, her legs (and some in places we can't reveal).

By her own count, she has 30 tattoos, collected over the years since she was 16.

So the big question: Why?

Especially since she has been living well with them for so long.

Looking solemn, Lee insisted she was sincere and that there were several reasons behind her decision.

They collectively boil them to the fact that she is "past the old, rebellious phase of my life".

"When I was younger, I didn't care what people thought of me," said Lee.

"To me then, tattoos were extremely addictive. After getting one, you'd feel shiok and satisfied, then you'd quickly want to get another."

The single mother of two - son Tyrese is eight and daughter Julka is two - said she was now a changed woman.

"I am sick and tired of people judging me," she said. "Once, when I sent my girl to her church nursery, a staff member told me bluntly to cover up my tattoos as other parents disliked the sight of them.

"The old me would have ignored such comments and simply retort, 'This is me, like it or not.'

"But now, I really want to move on. I know things would be a lot easier if I didn't have all these tattoos on me."

It was a similar situation whenever she picked up Tyrese at his school, Lee added with a sigh.

"When his friends see me, they'd tell him things such as, 'Wah, your mum got tattoo' or 'your mum is a gangster'.

"The reality is, there is still a social stigma against tattoos - people just look at me differently."

So she slowly grew to hate all the ink on her body as it impacted her personal life and desire for a long-term relationship, she said.

"Seriously, it's very hard for most decent guys to take a gal like me home to meet their folks," said Lee, whose last boyfriend - and the father of Julka - was professional fighter Zidov Dominik of reality show The Contender Asia fame.

Her older son Tyrese was from a previous failed relationship.

"I've had exes who didn't dare let their parents know of our romance because of my tattoos.

"Also, there were those who eventually found me a disappointment...they look at my tattoos and conclude that I'm the partying, fun-loving sort. But I am the opposite because I don't club."

Now, she hopes to find a "holy" man who can "look beyond the superficial".

Lee converted to Christianity in 2008 after a group of Christian friends supported her through her second pregnancy.

A member of New Creation Church, she especially yearns to get rid of two visible tattoos, one on her right arm and one on her back, both pictures of Thai Buddhist temples.

On impulse

"I got them on impulse in 2007, when I was very into Thai Buddhism," she recalled. So is she acting on impulse again in wanting to remove her tattoos?

No, Lee insisted. She had thought about it for 11/2 years and is also thinking of her career.

"They inevitably restrict the roles I can take on," said Lee, who signed with film production company Kelvin Sng Productions in December2009.

"I don't want to be stereotyped as the bad girl any more." Lee had previously played a leader of all-girl gang Red Butterfly in a local short film, The Gang.

Mr Kelvin Sng, 36, Lee's manager, said: "Over the past 11/2 years , it has been really difficult for us to cast her, be it for films or advertisements."

"There were times when she fitted the bill perfectly, but alas, there was only one problem, her multiple tattoos."

Mr Sng added that the company fully supported Lee's decision and would even "partially finance" her tattoo removal sessions.

Lee is now looking for a suitable aesthetic doctor to execute the laser treatment.

Is she aware that it would be a long, painful and costly process. And even then, she may not be able to remove all her tattoos.

"Yes, I know that not all of my tattoos can be removed," she said. "I'll accept what my doctor advises."

Lee insisted that she was mentally - and physically - prepared for the pain.

"I actually tried laser removal five years ago when I wanted a small tattoo removed," she said.

"For just a single tattoo, you'd need five to six sessions. The pain was excruciating - it was like someone holding a hot metal rod against my skin."

With a chuckle, she said that she "chickened out" after one session.

"Instead of going back for the rest of the laser sessions, guess what? I went to get another tattoo over the same spot to cover the original one!"

Again, she insisted that she had changed.

"The desire to remove (my tattoo) wasn't strong back then, I was quite half-hearted," she said.

"Now, I'm truly determined. I'm prepared to do it over three to four years, or as long as it takes, so it wouldn't be so financially taxing." She even hopes her story would be a cautionary tale to youngsters who see tattoos as "an act of coolness".

"Don't start on it, that's what I'd advise them," said Lee.

"Tattoo artists aside, I haven't met anyone who does not regret being tattooed."

She added that she used to love tattoos due to "a lack of self-confidence" and "having no outlet to express myself".

"Most people, myself included, got our tattoos because we had major issues.

"We felt empty inside and there seemed to be no other way other than tattooing our skin. I needed the pain to feel alive."

After a pause, she added: "That was the old me. I know I don't need that kind of pain any more."

Feelings can be kept inside

MAIA Lee said of the sailboat and nautical star tattoo (left): "This was done in early 2007 and dedicated specially to my dad as he used to be a sailor.

"I love him very much and I knew he wouldn't approve of me getting a tattoo for him, but I went ahead anyway.

"On the sailboat, I also tattooed the birth dates of my son Tyrese and I."

Lee decided to remove this tattoo also as she now knows she doesn't need to express herself by inking her skin. Instead, "feelings can be kept inside".

Removal painful & costly: docs

TO REMOVE 30 tattoos from one's body is a long-drawn, painful and costly process, doctors told The New Paper.

"I've had heavily tattooed patients in the past, but none who wanted all of them removed.

Most just wanted (to get rid of) one or two," said Dr Chow Yuen Ho from TCS@ Central Clinic, a clinic specialising in aesthetic treatments.

However, removing up to 30 tattoos is "possible", but the patient has to be "well-informed".

"If I have a patient like Maia, I'd make sure she is absolutely certain she wants to do it before I start any sessions," he said.

"She has to know that tattoo removal is a very painful process, a lot more painful than putting a tattoo onto one's skin. It is also very time-consuming and she has to stay committed."

As part of the communication with Lee, he would also tell her frankly if a tattoo can or cannot be removed.

Light pulses

Laser treatment works by producing short pulses of intense light that pass through the top layers of the skin to be selectively absorbed by the tattoo pigment.

This laser energy causes the tattoo pigment to fragment into smaller particles that are then removed by the body's immune system.

Dermatologist Dr Cheong Lai Leng, who works at Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, said that while black tattoos respond well to laser therapy, green ones are slower to react.

"As for yellow and orange tattoos, they are virtually impossible to remove."

There is also the risk of scarring, added Dr Cheong.

Dr Kevin Chua, who owns Drs. Chua & Partners at Alexandra Village, said that a single tattoo that was tattooed eight to 10 years ago would need an average of 12 laser sessions to be removed safely.

Each laser session takes minutes, but sessions should be a month apart.

"If the patient does his or her sessions too agressively, there might be consequences, such as the permanent whitening of the skin.

Patients like Lee have to be prepared to fork out a big sum of money, should they want to remove all their tattoos.

"One laser session ranges from $200 to $1,000, depending on the size of the tattoo," said Dr Chua.

View her tattoo pictures here


This article was first published in The New Paper.

readers' comments
Now then this stupid bimbo realize her folly?
Posted by Seekeroftruth on Wed, 30 Jul 2014 at 14:16 PM

Copyright © 2014 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Co. Regn. No. 198402868E. All rights reserved.