This article originally appeared on VICE Spain
Seventeen years ago, in the days when getting some Chinese characters, tribal signs, or a Playboy bunny silhouettes stamped above your butt was the height of fashion, Lidia Reyes got her first tattoo. She was 15 at the time, and she asked for a tarantula on her shoulder. Today, she’s 32 and lives in Mataró, a coastal town in the province of Barcelona. Lidia officially won the title of the most tattooed woman in Spain in 2014, and over the last few years has repeatedly won the title for the most tattooed woman in Europe at unofficial tattoo events and competitions. Now, she’s trying to set the Guinness World Record for the most tattooed woman in the world.
When I got in touch with her, she told me that while for her the key to success is to get more and more tattoos, she’s also in the process of getting some of them removed—namely, the tattoos on her face. I found the contrast interesting, so I asked if I could accompany her to one of the tattoo removal sessions. Here’s what we discussed.
VICE: First of all, if you’re trying to become the most tattooed woman in the world, why are we here getting these ones on your face removed?
Lidia Reyes: I’m working to fill every corner of my body with ink, but lately I’ve been thinking that my face looks a bit overcrowded. I don’t want to get rid of all of them, but quite a few of them. I’d rather get more tattoos in other places. I got some of these less than a year ago when I had my eyes colored in Switzerland.
When and why did you get your first tattoo?
When I was 15, a friend of mine got a tattoo and I was really taken by it. My mom didn’t want me to have one, but I figured I could decide for myself—my dad didn’t live at home anymore, and I was working and going to school. So I just did it, and I’ll admit I didn’t think too much about it. At the time, tattoos of insects were very popular, so I had the artist ink a tarantula on my shoulder.
Would you say that you had your first tattoo just because it was fashionable?
Yes, and that was a mistake. Once I understood what tattoos are really about, I covered that tarantula up with a tattoo of Cleopatra.
Is getting tattoos addictive?
I remember during that first session, when I realized it didn’t hurt, I was already thinking about my next tattoo. I wanted a scorpion—not sure why the hell I couldn’t think of anything besides arachnids. For me, getting a tattoo is one of the best feelings in the world, and I’m happy to admit that I’m addicted to ink—in case you hadn’t noticed. It’s been a while since I last counted them all, but I believe I have between 260 and 270 tattoos. I haven’t paid for ink in a long time—most pieces I have are collaborations with tattoo artists and friends who want to help me. So there’s sentimental value to many of them.
What is it like to be the most tattooed woman in Europe?
I often feel judged—they say that tattoos aren’t taboo anymore, but they still are. Now that I’m active on social media, however, I’m noticing that there are thankfully a lot of people who admire and appreciate it too. On social media, I document my daily life and my journey towards becoming the most tattooed woman in the world. I get messages of support, and questions from people interested in me. Others question my lifestyle, send me insults, or even death threats. I’ve had people come up to me on the street asking for a photo with me, but then grabbing my bag. All that for a bit of ink.
It’s already very hard to find a job in Spain these days—that can’t be easier when 80 percent of your body is covered in tattoos, is it?
When you get into this, you know that you’re not going to be able to get a conventional job. I started working in porn 2007. I had quite a few tattoos at the time, but nowhere near as many as I have now. It was fine at first, I had a lot of fans who liked me because of my aesthetic. But in 2009, once I really started covering myself in tattoos, and a friend started doing them for me in his house for a good price, producers started telling me that I didn’t sell as well anymore.
As those jobs got fewer, I started performing and became a web cam girl, but I’m not cut out to sit behind a webcam and wait for someone to log in. So I stopped doing all that. I tried to become a tattoo artist for a while—I practiced on pig skin. The first person I tattooed was my half-sister, and I botched it completely. I got tired of it after two years. Right now I’m just trying to make a career out of my body modification.
Can you live off being the most tattooed woman in Europe?
It’s complicated. I haven’t been paid for most of the bookings I’ve had so far. That’ll change once I’m recognized by the Guinness Book of Records. I won’t rest until I have that. Ultimately, my goal is to become a public figure through my social media and be visible, show that heavily tattooed people are people too—that we have good hearts and that we love our children.
Regarding your daughters, how do they feel about your passion for tattoos?
The older one is about to start school and she loves it. The little one can’t talk much yet, but I know my children love me for who I am. And I love them just like any other mother does. I think they’re growing up to not judge people on their looks.
Lastly, your eyes are fuchsia. How did that happen?
It’s an illegal kind of modification in Spain, so it was done in Switzerland by my friend Oscar Márquez—who also split my tongue. It’s done with a special type of needle, which injects permanent ink in the sclera. Two little pricks are put into the eye and the ink is spread around the eyeball. It’s not something anyone can do—a French tattooist blinded a man recently by doing it wrong. A client could accidentally move their eye at any moment, the injection has to be so controlled that the iris or the cornea aren’t pierced. It went well for me—though I cried pink for days. I am tattooed in places other women aren’t, like my eyeballs, my skull, my intimate areas, and the palms of my hands. That’s why I’m pretty confident I’ll get that title this year.