Why Rick Genest and Cheryl Fernandez-Versini have more in common than you may think…apart from tattooed bums.

I am not a flowery type of girl.  I don’t mind them in vases, sitting looking pretty on my dining room table, making the room smell nice, but as tattoos, i couldn’t think of anything worse.  To me, they are on the same level as dolphins and butterflies.  That is, something i wouldn’t entertain even if I was black out drunk in Ibiza, with a pocket full of money that I didn’t know what to do with.  Not that any of those things would be even remotely likely, but it dawned on me, whilst in a tattoo shop recently, how much tattoos are led by fashion.  In England, this trend seems to be particularly led by the woman formerly known as Cheryl Tweedy, (the scourge of bathroom assistants everywhere) Cheryl Cole, (number 1 WAG) and is now known as Cheryl Fernandez-Versini, because she got married again.  I think she’s just known as Cheryl now to avoid confusion.   She used to be in Girls Aloud, a pretty inoffensive girl band that started out on Pop Idol, and is now judging the same wannabe pop starlets on The X Factor.  She’s a Northern lass, she likes a smoke and a drink, and she has a massive tattoo of roses that stretches from her mid back, down her buttocks and ends sort of mid thigh.  It’s covering what we refer to up in the north of England as a tramp stamp.  As much as I don’t like the roses, she covered up a god awful tattoo, so all power to her.  In January, I will be doing the same thing.  Mistakes we make as teenagers eh?

I actually find it really hard to dislike Cheryl.  She always comes across really well in interviews as just a normal woman who by a weird, random mistake, ended up being really famous in England although it didn’t really translate into worldwide superstardom.  I think it’s because she has a Newcastle accent, and Simon Cowell is a bit of a twat.  She does seem genuine though, which I think is a rare thing in today’s disposable pop music business, so good luck to her.  I won’t be buying her songs, or wearing her clothes, or having her tattoos.

A lot of people are though.  While researching my aforementioned cover up tattoo on the internet, it seems every tattoo shop in England is tattooing variations of Cheryl’s arse on the everyday people of Britain.  Varying qualities of red roses surrounded by skulls, animals, birds, insects, pretty much anything you can think of.  The last time I was in tattoo shop was 5 ½ years ago and I definitely don’t remember roses being everywhere, so it must be a new thing.  This has led me to the conclusion that it must be because of Cheryl’s super massive bunch of arse roses.

When I started getting tattoos 20 years ago, they were something that marked you out as different.  They were the preserve of metallers, punks and sailors.  People stared at you if you had your tats out, especially if you were a girl who weighed 7 stone soaking wet and had a massive tattoo at the bottom of her back of a red and black spider with hairy legs.  And almost exclusively wore crop tops.  Over the last 20 years, it has become more socially acceptable, in England anyway, to have them.  Aaron Chalmers from Geordie Shore has had £8000 pounds worth of work done.  Here’s a picture of him, because if you’re anything like me, you won’t have the first clue who he is either.


I’m sure you will agree that’s some pretty epic artwork. He even has the Cheryl arse roses.  He has two full sleeves too.  I should point out now that I don’t watch Geordie Shore, or the American alternative, Jersey Shore.  I also don’t like to be negative about anyone on the internet, mainly because I pride myself on not being anonymous and I’m pretty scared of being arrested for my big mouth.  So I will let copy and paste the biography I found on www.heatworld.com and you lovely readers can make up your own mind about him.

Super-amazing totally interesting fact first off… He’s 26 years old He’s had over £8,000 worth of tattoos done, and you can see just a few of them poking out of his hoody. We’d like some topless pics please MTV, only so that we can see more of his body art.  He’s already really good mates with Gary.  In fact he’s such good friends with Gaz that he thinks they’d make “the dream pulling machine”. Er, isn’t that what Scott is there for? In series two he gave (and we quote the press release) Holly the “ride of her life”! We think that means they’ve shagged.  Oh, yes, it definitely does – on a night out in Aberdeen they hooked up again and Aaron claims that Holly was “just as loud and wild as he remembers”. Thanks for sharing that. He knows basically everyone in Newcastle because he used be a topless host.  His days as a topless host helped him wrack up a few hundred notches on the bedpost.  He’s described a cheeky chappy, a massive player and apparently everybody loves him. We’re not sure if “everybody” loves him as much as he loves himself though. His Twitter is @AaronCGShore, but so far he hasn’t actually tweeted anything.

So, erm, yeah. The tattoos do not maketh the man is the lesson we should all take away from that I think. He is very much a mainstream personality though and he is covered in tattoos. He’s not on his own. A long time ago, by this I mean ten years ago, there was only Robbie Williams and David Beckham who were extensively tattooed. Now everyone from Ed Sheeran to Justin Bieber via Tom Hardy and that feller from Maroon 5 are sporting full sleeves and massive chest pieces. These are mainstream personalities that people look up to and try and emulate. They have chosen to have tattoos. Therefore, by the tattoos very existence on them, tattooing has become part of the mainstream. Something that only existed to mark you out as different, a part of an underground movement, a member of the forces or someone who has spent time in prison, has been pushed out into the open.

So on the left; we have Cheryl and the walking penis that is Aaron Chambers, mainstream personalities with tattoos. But what about underground personalities with tattoos that become part of the mainstream because of the way they look?

Rick Genest, or Zombie Boy, will be familiar to many because of his appearance in the video for Born This Way by Lady Gaga in 2010. I recognised him from the 2010 edition of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not annual that my husband bought for my birthday that year, where they gave him a full page spread. He has modelled for numerous designers, including Thierry Mugler, and appeared in an advert for L’Oreal’s Dermablend. This advert is interesting to me on many different levels. Here’s the link if you have never seen it. Watch it. NOW.


I’d never heard of Dermablend cover up make up before this advert. The first level of interest for me was my own. I didn’t realise what the point of the advert was, and I sure as hell didn’t recognise him sitting there. Apart from 2 piercings, he is Daily Mail “normal”. I use the words Daily Mail completely derogatorily. The people who regularly tell me that I will regret my tattoos when I get older would probably have a problem with the piercings, but let’s face it; he could take those out if he wanted to. To be honest, I thought, another skinny model, looking all pissed off into the camera; I hope somebody buys him a square meal before he passes out in the chair. Then he wiped his face and I recognised him straight away. I wasn’t shocked by the tattoos; I was shocked by his appearance with the makeup on. The difference is startling. I thought the advert was a really good advert. In the true sense of what an advert should be.   Dermablend is cover up make up, used by actors, people with scars and birth marks, and people with Vitiligo. If I needed anything covering up, I would use this. I wish L’Oreal would use the same advertising technique with shampoo. Because I’m worth it? Nah, it’s because your hair needs a wash, you’re not allergic to it and the shampoo doesn’t smell offensive. You could have a woman with fantastic looking hair, and then play the advert backwards until she looks like her hair hasn’t been washed in a week.   That is the shampoo version of this advert. It would make me buy the shampoo. Put it this way, the white horses didn’t make me buy Guinness just as the red Santa at Christmas doesn’t make me buy Coke. If you don’t tell me what the product does or how well it does it, I’m not really interested. I know how Guinness and Coke taste, that’s why I buy one regularly and don’t really buy the other at all. Before anyone says, L’Oreal shampoo will make your hair look like Cheryl’s, it won’t. Read the small print. She has hair extensions in. Which means even Cheryl’s hair doesn’t look like that until an army of hairdressers gets their hands on it. Basically the whole advert is a lie. This is what most adverts are, lies to get us to buy stuff. I think Dermablend advert is the way it is because not many people buy it, and those that do are buying it for a reason. They need to use real people, with real skin “problems” to prove how good it is.

Not that I’m saying tattoos are real skin problems. Watch further on YouTube, and there are people with real skin problems who do use it.

So on the right hand side, storming into the middle; we have Rick Genest who has broken through to the mainstream, even though now, I would presume, he has at least 90% of his body tattooed, if not more. And if what I’ve read on the internet so far is true, I must admit I feel a bit sorry for him. Because it seems to me that the poor chap can’t win with anyone. A lot of blogs from the alternative side of life say he’s a sell out (a term which I detest, by the way), a lot of fashion bloggers say he’s a passing fad, that fashion likes to think it’s edgy and cool but if it wasn’t for Nicloa Formichetti finding him on Facebook, no one would know who he was. Basically, his career will be short lived. Personally, I’ve always thought that models are only living, breathing coat hangers. They exist, especially on runways, to make you aware of how clothes would look on a mannequin that could walk around. That’s why they are all so skinny, and young. And if you look at the modelling world in that frame of mind, Rick Genest is a terrible model. He’s skinny, but they way he looks distracts from his sole purpose on the runway, to make you look at the clothes. Because we aren’t, we are looking at him. If you take the Dermablend model of advertising, if you have 90% of your body covered in tattoos, you are not advertising the clothes, you are advertising yourself. Maybe that’s the point. Or maybe I’m missing the point, not knowing the first thing about the fashion world.

Please let me make it clear that I know a lot of things about a wide range of subjects, but fashion is not one of them. I am completely oblivious. I wear comfortable clothes that suit my shape and I have no clue what this season’s trend is. I might do when it’s out of fashion, and on sale, but by that time, I will have missed the boat by at least 6 months. One of my closest friends says it doesn’t matter, that I could buy a ten thousand pound Gucci dress and still team it with New Rock boots so I would look like me in it. Put it this way, my best buy recently was from Primark when I picked up a jumper the supervisor told me was a pound and non returnable because it was covered in holes. Get in. I don’t have to be paranoid about the cat sitting on me if you’re going to sell it to me with holes in. It is now my work jumper, my home jumper, it’s really warm and it fits over my knees when I’m watching TV. What more do you need from a jumper?

I also love the weird and macabre side of life. There was a book in my middle school library about witchcraft which always looked like it was a really popular book due to the number of stamps in the front of it. It was only popular with one person; I took it out about 25 times. I remember pouring over pictures of Matthew Hopkins, The Witch Finder General and learning how to spot a witch, medieval style. I’ve subscribed to Fortean Times for at least 15 years, and it’s the only magazine I read cover to cover every month. I remember as a teenager going to an exhibition at Cartwright Hall in Bradford about death, and it was the most uplifting, life affirming thing I’ve ever seen. My dad took me and my brother to see the Anatomical Exhibition at Blackpool’s Louis Tussards, where we saw syphilitic penises, foetuses in jars and a replica of the Elephant Mans bones.  Ironically, it was shut down in 2009 for not being family friendly.

So I should probably empathise more with Rick than I do with Cheryl, purely because of my outlook on life. When people ask Rick what his life is like back home, whether he fits in, he says yes. All his friends have tattoos, he comes from a punk background, he makes the point that normalcy is such a subjective state; it probably shouldn’t even be used as a word in normal, everyday language. A quote that has stuck in my head from one of his videos is “I look on the outside the way I feel on the inside.” He is marking himself out as different. And let’s face it; most of us “freaks” have been like this for a long time. We are used to teenagers laughing at us at bus stops, shouting things at us, getting abuse outside clubs from drunk, normal guys. Someone shouted Mosher at me out of a car a while ago and it made me feel nostalgic. But I think it must be a new experience for Cheryl.

Every interview I’ve seen with her recently has asked her more questions about her arse roses than the music that she’s trying to promote. This has to be a new experience for her. How much did it cost? How long did it take? Did it hurt? That question, by the way, is the most insulting, patronising question you can ask someone with tattoos. That and the statement “you’ll regret that when you’re older.” Two words. Isobel Varley. Google her. Not that it’s hurt Cheryl’s music, as I write this, I think her single has hit number one. So I actually feel more sympathy for Cheryl than Rick. Rick’s probably got used to the questions, if, like me, he’s been getting them for 20 years, you tend to have stock answers you trot out. After watching a Graham Norton video, I was cringing. I felt so sorry for Cheryl. Two blokes on a sofa going on about her arse, one of them Don Johnson!!

Tattoos have become part of the mainstream, but there are a certain section of people who haven’t quite caught up with mainstream and are still living in some weird 1940’s version of our country where everyone looks the same, acts the same and hates anyone who is remotely different. Either that, or Graham Norton was pandering to the football fan coming home pissed from the pub who really wants to see Cheryl’s naked arse. Whichever way, it made me feel uncomfortable. I wish I’d been sat on that sofa, I would have said something to him. I felt like she needed someone to stick up for her.

But the main thing that connects these two seemingly unconnectable people is why they have tattoos. As a child, Rick Genest was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour, the removal of which, few people had survived without life changing disabilities. He did. Cheryl caught malaria in 2010, following a trip to Tanzania, and at one point was given 24 hours to live. After this, she decided to make a “fuck it list,” one of the things on this list was to get a massive tattoo. I can relate. I have tattoos that remind me of every major thing that has happened in my life; fortunately none of them have included a brush with death. If I ever have one, the tattoo shop will be the first place I’ll go when I’ve recovered. Life’s for living. You don’t want to be lying on your deathbed regretting everything you haven’t done. It is much better to regret things you have done. Every tattoo is only temporary anyway. We are all slowly dying. Unless someone is going to flay you after death, and hang your skin in an art gallery, to preserve you for future generations.

This is an idea I must look into.

So Cheryl’s at one end of the spectrum, Zombie Boy at the other but they will both end up, I think somewhere in the middle. Subcultures are “the ideas, art, and way of life of a group of people within a society, which are different from the ideas, art and way of life of the rest of society.” Tattoos were the way people marked themselves to signify that they were part of a subculture. Or at least not part of the regular culture. Now surely the meaning of them has changed. Perhaps to mark ourselves as different, we should have them all removed and let Justin Bieber get on with it on his own. Or become more extreme. I’m not sure what the solution is, or even if a solution is needed. One thing I do know though is that it has taken the fashion world years to embrace other forms of beauty other than the ones they have made us believe are beautiful since the 1960’s. Shaun Ross is another notable example of a model that does not adhere to fashion’s own rules as to what is beautiful. Now they need to do it with female models. They need to make women on the runways more than an American size zero; they could try amputees, pregnant models, women with tattoos. Honestly, women with boobs and arse would be a start. Or perhaps the fashion world is another subculture, and one that I’m quite happy not to be a part of. They have their own set of rules I’m not privy to.

So if subcultures become the culture over time, what becomes of subcultures?  Are we all just assimilated into one big, homogenous mass of sameness?  Or will something else sneak up on us and become weird?  If it is a true subculture, will we even know anything about it until it breaks through into the mainstream?  Will we even be able to refer to it as such?  I don’t know.  I’ll carry on listening to Slipknot and Nine Inch Nails and reading the True History of the Elephant Man while pondering why I would have to buy a ticket to the Pleasure Beach at Blackpool just to go to the Ripley’s Odditorium.  I hate roller coasters.






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