Covered from head to toe with tattoos, French school teacher Sylvain Helaine (35) is easy to single out in a crowd. He recalls getting looks from others who react as if he’s some sort of freak. The tattooed eyeballs probably don’t help…
However, when these strangers get to meet him, they find themselves disarmed by his openness and friendly demeanor – an experience shared by numerous primary school students during his many years of teaching. That is, until recently, when Sylvain was fired after parents complained that their child was frightened by his appearance and had nightmares as a result.
Body modification is practiced in cultures all over the world. It’s arguably the most personal form of art as the artists use their own bodies as a canvas. They expand the notion of what the human body can be, and also what it can tolerate.
While society’s acceptance of body modifications has improved, there is still much progress to be had. This can in part be attributed to what we deem to be body modifications and the type of people who seek them out. Some choose to fit into the mold of conventional beauty standards (i.e. botox, hair implants, hell even orthodontics), whereas some people like Sylvain choose to stand out. The feeling that connects them both is feeling comfortable in one’s own skin. Too often do people feel inadequate for the things they can’t change about their appearance, like their height or weight. So why do we shun those like Sylvain who make the effort to be original and unique?
Tattooing is often considered an artform that attracts outsiders. We could argue if the origins of these labels are placed by society or the individual, but tattoo artists and their canvases have embraced it nonetheless. If society calls us thugs, punks, and freaks then that’s cool. Once something is deemed cool, people learn more about it, it becomes normalized, and is sold to middle school kids at Urban Outfitters on a t-shirt.
Pick out any interview with Sylvain, and you will discover a man whose goal is to improve the lives of others and break down widespread prejudice. Having people like him in a classroom can provide a safe, teachable moment to shed stigmas at an early age – a valuable learning opportunity that doesn’t require excessive amounts of student debt. Looking to get inked?Here’s some Los Angeles tattoo artists instagram accounts you can check out.
Did you know it was a Latino prisoner who changed the tattoo game?