For some people tattoos are a form of expression, it could be an intricate piece of art or a symbol of something important or personal to them.

There are lots of reasons why people have tattoos but even in 2021 there is still some stigma despite the rise in popularity.

Tattooing is a type of artform with a deep-rooted history - it's a modern, evolving and often very personal form of expression.

In an age where we're constantly encouraging people to be kind it's important to remember there is always a person behind the tattoo, and often there is a lot of hidden meaning behind specific designs.

Josh pictured at the shop
The barbershop encourages men to open up about mental health

Josh Downes, 26, experienced abuse for having tattoos after WalesOnline told the story about his barbershop in Pontypridd.

In April the business owner talked openly about his barbershop, The Lost Boys Club, which is more than just your average barbers. It also supports local men in the area by helping them to open up about mental health, as well as offering them essential access to counselling. The barbershop hasn't only developed a good reputation for cutting hair, but has also gained respect for the dedicated work it does in getting more young men to talk about all sorts of issues. You can read more about that here.

But after Josh opened up about his own mental health, and the ethos behind the business, he was sent a copy of the article in WalesOnline's sister title the Pontypridd and Llantrisant Observer to the shop. It was covered in handwritten abuse. Despite all the hard work he's done, most of the comments were about his tattoos.

The abusive writer called Josh "gruesome" and said his tattoos "look like skin disease".

They wrote: "I'd have to wear dark glasses so I can't see you in the mirror. Tattoos look like skin disease. Neck tattoos look gruesome. They would scare people especially kids. Big mistake. Stupid"

Josh said: "All I can say is it's madness as you see so many people with tattoos now.

"It's crazy really as it was the first time anything like this had happened to me. I get looks when I go shopping to Tesco, but that's because people look closer."

The abuse was written on the newspaper article and sent to the shop

The barber had his first tattoo when he was 18, and has continued to get inked over the years, but the only reason he has tattoos is because he wants them.

"I have tattoos for myself," he said. "My face tattoo - that's actually my son's date of birth. A lot of them are meaningful and a lot of them are just because I like them and I like tattoos."

Josh said a lot of male barbers have tattoos, but he understands some employers in different industries may have specific rules around them and having them on show. Although he thinks this may change in the future due to the fact that so many people now have tattoos.

He added: "People may not have as many as me, but I think they would struggle to get staff if they want to have people without them.

"When I was younger I was working for a drainage firm and I had a hand tattoo and somebody said someone passed comment in the office about it. At the time I just laughed because I think everybody had a tattoo. How can you discriminate?"

Josh has had tattoos since he was 18-year-old
Josh dressed in full PPE as he works on a client

Josh said over the last few weeks he has spoken to a lot of his customers about the issue, and he said it's actually some of his older clients who have been more disgusted by the language used. People have been shocked to see the staff being ridiculed for simply having tattoos.

"I do find it hard to believe that somebody hates them that much," said Josh.

"I couldn't really believe that somebody would do that. I don't think it would bother most people. It's just one of those things.

"If you really didn't like a tattoo - it's 2021 - you could get rid of a tattoo if you wanted to."

South Wales Police has confirmed an investigation is now underway after a complaint was made by the proprietor of The Lost Boys Barber shop in Pontypridd after he had received an anonymous letter in the post. A spokesman for the force said the incident occurred in April and an investigation is ongoing.

Read more about the local news in your area:

On the same high street in Pontypridd town centre you'll find a tattoo artist who is also trying to make a big difference through her work.

As a Miss Wales contestant Emily Norris said she understands that people might be surprised by her job.

Emily, 26, she said this often leads to stereotyping her in a different way but she's determined to make the point that it's OK to have an alternative look.

She has worked at Podges Tattoo Parlour for around two-and-a-half years. After completing her training, she's now fully qualified and absolutely loves what she does. Even though she's immensely passionate about her work she said she knows she doesn't look like your stereotypical tattoo artist.

She has a few tattoos, but she doesn't have areas of her body covered. A few years ago she was crowned Miss Rhondda Cynon Taf after competing in Miss Wales, and she's set to compete in the Welsh beauty contest again later this year.

Emily is a talented tattooist but, she said, what's interesting for her is even though she works in the industry she often gets comments like "you don't look like a tattoo artist" because her tattoos are minimal.

Emily Norris, 26, is a tattoo artist from Pontypridd

"I get told I don't look like a tattoo artist - it's stereotyped the same - it's the same label," she said.

When asked how having tattoos can impact on modelling, she said: "If you are tattooed you are labelled as an alternative model. It's a grey area. If you have one you can get away with it and cover it.

"I have done quite a lot of wedding dress modelling and they normally don't like tattoos for that.

"The last time I competed I wasn't actually a tattooist. I have never been told it's not desirable.

"By doing Miss Wales I am hoping to be a role model figure for girls who may be a little different to show that appearance is a minor part of being able to make a difference.

"A very good friend once said to me 'to challenge the status quo, you have to turn up' so I can’t wait to represent those of us who may not fit the mould."

Emily said some brands realise that a lot more people have tattoos nowadays, so some don't mind them being on show to try and convey the image of a more modern day, realistic woman but generally a lot of couture shoots ask for models without.

The young tattoo artist has a few tattoos including one on her shin and another on her wrist. Emily said she loves her tattoos, and she loves what she does, but she wouldn't cover her body in them - simply because she doesn't want to.

"I love my tattoos and they are a part of me," Emily said. "I love what I do and it's amazing to be able to show my skills. I have always loved the industry. I always watched shows like Miami Ink and LA Ink, but I never thought I would be able to be a tattooist because I had that picture in my mind. I was unhappy in an old work place and that was the change then - I decided to just go for it."

Emily at work in the studio
Emily also competes in modelling competitions like Miss Wales

Emily had trained in art before going into the profession, and did a lot of work with 3D art. When she decided she was going to make her dream a reality she walked into Podges Tattoos in Pontypridd and told the team about her background. Now she's making people happy by doing what she loves the most.

"It's such an accepting industry and everyone was so welcoming. It's an amazing profession to be in - I love it," she said.

Emily said tattoos aren't just pictures painted on a body. For some people, they offer an expression of love and grief and can help with the loss of loved ones.

Emily said: "For a lot of people it can be a form of recovery or a way of dealing with grief.

"On the first day after lockdown I did a tattoo with someone's ashes and she had ashes tattooed in her. It's such a positive artform. That was a big part of why I wanted to go into it.

"It's something that should be shared. If It can make someone smile then that makes my day."

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Emily is also training to be able to carry out 3D nipple tattooing. She's training to be able to help women who have had to undergo a mastectomy to use tattooing as a way to help them reconstruct the nipple area of the breast.

She said this process helps a lot of women to regain confidence after undergoing such a life-changing procedure.

Emily said: "People who have lost their breasts or the nipple, we'll be able to reconstruct the nipple through the art of tattooing.

"They feel like they get to reclaim their femininity and independence again, and if I feel I can make a difference like that then that's great."

Rie Lowe owns Miss Rie's Tattoo Studio in Newport

For tattoo artist Rie Lowe, she said she has always felt accepted when it comes to her tattoos.

Rie, 36, has ran Miss Rie's Tattoo Studio for the best part of 10 years and said she's never experienced strong abuse. She thinks this is because Newport is a really diverse and vibrant area and, generally, people are accepting of each other's creativity.

Rie said she felt like there was a gender divide when she first opened the business, as some men would say things like: "Why are you opening a studio? You should be working for somebody else."

She added: "I can think of one comment from an older man who said I like them (tattoos) on men, but I don't think females should have them."

After tattoo parlours were allowed the reopen after the coronavirus lockdown, Rie believes the industry has been booming and she is booked up for the rest of the year.