ACT News


Pageant for the heavily inked hopes to redefine the 'riff-raff'

She's a busy woman, but Dielle Barnes' sleeves don't roll up.

On Saturday, between work and study and volunteering, the 26-year-old will compete in her second Miss Ink Australia competition at The Basement in Belconnen.

While the competition is based on the format of a traditional pageant – swimsuits, formal wear, Q&As – Miss Inks must be tattooed to participate. They are judged on tattoo quality and quantity, outfits, personality and stage presence.

"I see it as the whole mantra," Ms Barnes says of her ink. "Like, God created us with a blank canvas and when I die I want my body to tell a story. Things I liked, things I did."

But there is a trade-off to the permanent, visible painting of that blank canvas: being heavily tattooed is "still a bit taboo".

"People just look at you like you're riff-raff, you know what I mean? I have received a lot of  judgment," she says.


She has a full sleeve on her right arm, a half sleeve on her left,  and the right side of her thigh and half of her back are tattooed.

She was first inked at 18 and remembers a time when she was in the tattoo studio every three weeks. "Definitely, it's a work in progress," she says.

Despite the seeming ubiquity of tattoos, the heavily inked remain a rarity. More than half of Australians have one tattoo, while only 8 per cent have more than five, a 2013 McCrindle survey showed.

Miss Ink Australia was founded in 2009 by Canberra-born Fallon Nicole, in part to dislodge the stereotypes faced by the tattooed.

The competition is in three rounds: day wear, swimsuit and formal wear.

Ms Barnes said she had yet to decide on her outfits, save for a red, sequined, floor-length gown she picked up through a local fashion exchange group on Facebook.

She can't name a single tattoo inspiration – one of the questions asked of competitors last year – but dedications to family members are scattered across her skin and an appreciation of design contributed to her other pieces.

On paper, she is anything but "riff-raff". The social work student and Marymead volunteer also works for the family hospitality business and in the evenings runs a home hair and spray tanning salon.

"I like to keep busy. I have a lot of things I want to do in my life."

The winner of the Canberra heat of Miss Ink will go to the national final, also in Canberra, in November.