Tattooed model and college graduate Dani Oxman lives and breathes her artistic commitments in every aspect of her life, proving that despite a double standard with gender equality in the tattoo world, a girl with her whole body covered can still be considered a lady
Text: John Jarasa I Photos: Andy Hartmark
Making her way through the urban grime and filth of the underbelly of Chicago, Dani Oxman walks tall. Proud, sexy, and confident, her beauty is a constant juxtaposition in an otherwise cold and unforgiving setting. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and is currently pursuing a cosmetology degree. Her voice evinces the girl-next-door charm of boyhood fantasy. Equal parts Winnie Cooper and Gidget, this self-described “princess” is one whom any young man would be proud and lucky to call his. While Dani’s identity can be found in Anytown, USA, her looks cannot. With a powerful beauty and the majority of her body heavily covered in tattoos, she certainly doesn’t look like the girl next door, at least not in the traditional sense. Maybe this is why she is the subject of much attention, both good and bad, from the opposite sex. “I think it’s a fantasy for them. I don’t look like the girl they bring home to mommy,” Dani explains.
If only these men knew who she really was they’d know why the eyes, rather than the tattoos, which are constantly perceived as the open door into Dani’s world, are the windows to the soul.
Raised in Arizona, this fierce beauty is the progeny of Connie Jo Kosky, a hardworking and dedicated woman who has constantly given her daughter the love that so few parents bestow on their children these days. “My mom is my best friend. She’s the greatest thing to ever walk this earth. I’m a lucky girl,” gushes Dani, instantly shedding her confident image for one of sheer vulnerability.
The characters in one of her favorite childhood movies, Mi Vida Loca, can best exemplify the two sides to Dani. Besides the powerful-yet-vulnerable facade and the tattoo of the movie’s title phrase on her arm, Dani’s ties to the film’s lead characters, Mousie and Sad Girl, don’t end there. Much like these characters, Dani also wanted to see the world outside of the fixed lens of her immediate surroundings, which she did, shedding her desert homestead for the harsh uncertainty of Chicago’s urban sprawl.
Before you think Dani is all serious, rough chick, we should point out her lighter side. It would be safe to say Dani divides her conversations into one part confession and one part laughter. Her sense of humor is also on display in her tattoo tribute to her loving husband Marlin-a tattoo on her chest that says “Ugly,” her nickname for him. With Marlin by her side, Chicago also blessed Dani with the other love of her life: her dogs. “I rescue pit bulls. I’ve rescued three of them: Penny, Ramona, and I had a baby boy named Brixton, but he had to be put down because of a tumor in his throat. We fully support the Chicago Bully Breed Rescue. There are so many dogs out there that are mistreated and in need of homes, and this organization does a great job of placing them. Bully breeds are the most loyal breeds; they just want your love and a chance to spend time with you.”
Of all the symbolic images in Dani’s life, it is the connection to pit bulls that probably best summarizes her unique perspective on life. The breed’s rugged beauty and power, coupled with society’s preconceived notions regarding their vicious behavior, have left them as outcasts in a world of good intentions. Dani’s struggle is similar, as she fights for respect and empowerment in an environment where female beauty is expected to be demure, submissive, and soft. “I actually do have a brain,” Dani laughs, while trying to hide the frustration of her struggle to be taken seriously.
Her frustration is just; tattoo culture is often a reminder that, to paraphrase James Brown, this is a man’s world. Well look out, James-I think we just found our Helen Reddy.
Where were you raised? Did you find tattoo culture around you?
I grew up In Tucson, Arizona. I worked at a pizza place when I was 14, and it was next door to a tattoo shop. The guys that worked there were so cool, so I’d go in there and admire their work from time to time. I decided that when I was 18, I would get my first tattoo, which I did, and I’ve continued ever since.
Does your family support your tattoo work?
Oh no. My mom cries every single time I get a tattoo [laughs]! She always says, “You’re ruining your body. What are you doing?” She did actually like the tattoo of her name, but she thought the portrait of my grandma was creepy. Portraits can be tricky: If they’re done well, they’re phenomenal, but if they’re not done to a tee they’re creepy. I mean how upset would you be if people can’t even tell who it is?
Did you have any fears that your tattoos would be negatively received in your life?
I was really fearful in college that my professors would judge me. I ended up getting my bachelor’s degree in journalism and I’m currently enrolled in cosmetology school, so getting the degree wasn’t the problem. I worked at a newspaper for a little over a year with a circulation of over 225,000. I was a copy editor, and it was a phenomenal job. I really think I wouldn’t have lost it had I not been so heavily tattooed. They went on a hiring freeze, but I still think my tattoos were a problem. I may not ever be able to get a serious journalism job with my tattoos, even though I have my degree in the field.
Do you receive negative attention for your tattoos outside the professional world as well?
To this day, I get treated like a piece of meat a lot. People grab me, they touch me. It’s more like I’m an oddity or a novelty act to them. A lot of men think that they can just come up and grab my arm, and turn me around like “let me see your tattoos.” Would they do that to someone without tattoos? Probably not, so sometimes it sucks.
Do you think tattooed women are looked upon differently than men who have tattoos?
I think it is different for men and women. It’s so much more common for men to be heavily tattooed than women. For women to wear it and be classy, it’s such a new thought. Everyone associates it with “biker babes” or being “somebody’s old lady.” Not that there is anything wrong with that, but it’s so much different to have high-quality work, which I’m so fortunate to have.
How has this attention affected your relationship with your husband? Are you gawked at while he’s around?
Oh, constantly! Oh my god. I don’t want to come off like “Damn, I’m a babe,” but we cannot walk down the street without someone honking at me or being rude to me or trying to touch me because of my tattoos. It’s almost as if I’m not walking with my 6’3″ husband next to me; the men don’t even care. It’s the most annoying thing I’ve ever been privy too. We try to blow it off, but I think one day my husband is just going to snap and somebody is going to get their ass beat [laughs].
What artists have tattooed you?
I’d say about 98% of my work is done by a guy named Jim Quinn over at Isteari Studios in Tucson. He’s phenomenal. Jim is a master of so many things, but his script is so intricate, so I had him put “honor” across my stomach. I love it. Anything he’s done for me still comes off so feminine, no matter the size of the piece. I think that’s so important for a girl, because it’s hard not to have big tattoos that come off so masculine.
What other pieces do you have?
I have a portrait of my grandma on my forearm. My back piece is the girl in the martini glass, my entire back is that design; it’s huge. I have roses on my left arm, cherry blossoms on my right. I have a nail in a coffin on my chest, which filled in the biggest gap on my body. I have a dog bone from my puppy that died. I have my mom’s name on my arm, and I have “princess” in pink tattooed on my knuckles.
How many hours have you put into your back piece?
It’s not anywhere close to being done; it will be full color when it’s finished. I would say that there’s about 50 hours in it already, and there’s probably another 150 to go with the coloring.
What do some of your tattoos represent? Are there any with special meaning?
Well, obviously my knuckle piece goes without saying [laughs]. I have my husband’s nickname tattooed over my heart. My back piece represents everything that would corrupt a man. It’s every vice that can take you down: drugs, money, liquor, women, guns, etc. I have “sweet as candy” tattooed on my ass.
How did you get into modeling?
I just got lucky. Andy Hallmark is so talented! I saw him on MySpace, and I paid him like $150 to do my first shoot, and it was just so amazing. I have only ever shot with him; he’s so gifted that anyone should be so lucky to shoot with him. I’m grateful for any opportunity I had to shoot with him, I really can’t say enough about his work. I’ve also done some work with Travis Haight, who I met through Andy.
Are there any plans for your modeling?
Only if Andy calls-I give my small modeling heart to him [laughs]. I hope my cosmetology school will get me some jobs in Chicago. I wish I had a steady hand like a tattoo artist, I’d do cosmetic tattooing, but unfortunately I’m not an artist. I’ll probably do hair and makeup though.
Looking back, do you feel that you understood the permanent nature of your obsession with ink? Do you think our society does?
All these kids are misunderstanding the commitment behind tattoos. They’re tattooing their hands and their faces and their necks-you got to earn that shit! You don’t just walk out and tattoo your face-you tattoo your entire back or your torso. Don’t start somewhere where the whole world can see it. I guarantee that you won’t love your first tattoo. My first tattoo was a nautical star on the small of my back; it sucked! I mean I was 18, and to pick a tramp stamp like that, I don’t know what I was thinking. When you’re young, you just don’t understand the commitment.
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