She just wanted a tattoo of her favorite animal.
Ontario-based Courtney Monteith reached out to a tattoo artist she admired about getting a design on her arm of a fox surrounded by flowers. Suddenly, she was out a few thousand dollars with no tattoo. She posted the drama on TikTok and has since amassed millions of views and thousands of comments from those who agree she was wronged.
The internet, and especially TikTok in recent years, has taken venting to the next level. When we feel we’ve been given the short end of the stick, we seek out those who will tell us we’re right, experts explain, and in viral videos, people are able to find thousands of people who will agree with them. Those following what has been dubbed #TattooGate are enthralled by the drama in part because humans are hardwired to be social and take sides depending on who they most identify with.
“When you feel like you are getting scammed, there’s usually a sense of powerlessness,” says Andrea Bonior, a clinical psychologist and host of the “Baggage Check: Mental Health Talk and Advice” podcast. “Posting about it often tries to reverse that: giving you validation when people agree that you were wronged.”
What happened with TikTok’s #TattooGate?
“I wanted a tattoo by this artist who I love, who’s very talented,” Monteith began her first video. “This has nothing to do with her talent as a tattoo artist, just the business practices that I’ve dealt with.”
Monteith paid $180 for consultation appointment with a tattoo artist, whom she did not name. She said she wanted a half-upper arm sleeve featuring a fox with flowers and shared photos of two similar designs featuring a fox’s full body.
The artist, Monteith said, gave her three options for design fees, ranging from $1,500 for one sketch and the ability to make one minor change, to $6,000 for multiple sketches and several changes. That didn’t include the price of actually getting the tattoo, and Monteith said she wasn’t aware there would be a separate fee for design but went ahead and chose the least expensive option.
Then came the concept sketch, which Monteith said was “nothing like what I sent her, nothing like what I wanted.” It featured only the front half of a fox and many more flowers than were in the inspiration photos she had shared. But the artist said the option she paid for didn’t offer a new sketch, so she’d need to pay an additional $1,695 to continue workshopping the design.
“She said it was my fault that I wasn’t clear that I wanted a full fox,” Monteith said, showing the two reference images she sent, both of which prominently featured full foxes in the same position. “I didn’t think I had to say that I wanted a full fox.”
Monteith shared screenshots of their several emails back and forth, which grew increasingly contentious: The artist said the design fees were optional to begin with; Monteith said she was never given that option. Monteith asked for her tattoo appointment deposit back; the artist declined and accused Monteith of making “nasty” comments.
Monteith said she initially posted the video to get advice. Since then, others have responded with similar stories of feeling “scammed” out of thousands of dollars by a person who they believe is the same tattoo artist.
Monteith said in a follow-up video about the artist, “She can charge what she wants, she can value her time, that is her prerogative. I just do feel validated (that TikTok viewers agree) that I wasn’t given what I was expecting and she wasn’t upfront with the cost and the options I could have gone with.”
Why the tattoo ignited so much drama
People on the internet often appreciate being able to connect with others in a shared frustration over an argument in which they’ve taken the same side.
“This builds allies and alliances that empower the individual posting their issue,” says Cheyenne Bryant, a life coach who has been seen on “Teen Mom: Family Reunion” and has a Ph.D. in counseling psychology. “It enables them to increase momentum and aids them in building a culture around the issue. It can also be cathartic for them: making them feel as though they have a support system and are not alone.”
Monteith said it herself: In receiving an overwhelming amount of support online, she felt validated.
“Not only are people sharing their views but these views are supported and amplified by the masses,” Smriti Joshi, a licensed clinical psychologist and chief psychologist at mental health app Wysa, previously told USA TODAY. “Because of this, whether the view is positive or negative, the users feel justified in their voice as people continuously like, share and join in on these thoughts, almost turning it into a sort of campaign. Then it’s really about winning.”
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