'For a word it has a lot of meaning:' Why one Hedley fan covered her tattoo

Staring at her Hedley tattoo one last time, Sabrina Johnston is ready to erase everything it represents. She takes a glimpse at the black ink that reads 'Invincible,' the title of a Hedley song many fans consider among their most resonant. Johnston wants her tattoo of it gone forever.

Toronto tattoo artist offers to conceal Hedley ink for nominal price or free, if fans can't afford it

Inside a Toronto tattoo parlour, former Hedley fan Sabrina Johnston is ready to erase everything that her tattoo represents. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

Staring at her Hedley tattoo one last time, Sabrina Johnston is ready to erase everything it represents.

Inside a Toronto tattoo parlour, she twists her wrist around for a glimpse at the black ink marking that reads: "Invincible." It's the title of a Hedley song many fans consider among their most resonant — a story of moving past the darkest times — and Johnston wants it gone forever.

Johnston chose the word invincible partly as an homage to a Hedley song but also symbolize her perseverance through earlier, emotionally trying experiences. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

"It has a lot of meaning," the 20-year-old says, explaining why she chose the word three years ago. Partly an homage to a Hedley anthem, she also considered it a symbol of her perseverance through several emotionally trying experiences as a teenager.

"But a lot of people associate it with a Hedley song," she adds. "And that's not what I want now."

Hedley's lead singer Jacob Hoggard was accused of sexual misconduct earlier this year, and while his lawyer denied any wrongdoing, the singer acknowledged his "reckless" and "dismissive" behaviour towards women in the past.

Hedley has been under fire since sexual misconduct allegations against singer Jacob Hoggard began surfacing in February. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

None of it sat well with Johnston, who asked herself whether she was comfortable with the message her tattoo sent.

"I can separate the music," Johnston says. "But at the same time, people in my life have gone through things like that, so I couldn't support that [with my tattoo]."

Over the past several weeks, Johnston has been considering how to deal with her once celebratory tattoo, which had become a festering representation of negativity.

She read a social media post by a tattoo artist offering to conceal Hedley ink for a nominal price — or free if fans couldn't afford to pay.

Johnston decided it was a prime opportunity to make the ultimate choice and cover her tattoo. She booked an appointment with Lizzie Renaud, the owner of Speakeasy Tattoo, and drove an hour and a half from Cambridge, Ont., to downtown Toronto.

Upstairs in Renaud's shop, her colleagues buzz away on their own designs, but she's firmly stuck to a promise of finding space in her schedule to overwrite Hedley markings.

Tattoo artist Lizzie Renaud, left, outlines a design on Johnston before covering up her Hedley-inspired tattoo. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

After making the offer several weeks ago, she's received about a dozen serious expressions of interest. This will be the third Hedley cover-up she's completed this month.

The attention she's received for her offer is more than she anticipated. It hasn't all been positive, but Renaud says she's committed to delivering on her promise.

'A very practice-what-you-preach moment'

The idea sprung from conversations with her female colleagues around Christmas last year, as the ripples of the #MeToo movement began affecting the tattooing community.

The group settled on the idea of drafting a "client bill of rights," or a written commitment between a tattoo shop and its customers that she says prioritizes inclusivity and respect in the business transaction.

Conversations shifted towards the idea that some tattoos should be offered on a sliding price scale — pay what you can, or even free — under special circumstances. For example, they decided a sexual assault survivor should have a right to cover tattoos that trigger bad memories, and a breast cancer survivor should be able to request nipple tattoos to help restore their appearance.

Renaud, owner of Speakeasy Tattoo in Toronto, covers over Johnston's Hedley-inspired tattoo. (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

As the tattoo artists continued to formulate their idea, Renaud said the accusations towards Hoggard started appearing on social media. It immediately caught her attention.

More than a decade earlier, Renaud worked alongside Hedley as a make-up artist for their Gunnin' music video, where she designed a number of fake tattoos that became animated in post-production.

In the years that followed, Renaud says she maintained a friendship with Hoggard, sometimes meeting him for dinner and parties. They had drifted apart recently, though their paths crossed at occasional music industry events.

"When I heard the allegations against Jacob, I was instantly aware that the friendship was over," she says.

But the vivid details of some women's accounts were hard to shake, she says, partly because she was sexually assaulted by another tattoo artist several years ago.

Renaud was driven to Twitter to make a public offer to cover-up any tattoos linked with Hedley. The feedback was mixed, as some Hedley fans questioned her motives. Renaud says it didn't sway her resolve.

"It was a very practice-what-you-preach moment," she says. "In my mind, this was a smaller thing in a bigger conversation I have every single day about reducing harm."

"I feel like a lot of these Hedley fans are saying this is for me to get attention. But when somebody gives me an opportunity to drown them out with a positive message about support and advocacy for survivors then I will gladly take that moment."

Two hours later, Johnston's new look is ready to be revealed. She walks over to a mirror and holds her arm up to see her reflection.

'I don't want to go back,' Johnston says. 'I'm moving forward.' (Chris Young/Canadian Press)

A smile forms across her face as she studies the detail on a colourful bed of flowers blossoming above her old tattoo. Without a hint of what's buried underneath, Johnston says she feels an instant wave of relief wash over her.

"It's closing a chapter, in a sense, because I don't want to go back," she says.

"I'm moving forward."

Clarification: A story that ran on The National on March 1 showed photos of a New Brunswick woman's Hedley tattoos, and implied she was interested in having them removed. She has no such intention.