I've been trying to land an interview with Gia Rose since she first appeared on season eight of Ink Master. Gia was on the spin-off show, Ink Master: Angels, until health complications curtailed her ability to fly. A few months ago, I received a reply via Instagram DM. She was ready to speak!
Dan Lorenzo: I approached you years ago at a tattoo convention regarding interviewing you. I don't want to say you 'blew me off' but...
Gia Rose: I remember! [laughs]
Why are you ready to speak?
To be honest when I was on Ink Master, we were already tied up with contracts for [Ink Master] Angels, so I didn't even know what I was allowed to talk about. In general, I think my attitude [and] I think my comfort about discussing tattooing has opened up a lot more.
Were you uncomfortable speaking about yourself?
I honestly don't remember. I think [so]; back then I was going through so many different things. I had just gotten out of cancer treatment. There was just so much going on.
I totally forgot you had cancer. Are we allowed to speak about this in the interview?
Oh yeah, absolutely.
What type of cancer was it again?
I had aggressive second stage cervical cancer, so I had a radical hysterectomy, then two major surgeries.
And you had no health insurance?
Like a lot of tattooers, I had no health insurance. I was diagnosed with cancer on January 1st.
Umm... 2014. It was right as Obamacare kicked in. Cancer hospitals would not take me as a patient without an insurance number. I ended up posting about it on social media; because of that, I got help and I learned how to navigate the healthcare system. I ended up having a GoFundMe, which paid $30,000 for my surgery; it was raised pretty much by the tattoo industry and Tattoo Snob on social media. Obamacare didn’t hurt me, but the switch of the system was a mess and lack of health insurance was a nightmare.
Obamacare hurt me financially. Did it help you?
Not really. It could have potentially hurt my ability to see an oncologist because of the bureaucracy of it, but that was just because of how messed up all the systems were. If I wasn’t so proactive with my health and didn’t demand care, I may not be here today. Medical insurance in general is the devil. [laughs]
Right? [laughs] It's very hard to navigate if you don't know what you're doing; they turn you down left and right. Because of Obamacare, I couldn't just admit myself to see a doctor. You had to have an insurance number, so it hurt me in that way. Because of that, my husband and I work really hard to help tattoo artists navigate the healthcare system.
You told me your shop provides health coverage for your artists?
Yes. We worked hard for a few months with two different providers to finally get a group plan for our studio that covers our artists and their families. Health insurance is SO important after your 20s I think, and especially if you're 1099 independent contractors. We encourage our artists to run themselves like mini businesses and that means thinking of adult things like insurance, retirement, taxes, savings, etc. Tattooers don’t have that built in for them like a lot of normal jobs.
Was your leaving Ink Master: Angels health-related or something else?
I had to leave Ink Master: Angels due to my health. But in retrospect, it was the best move for me. I was a mess on that show healthwise and we didn’t even know it! I have Lymphedema from my cancer treatment. It is in my right thigh/leg and it ended up causing a ton of problems with travel/wardrobe that made filming horrible.
Filming in general is a lot of work —14 to 15-hour days on site and it was summer, so it was brutally hot where we were. Then we would do three days of filming, pack up, and fly to the next spot, then film again. That was all summer. The show was really well-run and everyone who worked on that production was amazing, but I ended up in the hospital three times in like a month, and it made a lot of problems for everyone. It was rough.
Finally, my doctors said, “Enough. No more flights.” So, I left the show and in that, I left the whole franchise. I don’t use them as credentials on any of my social media and I tend to try and stay away from it, because I just disappeared from it all. I say it was best for me, because ultimately my life path took me elsewhere and I think I was meant to be where I am right now. I think what I loved about Angels was the girls I worked with and the message we were trying to send. But when I left, that got lost in a lot of the production and with life, so ultimately, I am happy with where I diverged from it all.
What misconceptions does the public have about reality tattoo television?
That it's real. It’s a show. They are produced and edited to show you, the audience, a specific vibe. You see what they want you to see. What people say and do when taken out of context or edited down may not be what is actually real. Reality is perception and reality tv is your perception being guided for entertainment. But that’s not a bad thing, it’s just what it is.
It’s the same for contestants. It’s a job, and a good one if you know what the deal is. I had a lot of fun on Ink Master — it was like tattoo summer camp! It was really tough as well, because it’s not really how real-life tattooing is. As tattooers, we work our entire careers trying to specialize in our own style so we can be the best at it. No one does everything. Like that saying, “Jack of all trades, master of none”? That’s because it takes a lifetime to master a style. So, trying to do all this crazy tattooing for a show can actually be really hard. But that’s like legit; that’s what makes it a good show. So, in my opinion, it can give the public a false idea of what tattooing is really like, but overall, I have to say that television is television and it makes a good show! That’s just one example.
Even though you're no longer on television, this seems like a happy time in your life, right?
Absolutely! I am really glad I did TV for many reasons, but right now my life is focused on my tattooing, my art, traveling, my studio, and my next new big launch of a skincare line targeted toward tattooed individuals who want high-end products that keep their body art in mind. I also cowrote a state bill to help protect tattooing from over-regulation while keeping our health standards on the level with OSHA. I am super active with my sponsors and the new technology that’s taking tattooing into the future with wireless machines, etc. I love where tattooing is right now, and I am really really proud to be here.
Is there anything else you want our readers to know?
Keep an eye out for my new skincare line. It's going to be really cool.
Check out more work by Gia Rose on Instagram, @giarosetattoo.