Thinking about getting a tattoo? The ancient Indian art of mehndi is a great alternative to permanent ink that's needle-punched into your skin. Mehndi artists use a paste made from the henna plant to draw intricate designs on the body that are ultra-feminine and filled with mystery — and they're temporary.
"In India, henna is a big part of the culture. We do henna for every occasion to bring good fortune, good luck for the house, the people," explains Neeta Singh, a mehndi artist in Talent. "Some people do it on their back and other parts of their body, but it's most customary to apply mehndi on the hands, feet and forearms. It stays longer and looks more beautiful on the palms." Neeta draws the mehndi free hand using a small applicator that paints the henna into paisley, peacocks, flowers and leaves.
Do you regret that ink tattoo you had at some point in the past? You're not alone! The American Academy of Dermatology notes that even though the medicine of tattoo removal has improved, it's still expensive and time-consuming, and the results may not be entirely satisfactory. Dermatology and Laser Associates of Medford uses advanced laser technologies to remove cosmetic tattoos without scarring. You'll need between 3 and 30 treatments at $360 per treatment to remove your tattoo. Red and multi-colored tattoos are more difficult to treat, while amateur and black tattoos are more easily removed.
Perhaps best known as part of a traditional Indian wedding, the bride and her family and friends throw a mehndi party and are decorated with symbolic designs. "The deeper and darker the henna stains, the more likely it is that the mother-in-law will love the new daughter-in-law, and the marriage will be happy."
Here in Southern Oregon, Neeta does henna for weddings, but you'll also find her and other mehndi artists at street fairs, baby showers, birthday parties and women's events. It was at the Talent Harvest Festival last fall where Christina Hartwell met Neeta, and arranged for Neeta to do henna at her daughter's baby shower.
"I wanted it to be a really special celebration for Jeanette," Christina says. "When you're pregnant you tend to not feel, you know"¦ This was a celebration of her stomach." Hugely pregnant at seven months, Jeanette loved it. "The design enhanced the size of my stomach, it was a flower around my belly button and swelled out, a traditional henna design," she remembers. "We did it for the sheer fun of it, for the beauty."
Mehndi costs between $10 and $25, and takes 15 minutes to an hour and a half depending on the complexity of the design. A party of six will run about $125 to $150. The longer the henna stays on the skin, the darker the design will stain, so let the original henna designs stay on the skin for as long as possible by keeping it dry and intact for about 12 hours. Mehndi will last for two to three weeks, and then gradually fade.
Last summer Alissa Rae, who teaches at Ashland Pilates Center, discovered Neeta at a Jackson WellSprings festival. "Neeta did the whole top of my foot, down onto my toes because I was wearing sandals," Alissa says. "She took what seemed like mud and turned it into what looked like a quilt. I was dumbstruck; it almost vibrated, it was so neat." In the weeks to come, Alissa smiled inside every time she saw her foot, thinking it was intriguingly beautiful in the perfect Pilates movement.
Later Alissa watched Neeta draw henna on a client's hand, filling the palm and back of the whole hand in honor of the client's birthday. Neeta didn't say much, just listened and the mehndi session became an almost spiritual experience, woman to woman. "We talked about what she wanted for her birthday, what she wanted for her year," recalls Alissa. "It was like setting her intentions for the year in a way that wasn't revealing or vulnerable, just really sweet and meaningful."
Mehndi allows you to make just another day into a day to remember, to celebrate special occasions, or just celebrate yourself.
"Henna makes me feel really good, it's almost like being anointed," Alissa explains. "Like I am honoring a part of myself, revealing a part of me, finding a beautiful part of myself. It signifies to me inner strength, part of that femininity, that honoring."