Is the Body of Tattoo Legend Isobel Varley Art?

She made herself into a masterpiece. Now that masterpiece could get buried.

Isobel Varley, body modification legend and world record holder for “most tattooed senior citizen,” passed away Monday. She was 78, had 93 percent of her skin tattooed, and had, by her husband’s highly believable account, a completely [infectious sense of humor](( She is, rather oddly, survived by her tattoos.

Varley’s family members, who live in a country with a raging tabloid culture, have been mum on whether their illustrated woman will be cremated or buried and when. This is interesting because there is actually a viable third option: The preservation and display of the deceased has precedence, even outside Asian revolutionary leaders. 

Dutch entrepreneur and tattoo artist Peter van der Helm helps his clients (or his clients’ families anyway) achieve a sort of immortality through tattoo. He has developed a unique process for tattoo preservation: Doctors affiliated with Walls and Skin send the frozen epidermis to an undisclosed pathology lab, where the tissue is dried, scrubbed of fat, and infused with liquid polymers. Serious body art fans, van der Helm has explained to numerous slightly incredulous reports, believe that their skin should hang in a museum after they die.

In fact, there are already exhibits of human skin in Amsterdam, which was once thick with sailors and has always been, therefore, heavily inked.

As for Varley, the Guinness Book of World Records estimates she spent more than 500 hours getting inked. It would be a pity to see that work destroyed, but sometimes refusing to destroy something is the greater act of sacrilege.

Varley’s family has created a Facebook page to commemorate Varley, as well as a way to support Alzheimer’s research.

Related Tags