Tattooed 106-Year-Old Becomes Vogue’s Oldest Ever Cover Model

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A 106-year-old tattoo artist from the Philippines has become Vogue’s oldest-ever cover star.

Apo Whang-Od is a mambabatok (traditional tattoo artist) who inks people using a sharp bamboo stick and charcoal soot.

Whang-Od is thought to be the last and oldest mambabatok in the Philippines, she began tattooing headhunters and indigenous people when she was 15 years old. Warriors would earn their markings by protecting villages or killing enemies.

Now she tattoos tourists who visit her in the mountainous village of Buscalan where she lives.

“Heralded as the last mambabatok of her generation, she has imprinted the symbols of the Kalinga tribe — signifying strength, bravery, and beauty — on the skin of thousands of people who have made the pilgrimage to Buscalan,” writes Vogue Philippines on Instagram.

Whang-od’s unique art can only be passed down to blood relatives and the centenarian has been training her grandnieces Elyang Wigan and Grace Palicas.

“My friends who gave tattoos have all passed away,” Whang-Od told CNN in 2017.

“I’m the only one left alive that’s still giving tattoos. But I’m not afraid that the tradition will end because (I’m training) the next tattoo masters.

“The tradition will continue as long as people keep coming to get tattoos. As long as I can see well, I will keep giving tattoos. I’ll stop once my vision gets blurry.”

Whang-Od’s fame and legacy have grown tattoo tourism in the Philippines with international visitors seeking out her geometric designs.

Whang-Od can only speak Kalinga, her native language, and does not speak Filipino or English.

Vogue Philippines editor-in-chief Bea Valdes says that the decision to put Whang-Od on the cover was straightforward.

“We felt she represented our ideals of what is beautiful about our Filipino culture,” says Valdes.

“We believe that the concept of beauty needs to evolve, and include diverse and inclusive faces and forms. What we hope to speak about is the beauty of humanity.”

Whang-Od has replaced actress Judi Dench as Vogue’s older cover model who appeared on the front of British Vogue in 2020 at age 85.

Image credits: Feature image courtesy of Vogue Philippines.