‘Real beauty’: Tattooist Apo Whang-Od stuns local, international Vogue patrons

April 4, 2023 - 4:56 PM
Traditional Kalinga tattooist Whang-Od in a July 2016 photo. (Wikimedia Commons)

Old tattooist Apo Whang-Od‘s first magazine cover earned the applause of local and international readers.

Vogue Philippines on March 30 unveiled that the 106-year-old indigenous artist is its cover star for its April issue.

Her stunning portrait on the magazine cover was uploaded on Vogue Philippines’ social media accounts.

“Apo Maria ‘Whang-Od’ Oggay symbolizes the strength and beauty of the Filipino spirit. Heralded as the last mambabatok of her generation, she has imprinted the symbols of the Kalinga tribe signifying strength, bravery & beauty on the skin,” the post reads.

The cover story titled “Apo Whang-Od And The Thousand-Year-Old Tradition Live On” talked about how the tattoo artist and her family managed to revive the ancient method of tattooing in the province 15 years ago.

The rise of tourism in Kalinga, especially in the small village of Buscalan, also helped foster a cultural evolution where the ancient thorn-and-stick process of inking is appreciated in different parts of the country.

“I’ll only stop when I can no longer see, so I can continue to give people the mark of Buscalan,” Whang-Od was quoted in the report as saying.

Whang-Od also becomes the oldest person to appear on a Vogue cover.

Vogue Philippines, meanwhile, is the Philippines’ edition of the acclaimed fashion and lifestyle brand. It debuted last September.

Praises, representation talks

Award-winning actress Halle Berry shared the Vogue cover of Whang-od with her more than eight million followers on her Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Halle described Whang-od as “real beauty.”

“Now THIS is real beauty,” she said in the caption.


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A post shared by Halle Berry (@halleberry)

Filipino-American comedian Jo Koy also shared the portrait on his social media accounts. He then expressed pride over the milestone that Whang-Od had achieved at 106 years old.

“At 106 years old this Filipino icon is finally getting her flowers! This is the best Vogue cover ever. Mahal kita APO WHANG-OD,” the 51-year-old comedian said.

Several other style icons and celebrities showered Whang-Od with support and love through the comments section of posts about the centenarian online.

These include supermodels Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista.

American model Gigi Hadid also shared the Vogue cover on her Instagram Stories as a show of support for the Filipina native.

Moreover, this feature also made headlines on other international news publications. These include BBC, The Guardian, NBC News and The Straits Times.

Filipino models who have graced the covers of multiple magazines also expressed their love for Whang-Od. These include Bretman Rock, Anne Curtis-Smith and Iza Calzado.

Michael Cinco, Rajo Laurel, Paolo Ballesteros, and other renowned Filipino designers also joined in the downpour of pride for the elderly tattoo master.

Several Filipinos also praised the team of Vogue Philippines for choosing to put a spotlight on an artist who epitomizes a part of Philippine culture and arts.

“This is what we want to see in Vouge PH. Focus on our country’s own culture in relation to art, beauty and fashion. Spotlight on our own creatives,” a Twitter user said.

“This cover [screams the] Philippines. An identity of its own if displayed with other Vogue covers from other countries,” another Filipino on Twitter said.

Other local readers, meanwhile, expressed hope that there would be more representation of the country’s culture and heritage in magazine covers in the future.

“This is how Filipino culture, heritage and symbolism should be represented. Unmatched diversity of culture and stories printed on ink,” an online user tweeted.

‘This is ours’

Artu Nepomuceno on April 1 recalled the moment when the Vogue cover issue of Whang-Od came out.

He said that he “broke down from crying” and tried to reply to as many congratulatory messages as possible.

Artu then described this project as a celebration of the beauty of Whang-Od, and her grand-nieces Grace Palicas and Elyang Wigan.

“We celebrate this month with beauty. The beauty of Whang-Od, Grace, and Elyang. We celebrate the beauty of time, the beauty of family, the beauty of love, the beauty of our elders, and the beauty of being Filipino,” he said.

“With all the love in the world. This isn’t my image—this is ours,” the digital creator concluded.