Mastectomies, or surgical removals of all or part of a breast, can be life-saving procedures for people suffering from or at risk of developing breast cancer but the scars they leave behind can be both physical and psychological. For some women, tattooing their post-mastectomy breasts has become a powerful way to reclaim what was lost.
During most mastectomies, doctors remove the diseased tissue inside a breast, often taking the nipples and areolas in the process. Women who undergo breast reconstruction often have permanent colouring applied to the area where the nipples would be but they have long complained that the flat, off-colour results are unrealistic. Some women are now choosing to reclaim their bodies with beautiful and intricate designs.
Earlier this year, a tattoo artist from Darwin in Australia posted pictures of a client who, having had a double mastectomy and reconstruction, had her new breasts completely covered in flower imagery, transforming her scars into an artwork. In less than 24 hours, the picture had been shared 14,000 times.
A website called P.Ink has helped tattoo artists connect with women who want to tattoo their mastectomy scars. The website’s goal is to connect breast cancer survivors with tattoo artists “who can provide a form of healing that no one else can”. One such tattoo artist, David Allen, had inspiring things to say about the process: “What was clinical became beautiful again… we turned sterile into sensual. We took back control.”
Elise Bevan, a solicitor in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches who handles both cosmetic surgery and breast cancer cases, said: “For some women who have had mastectomies, tattoos can be an important part of their recovery and can make a huge difference to their life. After cancer surgery many women struggle to come to terms with how their body looks and the tattoos can help them regain their femininity. The designs that women tend to go for are tattoos with a feminine flair, with floral details, vines and butterflies. For some, it's about getting as close back to normality as possible and being able to look in the mirror and say, 'I'm back to being complete as a woman.'”