It has been a little over a year since Gary and I walked through the doors of Garnet Tattoo in San Diego, CA, and met Shane and Toni Wallin for the first time. A year seems like a long time, but it really has flown! I have talked to a lot of people over that timeframe with differing opinions about my mastectomy ink decision. This post is speckled with reflections of those discussions over the past year. I have heard everything from “wow, that’s awesome!” to “why would you do that to your body?” to “you were beautiful to begin with and didn’t need to do it”, and one of my favorites (sarcastically), “shame on society for making you feel like you had to cover your scars!”. I am not the poster child for mastectomy ink; however, I’m surely an advocate and staunch supporter. I don’t feel like any person who does it is shamed into doing it – I believe it is quite the opposite…
The decision to get mastectomy ink is one that can only be made by the person who lost their breasts to cancer or suffered a trauma that they no longer want to see. Only a person that has gone through a mastectomy/trauma (and looks in the mirror every day with some disdain) is going to understand what it feels like to be in that position. And only a person who notices they are missing something as fundamental as nipples, that have adorned their chest for their entire life, is going to be able to grasp the struggle. On a daily basis prior to the tattoo, it felt like a “call to action” every time I got out of the shower or looked at myself naked in the mirror. To be honest, I didn’t seek permission from anyone but myself when I made the decision to get mastectomy ink. I also didn’t pay too much to the critics who had a negative opinion about it (yes, those people do exist out there).
I did not arrive at the decision lightly and spent many restless nights contemplating it.
Mastectomy tattoo artists are trained in tattooing scars and creating designs that make you not even (visually) notice the scars are there. Mastectomy tattoos are not novelty tattoos you can have just any artist do. It is not flash you pick off the wall or do spur of the moment. For me, it was part of my journey and I did a lot of research before I booked my appointment. You can give the tattooist some artistic license, but really, it is something a woman totally vetted before she got in the chair. I knew what I envisioned, even though I wasn’t positive of how the lines or color was going to turn out. I knew what I wanted and traveled from coast to coast to get it.
I sat with Shane for a consultation and we decided how my thoughts/needs translated into his masterpiece. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of the trust required between the client and artist. I have stated it before, but it’s worth mentioning again: find the artist that “speaks” to you through their previous work. I had to find an artist I trusted to transform the bitterness of my perceived self-image into something really incredible. I now feel like I owe that person a debt of gratitude that I can never repay. It is super important you feel that connection, too; otherwise, that’s not “your guy” (or gal). Shane’s work allowed me to reclaim part of myself that I thought I had lost. If you decide to do this, please make sure you are doing something – whether 3-D nipples or decorative work – that provides you with the same satisfaction.
My (usual) closing advice…
- Read my other blog posts about this topic: Mastectomy Ink and Mastectomy Ink – One Month Later. I don’t like to repeat myself and there is some good information in those posts beyond what I have provided here.
- Don’t feel obligated to show anyone what you had done. You’re not a carnival attraction – you’re a survivor and walking art.
- Would you send the plumber to do the electrician’s job? No. Could he do it? Well, they are both in construction, right? I love my plastic surgeon (PS), but I would never let him tattoo me. In my humble opinion, a PS is not a mastectomy tattoo artist. Check the P.Ink site to find a mastectomy tattoo artist in your area – these artists are specially trained in the emotional and physical needs of breast cancer patients.
- You’re going to have a shot of self-confidence and curiosity, all at the same time… and you will feel different. Embrace the change; it is permanent and it is part of you now.