Tattoos: you either like or hate them. Even though getting inked dates all the way back to 6000 BC, it wasn’t until the past decade that women showed a keen interest and started getting hooked on ink. More American women have tattoos than men and in the UK, the ratio between men and women getting tattoos is almost 50/50.

Still, even though women seem to grow really fond of them, quite often there is great controversy about what they “say” for the person that carries them. Are they too provocative, attractive, sensual, a sign of great independence? Or, even worse, do they make women seem as promiscuous?

Increasing number of women have tattoos
Increasing number of women have tattoos

Women most commonly choose to do tattoos for style or to honor loved ones but they also do it to identify themselves to a significant aspect of their life.

Covering scars

As people get into debates about whether tattoos look nice on women, or whether any possible ink work will affect their employment capability, there are women that tattoos gave them their life back. Those women are breast cancer survivors that chose the art of tattooing to bring their femininity and sensuality back to their life. These tattoos are a way of those women to claim their life back.

Breast cancer is the most common form of cancer in women worldwide as is the principal cause of death from cancer among women globally. In 2010,  an estimate 1.5 million people have been informed that they have breast cancer. Still, in Western countries, 89% of women diagnosed with breast cancer are still alive 5 years after their diagnosis, which is due to detection and treatment (Source: WorldwideBreastCancer).

Many of those women survived by undergoing mastectomies. That is the removal of the whole breast that can also include the removal of lymph nodes, nipples and chest muscle. Sometimes both breasts need to be removed, double mastectomy,  like Angelina Jolie did, as preventive surgery in women at very high risk of breast cancer.

After a mastectomy, women usually have two choices, to either do a reconstruction surgery or learn to love their new self. There are, however, some breast survivors that chose something different. They chose to transform their scars into something beautiful and inspiring for other cancer sufferers. They chose to celebrate their triumph over cancer by getting tattoos.

Their scars are no longer the sign of great pain and battle but a sign of rejuvenation and rebirth. The tattoos they go for represent their journey through darkness towards survival; lotus flowers that represents beauty born in mud, a peacock as a sign of defeating death, cherry blossoms to represent beauty and the fragility of life.

Inga Duncan Thornell's tattoo by tattoo artist Tina Bafaro
Inga Duncan Thornell’s tattoo by tattoo artist Tina Bafaro

Probably the most well-known breast cancer survivor with a post-mastectomy tattoo is Inga Duncan Thornell who chose to have a prophylactic mastectomy in 1993. Her tattoo took almost two years to complete but as she says “you step out of the shower and you look like yourself. You don’t look scarred. I understand why women would reconstruct and totally respect their decision to do that to be more normal, but the thought of having more surgery, more discomfort, didn’t appeal to me at all”.

In New York, the need to connect survivors with tattoo artists led to an annual event, P.INK (Personal Ink) Day which provides tattoos as a way to empower women to take creative control of their post-op bodies. P.INK began at Boulder-based ad agency CP+B with a handful of employees who had each been affected by cancer and now features nearly 1,000 images of post-mastectomy tattoos which they hope will inspire breast cancer survivors. This year’s P.INK Day will be held October 10th 2014.

Women who choose to have a tattoo over their cancer scars say that they are putting a badge on an experience they had no control over, they are taking back something they thought cancer had taken away from them, their identity.

Let’s all bow down before their glory as they are all warriors!

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Every time I look in the mirror I don’t see a nice new pair of breasts, I see the thing that tried to kill me. It’s the final chapter of the ugliness of cancer. It will be something beautiful to look at. It’s like it comes full circle. I’ve been to counseling, but nothing is going to help as much as this. — Anonymous survivor on her new tattoo

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Lab scientist, sharp dresser and cooking guru Maria is one half of the original alwaysladies.com founding team. She brings her opinions with earnestness and a smile, even when there are razor blades inside.

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