According to Merriam, a scar is clinically defined as “a mark remaining after injured tissue has healed.” According to people who have scars, these lasting wounds assume various, more colorful definitions. My dad has a white scar on his ankle he acquired from a shard of bottle glass when he fell off his bike in the 60s—a nostalgic reminder of escapades around his old neighborhood. For Alison Habbal, whose floral bow post-mastectomy tattoo has garnered rampant popularity in recent months, the scar left from her operation and the loss of her nipple marks a relief from the lump she’d wanted to remove for so long. Habbal's floral bow tattoo featured below is an impressive and rainbow-bright piece inked by New Zealand-based artist Makkala Rose.
It’s important to note that while wounds may heal, the scar-bearer often takes longer to psychologically recover from such a permanent change to his or her skin, particularly if that change was unexpected, uninvited, or initially unwelcome. Too often, we equate healing to forgetting scars, when healing can actually be associated with embracing scars. Whether someone’s scar be a mark of nostalgia or suffering, incorporating scars into tattoos is a way to psychologically revaluate someone’s perception of his or her marked skin—a creative way to render something damaged into something remarkable, beautiful, or unique. This is largely why post-mastectomy tattoos have come to be so popular, whether it be a floral, artistic piece like Alison Habal’s, or a tattooed nipple and areola—a common procedure that we at Painful Pleasures encourage artists to practice using our synthetic nipple-less breasts, brought to you by A Pound of Flesh.
While areola tattoos, repigmentation for burned skin, and tattoos that either incorporate or obscure scar tissue are often called “cover-up” tattoos or modifications, I think this is a misinterpretation of the tattoo’s true function; after all, a tattoo or repigmentation is a scar in its own right—it’s just one we ask for; so in that way, it’s like the new tattoo or pigment is holding hands with the natural scar, making it something colorful, something patterned, something asked for, and something to love. You can take a look at the myriad ways people have married their natural scars to their inked ones, sometimes showcasing the scar by framing it with a tattoo. Often times, the tattoo has to follow the same path or pattern that the scar forms on the skin in order to effectively work in conjunction with it—a combined force of natural and unnatural scarring—as you can see in the image of the impressive seahorse tattoo inked by Serjo Bronfman that has been married to severe abdominal scarring.
To showcase how tattoos and natural scars share aesthetic value (and are in fact two peas of the same damn pod), I advise you take a look at the popularization of scarification. Scarification, categorized as extreme body modification, combines the planned, “asked for” look of a tattoo without the ink, a design of raised skin and fibrous tissue achieved by carving or burning a client’s skin (with an expert hand, of course, or things could get gruesome). This practice can be seen on the flesh of aboriginal tribes from New Guinea, or on the few who are bold enough to pay expert practitioners like Lord of the Blade Ryan Ouellette, who has been performing scarification procedures since 2000. Check out samples of his extreme portfolio here. You can also find his work published in Hellion, Skin & Ink, and Bizarre.
Since scarification is both natural and unnatural all in one, a hybrid of a natural scar and a tattoo, the wearer can choose what definition or meaning to associate with his or her marked skin. That definition may be as simple as something that looks beautiful, ornate, bad-ass, or what have you. My dad didn’t ask to fall on a shard of bottle glass, but he’s made a fond memory out of the sharply vivid experience; Alison Habal didn’t ask for breast cancer, but she now rocks an explosive bouquet where her nipple once was; now, it seems, people want to carve scars of their own to denote their own stories, indicative of the fact that “covering up” is something of the past, and embracing, emphasizing, bringing to life, and showcasing is something of the present—both contemporary and refreshing, I’d say.
If you or anyone you know is looking to turn his or her scar into a tattoo, it’s crucial to find an artist who is practiced in this careful and precise art, just as Lord of the Blade knows how to carve with an expert hand. You’ll want to trust someone to love your scar as you do, and help render it the way you envisage. There are some tattoo shops that specialize in this kind of work, such as Hart & Huntington Tattoo Co. in Orlando, FL. To bring your scar to life, and make it something new rather than damaged, you may have to travel far—but the results can be worth it, depending on the way you perceive your scar, and how you’d like for it to look (whether for plain aesthetics or more sentimental value). As Alessia Cara tells us in her hit single, there are no scars to anyone’s beautiful, despite our uniquely marked skins.
Serjo Hoffman and Makkala Rose have been credited for their remarkable work featured above. We would like to likewise feature the artist responsible for the cover image of this blog. If you know the artist responsible, please let us know, so we can credit him or her for their fabulous work.