Amplifying the power in HER voice because today’s woman is #BeyondCapable

Amplifying the power in HER voice because today’s woman is #BeyondCapable
Beauty Roundup

The Women Making Their Mark with Mastectomy Tattoos

In recent years, some women have lost their breasts to cancer and they responded to this by acquiring “bras.” 

These pieces are not the kind found in lingerie stores. They’re not stitched and padded either. Instead, they are rendered with ink; drawn on flesh where breasts used to be. These, too, provide support for women. 

These are mastectomy tattoos and they don’t just come in the form of detailed undergarments. Over the years, they’ve also taken the shape of flowers, birds, mythical creatures or ornamentations open to interpretation. But as different as these images may be, many of the women with mastectomy tattoos for the same reason: to reclaim some of the power that was taken from them as their bodies were treated for breast cancer.

When women go through mastectomy (also known as breast removal), they can lose more than just tissue. Some also lose their confidence and their sense of control. They can also experience emotional distress and feel disconnected from their bodies. To cope with these psychological effects, a number of cancer warriors have taken the traditional option of breast reconstruction. Others, however, choose to go flat. And as this choice became more popular, so did its evolution—covering a flat chest with art.

Mastectomy tattoos have grown in popularity over the years, providing women a liberating alternative to cosmetic surgery. This option can be viewed as a radical way to reassert control over one’s body. It can also be seen as a method to artistically highlight and celebrate both healing and survival. 

This art is now a growing trend. And with its rise came the renown of three women we’ve chosen to highlight in this issue—providers of mastectomy tattoos whose works can be just as empowering as their reasons for working.

Beth Fairchild

Beth Fairchild, who describes herself as an activist and yogi, specializes in permanent cosmetics and areola tattooing for breast cancer patients. She is also no stranger to the Big C herself, having lived with metastatic breast cancer since 2014. Some of the women in her family also had their brush with the disease—her mother, her maternal grandmother, and her paternal grandmother who succumbed to it at the age of 33.

It was her mother’s diagnosis that inspired Fairchild to do mastectomy tattooing, realizing that she could use her art to help breast cancer patients reclaim their bodies. Her commitment to helping others is so deep that even in between getting treatments, she would work on tattoos for her clients who have had mastectomies. For Fairchild, the most satisfying part of her job is when she sees a client’s reaction once she finishes working on their tattoo. 

Fairchild believes that a mastectomy tattoo is a life-changing piece. In an interview with The Today Show, she said, “It’s like the end of their journey. Like, the completion of the process. And so, to be a positive part of that, it’s just really rewarding.”

Amy Black

A renowned tattoo artist from Richmond, Virginia, Amy Black is the founder of PinkInkFund.org, a non-profit organization that helps women who need assistance with their post mastectomy tattoos. Her organization also conducts various outreach projects for patients and other members of the medical community.

Black did her first mastectomy tattoo in 2010 when a woman contacted her about doing a one-sided piece on her chest. Since then, Black has worked with hundreds of women who got tattoos that represent femininity—often in the form of vines, flowers, and cherry blossoms that flow well on their breasts.

Black founded Pink Ink Fund in 2010, to help women struggling financially to get nipple repigmentation or decorative tattooing. She first started with a small private fund until more and more people donated to reach communities at or below the poverty line.

She especially loves when her clients come back to let her know how they’ve gotten their lives back. “I enjoy giving power back to the person after cancer has taken it away,” Black said in an interview with Health.com.

Stacie-Rae Weir

After losing her mother to breast cancer in 2008, Stacie-Rae Weir underwent a mastectomy when she found out that she was positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, which is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. She has since worked with breast cancer survivors. 

At the time, she said she felt like the tattoo industry was falling short when it came to nipple tattoos. So, she expanded her research on tattooing on scarred skin and drawing nipples. 

In 2010, Weir founded Nipplebacks, a line of temporary nipple tattoos that are self-adhesive and long-wearing. It comes in various shades, making it perfect for women of every color. She also designed the world’s first permanent areola pigments—a set of needles to use on scar tissue left behind by a mastectomy. 

Weir credits her creations to her own experience. “Because I’ve been there, when I’m talking to the clients about how hard it is to face your reflection without nipples, how confusing it is for your brain, it’s like we help each other,” she shared in her interview with Instyle.com. “They make me stronger, and I try to make them stronger, and I don’t think I could’ve made it through this without my clients being such amazing people. A load shared is a load lightened.” 

To ensure the continuity of her work and to create more impact to the breast cancer community, Weir founded the Artistic and Areola Restorative Tattoo (A.R.T.) school in 2013. There, she is able to train tattoo artists who want to master mastectomy tattooing. 

Leaving a mark

Cancer can take much from people.

Treatment for it can be expensive, time consuming,exhausting and in many cases, it can lead to loss. Through mastectomy, for example, a woman can drastically lose a feature that has long been part of her body and identity. 

It is the nature of matter, however, to leave space behind when removed. Breast tissue is no different. And, for some women, this space is a canvas–a chance to turn something painful into something beautiful; a platform to celebrate one’s capacity to move forward, and an opportunity to make a statement.. 

The three women above have used that space and left marks that are meant to last.

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