FEELING BEAUTIFUL AND RECLAIMING YOUR BODY WITH MASTECTOMY TATTOOS
Having a mastectomy is a life-altering event, whether it’s due to cancer or preventative intervention. Losing a part of your body can change how you feel about the connection between your physical and emotional self. There is often a sense of grief that accompanies waking up in a new body.
During the process of learning to live with this new reality and body, many people use post-mastectomy tattoos as a healing tool. Below is a comprehensive overview of the different types and what to expect.
What is a Mastectomy Tattoo?
Mastectomy tattoos cover the scars from the removal and/or reconstruction of the breast(s). Tattooing can be decorative or used to recreate 3-D nipples after reconstruction.
Decorative tattoos are artistic designs that cover mastectomy scars. The image usually has special meaning. There are numerous tattoo artists who have worked with breast cancer patients as part of their practice and can help make suggestions or create custom designs. It’s always important to get a recommendation and see examples of the artist's work beforehand.
Decorative mastectomy tattoos are personal to each individual and finding the right tattoo artist who will collaborate on a beautiful, meaningful visual is often a final phase of healing.
Another type of mastectomy tattoo is a reconstructive tattoo. The artist uses a 3-D tattoo technique to make areolas and nipples that look very realistic. This type of tattooing restores the appearance of the lost nipple and areola but is flat to the touch. You can read more about nipple reconstruction and areola tattooing here.
When we talked to Joselynn Peterson, she told us that after her preventative mastectomy and reconstruction, her nipples didn’t look the same. She chose to get pigment tattooed on one nipple to make it match with the other. At Brilliantly, we like to say that b(f)oobs are sisters, not twins, but symmetry is helpful for peace of mind and body image. And Joselynn felt better once they looked the same.
Why Do People Get Mastectomy Tattoos?
The reasons people get tattoos after mastectomy vary. The common reasons include:
Covering Scars — Whether you don’t like looking at your scars or you just don’t want to be reminded every time you look in the mirror, decorative tattoos can cover scars beautifully.
Reclaiming the Body — A mastectomy, no matter what the reason, can make you feel like you’ve lost control over your body. Choosing to decorate with a beautiful tattoo is a way to reclaim your body.
Confidence — A mastectomy tattoo can give you a sense of confidence in your new appearance.
Healing — Tattoos after a mastectomy adds beauty to a scary, negative situation. Seeing something beautiful where you used to see fear, sadness, and anger can help in your mental healing.
Mark of Triumph — Mastectomy tattoos can also be a mark of distinction. A visible representation of what you have been through and overcome.
Feeling “Normal” Again — After reconstruction, having 3-D nipples tattooed may give you a feeling of “normal” when you look in the mirror every day.
Michelle Weymouth is in the middle of her reconstruction process. Once she is fully healed, she plans on getting tattoos.
“The truth is I want to look as "normal" as possible. It's not ever going to BE normal, but it's going to be the closest to normal as it can be when I look in the mirror in the morning … And the truth is, I want to look and feel normal for my husband. He's been wonderful through this whole thing and supportive of whatever I want to do… and I want that to be as normal as possible for him too. I feel like that answer could give some women a reaction of ‘you shouldn't do that for a man.’ I'm not doing it for a man. I'm doing it for me. I feel like this didn't just happen to me. It happened to him too.”
What is the Process of Getting A Mastectomy Tattoo?
As with any tattoo, safety is the number one priority. You’ll want to do thorough research before making a decision, getting references, and of course, checking with your healthcare provider.
You'll want to talk to your doctor about how long you should wait after your surgery before getting a mastectomy tattoo. Jonathan Bank, M.D., a board-certified plastic surgeon at NYBRA Plastic Surgery said that their surgeons suggest waiting 3-6 months. They suggest waiting longer if necessary for any surgery sites to heal.
Once you have been cleared by your doctor(s), you have options about where you can get your mastectomy tattoo done.
Kristi Thompson Harris wasn’t sure she wanted to get nipple tattoos after her mastectomy and reconstruction. Her general surgeon, a fellow breast cancer survivor, suggested that she try out some temporary 3-D nipple tattoos. Kristi was able to find a variety of temporary options with a quick Google search.
She felt so good about how she looked, that Kristi decided to get permanent tattoos. Her plastic surgeon referred her to a Physician’s Assistant in his office who performed the tattooing.
Kristi also shared that the PA gave her lidocaine injections to numb the area completely, although for many women sensation in that area is very limited so pain shouldn’t be an issue.
Whether it’s a PA or tattoo artist, once tattoos are complete, you should expect care instructions and infection precautions. Kristi couldn’t be happier with her results.
Tattoo studios are another option. Websites that specifically deal with mastectomy tattoo information like Personal Ink (P.ink) are valuable in your search. They are informative and have a “Find an Artist” section based on your location.
If you choose to use a tattoo studio, make sure the artist is skilled and experienced in creating whatever type of tattoos you’re interested in getting.
Amy Black, an artist well-known for performing mastectomy tattoos says:
“[You should] definitely make sure the tattoo artist/shop has all the proper licensing needed per health department/etc. The artist should have good examples of their work available that include examples that are similar to what the client is looking for. Make sure to communicate with the artist as much as needed to make sure you feel comfortable with them both professionally and artistically, that they understand your vision in order to create it for you on skin.”
Are Mastectomy Tattoos For Me?
This is a personal question that requires some soul-searching and research. Some women (and men) are content with their bodies after mastectomy, and that’s wonderful! But this could be a great way to take a final step in your physical and emotional healing.
if you decide to get a mastectomy tattoo, there are many options. A community of people who have had mastectomies is a good resource for further understanding the process and seeing examples, as is your medical team.
Websites like P.ink, Mend Together  (a community website for those dealing with cancer), and The Mayo Clinic (trustworthy medical information) are also informative and educational.
Joslynn said of her choice:
“It helped me feel that I could heal more mentally and helped me feel confident! It isn’t for everyone, but it is so important to feel empowered and comfortable in your own skin!”
After her tattoos healed, Kristi said:
“[I] was honestly shocked how much the tattoos helped with the mental aspect. I was truly okay with my scars before the tattoos because they are a reminder of what I have conquered. But the tattoos help me see beyond my scars. When I look at myself now, the scars aren’t the first thing I see. It is a reminder that my scars and my diagnosis are part of me, but they don’t define me.”
At the end of the day, your body belongs to you. A mastectomy can change your life completely. And if you make the choice to get one, a mastectomy tattoo can be a beacon of light to help you move past a dark time.
Do you have a mastectomy tattoo story to share? Please feel free to comment on this post or reach out to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you!
Bonus if you’re up for sharing images with https://empoweredmastectomy.com/