I wanted to know the significance behind tattoos, that’s why I wrote my final paper on it. During my research, I found hundreds of tattoos with heartbreaking stories behind them. Confirming what I knew to be true about tattoos: the pain of tattoos releases the pain of the memory. A lot of what I found were stories of women who has defeated cancer, but the scars still haunted them, so they decided to change it. Here are some of their stories:
The year Cherie Martyn turned 52, her life dramatically changed when she was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma and chose to have a bilateral mastectomy. After years of multiple reconstructive surgeries she found P.Ink (Personal Ink) who, at one of their yearly events, paired her with a tattoo artist, Shannon Barron. Together, they worked on designing a tattoo that resembled Martyn’s favorite black demi-cup lace “forever” bra with lotus flowers in the center of each “cup” to cover-up the 8-inch scars on each breast. After five hours under Barron’s steady hand, Martyn’s right breast was finished. As Barron pauses to let Martyn see it, she states, “My subconscious mind did not recognize me because it did not have an ugly scar as a key signifier. My brain literally didn’t know who I was. I just went, ‘It’s not ugly anymore.’” Martyn states that she felt “whole again” after getting her tattoo.
Three-time cancer survivor Kelly Davidson, at age 34, decided to tattoo her chest after having a double mastectomy during her fight with breast cancer.”My tattoo symbolizes a transformation, my metamorphosis, like a butterfly I changed on the outside but remained the same on the inside,” she wrote after posting a picture of her tattoo on Facebook. Davidson’s experience and choice to get a tattoo in remembrance of it became a huge controversy among the American public: a battle between the tattoo enthusiasts and the critics. Even through all the news articles and discussions she still stands by her very personal choice.
Cara Detwiler, a forth grade teacher, whose mother passed away from endometrial cancer made the decision to get the tattoo in remembrance of her. Before her mother passed away, they had had a conversation about tattoo ideas. So during the catharsis she felt in the year after her mother’s death, she decided to get an angel tattooed behind her ear in order to represent the pain her mother went through and the life Cara now has to live without her. “Did it hurt? I don’t know. Does anything hurt after you’ve lost the most important person in your life? Was there pain? Yes. And in that pain was a deep-rooted pleasure,” Cara stated. She noted that her tattoo felt like she was being released of all the pain she went through in losing her mother.
What I’ve discovered by writing this paper is that grief may be a universal feeling, but we all experience it differently. And with those different experiences, we choose to deal with them differently. These three courageous women decided to release the grip of their grief by engraving it on their skin. They have chosen to mark their bodies to symbolize what speech can’t always relay. Just like the beginning of tattoos in different cultures, tattoos have intimate meanings again. They aren’t just simple designs to look cool and impress people, they have stories and feelings. Thousands of stories can be found like theirs; of people letting go of their hardships through a memorializing piece of art that is now embedded in their skin. This can be seen as their beautiful pain.