Tattooing Self-Harm Scars Away?
I’ve lost count of the number of emails I’ve had over the years from people desperate to know how to ‘get rid’ of scars caused by acts of self-harm. There’s normally a flurry right before summer, and people will often get in touch ahead of weddings or even having children. Of course, there’s no way to ‘get rid’ of scars completely, and I’ve met many people who have been quick to admit that had they fully understood the permanence of scarring at the time, they may have made different choices about how – and where they hurt themselves. Hindsight is great, but it still doesn’t ‘get rid’ of scars.
A tattoo artist in Brisbane, Australia has said she’ll tattoo over self-harm scars for free, having been so moved by the plight of one of her friends – and her generous offer was in such demand she’s since had to limit the places available. I can totally understand the desperation of many people in wanting to find an alternative to their scars, but I’m still in two minds about whether tattoo’s are the way to go.
Tattoos themselves are permanent, or at best very difficult, painful and expensive to undo, and when you know what lies beneath, it may come to symbolize and remind you of a time of your life you may want to forget. Although the original self-harm scarring may not be visible, its replacement may prove to be an even bigger distraction and catch your eye in the wrong way much more than the scars ever did.
Conversely, a tattoo might be absolutely the best thing for you, and the right design may remind you that you survived rather than struggled and be a really affirming experience… but hiding scars doesn’t mean the original issues have disappeared. Self-harm doesn’t just leave physical scars, it leaves emotional ones too, and tattooing the skin doesn’t make those vanish. It’d be easy to paper over the reasons that led you to self-harm in the first place, but don’t use a tattoo to fool yourself into believing you’ve dealt with everything. Talk first, tattoo later.
But why tattoo? Why cover scars at all? Without exception, I’d say 95% of the emails I receive all communicate the same concern: what other people think. ‘What happens if my mum / husband / friends / employer / girlfriend / children / neighbour / bus driver / random stranger sees my scars?’ It nearly always comes back to the fear of other people, and reinforces how misunderstood self-harm continues to be. I want everyone to be comfortable in their skin, but I don’t want anyone to think that can only happen if self-harm scars are hidden and concealed and never mentioned: there’s no shame in where you’ve been.
How can we create a society that sees scars as scars, irrespective of where they are or how they came about? By not hiding, and by being prepared to be honest if anyone asks. Accept who you are and what you’ve been through, and then make sure any tattoo is in celebration of that rather than anything else.
@FreedomFromHarm | @RachelWelch
The original article is here, but please be advised it contains an image of scarring in a before/after context.