‘I’d been avoiding looking at myself’: Breast cancer survivors reveal how mastectomy tattoos changed them – 7NEWS.com.au

In the portrait series Reclaim women in diffuse pink lighting reveal delicately tattooed designs inked across their chests, unfurling over scar tissue in explosions of color or in black and gray.

Nude, with nothing else in the frame, the women embody a sense of openness.

The series, a collaboration between British photographer Kate Peters and art director Gem Fletcher, which began in 2018, illustrates the beauty of mastectomy tattoos, a practice that offers breast cancer survivors the opportunity to transform their skin after theyve healed from their surgeries.

Its a way to find new confidence, to take control of ones body after what can be a traumatic experience and, as medical journal JAMA has published, a way to promote psychological healing.

One of the women in Reclaim is Kerry, who was diagnosed with cancer three days before her 40th birthday. She opted for a total mastectomy of her left breast, but declined plastic surgery to reconstruct it after.

Ahead of each shoot, Peters and Fletcher interviewed the women about their experiences.

None of the methods for reconstruction that the medical team could offer me were suitable for me, my physique, my lifestyle and the sports I played, Kerry told them.

It left me with a feeling of being incomplete and I found that really upsetting. You sort of get chewed up, spat out and off you go on your own.

Two years later, when Kerry discovered mastectomy tattoos, she felt she finally had an option that suited her.

She had irises tattooed across her chest as a tribute to her grandmother Iris, who survived breast cancer over six decades earlier.

The practice has risen in popularity in the US since 2013, when the program P.ink, part of the nonprofit F*** Cancer, began coordinating an annual day of gratis tattoos.

Each October, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, they work with tattoo parlors around the country to open their doors to survivors looking to be inked.

In 2018, Peters happened upon images of mastectomy tattoos on Instagram and realized that these were mostly shared within the tattoo community and did not have a wide audience.

In her home country of the UK, which does not have a coordinated program like P.ink, she wasnt sure many women knew about these tattoos at all.

Peters and Fletcher, who often collaborate, began finding women for the shoot through social media and photographed them in the privacy of Peters home.

Many of them had never been tattooed, but going through the process had given them a sense of closure - particularly since they had to wait at least a year to be tattooed following their surgeries - and comfort in their skin.

Hearing the womens stories when we were photographing them was a very humbling experience, and seeing how the tattoos had changed their perception of their own bodies, Peters said.

They were really keen to share how positive it had been for them.

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'I'd been avoiding looking at myself': Breast cancer survivors reveal how mastectomy tattoos changed them - 7NEWS.com.au

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