Kiwi tattoo artists say scar cover-ups are a way to move on

Tattooing over scars creates some challenges, but the results are worth it, says artist Craigy Lee.
UNION TATTOO/SUPPLIED

Tattooing over scars creates some challenges, but the results are worth it, says artist Craigy Lee.

Kiwi tattoo artists have noticed an increase in customers wanting their self-harm scars covered, and say that tattoos can be a way of reclaiming your body and moving on from a hurtful past.

Craigy Lee, of Union Tattoo in Wellington, said he and his colleagues are now seeing two or three clients a week for this kind of tattoo. 

"[It's] mostly young women in their 20s coming in to cover self-harm scars," he said. 

Craigy Lee at work in Wellington at Union Tattoo.
LUKE CALDER PHOTOGRAPHY/SUPPLIED

Craigy Lee at work in Wellington at Union Tattoo.

While cover-ups aren't new, Lee put the increased interest in covering scars down to tattooing's increased mainstream acceptance and the rise of social media. 

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"The internet has opened it up and made it far more accessible," Lee said. "People can see what their favourite artists on the other side of the world are doing a few minutes after it's been finished.

More traditional cover-ups can also be done on older tattoos, as seen on the left.
UNION TATTOO/SUPPLIED

More traditional cover-ups can also be done on older tattoos, as seen on the left.

"They're thinking, 'I don't need to live with these old scars. I can make something beautiful over them.'"

Timothy Russell, who works at The Genuine Hustle Tattoo Shop in Auckland, agreed that tattooing's shift into the limelight has made customers more aware of their options. 

"People are generally a bit more open to talking about self harm and mental health [now]," he said. "It used to be people asking if covering scars was even possible, and now they're asking if their scars are healed enough to be covered and what they could put over them."

"Tattooing is a way of taking control of your body," Russell said. "So it's empowering for people that sometimes feel powerless to take control in that way."

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It isn't just self-harm scars people want covered, he's also seen stretch marks and burns tattooed over. 

"A friend of mine once covered a trans dude's scars from his top surgery," Russell said. 

Lee said his customers who choose these tattoos tend to be motivated by a desire to move on. 

"They don't want to be reminded about that dark time in their lives... It take a lot of courage coming into the studio and making that first step [but] we're not here to ask questions or judge anyone.

"We all have things in our past we're not proud of or happy about."

While tattooing over scar tissue can be tricky, creating a tattoo that a customer is happy looking at every day makes it worthwhile, he said. 

In 2014, research from Victoria University found 12.5 per cent of teenage girls had self-harmed at least once. 

Where to get help:

The Mental Health Foundation's free Resource and Information Service (09 623 4812) will refer callers to some of the helplines below:

Lifeline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 354

Depression Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 111 757

Healthline (open 24/7) – 0800 611 116

Samaritans (open 24/7) – 0800 726 666

Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.

Youthline (open 24/7) – 0800 376 633. You can also text 234 for free between 8am and midnight, or email talk@youthline.co.nz.

0800 WHATSUP children's helpline – Phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays, and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day at whatsup.co.nz.

Kidsline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.

• Your local Rural Support Trust – 0800 787 254 (0800 RURAL HELP)

Alcohol Drug Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 787 797. You can also text 8691 for free.

 - Stuff

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