Director's statement

why this, why now, why me

In the fall of 2018, Big Teeth Productions was approached to bid on a job for GHD, the hair care products manufacturer in England, through the London Ad Agency Southpaw. It was the story of David Allen, the Chicago tattoo artist known for his incredible mastectomy tattoos, who was developing the design for a hair straightener. Large proceeds from the sale of each would go towards breast cancer research. I put all my passion and energy into winning that job and then there I was, working with David and two incredible breast cancer survivors, Grace and Molly - with Grace as the feature of the project.

 

We filmed Molly during her “tattoo day”, and although she was not interviewed for the film process, we spent countless time prior on facetime, email and the phone. And then on that day, I sat by her side while David tattooed her. I got to know her on a deeper level than just a director and their subject. We became friends. As a woman in her 30s who had survived breast cancer, she was strong and powerful. What struck me immediately when we met was that she, like me, was Jewish — and here she was, covering her entire chest with flower tattoos. Leviticus 19:28 states: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor tattoo any marks on you: I am the Lord,” and historically Jews have interpreted this to mean
many different things all with the same overall feeling - tattoos are wrong.

 

Growing up in a conservative Jewish family, I was told I wouldn’t be buried in a Jewish cemetery, and my grandparents were amongst the millions of Jews that were tattooed during the Holocaust. So when I met. Molly I just had to know, was this something she struggled with? Or were all the other struggles in her life much bigger than the question of religious judgment? What did her parents think? What will Jewish men she wants to date think? And did that even matter if being tattooed made her feel confident in her own skin?
 

This film started out as one solely about Jews and tattoos, but the more I researched and the more people we talked to, the more obvious it was to me that I didn’t want to tell a story about biblical interpretation. The history of tattooing, as well as various rabbinical positions on tattoos was background that I needed to know, however, the story I need to tell is about the people who chose to see beyond whatever biases may have existed in their life and find something beautiful about their body that they had lost. It was through that process that I discovered tattoo biases exist not only in Judaism but throughout so many other religions, communities and even households.
 

After the GHD project, I started to look at all tattoos differently. I wanted to know everyone’s stories. The story of mastectomy tattoos has been widely publicized over the past many years, but what about other scars that people cover with tattoos? What if they are internal scars that keep people from feeling comfortable and safe in their skin? Can a tattoo allow them to love their bodies?

 

And, it’s important to note that I have no tattoos and I don’t know if I ever will. But I do know this — I am a storyteller who cares deeply about my subjects and telling about their authentic journeys. Which is exactly what I seek to do in UnScarred.

- Elise Jaffe, Director