At the age of sixteen, Shalik was diagnosed with a severe case of necrotizing fasciitis in her chest. Her battle with the life threatening flesh-eating bacteria resulted in a mastectomy of her right breast, scars from multiple reconstructive surgeries, and low self-esteem and confidence. Shalik became increasingly self-conscious of her scars and for years constantly found a way to cover them in order to avoid the internal pain, questions, and stares.
One day, eighteen years later, Shalik decided that enough was enough. She was tired of feeling unattractive and inadequate in her own skill and decided, on a whim, to reach out to a tattoo artist about turning her scars into a work of art to celebrate life rather than a reminder of feeling like less than a woman.
Shako, originally from China, is a video journalist living in New York City. At the age of seventeen, she had an open appendix surgery, leaving her with a one-inch long zipper scar in the middle of her stomach. Shako always wanted to cover the scar with a tattoo, but never knew what image she wanted on her body — that is, until she met Friday Jones, the feature of a story assignment. Friday was a sought after tattoo artist specializing in mastectomy tattoos. It was Jones who mentioned a phoenix and it hit Shako immediately — this was the image she wanted. At the time, she had just turned 30 and overcame depression for the first time. A phoenix, a symbol of redemption, was a perfect metaphor for that stage of her life. Shako was tattooed in Friday’s friends home who ironically was a huge Sailor Moon fan as was Shako. Sailor Moon played in the background as she was being tattooed. All the stars were aligned.
Loo was born with a rare genetic condition known as Poland Syndrome, which leaves them missing their left pectoral muscles, and prevents their ribs from protecting their heart. After spending the first two and a half years of their life in an orphanage, partially due to this condition, they were adopted by two loving parents who embraced them — disorder and all. As they began to develop breasts, the left side was disproportionately smaller than the right (about 4 cup sizes.) After undergoing reconstructive surgery to balance out the large difference in cup sizes, Loo received a tattooed nipple from Friday Jones, which helped them find a new sense of confidence. The reconstructive surgery left Loo’s original nipple on the side of their breast, which they are planning to ink into a UFO to pay homage to the surgery.
Loo was raised Jewish, following the notion that tattoos were taboo. However, after watching tattoos provide a source of power and healing for her child, Loo’s mother found an appreciation for tattoos recently, even getting a matching one with her child.
“It is better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all”. To Brenda, a 35-year-old Mexican American woman, the meaning of this saying was misconstrued in her childhood as the need to lose half of her weight to be loved. Her struggle with obesity led her on a path of bullying, failed diets and finding ultimate resolution in weight-loss and reconstructive surgeries. In the aftermath, she faced near-death complications and a rare autoimmune skin disorder left her with painful chest and abdominal scars.
The rose tattoos that adorn her unscarred body are healing catalysts that validate how it was better to defy Mexican cultural and religious stigmas on the path to recovering her lost self-love.
From battling breast cancer to struggling with a rare disease, to overcoming childhood trauma—the act of getting tattooed has allowed victims a way to take control of their own bodies when the world around them spins out of control. UnScarred, will highlight the ways in which tattoos bring joy, comfort, and most of all, a sense of empowerment—and how this defiant act can come at the cost of inner moral conflict. Conflict that comes from religious or cultural disapproval. Here is just a sample of the stories that will be featured:
After being sexually assaulted at a young age, twice, Stephanie decided to bottle up her emotions. She also decided to numb the pain of everything. After deciding how she would numb her pain she went to self harming. At first her cuts weren’t so bad, but as the years went on they got significantly worse. Realizing what Stephanie had done it made her feel embarrassed, ashamed, and full of regrets about what she had done to herself. She was left yearning for a tattoo to cover-up her scars, which served as a painful reminder. Finally, Stephanie traveled to Chicago to receive her tattoo.
Her beautiful tattoos now cover the areas where she self harmed.
After getting her tattooed, her confidence has improved. Now, she can finally wear clothes she wasn’t able to wear. For the first time in her life, she felt better about herself.
Melvric is a trans masculine man with an incredible medical past.
At the age of 17, he fell suddenly ill with an unknown sickness in his lungs, which destroyed them, and was put into an a coma for a duration of 2 months. Doctors worked hard trying to find a cure for the sickness, but it only got worse. During this time it was decided that the only way to save Melvric’s life was to replace his old lungs with new ones and on July 4th, 2013, Melvric underwent a double lung transplant and survived.
In the following year, as Melvric recovered, he continued struggling with his gender identity, severely. After being told by doctors that this transplant would get in the way of any kind of gender transition, Melvric continued searching for happiness through searching other options and perseverance until in January of 2016, he found a team of doctors that would help him complete his gender transition. In May of 2016, Melvric went under the knife again for a double mastectomy that left scars on top of transplant scars, on top of chest tube scars.
Today, Melvric lives his life as a healthy and active 25 year old man. A true survivor and medical legend.
After Molly’s double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery which took both of her nipples at 31 she said, “I didn’t want to see scars, I didn’t even want to see myself”. The young woman, with a passion for dancing lost the sense of love for her own body. When she was turned on to David Allen by a friend she knew she wanted to cover her scars with his incredible work. She was even able to garner the support of her parents whose Jewish tattoo biases may have put a strain on the healing.
Her chest became not a memory of pain but rather a canvas for David’s art that set her on a more confident path forward. And while the tattoo can not change the past and make all the pain or insecurities go away, Molly knows her story can inspire others to speak their truths and help them as they seek to reclaiming their bodies.
For thirteen years now, Q has carried a constant reminder of downhill mountain biking accident that ended
the life he knew. A spinal cord injury from the terrible accident in his teens left him with a scar along his
spine, cementing the little control he had about the things that happen in his life. Q has found ways to rise
above the injury and maintain control, become a thought leader and have a successful and poignant
career. The decision to tattoo over the scar that keeps his spinal cord injury alive is very intentional. With
this tattoo Q will reclaim his body, repurpose his scar, and wear the story he has written for his life. His
tattoo will speak of death, ashes, and rebirth. It will showcase his inner strength and light which have been
enhanced by his trials and tribulations.