On Wednesday, Australian tattoo artist Mim d’Abbs posted a “very different” example of her work: tattoos that covered a woman’s scars following a double mastectomy.
“My apologies to those that find this confrontational, but my client and I both thought it should be posted. This is a tattoo over reconstructive surgery, post a double mastectomy. Seeing my client smile, made this possibly the most important tattoo I've done to date,” d’Abbs wrote on Facebook.
“I thank her for wanting to show people what can be done with art and skin, and for allowing me to do it.”
The photos of the beautiful coverup tattoos went viral.
“I’m absolutely gobsmacked, thoroughly gobsmacked, at the social media reaction,” d’Abbs, who has been a tattooist for 21 years, tells BuzzFeed News.
"I've had a lot of requests to tattoo over scars on stomachs [but] that was the first time I've had a request to do a post-operative double mastectomy," she tells ABC Darwin.
The entire process took only three and a half hours in what d’Abbs calls a “pleasant and fluid process.”
"It was probably the most emotional I've been about a tattoo," she adds. "I was very honoured to have the opportunity to make a difference to how somebody viewed themselves who had been dealt not such a great hand."
D’Abbs and her client both felt that it was important to share the photos of the tattoos on social media.
“My client decided it was important to share the process so that people who have had mastectomies can see the options available to them,” d’Abbs says.
“It’s extremely gratifying to see the overwhelmingly positive reactions: just the positivity, it’s so nice to see all that warmth coming.”
Her client wishes to remain anonymous.
In February of 2013, a Canadian breast cancer survivor’s chest tattoo went viral after Facebook tried to remove it for violating its nudity policy.
Inga Duncan Thornell wrote on her blog that her suddenly famous tattoo took over two and a half years to complete. And while Thornell and her tattoo artist originally received some attention for the tattoo in 2001, the second wave of attention created even more positive feedback than the first time around.
“I am not sure why the buzz goes in waves like this but if it helps more women to feel better about their bodies, then I will try to keep my blushes to myself,” she wrote.
(The social networking site eventually took the hint from supporters and let the photo stay.)
Davidson chose a chest tattoo instead of reconstruction following a double mastectomy.
“It is my badge of honour and strength, a piece of beautiful art that I wear with pride because it represents how I kicked cancer's ass and how breasts don't define who I am as a person or a woman,” the three-time cancer survivor wrote on Facebook.
D’Abbs credits chest tattoos with providing cancer survivors with an alternative option to reconstructive surgery — and that “if [tattooing is] an empowering thing to do then it’s important that it’s out there.”
"It needs to be talked about. It's not a stigma,” she tells ABC Darwin.
"I think that people who have survived a battle like that should be able to whatever they bloody well want with their bodies."
Even women who opt for reconstructive surgery are turning to tattoo artists for help in boosting their post-mastectomy confidence.
In Halifax, one tattoo studio offers a free service to breast cancer survivors: nipple tattoos.
"I feel like it's the very least that we can do as a business to try to help someone feel comfortable in their own skin, because that's what we do every day is try to make people's skin what they want to live in," Helena Pelletier, an artist at Newcombes Ink, told CBC in November, 2013.