Cape Town - Not everyone who has breasts feels the same way about them. Some loathe the additional weight they carry; others see them as a vital part of their identity. But for those who have lost one or both to cancer, the choice to decide how they feel is taken away. The emotional turmoil of cancer can be compounded by the sense of loss felt after a mastectomy.
In a bid to help, Tamar Thorn tattoos nipples onto people post-operation. The service, which the Cape Town tattoo artist offers for free, is helping people reclaim their body image and regain a sense of their former physical selves.
"Many women find nipple tattoos very cathartic," Thorn says. "It marks the finality or the end to a pain that they've endured."
At the Good Things Tattoo Company, Thorn has seen the joy that something as small as a tattooed nipple can bring to a person who has endured so much in their fight against cancer. It’s this reaction that motivates her to forfeit the charges that usually accompany the ink. "That's actually what tattooing's about," she says. "It's about your customer and making them happy, and for that I can't charge."
It isn't an easy process compared to other ink art. "There's a lot of scar tissue involved," Thorn explains.
This year marks a decade of her decision to offer nipple tattoos. Over the years, her confidence in her inking skills as well as her ability to make a difference has improved. In giving to others, Thorne also benefits. "I grew up with a very bad body image," she says. "With tattooing it was taking my body back because I let go of that idea of being perfect."
By opening up a space of healing for others, Thorn has found a way to come to terms with her own self image and build the esteem of herself and others. "I love that more women are feeling supported by the women around them," she says. And when women are there for each other, beauty and healing ensue.
* Story courtesy of Beautiful News South Africa