Posts Tagged ‘ugly scars’
When Brenda Whitefield first saw the tattoo Roni Falgout had just finished for her, she started to cry.
For months, Whitefield had avoided looking at her chest, scarred and discolored by breast-cancer surgery and reconstruction. But on that day a year ago, for the first time in a long time, that’s not what she saw. instead, flowers trailed across her chest on vines that followed the contours of her new shape, curving and swirling, colored in delicate pastel hues.
Whitefield says now that she never realized how deeply the loss of her breasts affected how she saw herself until the day she could look at them in the mirror and see something beautiful.
“I was disgusted by my body, especially the scars,” Whitefield said. although she didn’t hesitate to get a mastectomy when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she had always thought her breasts were attractive. They helped define her femininity.
So when they were gone, replaced with ugly scars that served as a reminder of how she lost them, “I hated myself,” she said.
“It can really weigh on you,” said Falgout, a sociable tomboy whose forearms are decorated with brightly colored tattoos of vintage movie posters. Whitefield is one of a handful of women who have come to her asking for post-reconstruction tattoos. “Inside, you don’t feel pretty, no matter what other people are saying.”
The flowers made the scars invisible. and suddenly, they lost their power. “She was saying, ‘You’ve changed my vision of myself,’ ” Falgout said. “When do you get to be a part of something that changes people’s lives?”
So Whitefield cried, as did her sister, who was there. Falgout cried, too.
Whitefield, who lives in Renton and recently became a grandmother, is soft-spoken and conservatively dressed. she never dreamed she would get a tattoo until she got the idea from Jacque Dempster, a friend and fellow breast-cancer survivor who in turn got the idea from a neighbor who’d recently gotten a couple pirate-themed tattoos.
When Dempster showed Whitefield her tattoo, Whitefield recalls saying, “You mean I don’t have to look at these scars every day? Hell, yeah; sign me up!”
Another woman came to Falgout with heavy scarring and keloids that are now covered by lotus flowers. When she walked into Falgout’s shop, Hidden Hand Tattoo in Fremont, “The first thing she said was, ‘I’m not a tattoo person.’ she said they were tacky,” Falgout said with one of her frequent throaty laughs. “I understood where she was coming from. she was telling me she couldn’t believe she was here.”
That woman has since come back for a couple of tattoos that are completely unrelated to her surgical scars.
Falgout — one of more than 200 artists slated to appear at the Seattle Tattoo Expo next weekend at Seattle Center — is, in a few ways, uniquely qualified to do this kind of work. There’s the matter of her light-handed style, which tends toward intricate and subtle — perfect for creating feminine-looking designs but also for working on scarred skin, where color can bleed more than usual. then there’s the fact that breast cancer runs in her family: Her mother is a survivor, and her aunt was a casualty.
There’s also the simple fact that she is a woman, and this is just not an area most women would want tattooed by men.
Falgout has been tattooing since 1992, watching the profession grow more and more mainstream. When she started tattooing as an amateur, making designs for herself and her friends using handmade gear, she was the kind of wild child you would expect to be drawn to that kind of activity. “It was a terrible idea, of course,” she says now.
When a shop owner in the U District saw some of Falgout’s work, he invited her to come into the studio for training. “They kept telling me, ‘You know, we’re not going to give you a job. We just don’t want you to hurt anybody,’ ” she recalls. a year later, “They were, like, ‘So, when are you starting?’ “
It’s been her career ever since. “I went from being in high school to being a starving artist,” she said. “Tattooing kind of saved me. it gave me an arena to do art and make a living.”
The Seattle native says there’s a different vibe here, where most people get tattoos in a salon-like atmosphere that has little to do with biker gangs or the other old stereotypes it still can carry elsewhere.
“The West Coast is a completely different place for tattooing, and especially for women in tattooing, than, say, the Southeast,” said Falgout. a few years ago, she worked for a while in North Carolina, where she once heard a male tattoo artist threaten to walk off the job if his shop hired her.
But on the West Coast, and especially in Seattle, women were already making strides when she came on the scene. Vyvyn Lazonga, one of Seattle’s pioneer women artists, has owned her tattoo business for 30 years; she also does tattoos for breast-cancer survivors at her Pike Place studio, and she’ll appear at the expo next weekend.
Dempster, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2004, was Falgout’s first breast-reconstruction client. together, they came up with a swirling linear design that also included pink ribbon loops running along the sides — universal symbols for the fight against breast cancer.
Like Whitefield, Dempster didn’t hesitate to have a mastectomy. They had too much to live for — kids, extended family, other relationships — to want anything less than everything removed. But, she said, “It’s kind of startling when you go through reconstruction, because they aren’t real anymore. It’s a little depressing.”
Now, “I love looking at them,” said Dempster, who has been known to drag girlfriends into ladies’ rooms to show off the artwork. “It’s looking at art as opposed to looking at these weird mounds.”
She smiles when she remembers her first post-tattoo visit to the oncologist, whom she hadn’t told about the tattoo. “She pulls the gown off to examine me and she’s like, ‘Oh, my God! What did you do?’ But she loved it.”
Christy Karras: firstname.lastname@example.org