Embracing Your Skin: Post-Surgery Scar Tattoos

John Dietrich

The human body is, at once, a shockingly fragile and amazingly strong organism. The possibilities of things that could go wrong with it are endless, but its ability to heal is almost miraculous.

Though we may feel invincible at times, many of us undergo surgery at some point in our lives. It’s a true feat to come out of surgery as a healthy person. This is especially the case with major organ operations. And that’s why many people choose to honor their surgery scars with a tattoo. We gathered some interesting personal stories from people who got post-surgery scar tattoos, and we also spoke with some tattoo artists who’ve had the opportunity to tattoo scarred clients.

Mylia – A Spinal Fusion Surgery Scar

Rose tattoo covering a spinal fusion scar Photo: Instagram

Mylia was diagnosed with scoliosis at a young age, but eventually she had to receive spinal fusion surgery. This left a scar along her spine, so she decided to get a beautiful tattoo design to cover part of it. Today, she’s happy that she can show off her back tattoo with skin she feels comfortable in:

My body was scarred about 8 years ago from a spinal fusion surgery. I had been diagnosed with scoliosis in the 7th grade, and my spine was twisted and slanted at about a 65 degree angle, making it highly important to get the surgery before I had any breathing complications.

My main thought when I wanted another big tattoo was that I wanted something big enough to cover my scar, as I was highly uncomfortable with it showing [during] my middle and high school life. So, I started to look through some pictures and found this design that was both intricate, beautiful, and [profound]. [It mirrored] my journey to getting diagnosed, [my] surgery, and the therapy I [had to] endure for months.

The scar is not [fully] covered, but I [tattooed] the main part that was so hard to accept, which was the top region that had a lot of stretched skin. And now, when I do wear low back shirts, I love [that] I can show off the beautiful ink. I am very happy with it, and showing off that area is almost fun to do now.

Emelia – A Breast Surgery Scar

Breast Reduction Scar Scissor Tattoo Photo: Instagram

When Emelia was 19, she decided that she wanted a breast reduction. But, once she had the surgery done, a couple of scars persisted. Since she liked the idea of a tattoo on her ribs, Emelia settled on the idea of a tattoo design that looked like a pair of scissors cutting across her scar line. Ultimately, the tattoo made her feel more light-hearted about her scars:

I got my scar from a voluntary breast reduction surgery back in 2013, when I was 19 years old. I thought the scars would fade over time, but it’s been almost 5 years, and they’ve stayed more or less prominent.

The tattoo design came to me for a few reasons. First of all, I didn’t have any tattoos yet, and I was excited to get one, but apprehensive about the commitment. I really liked the placement of the ribs for tattoos in general, and as I was brainstorming, I came up with the idea to have a tattoo that incorporated my scar. It would help me with my commitment issues, seeing as how the scar was already a permanent part of my body. I thought the scissors would be a cool idea, because it would look sort of like I was about to be cut out- the scar being the lines the scissors would cut across.

I’ve never been ashamed of my scars, but they have bothered me from time to time. I feel the need to warn people of them before they see them, just in case. However, the tattoo has made care a lot less about the scars. Without the scar, the tattoo wouldn’t make as much sense, and without the surgery, I wouldn’t be as happy as I am today. The tattoo allowed me to own my scar, and fully accept it as part of who I am. It’s meant to be there, just like the scissors.

Becky – A Car Accident Surgery

When we asked Becky whether her tattoo helped her reconcile with her body trauma and surgeries, she said “Yes, definitely.” She went on to tell us that she “was in a life changing car crash when [she was] pregnant with her youngest.” She “was t-boned 32 weeks in, and left broken in every way. [Her] scars [felt] deep beyond repair,” and she “was left on life support.” But, she says her sons put it best: ‘Mom, we wanted you home.’ This changed [her] perception and attitude,” and she “began to appreciate the little things in life.” She told us that she’s even “back to nursing for a local dermatologist.”

“I have survived 27 surgeries since 2006. I just got this done this summer to remind me how badass I am for getting through this as a single mama.”

From the Tattoo Artist’s Point of View

Luis – Tattooing Over a C Section Scar


C Section Scar Coverup Tattoo Photo: Instagram

Luis, a tattoo artist from California, has a great deal of experience tattooing over scars. He sees the task as an opportunity to be creative, and he often finds that it helps his clients feel more comfortable in their skin:
I’ve tattooed on a number of people that were trying to either hide, or at least make less noticeable, the scars they had. I do my best to use the scar tissue to my advantage. For example, [I turned] a C-section scar turned into a cherry blossom branch.

I definitely feel that tattooing over certain scars helps the person. It is not the remedy, but it definitely helps. You can see it in their expression once they see the final product. Most say it’s like a new beginning.”

Tina – Tattooing Over a Heart Surgery Scar


Zipper tattoo integrated with a heart surgery scar Photo: Instagram

Tina, a tattoo artist from Florida, had the opportunity to tattoo over a client’s heart surgery scar. Her client had a sense of humour, despite the seriousness of his condition, and he asked for a zipper design to be tattooed below the scar. From Tina’s memory, her client never let his scar set him back.

My client was very young, like early twenties, when he came in to get this tattoo… So I was very surprised when he took his shirt off and revealed it to me. Honestly, I can’t remember [the fine details], but I know the same spot was opened up 3 times [for open heart surgery], which is why he wanted the zipper tattoo, so [that the] next time his doctors could get a laugh. I guess he had a lot of heart problems. My client was [always] cracking jokes. I remember him being very open and happy, so I don’t think his scar was a hindrance to him.

Surgeries can save lives, but they also leave behind scars that remind us of our past. Those who have shared their stories have all decided to honour their past experiences with a tattoo. In some cases, their ink symbolized getting through a tough time, and in other cases, their ink was used to make light of a bad situation. Other times, tattoos helped boost the wearer’s confidence, helping them reconcile with emotional trauma.

If you know of any interesting stories about post-surgery scar tattoos, feel free to share them with us in the comments section below!

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