Scars, whether they are the result from self-harm or surgery, as well as stretch marks and accidents, serve to remind the body of all the traumas it has experienced. This reminder can be unwelcome for many as it may force people to relive difficult events or make them more susceptible to questions or stares about the past.
One Ottawan helps clients to heal emotionally and brings beauty to scars by scar tattooing.
Becky Jónsson, who goes by Becky D professionally, is a queer, non-binary tattoo artist at Obscura Tattoo in downtown Ottawa. They have been tattooing since 2007 and are the only Ottawa artists to be trained in scarring.
Scar tattooing can be either fresh or healed. [Photo provided by Becky D]
By providing a safe space for clients, Becky D says they are helping clients reclaim their bodies while changing how a person’s scars are perceived by themselves and those around them.
“You get a new lease on life,” said Becky D. “You get to live in a different way than you did before. You may also notice a change in your self-confidence. It comes with a realization that I have voluntarily gone through this pain and suffering to get this piece of art overtop of it and I voluntarily chose to move on and close that door on the past.”
A dermatologist warns that tattoos should not be done on scarred skin. Becky D states that tattooing over scarring is more complex than traditional tattooing. A tattoo artist should have experience with covering skin that has been damaged.
“What I’ve seen the most often with tattoo artists who are less patient and less knowledgeable about working with scarred skin, is that they’ll worsen the scarring. They’re doing too much in one go by completing a whole tattoo in one session. Lots of ink, lots of coverage, which then disturbs the skin too much,” Becky D explained.
“The other thing would be [a] Scarring is more likely due to a lack of design skills. […] I wouldn’t put anything very symmetrical and extremely detailed over scarring that is very raised, only because the symmetry of the new tattoo overtop will call the eye to the scarring as opposed to covering it.”
Monica Li is a University of British Columbia dermatologist who teaches clinical courses. She advises clients to be mindful of potential risks when getting scars tattooed.
“Scar tissue is different from normal tissue, and there is a risk of scarring also with getting a tattoo. When combined, the scar may end up looking worse and individuals must appreciate this possibility to make an informed decision,” Li said in a statement to Capital Current.
“The most favourable outcome of getting a tattoo over a scar is that it provides cosmetic camouflage. An undesirable outcome is a scar becoming more keloidal and distorted in its appearance.”
Ottawa resident Maya Bengle-Stanley is a client of Becky D’s who has had multiple upper-thigh scars covered.
“While I grew used to seeing my scars, I was so tired of people pointing them out, and [I] I stopped wearing clothes that allowed others to view them. Since getting my tattoo, I put it on display as often as possible; it’s an incredible piece of art and has absolutely transformed the way I see myself and present myself to the world,” Bengle-Stanley told Capital Current.
“What used to be a part of my body I felt neutral about at best, has become something I love to show off at every possible chance.”
Becky D deals most often with self-harm scarring, which presents some unique challenges.
“Self-harm scarring is … repeated trauma. Many people who commit self-harm do it repeatedly, in the same places over and again. So, what that causes is really defined, built up, tough sections of skin with unpredictable sections that are either unscarred or less scarred,” they said.
Becky D. says it can be hard to cover scars, even though they are therapeutic in some cases.
Becky D, a person who has experienced anxiety and struggles with mental health, works hard to provide a welcoming and safe environment. Becky believes communication is crucial.
“Right off the bat, you know exactly what you’re getting into, exactly how the process is going to go and exactly how the day is going to go; which, speaking from experience, as a person who has self-harmed in the past or has tendencies like that, anxiety usually goes hand in hand,” they said.
Becky D is also available for silent consultations and will meet with the clients to assess the scarring severity, preferences and other details. Clients can ask any questions they wish.
Becky D also uses social media to educate clients about scar tattooing. More than 51,000 people follow them on Instagram. TikTokWith one video Tattooing and scarring has reached 49.400 views. Becky D’s website is here.