For many women with breast cancer, a mastectomy is a traumatizing experience with upsetting results. Some women feel they have lost a quintessential part of themselves, and no longer feel complete. Women have many options available to help them reclaim their bodies and their confidence after breast cancer, from reconstruction to mastectomy tattoos to prostheses and mastectomy bras, and everything in between. One very natural option is areola and nipple tattooing.
NOTICE: This post contains images of realistic areola and nipple tattoos at the bottom of the page that some readers may not find appropriate.
What is Areola and Nipple Tattooing?
Areola tattooing is the process of tattooing the areola and nipple onto the breast following a mastectomy. Areola tattoos are typically done on breasts with implants, with and without nipple reconstruction. The goal of areola and nipple tattooing is to create a realistic, 3D appearance. There are several factors to consider when having an areola tattoo done, including scar tissue, coloring, and shape.
While areola tattoos are often done in a medical setting, Stacie-Rae Weir, founder of Areola Restorative Tattooing (A.R.T.), says areola tattooing is so much more than a medical procedure; it is an art form designed to restore a woman's confidence after her mastectomy.
As a tattoo artist for 20 years and a mastectomy recipient herself, Stacie-Rae is trying to change the standard for how areola tattoos are done in medical settings. The Alberta based artist has engineered a system specifically for creating realistic, natural-looking 3D nipple tattoos for breast cancer patients; she even gives lessons and provides certifications to tattoo artists who wish to learn this amazing, life-changing process. She also created temporary nipple tattoos for women who are not ready for a permanent tattoo. Here’s what Stacie-Rae had to share with us regarding her passion for making women feel beautiful.
Interview With Stacie-Rae Weir
What originally got you interested in nipple and areola tattoos?
SW: I had been tattooing for 15 years when cancer came into my life. I was excited at what tattooing could do for people who have gone through so much trauma. I was also excited at a new challenge and a chance to "use my powers for good instead of 'evil' " hehehe. I was looking for a challenge, and this is the most challenging work I've ever done.
One thing that sets you apart from other tattoo artists or surgeons who perform areola and nipple tattoos is that you have actually had a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, so you understand how it feels to go through this process. What piece of advice would you give to women about to undergo surgery or considering an areola tattoo?
SW: Yes, I have had a mastectomy and know firsthand how horrible it is to have your chest torn apart and left scarred. We try so hard to downplay how terrifying it actually is, and most tattooists have no idea what their clients have actually faced. I have a lot of women asking for advice but it really comes down to: do what feels right for you. We know what’s right for us, deep down inside. The trick is to trust our gut and stop second-guessing ourselves. Either way you approach a mastectomy, it's no party!
How long does the areola tattoo process take from first consultation to final session?
SW: First, the scars need ample time to mature. If they are tattooed before they are ready, a practitioner can unknowingly cause so much damage that delicate tissue may never hold pigment again. Once we know the scars are in great shape, I will see a person 2-3 times in 10 weeks. My nipple tattoos are permanent, so after than I just want my clients to go out and love their lives!
What was the most creative mastectomy tattoo you have done?
SW: I don't know how to answer that, my clients have such great ideas! There was one big octopus that I loved doing. I made it very pretty. They're all unique and beautiful, but a scar will never fully disappear. So, to cover it effectively, you need to almost create an optical illusion that carries your eye past the scar. A clever flow that flatters the body is key. The worst thing to do is just stick a design right ON the scar line, bringing your attention straight to it. Especially since scar tissue will not hold colour as well as healthy tissue, leaving behind inconsistencies over the damaged areas. The composition must leave room for that.
What is your most memorable experience with a patient?
SW: All my clients leave a beautiful impression. I learn from each person I tattoo, and we share a powerful connection in this intimate and life-changing work. I honestly can't say any one stands out any more than any others. They all mean so much to me, even if they don't realize it.
You seem to do it all! Not only are you an author, speaker, and tattoo artist, you are also involved in P-Ink.org and the founder of A.R.T. (Areola Restorative Tattooing). What obstacles have you faced since becoming the founder of A.R.T.?
SW: A.R.T. puts art first, which was previously the missing element to great nipple/areola tattoos, to inspire tattooists to realism, rather than a simple pink or brown circle. I'd say we accomplished that goal, as there has been a higher standard of nipple tattooing enjoyed world-wide. If a nipple looks like its a tattoo, that survivor may not reach the mind-body-spirit connection required to fully heal. But if it is a tattoo that looks like a nipple, just natural like a real nipple/areola complex, then she will feel free to enjoy her life like nothing has ever been taken away.
With change comes resistance, though. The medical field is a little slower to catch up, and still using archaic practices like using circle templates and outlining nipples! No nipple looks like that in real life. Unfortunately, the survivors trust the medical field for tattooing still, even though under-skilled practitioners are harming survivors by executing terrible nipple tattoos over beautiful breast reconstructions. This really gets me upset, with so many better options available simply by working with a highly-skilled specialty tattooist. It's time that the medical field outsourced to A.R.T. certified artists and other proven specialists.
The sad truth that no one really wants to talk about is that most medical and cosmetic tattoo practitioners doing areola tattooing have taken just a 1-day course and barely know how to use a tattoo machine. They do not know how to draw and they do not understand how to tattoo scar tissue. The survivor is unknowingly being practiced on by someone who doesn't know how much they don't know, it's an epidemic, and we have to question the ethics of it. We feel that survivors deserve better!
With so many amazing projects, what do you do in your free time?
SW: I always make time to ride my horse, and I barrel race semi-professionally in my 'spare time'. I think we all need something that makes us stoked to be alive! Barrel racing is an adrenaline rush, it feels like flying. I encourage everyone to embrace whatever gets your heart going.
Also, I love mentoring other experienced tattooists to realize their own greatness by helping them fine tune their skills. We're all here to do our absolute best work for the survivors, right?
What other information would you like to give women with breast cancer?
SW: You deserve the best!! After everything you've been through, do NOT settle for a tattoo that is less than amazing. This is your chance to finalize your journey, so choose a great artist that understands how important this is!
Areola and Nipple Tattoos by Stacie-Rae Weir
Want more information about Stacie-Rae or her amazing work? Check her out at https://www.stacie-rae.com/, or check out her Facebook page: @ARTareolatattoos
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