11 People Who Used Tattoos to Cover Up Self-Harm

Credit: David Clifton

Can you think of any better way to breathe new life into scars than some fresh ink? For years now, people who have self-harmed have been reclaiming their skin by covering their scars with tattoos. Strategically placed body art can change the way self-injury survivors see themselves and their bodies. Instead of looking at their bodies and seeing scars, they’ll see art.

Many people with scars choose to cover up and hide them from friends, family, and onlookers by wearing long sleeves or pants. Tattoos can serve as a beautiful cover up alternative, and most importantly, help a person reclaim power and feel more confident in their own skin. What’s more, this type of tattoo can serve not only as a cover up, but also as a deterrent to resist self harming again as to not ruin the design. They can even serve as symbols of strength, perseverance, or love.

While no one should feel obligated to cover up their scars, it’s absolutely okay to choose to conceal them. Whether or not someone who has self harmed wants to hide their scars is a personal decision. People who have suffered through the vicious cycle of self harm are some of the strongest people out there. They’ve made a decision to choose a path of recovery, and they have the tattoos to prove it. Here are 11 people’s stories.

Daniel Smith, 30

“I fell in love with this lyric from “Summertime Gladness” by Dance Gavin Dance and had been wanting to cover up some scarring on my wrist. It reminds me that people will come and go and may have hurt me in the past but now they’re just scars and it’s up to me to make sure they don’t affect me in a way [that makes me] actually harm myself like I had in the past.” (Artist: Donald Casey at Tiger Rose Tattoo in Minneapolis)

Patty Owens, 30

“The tattoo itself is inspired by my favorite band. Their music is what got me through my darkest times following a suicide attempt. It always bummed me out to look at my arms and see the scars, but it’s encouraging when I can look at the tattoo and see that something beautiful has taken their place. I guess it sort of serves as a reminder that even when everything sucks, something great can come along and it’s possible to be happy again.” (Artist: Bryan Gentry from Twizted Needle in Cheyenne, WY)

Jaimee Robrahn, 22

“I started self-harming at a young age, mostly on my hips and thighs where no one would see. Both of my dogs saved me with their unconditional love and support over the years, so I owed it to them and myself to recover and replace painful memories with something beautiful. This is the most important tattoo to me because it reminds me why I’m here and that I’m loved.”

Tabitha Smith, 19

“I was in a dark place. I wasn’t in the right mindset and was never happy. I couldn’t control my weight at all and any time I started having a panic attack, self harm is what I would turn to. My best friends were constantly trying to open my eyes to what they were seeing and help me because they worried for my well being. After a long year I finally decided to open up and I talked to them and my parents, set up doctor appointments, and started getting the help I needed. Once I was slowly getting better I decided I wanted to get my first tattoo to cover up some of the scars I had. I picked the quote ‘I loved you at your darkest’ from Romans 5:8. I thought it fit my situation, because my family and friends still loved me and wanted to help even though I was at the darkest place and was constantly pushing them away.”

John Yeary, 24

“I got this tattoo over my scars and it’s a tribute to a band that helped me through their music in one of the darkest times of my life when I was cutting. The lyric says “Take back your life and let excuses die.” They helped me to realize that regardless of how hopeless I felt that there’s always brighter days ahead and that life isn’t going to stay great. Life is filled with peaks and valleys everyone has their highs and lows, but don’t give up when things are at a low point because what’s ahead could still be more beautiful than anything you’ve seen yet. I still struggle to this day–and I’m struggling right now, but I can’t just give up. I have to keep moving.”

Rachael Parlier, 27

“This tattoo is a reminder for me of why I am alive, not only in terms of what has allowed me to survive this far, but also in terms of my purpose in life. This tattoo was the beginning of the end of my self-harm journey that lasted almost a decade, and as of today, I have not self-harmed since 2012.”

Franki Carroll, 22

“I got a small cactus over my scars to show that even something that’s rough on the exterior can be loved and adored by people who love it for that quality alone. We never know what we’re gonna get out of life no matter if we try to plan or not, and even when I’m in the most desolate mindset and at times I can be rough around the edges, I know that there’s always someone out there who loves me for my beauty that I do contribute.”

Vincent Rodriguez, 21

“In high school I found an author named Ellen Hopkins and the first book I ever read by her was called Impulse. It’s about three kids who are sent to a mental hospital because they tried to kill themselves, and end up becoming friends. When one of the characters kills himself on a camping trip, he folded a letter from home that pushed him over the edge into an airplane. When his friends found his belongings after the fact, they found “a perfect paper airplane” and that’s how the book ends. My tattoo is a reminder that no matter how bad it gets, there’s still more to live for. I don’t wanna throw everything I have away because I want to get better. I haven’t self harmed in a little over a year, but I’m still recovering.”

Katie, 29

“I got the Queen of Swords with the words ‘Be dangerous darling, but also be kind.’ I put it over my scars originally as a reminder that I have other options to help me cope with my painful emotions, and that I don’t always have to act on my urge to cut. It also serves as a deterrent in that I don’t want to mess up my tattoo. It doesn’t cover all my scars, but it does cover up my go-to spot. It wasn’t a promise that I’d never cut again, but more of a promise that I’d try other ways to cope first. It’s a reminder that I can set boundaries, use my words to assert and stand up for myself, and can use my experiences to help others. In helping others, I have found that I also learn how to help myself.”

Sarah Aguilar, 23

“I covered my scars up with a tattoo of my cat. He’s the love of my life and it eases my soul so much to look at his face everyday rather than my scars. It reminds me of love.”

Annalise Sheppard, 24

“This is my first tattoo. It’s a quote from the poem ‘Invictus’ by William Henley. My self harm and my desire for tattoos were both points of contention between my mother and I. One day, when I was eighteen, my mother asked me with tears in her eyes, what it would take for me to stop cutting. I thought seriously, and I said that if made myself into art, I wouldn’t be able to destroy it. She and I made an appointment at the local shop that Friday, and my first and favorite tattoo was given to me.”

Related: Meet the Man Who Tattoos Scars Full-Time

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