Every tattoo has a story. A tattoo that covers up a scar, however, holds two stories—and no two are exactly the same. Depending on the circumstances, a tattoo might help someone hide the evidence of self-harm and feel less self-conscious in public. Or it might help them find the confidence to embrace the permanent marks that resulted from a life-altering surgery. While the reasons people get these tattoos may differ, the stories behind them are deeply personal, distinct, and always memorable. We talked to three men with tattoos over their scars about what motivated them to get inked.

Name: Austin Reed
Age: 32

Artist: Dawn Yermasek, Old Crow Tattoo

In 2006, during my senior year of high school, I got injured while playing soccer. I jumped up for a header pretty close to the goal, kind of went sideways in the air, and came down hard on my back. I was inside the 10-yard box with the ball still in play, and it was crowded with people moving around. I sat up and braced my hands to the ground behind me to push myself up. Another player was running across and jumped to avoid hitting me. He failed miserably.

His left foot came down right on my forearm right as I put my weight on it. Having broken bones beforehand, I knew it was broken as soon as it happened. I don’t remember hearing the snap, but was later told everyone heard it. I lifted my arm up by the elbow and it literally looked like there was another elbow bent 45 degrees just above the one I was holding. My surgery consisted of two six-inch incisions—2 plates, 12 bolts, and around 30 staples. The radius and ulna bones had criss-crossed when they snapped, so they had to go in on each side of my arm to pull them back and reset.

Fast forward to 2020, and I’m really into tattoos and watching Ancient Aliens. I had always wanted a tattoo on that forearm, but didn’t really want to tattoo over the scar. I wasn’t self-conscious about it. I mean, in the words of the great Shane Falco, “Chicks dig scars.” I was worried on how ink would take to the scar tissue. So I started looking online at how others have tattooed around their scars versus tattooing directly on top of them. Being a huge fan of all things UFO and paranormal, I thought the scar would look pretty cool as a beam coming out of a flying saucer.

At first I wanted to have coloring around the whole scar to make it look like it was glowing, but then I decided it would end up taking attention away from it. So, I decided to have a saucer abducting a woman with colors at the top and bottom. It makes the scar look much more pronounced and incorporated into the design. It took around 2 hours to complete. I’m extremely pleased with the results—it gets a lot of compliments and is a great conversation starter.

Name: Kevin Abraham
Age: 27
Artist: Eldrick Murphy, Sin on Skin

Before I get into the story about the tattoo, I need to tell you the story behind the scar. In 2016, I was diagnosed with a form of bone cancer called Langerhans Cell Histiocytosis (LCH), which damages tissue and can cause lesions to form in the body. Basically, this cancer grew a tumor on my rib, and because of that I had to get three ribs removed on my right side and all of my lateral muscle as well to ensure there was no spreading.

As you can imagine, cancer was a very dark time in my life. People have harder battles than I did, but for me, the time was very dark. I wanted to get this tattoo because it was my way of showing acceptance of what happened. When I look at my scar, I remember all the hard times that cancer brought on me, my family, and my friends. But since getting the tattoo, I can also remember a happier time, a time when I chose to accept what happened to me and that I survived it. And what’s a more badass way to show it than getting a tattoo?

The tattoo itself took about two hours in total. From what I understand, tattoo scars are not exactly easy. My family and friends had an overwhelmingly positive reaction to it—they loved it. I’m extremely happy with it, and it’ll forever be my favorite. That photo was taken on the day it was done.

Name: Emmett L.
Age: 24
Artist: Brandie Cottrell, Atomic Tattoo

I got my tattoo just three months ago. It’s a symbol from the book series Six of Crows, which is a series that got me through some very rough patches with my mental health. It took roughly four hours, but my artist, Brandie Cottrell at Atomic Tattoo, made it feel like the time flew by.

I got the tattoo to cover up self-harm scars from my teenage years. I am a female to male transgender man and, due to severe dysphoria, I resorted to self-harm to try and cope with it. I self-harmed for many years and, even though I’ve been clean for quite a while now, I would still get some very intrusive questions about my scars.

In the end, I wanted something to cover it up—not because I’m ashamed of my past, but because I wanted to show what I have overcome. Now instead of having scars that I feel the need to hide, I have a piece of art that I can proudly display.

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