International Womens Day 2023

For International Women’s Day this year, I was lucky enough to be invited to do a brief talk at a fundraising evening hosted by the wonderful human that is July, from Train With S.C.U.L.P.T.

 S.C.U.L.P.T. is a private training facility in central Nottingham. Personalised strength training for all genders, with a focus on a holistic approach to health and fitness. 

The evening was raising funds in aid of the Mojatu foundation, a Nottingham based charity who transform communities and individuals through health, media, training and community engagement.

There were some excellent speakers during the evening, with each one giving an insight both unique, and universal. We all came away feeling galvanised as womenfolk; inspired to lift and motivate one another, connect, and do what we can to make the world a better place for all humans.


…and others. Check out @trainwithsculpt on Instagram for more details of the event.

I was speaking on one of my specialist areas of tattooing, Post-Mastectomy Tattooing.

Here is a written version of the talk for you to enjoy, muse on, and maybe even share with someone who may benefit from it.

My name is Anna Garvey, I have been tattooing around 18 years, and one of my specialist areas of practice is Post Mastectomy Tattooing. 

So, what is a post-mastectomy tattoo?

Tattooing is a  procedure where we implant pigment under the skin, so as to create an indelible image.

A mastectomy is the medical term for the surgical removal of one or both breasts, partially or completely. Usually due to breast cancer, or in the aid of prevention of breast cancer.

So, we apply a tattoo to a healed surgical site. 

Now, our relationship with the self and  the skin is a complex one.

The skin is the largest organ on body. It is the main part of us that others see. It literally contains us.

The skin is such a fascinating and important organ, not just for physiological uses (it’s rather useful) but also psychologically. 

The skin is literally the barrier between the self and the other. Everything contained within is the self, everything without, the other. 

It’s a special medium to work with, which brings many special experiences along the way.

All tattoos come with power to the wearer. Maybe some people understand this, even seek it out, and for some it may be subconscious. 

They have been a part of human creation since long before written history. As we developed as homo sapiens, we started to create the practices that go on to become the culture we know today.

We found niches which we desired to fill. We started to paint the walls around us, to decorate the stones, carve the wood, to develop shamanism and belief structures, and to tattoo. 

Tattooing has always been a rite of passage, a cultural marker within our lives to denote a significant time or event… this does not have to be an archaic thing. We will always find ways to fill those niches in our existence, and our wants aren’t that far from those of our ancestors.

In recent years, post-mastectomy tattooing has come into the limelight. Wonderful. 

I shall tell you why.

There are so many things in our human existence that are outside of our control. I won’t begin to list them as there’s clearly too many, but the obvious one here is disease and illness.

Many people are suddenly thrust into a world of fear, upset, trauma because illness strikes. I have heard from many clients that when you are in this position, you are faced with a big loss of ownership of oneself, a disconnection from the you that you were before.

Doctors and specialists are undoubtedly there to try and make you well, but also the body becomes theirs to do what they have to, and want to do with it.   

So much choice is taken away, through necessity and systemic processes.

At the end of what is often a long road, I (we) can work together with a client to create both an image and an experience that can truly be transformative. 

I’m not claiming that by putting a lovely image over a healed surgical site, we can suddenly erase the past and create a new future, but we can certainly gain from it. We can begin a new chapter.

The visual aspect is a powerful one. Have you ever seen a piece of art that moves you, that incites an instinctive reaction in your soul? Now, imagine having that on your skin.

The emotional aspect is an even more powerful one. To know that there is something in your power, in your grasp, that you can do to claim some ownership of your body after so much has been stripped away. To begin to heal the wounds to the self, that lie much deeper than the scars we can see. 

Many women can barely look at their torso after having a mastectomy, and I have several times witnessed the moment where they look at their adorned skin in the mirror after the tattoo session, and you can literally see their relationship with themself changing before your eyes. 

To receive the tattoo can be an uncomfortable and physically and emotionally trying process. To put your trust in an artist can be a challenge for anyone receiving a tattoo, but this can be especially poignant after the experience of illness. There can be physical and psychological sensitisation of that area of the body. For many clients it will be their first tattoo. They may not have explored the idea of getting tattooed unless they found themselves in this situation.

So many questions can run through the mind. What if I don’t like it? What if I can’t bear the feeling? What if I don’t work well with the artist? What if I don’t like the design? How will I feel afterwards?

This is why I am as focused on the experience as the art. It is no good having a beautiful picture on your body if you didn’t have a good experience in receiving it. For me, a beautiful, clean and welcoming studio space is vital. To inspire people, to make them feel safe. And how we are as practitioners through the process is also an essential ingredient to the process. We have to balance being sympathetic, empathetic and kind humans with being a professional. Their experience, their grief and trauma is not ours as practitioners to claim. We must be there to support and guide, but allow the recipient to navigate the experience in their own way emotionally..

So, after facing these challenges during the tattoo sessions, you can step away feeling like a stronger version of yourself. You have faced down fear, doubt, discomfort, look in the mirror and know you’re a warrior.

For each time we volunteer to undertake a challenge, we strengthen our relationship with ourselves. 

I think in this setting particularly [private gym] it is something that many of us can identify with.

I came to July a year ago, after years of pain and injury that had ground my life to a halt. With their guidance and support, and a lot of challenging myself, I have found that sense of power; a semblance of control. 

To take ownership of our bodies through making choices to benefit us physically and mentally, to commit to rise to the challenge, to take a grip on the reins of pain and fear, to challenge the narrative surrounding our bodies. through whichever medium we choose, is a powerful move. 

On this, International Womens Day, I would like to acknowledge how lucky we, assembled here, are to live here, now. We have these positive actions within our grasp. We have the freedom to enact the measures that we need to take to improve our existence and that of others. We have healthcare, sanitation, and education. 

There is a long way to go for women all around the world, but I would like to end on a note of gratitude for all of these things that we have, and all the wonderful women in our lives inspiring, motivating and supporting each other through this wild ride of life. 

For more information on my Post Mastectomy Tattooing, read my artist’s blog at

You can book a free consultation on the home page of this website.

You can also visit for more information, including exploring funding, and a list of approved Mastectomy Tattoo artists.


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