Stacie-Rae Weir, the Badass Tattoo Artist Turning Breast Cancer Scars Into Art
After losing her mother to cancer in 2008, tattoo artist Stacie-Rae Weir went in for testing and discovered that she was positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation. She made the choice to move forward with a mastectomy and during the wait time between her decision and the surgery in 2012, she turned her pain into purpose.
Weir started to specialize in working with breast cancer survivors. In expanding her study of tattooing on scarred skin and drawing nipples, she found that the field wasn't nearly as developed as it could be to meet the needs of those who had undergone mastectomies.
"As soon as my doctor told me I was going to lose my nipples, I immediately thought 'Ok, I know a lot of tattoo artists, I work with some of the best in the world, somebody has to be doing great nipple tattooing out there,'" Weir says. "And I looked around, and nobody was — it was being left up to permanent makeup artists, and they don't really tattoo over scar tissue. I spoke to the guys that I knew that did realism [tattoos], and they said, 'Oh, no, that could be really scary because you could mess it up,' And you can, it's really hard work. So, I thought, 'All right, I guess I've been assigned!'"
Her first areola tattoo training workshop laid bare the divide between what tattoo artists were offering at the time and what she knew, from personal experience, these specific clients needed. As one of InStyle's August Badass 50, Weir explained how the field was falling short, and how she was able to help bring it up to speed.
"They just used this circle template and outlined it," she says. "There's a real effect on quality of life happening when a woman doesn't feel connected with her body because it's not a realistic nipple. They're hiding themselves from their partners because they don't want to share that part of them. It's harder emotionally than people understand; there's a reason we have to do this well."
Weir acknowledges that a doctor's job is done after the necessary medical interventions are completed, but she feels that often the work of emotionally healing is glossed over in terms of a treatment plan. She sees mastectomy scar tattooing as its own kind of healing from the trauma of cancer, through the restoration of some semblance of normalcy for survivors.
After seeing that most tattoo artists lacked the perspective she had, Weir knew she could bridge that gap herself — and she got right to work: she created a line of temporary tattoos called Nipplebacks ("I thought it was funny. Missing something? Here's your Nippleback."), designed the world's first permanent areola pigments as well as a set of needles meant specifically for use on scar tissue, and patented the world's first scarred practice skins, which she developed in a range of skin colors.
To ensure that the field boosts its numbers of artists with her depth of knowledge, Weir founded the A.R.T. (Artistic & Areola Restorative Tattoo) school in 2013 and trains tattoo artists to work with breast cancer survivors.
"Everything that made me mad, I turned into creation," says Weir. "Because I've been there, when I'm talking to the clients about how hard it is to face your reflection without nipples, how confusing it is for your brain, it's like we help each other. They make me stronger, and I try to make them stronger, and I don't think I could've made it through this without my clients being such amazing people. A load shared is a load lightened."
Weir knows firsthand just how empowering a great mastectomy tattoo can be. This is a photo of hers.
"I had a confidence I didn't even know was possible because I felt so beautiful with my mastectomy tattoo," she says. "I had a little pep in my step, walking by people thinking, 'You don't even know how badass I am — I have my boobs tattooed!'"
Looking to the future, Weir hopes to open a storefront that's specifically branded as a healing tattoo location in Austin, Texas so that she can cater more directly to the clientele she knows exactly how to assist.
"Unifying the mind with that new body and working on the acceptance process is where I step in," says Weir. "When you change the way somebody sees themselves, you change the way they see the whole world."
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