Gwen McClellan didn’t think the marks would ever blend in.
The 44-year-old Vancouver resident has self-inflicted scars from when she was a teenager.
Self-harm, which is not uncommon, is the process of purposefully hurting yourself. It happens most frequently in teenagers and young adults and is a sign of emotional distress, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI.
It can include burning oneself, picking at a wound, cutting oneself or overdosing. It’s not the same as attempting suicide, but it is “a sign of emotional pain that needs to be taken seriously,” according to NAMI.
McClellan said her scars can frequently draw people’s attention, which can make her feel uncomfortable.
“I figured I’d have to live with these for the rest of my life,” McClellan said.
Last week, McClellan found a way to make the scars far less prominent with the help of Lina Anderson, a 32-year-old Vancouver native and resident, who co-owns Studio Meraki, a cosmetic tattoo business in Portland.
For a while, Anderson has done 3D areola tattoo restorations for breast cancer survivors. Instead of massive chest pieces, Anderson is essentially tattooing what nipples look like onto patients, or “creating something that looks natural,” as Anderson told The Columbian last year.
Now, Anderson is working in another tattoo realm, doing watercolor camouflage tattoos to color in scars so they can match surrounding skin.
Anderson does the procedure on people who have scars from bicycle accidents, and in many cases people who have self-inflicted scars.
In both 3D areola restoration and camouflage tattoos, Anderson feels like she’s using her skills to help people on more than just an aesthetic level.
She recently had a woman come in for camouflage tattoos for self-harm scars. The woman said she planned to have a conversation with her daughter about why the scars existed, but did not want to have to see them every day anymore.
Many conversations Anderson has with clients turn emotional. Anderson said the watercolor tattoos have had a lot of demand.
“More people need it than I was thinking,” Anderson said.
McClellan said she will have to do at least one more session before completing the tattoo process. At the moment, she’s happy with how things have turned out.
McClellan is hoping to eventually write a book about the experiences tied to her self-inflicted scars. She wants to have a public voice around self-harm.
She thinks the tattoos are a step forward in that process, that they can help her move on.
“There’s a lot of shame with people when they have cutting scars,” McClellan said. “There’s some hope out there that these can be blurred and you can get past them.”