Breasts and body art

Bad girl Rihanna revealed her underbreast tattoo on Instagram in September 2012; it was of Goddess Isis in memory of her late Grandma, Clara “Dolly” Brathwaite.

Rihanna’s comment read: “Goddess Isis – Complete Woman – Model for future generations – #GRANGRANDOLLY – always in and on my heart #1love.” We’re sure Gran Gran would have been proud...

But tattooed boobs are nothing new. In 1962, Timmie Jean Lindsey wanted to eradicate the roses on her chest, which were entwined with her and her partner’s name, when she discovered he was cheating on her – this early removal request led to the first breast augmentation.

Breast tattoo designs

Underbreast tattoos, like Rihanna’s, are increasingly popular and often include meaningful quotations and personal phrases along the breast fold. Alternately, images can use the breast and / or nipple, such as Atlas bent over carrying the weight of the boob on his shoulders, or a naked woman with the real nipple as her own.

More commonly, tattoos are found on the upper breast tissue and tend to be delicate and feminine. Some women prefer to have them covered by everyday clothing and only revealed during intimacy, while others like to tease onlookers with a little detail poking out from the bra line onto the chest or up the shoulder.

Ladies with a wicked sense of humour might go for an eye-catching eye on each breast or a comment, such as, “Look up fellas!” Another popular design is something in between the breasts, highlighting a deep cleavage.

Memorialising a mastectomy

Nowadays breast tattoos are not just for fashion. Many women who go through a mastectomy are unable to save their nipples in order to remove all breast tissue affected by cancer, and so opt for the next best thing; nipple tattoos. Not only does it help make the breast look more normal (whether it’s reconstructed or not), but it becomes something of a badge of honour, a way of marking the battle they won.

Many tattoo artists are now beginning to specialise in creating realistic-looking nipples, and some can achieve a 3D effect through the use of light and shade, which has even fooled doctors at check-ups.

Other women, who have survived the ordeal of cancer and a mastectomy, take the option one stage further and decorate their scarred chests with intricate designs. This helps to turn something so devastating and negative into a powerful, beautiful and unique image.

Although there are no known links between tattoos and cancer, breast cancer survivors considering a tattoo to give the illusion of a nipple, or to mark a victory, are advised to check with their doctors first before getting inked, as the skin may have been altered through surgery or radiation.

Women who are lucky enough to have escaped the disease themselves, often choose to have the breast cancer pink ribbon permanently adorned on their chest in honour of a loved one, or simply to support the cause.

Pierced and proud

Pink, Christina Aguilera and Rihanna are among the female celebrities proud to show that they have had either one or both nipples pierced, and it is now a mainstream occurrence, not one just reserved for punks or fetishists. As with tattoos, it is important that you get it done by a reputable professional; the jewellery used must be thick enough so that it does not migrate into the body where it can be rejected.

A common concern is the possibility of breastfeeding in the future, and there is no reason why a nipple piercing should prevent this at all. You must, of course, remove the piercing before feeding to prevent your baby choking on the jewellery and to allow her to latch on properly, and you may experience leakage due to the extra holes, but other than that it is perfectly feasible.

The more adventurous try a sternum, or cleavage piercing. This vertical piercing, right between the breasts, is a high-risk option as far as rejection rates go; not only must it be done by an expert, but you will need to be very careful how you handle it while it is healing. Even if you do everything properly, there is still a good chance that your cleavage piercing will be temporary.

Pain or pleasure

We all have different pain thresholds and all tattoos hurt to a certain extent, so it’s never going to be a pain-free experience. It’s best not to be tattooed during your period, as your breasts are likely to be more sensitive, and being inked on fatty breast tissue is likely to be easier to bear than skin which is close to muscle or bone. If it’s a large, intricate design you might need to have it done in a couple of sittings to make it more manageable. Some of the women opting for a post-mastectomy tattoo commented that they felt no pain, as the skin and nerves had already been wrecked through treatment.

For piercings, the process is over in the blink of an eye, so the pain is fleeting. Women who had a tough time breastfeeding often say that they have had much worse nipple pain from greedy babies than a piercing; many ladies even report an increased sensation after a piercing, which can reawaken sexual pleasure in tired breasts.

While piercings can be removed and heal over, remember that tattoos are for life, unless you undergo expensive, and equally painful, laser removal. Think twice before committing; are you happy to be a 90-year-old in a care home with tattooed breasts?

by Lucy Ellis

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