1. This colorful lion covering up scars from self-harm.
“When I was a kid, I was picked on for multiple reasons. … By the time I was a teenager I was neck-deep in depression and taking it out on myself seemed like the only relief. Now that I’m older and much better equipped to deal with my mental health, I decided to cover up my years of self-harm scars.
A lion was the first thing I thought of when I wanted something representing strength, plus we put in lotus and azalea blossoms in the mane for their symbolism of overcoming struggle. Instead of seeing a painful reminder of where I was, I get to look at this badass symbol of where I am.”
4. This powerful symbol of recovery from an eating disorder.
“I have struggled with several eating disorders my whole life. During my road to recovery, I have focused on NOURISHing my body so I can do the things I love to do! The ‘o’ is the National Eating Disorder Association symbol. This tattoo is a reminder of my past, somewhere I never want to go again!”
6. This specimen in a jar following brain surgery.
“I got a brain in a specimen jar with a monocle three years after I had brain surgery to remove a tumor. Pre-surgery, I had a hemorrhage and lost vision in my left eye, hence the monocle. I’m currently fighting liver cancer; when I beat it, I’m going to honor that battle won too!”
9. This important pep talk.
“As for every teenager, things got tough. I began looking to music for help. I found a band called the Wonder Years and fell in love with their music. These lyrics always stood out to me. You don’t always have to be happy. But you just can’t let the sadness get you. The chemical structure in the middle is of dopamine and it’s just a constant reminder to not let my sadness get the best of me.”
10. An important message from a loving grandma.
“My grandmother has always said ‘I adore you’ instead of ‘I love you.’ It feels more sincere. I incorporated the National Eating Disorders Association with it and placed it on my side so that on those days when I’m feeling weak I’m reminded that I am adored regardless of what my body looks like.”
13. This ode to courage.
“I was always the fat sister, the fat-but-funny girl, the one that was weak and fragile. One day I tried CrossFit with my girlfriend and I didn’t look back. Now I am strong, confident, unstoppable, and fearless like my tattoo. And just like my favorite Disney girl Mulan, I know that ‘The flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.’”
14. This homage to loving yourself.
“I have struggled with my weight and people’s negative reactions throughout my life, and felt that these words honored my love for my body regardless of other opinions. For my 19th birthday, I finally mustered the courage to get these [One Direction] lyrics tattooed on my right hip. … The ‘you’ and ‘me’ both refer back to myself and the whole tattoo acknowledges that I do get to love myself, despite what others may say.”
15. This hard-earned symbol of tenacity.
“This is actually my sister’s tattoo. It is a symbol of strength with the words ‘Just do it.’ My sister has not had an easy road to a healthy life. But she works so hard to balance everything. I have seen her conquer personal demons and come out on top. She’s tough, runs obstacle races with ease, and has more upper-body strength than anyone I know … I love that my sister can kick ass and take names. I love that my sister is a fighter. I love my sister. And she loves me (more than the gym, I hope)!”
16. This colorful celebration of swimming and the sea.
“I got this tattoo about six years ago in Montreal. I was a competitive swimmer for 10 years and taught swimming for another five after I stopped competing … I now live right next to the sea so I’m still able to have my water fix.”
17. This full-back piece that covers spinal cord surgery scars.
“I got this full-back piece after a thoracotomy to remove a grapefruit-size tumor from a nerve near my spinal cord. I found out about the tumor a month or so before a study abroad trip in Mexico. I decided to distract from the giant scar on my back with a Mexican-styled tattoo celebrating the death of Pearl, that nasty tumor I decided to name. She’s all filled in now. The process took over a year.”
19. This tree of life to commemorate the life and death of a best friend.
“My best friend was diagnosed at 35 with stage 4 breast cancer. Even though it was a grim diagnosis, we promised each other we would get the tree of life tattoo when she went into remission. She never did, and passed 17 months later. Her death, the death of my soulmate in a friend, ripped me apart. Once I got myself together, I committed to a healthier lifestyle because I owed it to my body … Her initials are in the tree of life. It also serves as a pretty badass scar cover-up! :)”
20. And these song lyrics that keep you company when you’re down.
“I got this when I visited my best friend in London, right before I reached my deepest point. It’s from a song by Seether, a band that has helped me through my depression the past seven years. I absolutely love it and the placement (on my ribcage).”
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
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