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34 Beautiful Tattoos People Got To Cover Their Self-Harm Scars

Inspiring ink from the small and minimalist to the big and colorful.

We asked members of the BuzzFeed Community to show us the tattoos they got to cover up scars.

Many people shared with us the tattoos they got to cover or reclaim scars from self-harm.

Warning: This post contains images and anecdotes surrounding self-harm, eating disorders, sexual abuse, and suicide.

1. These colorful brushstrokes.

"Nobody has ever brought up my scars for the years I’ve been doing it. My little brother is 8 and everyone knows I am his biggest role model. One day he asked me, 'What happened?' and pointed to my wrist. I made up a story, but I didn’t want him finding out what it really was and thinking it was an OK thing to do because I’ve done it. I instantly made an appointment to get them covered up.

I feel so much more proud of myself now than I ever have."


2. This blue butterfly among blue roses.

"Five years of self harming and two suicide attempts, but I’m now three years clean and my tattoo is a reminder of how strong I am, having pulled myself out of the dark place I was in for so long. Self-harm is an addiction I still fight with on the daily, but having my tattoo over five years worth of scarring is an everyday reminder of how I can keep up my strength.

"The blue roses are my favorite flower, and the butterfly from the Butterfly Project that helped me start my recovery. My tattoo is only a few months old, but I love it as much now as I did when I first drew the idea."


3. This strong heart with an inscription that means "forever."

"This is just the start of a sleeve, but it was the most important part. Since the age of 11, I’ve been through so much death, depression, and things an 11-year-old really shouldn’t have to deal with. By the time I was 18, I turned to self-harming. I decided to cover the scar this year (I’m 27 now) because I feel like I can finally close that chapter on my life. I know it will always be there, but at least people won’t ask me about it.

"I chose a heart and the word 'itsumo' (it means 'forever') because heart conditions run in my family. And a strong heart and family got me through the dark days and will always get me through the dark days."


4. This thriving willow tree.

"After suffering from severe anxiety and depression which resulted in self-harm, I decided to get a willow tree tattoo over my scars. I chose the willow tree because it is a well-known symbol of adaptability due to its ability to not only survive, but also thrive in some of the most challenging conditions."


5. This colorful reward for one year free from self-harm.

"I made a pact that if i didn’t self-harm for a year, I would treat myself to a tattoo to cover the scars. Fifteen years free of self-harm."


6. This tattoo representing growth and a fresh start.

"This is only covering two scars from self-harm, but it means a lot to the rest of them… It represents that even when you feel deeper than rock bottom there is always the potential to start a new life once you reach out. I was going to get a full sleeve tattoo to cover everything, but I decided not to hide my story. I love the tattoo, though, because now when people ask what happened, whether it’s a customer, a stranger, classmate or date, I can just say “Shit happened, but I grew from it,” and 9 times out of 10, no further questions."


7. This symbol of recovery from an eating disorder.

"I got this to cover up years' worth of self-harm scars. The symbol in the middle is the logo for National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA). They help raise money and awareness for eating disorders. And above it is the butterfly. When I went into treatment for my anorexia I stayed in a house called Mariposa, which means butterfly in Spanish.

"This tattoo means more to me then most people can understand. It has helped me heal and it has helped me keep moving forward with my recovery. I purposely got this tattoo where I did, not only to cover my scars, but also to help raise awareness. Most people see it and ask what it is and what it means. This helps open the conversation up and usually a discussion starts. Too many people think it’s such a taboo topic, but that is what makes it such a deadly disease. Everybody knows somebody who has or had an eating disorder."


8. This plea that intentionally doesn't obscure any scars.

"After years of depression with suicidal ideation and self-harm, I decided not to cover my scars. I’ve had many deep and meaningful conversations with people about their own struggles when they see my scars. I decided instead to remind myself that I can be stronger than my illness."


9. The constellation Leo as a reminder to love your body.

"After several years of dealing with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, suicide attempts, and self-harm, I got my tattoo of the Leo constellation, my zodiac sign, around my self-harm scars along my thighs. There’s a quote that says, 'Stars are the scars of the universe,' so I view my body as the universe and my scars as the stars. The tattoo really helped me to reclaim by body and learn to love it, scars and all."


10. This reference to a song and reminder to never cut again.

"‘Braille’ is a song by Regina Spektor about the scars that you wear, which may not be visible or may be hard to see, caused by our struggles in life.

"After a suicide attempt, my doctor put me on an anti-psychotic. For the first time in my life, I felt clarity. It was like breathing or seeing the sun for the first time. That day I promised myself that I am worth saving and I would never cut again. I decided to get this tattoo, which I would never cut through, to remind myself of my promise. Though I still struggle and I will never be 'cured,' I have lived to age 25 and just graduated from college; something I never thought I’d be able to do. I am proud of myself. My scars may have faded and may be hard to interpret for someone who has never struggled with mental illness, but they are still a part of me."


11. This short but poignant quote.

"[I got] the phrase 'A time to mourn, a time to dance,' with a semicolon, on top of some of my scars on my wrist from when I used to self-harm in the midst of an eating disorder shortly after my lupus diagnosis in 2006, when I was 16."


12. This detailed geometric flower.

"I just recently got this geometric flower to cover my self-harm scars. It is a huge relief to not see them every day and see something new and beautiful instead."


13. This cool black-and-pink cat.

"A few years ago I had decided that I wanted to take my life. I nearly succeeded in what would’ve been a huge mistake. I cut so deep I got multiple layers of stitches. I carried the scar for two years ’til I decided, 'Hey, I survived. I'm tattooed everywhere else, why the hell haven't I covered up that scar with something beautiful?!' Now when I look at my arm I am never reminded of what I did. I always just see a super cool kitty ready to listen to great jams with me."


14. These song lyrics that are a reminder to keep fighting.

"I got lyrics from 'Failing Is Not Just for Failures’ by Listener over scars from self-harm on my arm. It reminds me that I can either stay where I am, and let my depression call the shots, or I can push through the darkness and keep going. Whenever I’m having a bad day I can look down and remind myself of the strength that’s in me to keep fighting."


15. These powerful symbols done in brown ink.

"My freshman year of college, I cheated on my boyfriend with whom I had been having arguments because he was in the Navy and the distance was causing major issues. It broke his heart, and I hated myself for it so I cut myself on my left arm. Last year, I decided I was tired of looking at my scars, and since I will be graduating this year and then working in a school setting, I decided I would rather my students and their parents see a tasteful tattoo rather than three slits.

"The compass symbolizes having a sense of direction, the mandala represents the search for self-unity and completeness, and the manipura chakra symbol in the center reminds me that my self-esteem is important, that I must respect myself at all times, my confidence is key, and to be proactive rather than reactive. I got it done in brown ink to mimic a henna tattoo. I have no regrets."


16. This phoenix rising from the ashes.

"I struggled with self-harm for 11 years. Last year, I made it a full year without cutting for the first time since I was 10. I got this phoenix to cover the scars on my left arm. Rising from the ashes, I am alive again. Now, a year after this tattoo, I am happily married and pregnant with my first child. Whenever things look bleak, I remember how far I’ve come with this ink."


17. This white-ink reminder of self-love.

"I used to cut myself when I was younger and I cut this heart into my hand. Instead of letting it fade, I decided to memorialize and got it traced in white ink. It’s a reminder to love myself."

Tasha Le

18. This note from a beloved grandparent.

"I started self-harming when I was 11 years old, and I’m approaching 18, being clean of it for the past year. We lost my grandmother almost a year ago to the day. When I was 14, I asked my mom if I could get a tattoo if I could manage to not hurt myself for a year. I stayed true to my word, and hadn’t originally planned to get this tattoo. It’s my grandmother’s handwriting to always keep me grounded and so that I have a small piece of her so close to a part of me that was [associated with self-harm, which was] so hard to overcome. It wasn’t what I originally intended, but after losing her, I knew it’s what I needed. I got it just one month shy of one year ago."


19. This rose that represents growth.

"At a point in my life (September 2015) I was suicidal, and I was sitting on my front porch just burning myself with a cigarette over and over... Once the scars healed, and I was OK, I decided to get a traditional rose to cover up my burns. I have to still go back and get a touch-up on some parts where the scars are still slightly visible. It may not be the most beautiful tattoo, but it represents growth. I love my tattoo. It’s beautiful to me, and it’s the only tattoo my mother approves of because of its meaning."


20. These branches with leaves and acorns.

"I got this done maybe five years after I stopped self-harming. It’s also good motivation to not do it anymore because I wouldn’t want to ruin it. I hear people say it hurts more to tattoo over scars though I honestly didn’t notice a difference. I know my scars are still visible (less than before, thank goodness) but getting this for myself just made me feel like I’m finally leaving it in the past.

Also it is very heavily inspired by René Lalique."


21. This peaceful landscape.

"I’ve been dealing with self harm for 5-plus years now and when I saw this drawn up at the Vancouver Tattoo Convention, I knew I had to get it. My artist turned something sad into something beautiful for me."


22. This dandelion with flyaway seeds.

"I got this dandelion to cover up some self harm scars on my thigh because dandelions are supposed to represent healing."


23. This mountain range that symbolizes overcoming challenges.

"I suffered from depression and self-harmed for almost six years. I got this tattoo as a reminder that I overcame mountains to get to the place where I am in my life, and as encouragement to keep on climbing."


24. This flower with an oversize bloom.

"I struggled with self-harm for six years and got my tattoo almost two years to the day after I stopped. The tattoo reminds me that your past doesn’t define you and that beauty can come out of pain."


25. This brief, flower-adorned reminder.

"I got this to cover a few self-harm scars, which are barely noticeable in the photo, but I got it to remind myself that I need to keep moving in a positive direction."


26. This important reminder.

"It says 'love yourself' in my mom and dad’s handwriting."


27. This pair of tats, both inspired by Lord of the Rings.

"I have two tattoos that cover self-harm scars. The first is on my shoulder, the first place I ever cut. It’s in Elvish, but it translates to 'love never fails.' The second tattoo is still a work in progress, it’s also Lord of the Rings–themed. The shards of the sword remind me that something broken can still be useful, and also that broken things can be remade into something stronger."


28. This blooming peony that represents recovery from sexual abuse and self-harm.

"My grandpa sexually abused me since I was a small child. For a long time, I felt like my body didn’t belong to me. As retaliation, I began self-harming. I carved up my ribs, my breasts, my thighs. They were all the things he loved too much, and I wanted to destroy them. After recovery, my mom bought me scar cream and they faded. Even still, I felt a disconnect from my body. I started letting boys toss me around and abuse me. I saw myself as nothing but a sex object.

"Earlier this year, I relapsed. I was so angry and embarrassed at how weak I still was… So after some thought and saving, I went into a tattoo parlor and got a blooming peony on my sternum and ribs. I wanted to plant something beautiful where something ugly used to be. It’s still not finished, and needs coloring when I can afford it, but for now, it’s a great comfort to see in the mirror. I’m taking my body back, one flower at a time."


29. This anchor with a powerful declaration.

"I got this to cover the scars I had from when I would cut myself to deal with emotional pain. Most people can’t see the scars beneath but I still can."


30. This rose and its accompanying reminder.

"I got this to remind me everyday of the battle I fight…to never give up no matter what happens in my life."


31. This semicolon with cat ears that symbolizes mental health and a loyal feline companion.

"Maybe it’s not easy to see in the picture, but the body and tail of the cat-semicolon is covering up a cigarette burn. I have another cigarette burn on the other side of my wrist. I put those burns there deliberately. After my biggest breakup of my life in 2013, I could barely get a grasp on who I was.

"Last year I was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. I still struggle, but I still fight. I decided to get a semicolon tattoo. I asked the tattoo artist to put cat ears on it. Whether he wanted to be or not, PJ, my now-almost-17-year-old-cat was my biggest supporter. During the darkest times he would come to me when he knew I was upset rather than hiding in the corner like he usually would to have his own personal space. I believe that he loved and felt for me. He gave me comfort."


32. This simple statement and a heartbeat.

"I got this Sylvia Plath–inspired tattoo in order to hide self-harm scars that I had on my hip, including the word 'fat.' This quote inspires me to keep fighting and be OK with where I’m at."


33. This feather that commemorates the life of a recently departed friend.

"I got this one to cover up scars from self-harm. I had a really bad one that stuck out and I felt like everyone could see it and was judging me. I got it on a Wednesday night after another friend died from an intentional overdose. I wanted to remember my friend and it goes with another tattoo of blackbirds I have from the Beatles song 'Blackbird.' ('Take these broken wings and learn to fly.') Today I am three years free of self-harm!"


34. And this depiction of an inspiring Hindu goddess.

"This tattoo was designed by my ex/bff of 10 years and I got it to cover self-mutilation scars from when I was a teenager. It’s Maa Durga and she is a badass goddess. So now instead of remembering depression, I remember to be a badass warrior like Maa Durga. The square root reminds me I’m 'radical.'"


Responses have been edited for clarity and/or length.

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