Melbourne based tattooist Whitney Develle devoted her year in 2016 to covering self-harm scars with her tattoo art to raise awareness for mental health.
After having the privilege of tattooing one of her close friends to cover up self-harm scars, Whitney was inspired by the way she could improve her client’s thoughts towards themselves and as a result, The Scars Project was born. She has now created more than 50 cover-up tattoos free for self-harm survivors.
“I had the privilege of masking one of my own friends self-harm scarring with a tattoo. At the time, I hadn’t personally seen many self-harm scars in person but I was aware of the stigma behind them. Since she had self-harmed, she had learnt and grown as a person but still had the constant reminder,” Whitney said.
Being able to see the shift in her friend’s feelings towards herself after having her scars covered, Whitney made it her mission to be able to make other people feel this newfound happiness she enabled her friend to feel through tattooing art over her scarring.
“After we completed the tattoo, the look on her face and the reaction I received was worth more than any amount of money. I felt like I had opened a door to a new stage in her life and it was such a beautiful moment to be able to witness,” she said.
For her clients, the disguising tattoos became a way of putting their past behind them and remembering that they made it through an incredibly hard point in their lives and came out the other side of it a survivor.
The beautiful and intricate cover-up tattoos allow the self-harm survivors to be confident in their own skin again as they take away the scars that once hindered them and reminded them of the hardest times in their lives.
“The tattoos bring back their confidence. They had progressed, changed, grown and moved on as people and were now wanting to look at a tattoo that had a more positive meaning as opposed to the pain that was behind the scarring,” Whitney explained.
As Whitney received thousands and thousands of emails each week from survivors wanting her help to cover up the scars of their past, she realised that everyone had a different story and they were all seeking her help for different reasons.
Some clients wanted to be provided with an escape from their past and some simply wanted a reminder that they survived and that their journey has made them stronger in life.
“For some, they want to completely forget and the tattoo covering their scarring brings them the closure that they need. For others, the tattoo is a symbol of new life, a reminder that they faced their demons and are still here today,” Whitney said.
When her clients were on the tattoo table, they often opened up about their stories and what had led them to scarring themselves, trusting Whitney with memories they often didn’t want to return to.
“I think a lot of my clients would open up as they knew it was a safe place, they wanted me to know the meaning behind the idea of the tattoo so I could feel the emotions when I was designing the cover up,” Whitney explained.
Beyond Blue states that almost half of the Australian population suffer from mental illness at one point in their life. Knowing how much it affected people, Whitney wanted to help and has made an incredible difference to those often suffering in silence.
Starting The Scars Project, listening to peoples stories and being able to cover-up their scars has given Whitney the chance to get a better understanding of mental illness and what these people have gone through to be where they are today.
“I have a much deeper appreciation for the resilience of human beings. No matter how difficult situations may become, regardless of the struggle and the darkness that may drag individuals down, they find hope within themselves and they get back up,” Whitney explained.
Although Whitney no longer does self-harm cover-up tattoos for free, she still continues to do them. If you would like to make a booking with her, head to her Instagram page where you will find all of her contact information and some images of the work she has done.