The Story Behind the Tattoo Bra

Two personal experiences inspired the Tattoo Bra. The first of which occurred in the summer of 2012. 

Chapter 1: Vegas!

My best friend and I met up at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas for some much needed R&R. Why Vegas? Well, it’s one of a few cheap, direct flights to a warmer climate from Bozeman, Montana and pretty accessible from San Diego for my bestie. So, it's where we went for a little break from my battle with breast cancer. We were blown away by the luxury offered from the resort. Lux linens, quality mattresses, gourmet bath products beckoned. I belly flopped onto my cushy bed and fully intended to remain within a 5 feet radius of where I landed for the next 24 hours. Bestie said that was not an option on day-one as she knotted her string bikini in place. Fine. I supposed I could muster the energy to slip on a bikini and make my way poolside where attractive humans deliver drinks to other humans who cannot be bothered to stand in lines for drinks.

We settled in, applied sunscreen and tanning oil, and just as our beverages arrived, we were rattled by the sound of a screaming child. Our skilled momma ears discerned the sound of a tired kiddo who didn't want to miss a thing but also didn't have the energy to stay awake another moment. We nodded in solidarity to the child's mother while simultaneously relishing in the reality that we didn’t have to deal with that nonsense for an entire weekend!  We then looked to each other and spoke without words. The way friends who've known each other the span of their pre-pubescent years into their mid thirties can. And we said without words: It's adult swim time. We packed up and eagerly left the all ages pool area in search of an adults only oasis which we found at the Moorea 'Toptional' pool club. Toptional is such a clever word that the folks at Mandalay Bay had it trademarked.  Women who patronize the adults-only Toptional pool are encouraged to sunbathe and frolic- topless. It was all very European and I pride myself in being open to new experiences. So, I was momentarily confused when my BFF locked eyes with me and asked with real words how I felt about it. "We can leave if it makes you feel uncomfortable." 

I was yanked into my new reality. Pre-breast cancer and pre-mastectomy I wouldn't have batted an eye. This was a reminder of what I'd just lost to improve my odds of survival. "I'm okay," I said. “This is much quieter and it is Toptional meaning I don't think anyone will mind if I opt to keep my top on.” After we settled in and enjoyed a few drinks in the warm Vegas sun strangers started to strike up conversations. "Where are you ladies from?" led to "Why aren't you removing your top? Try it! It's liberating!!" I realized that my honest response that I didn't want to scare anyone was misconstrued and easily confused with girly insecurities. After explaining to the third person that I had mastectomy scars that were still pretty raw and bruised and that I was adjusting to having a body without nipples I felt completely drained. I was reminded that being a breast cancer survivor at 32 was very different than being a Hodgkin lymphoma survivor at 14. My lymphoma scars were discreet and distant. These scars were loud and permanently disfiguring. This was my new reality. I was still accepting my new body. Saying that c-word, cancer… It still stung.  I suddenly just wanted another very strong drink and to crawl into that luxury bed waiting for me back in the hotel. 

Chapter 2: What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas.

For the rest of that year, I made peace with tankinis (yes, that is a full tank top paired with a bikini bottom and it absorbs a tank of water) and embraced more conservative outlets. My newfound puritanical lifestyle would only protect me for so long.  Chemotherapy had put me into menopause. My body started to change- which was fine, I’d wanted some curves since middle school. However one day, I caught a glimpse of my changing body in the mirror. The valleys between the hills were beginning to fill in and I was morphing into the shape of an actual circle. I became fed up and decided that I wouldn’t give in and let myself go. I read about this wacky new concept called hot yoga which was basically a blend of contradictory workouts packaged as yoga, set to loud pop music and done in a room heated to 100 degrees.  I am drawn to shit like that. 

To my surprise, my body responded to hot yoga like no other exercise I’d ever done. The pounds melted off and I found body confidence that I’d never in my life had. Relishing in this knowledge, after an extra-sweaty hot yoga sesh one day (now that I’m a cool hip-pop-yogi I use words like “sesh”) I felt my mental mind floating on a wave of euphoria. I delicately peeled off my sports bra and felt a sudden awareness of eyes on me. The fixed stares yanked me out of my blissful state and I remembered my altered body. I was in a crowded locker room and eyes were on my chest. All I could think was: They're wondering why I don't have nipples. They're following my surgical scars across the odd mounds on my chest where my breasts should be and they are wondering what happened to me. I self-consciously covered my chest with my towel and was pulled down, back into my body. My disfigured body. I was always happy to be a blank canvas, a tattoo virgin. Many breast cancer survivors cover their scars and nipple-less breast mounds with creative tattoo art but I opted to remain a blank canvas waiting to see what developments for nipple reconstruction could potentially arise in the future. In that moment, in that locker room, I found myself wishing I had some layer of coverage.

I am grateful to be alive and I've accepted what my new body looks like. AND I don't always want to be reminded. There are occasions when I want to wear beautiful art over my scars to conceal. There are other times when I wish I had the illusion of nipples under a lacy bra. There are also the days when I love my reflection unaltered. The new me. This was the birth of the concept of the temporary tattoo bra.


~ Marlena