Networked Scars: Tattooed Bodies after Breast Cancer

Reisa Klein


This paper investigates the growing trend of mastectomy tattoos as an alternative to reconstruction and their implication on the (de)regulation of women's bodies in the digital context. I explore how tattoos are incorporated into a "breast cancer culture" (King, 2010) as a form of self-care in the recreation of areola pigmentation after breast reconstructive surgery and in cosmetic masking of post-operative mastectomy scars. I am concerned with how online discourses of tattooing practices are drawing women's bodies into an emergent 'biopolitics' (Foucault, 1990; Rose, 2001), a productive type of power concerned with the risk management of a 'biomedicalized subject' where women are encouraged to care for their health through informed decisions via online media (Pitts, 2004) and through consumption and beautification techniques in line with normative femininity (King, 2006). Yet, online media can potentially operate as a site for the creation of new publics wherein women can retell the stories of their bodies through new practices of inscription outside of medicalized and masculinist reconstruction narratives. I perform a discourse analysis of Canadian expert and popular discourses in health websites, plastic surgery and cosmetic service websites, tattoo parlour websites and in social media, including, (an organization that supports mastectomy tattoos). I argue that within digital media competing medical, pop cultural and feminist narratives intersect in ways that can contribute to an "awkward feminist politics" (Smith-Prei & Stehle, 2016) where women's hybridized medical, digital, tattooed bodies can operate as material obstacles to normative correlations between health, femininity and sexuality.

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