For most, tattoos seem like an artistic way to cover your body with stories, say, spice things up a bit (of course, moms will most likely tell you it’s a job liability that won’t do you any good in life). But for people whose skin is already covered with stories of their own – tattoos mean so much more than that.
Tran Thi Bich Ngoc, also known as Ngoc Like Tattoo, knows this better than most. After all, this Vietnamese tattoo artist with over a decade of experience under her belt specializes in helping women who wish to cover up scarring from self-harm, mastectomy, post-birth, accidents, burns, trauma, and abuse experiences. To celebrate Ngoc’s most recent work, we’ve collected some of the artist’s most impressive new tattoos which range from flowers to Studio Ghibli classics.
Irrespective of their size, scars can serve as poignant reminders of past traumas and can lead individuals to feel disconnected from their own bodies. And this is where Ngoc’s work becomes important, as it offers a way to help individuals reclaim their sense of self and alleviate the emotional distress associated with their scars.
“I have met many women who said they love tattoos. However, most of them were born at a time when no one supported it,” Ngoc wrote in her blog. As she explains, not even her parents appreciated her becoming a tattoo artist. Although all that changed as soon as she dedicated herself to scar cover-ups.
In certain parts of the world, including Vietnam, where Ngoc operates, tattoos continue to carry a stigma due to historical reasons. Despite the tattoo industry’s growth in the country, many residents, particularly from older generations, still do not perceive it as a legitimate form of art. Although, Ngoc doesn’t seem to be all that cornered about it.
“No, I do not really care about that,” she told Bored Panda via Instagram. “I have my own point of view and public opinion does not affect me. Besides, I always have support from my family. They believe that my job brings happiness to people, so I feel steady following my path.”
Although the stigma around tattoos in Vietnam has not totally disappeared, with 25% of residents “feeling scared” when seeing body art, according to 2015 research by Q&Me, attitudes today are much more relaxed than in the past. Previously, finding information about the best tattoo parlors in Hanoi was a challenge. But now, although not as prevalent as in the UK or US, there are sufficient options available for individuals to choose from based on their needs.
One thing that Ngoc shares with Jo Harrison, a fellow cover-up tattoo artist from Shrewsbury, UK, then, is a turbulent start. With only a few female tattoo artists to look up to and threats from local biker gangs, Harrison opened her UN1TY Tattoo Salon in the early 00s, which paved the way for others to follow.
Harrison, who has over 30 years of experience under her belt, got her start in the cover-up business by unfortunate luck. Some of her friends needed help with getting their traumatic scars covered. Since there weren’t many options at the time, Harrison felt obliged to help out.
“When I saw how much of a difference it made to my friends’ confidence and how it positively impacted how they presented throughout their life, I became committed to developing my skillset in this area, hoping to offer this to as many clients as possible,” she told Bored Panda in an email, noting that tattooing over scars was a big no-no during her apprenticeship years.
According to a study conducted by the British Skin Foundation, 72% of individuals with visible scars or skin conditions, including acne, expressed that it has a negative impact on their self-confidence. Additionally, a 2019 study revealed that a majority of mastectomy patients in the United States experience feelings of self-consciousness related to their scars. Which also applies to facial scars, since they can significantly affect psychosocial functioning, leading to heightened levels of anxiety and self-consciousness.
Although it may come as a surprise, the scar cover-up business remains a specialized sector within the tattoo industry, which can be attributed to the intricate nature of the craft. “Tattooing over scars differs greatly from tattooing over unscarred skin. The only thing you can predict is that the skin is really unpredictable!” Harrison said. Ngoc, who believes she has tackled all forms of scars, echoes Harrison’s comment, adding that “using illusion art in covering scars is important” as well.
At the end of the day, both Harrison and Ngoc have no regrets about dedicating their lives to this inspiring form of art. “To me, tattoos are not only a kind of art – they are a kind of therapy,” Ngoc said. “Hearing my clients share their feelings and their stories and, at the same time, allow me to help them have a happier life – is the best thing. I’m lucky to be doing this.”
Note: this post originally had 57 images. It’s been shortened to the top 40 images based on user votes.