Adolescence can be one of the most difficult times in a person’s life.
It’s the stage where people are supposed to carve out an identity and work their way toward independence. It’s when people start taking relationships more seriously and many develop their lifelong hopes and dreams—but balancing social life with school and extracurricular activities can seem nearly impossible. For some, these challenges become so difficult to bear that they resort to self-harm.
This was the case for 19-year-old Aoife Lovett. As a younger teenager, she experienced mental health issues and used cutting as a coping mechanism. She is now past that point in her life, but the scars from those days stayed behind as a grim reminder of darker times.
“It’s very hard when you’re a couple of years clean from doing it and every day you’re constantly reminded of what you did,” Lovett told Independent.ie. “It brings back memories of how you felt then. There’s a lot of shame that comes with it and guilt, especially when you’re around your family.”
The young woman from Clondalkin, Ireland, had tried for years to get her scars covered up. She spoke with tattoo artists from all over the area, but none of them were willing to help her.
“A lot of tattoo artists avoid doing tattooing over scars … if you want your best piece it’s going to be better on flat skin,” tattoo artist Ryan Kelly explained.
Lucky for Lovett, while Kelly at least partially understood why other tattoo artists wouldn’t want to work with her, he made sure that she would not only get her scars covered up—but do it for free.
When Lovett’s mother called in explaining her daughter’s situation, Kelly helped without giving it a second thought. Lovett now has a tattoo of a rose and dagger where her scars once were.
Lovett is just one of the many people Kelly has helped over the past few months. When his close friend and mentor, Johnny Connolly, committed suicide in 2016, Kelly became very empathetic to those who have self-harmed.
“One of the owners from here was one of the first people to give me a chance. He was in where I got my apprenticeship when I was 17 and when he moved studio, I moved with him,” Kelly recalled.
“He killed himself about a year ago. After that, and the struggles that I’ve been through, I kind of wanted to do something.”
It took a while for Kelly to figure out what specifically he needed to do but the answer came to him when a young woman visited his office.
“A girl just randomly came in looking for a tattoo to cover up some scars, and I got talking to her, and she started telling me her story, and at the end of that it didn’t really feel right to charge her,” said Kelly.
So, he decided to keep offering scar cover-up tattoos for free. In February, he officially launched the project under the title Scars Behind Beauty. Now he does one cover-up per week, and it has become hugely successful—with a waiting list of over 350 people.
While tattooing on scarred skin can certainly be challenging, Kelly knows that it’s the right thing to do.
“It can take a little bit more time sometimes, but for me it means a lot more than that because you’re helping someone move on from a difficult time,” Ryan said.
Aoife Lovett certainly agrees.
“I think what Ryan is doing is brilliant because it’s very hard to get someone to tattoo over [scars] and it’s such a meaningful thing to me to get them covered and get them covered well,” she said.
“Ryan is helping people is move on. It’s putting something beautiful over something ugly. It gives you a new sense of freedom and you get your confidence back.”