A tale of a mastectomy tattoo

There’s a story circulating that claims Facebook removed this image of Inga Duncan Thornell because it violated FB’s nudity policy.



The policy states that FB has zero tolerance for pornographic content and will “impose limitations” on the display of nudity. The policy goes on to claim that FB “aspires to respect people’s right to share content of personal importance, whether those are photos of a sculpture like Michelangelo’s David or family photos of a child breastfeeding.”

As I read the story about FB censoring this image, my blood began to boil. I read and re-read the FB nudity policy and could not for the life of me understand how the image could be considered pornographic. Or even nude, for that matter. I’ve seen much more obscene and revealing images on FB than this one. She’s not even showing any cleavage, for crying out loud. Oh wait — never mind, Inga’s not showing cleavage because she doesn’t have any to show. Cleavage is one of the many things we’re left without following a bilateral mastectomy.

Fueled by my anger, I was fixin’ to write a nasty email to the FB powers that be to tell them how utterly ridiculous this is. And discriminatory. And stupid. And short-sighted. And Puritanical. And hypocritical. And insulting. And on and on and on. Before I shot my mouth off, however, I wanted to find out a little bit about the woman pictured in the so-called offensive image. Unlike the media outlets that broke and spread this story, I did a little nosing around to see what I could see.

Inga had this tattoo done after her bilateral mastectomy. She and her tattoo artist were featured in a documentary in 2001 called MSNBC Investigates: Tattooed Women. She was very nervous about being on the show but felt it was important for other women — both those affected by breast cancer and those who have so far managed to evade diagnosis — to see this option to reconstruction. Inga was also featured in the book Bodies of Subversion: The Secret History of Women and Tattoos.

Imagine Inga’s surprise when, years after her media exposure, she found out that her tattoo photo was popping up all over Pinterest and Facebook. She was even more surprised to get a call from a local reporter asking her opinion of Facebook having censored her photo. He told her that The UPI broke the story of Facebook removing her image from the tattoo studio’s FB page, apparently without checking the facts too closely, then The Huffington Post picked up the story and published it, again without checking the facts. Inga knew nothing of the firestorm that was brewing, and luckily the local reporter called the tattoo studio to get the real story before publishing it. He discovered that the image had not been removed from the studio’s FB page, and that FB had no intention of deleting the image.

I checked Custom Tattoo Design’s Facebook page just now and the photo is there, in its glory, for all the world to see.

Well, that rather took the wind out of my sails. Guess there’s no need to craft a sharply worded rant to Facebook.

It did get me to thinking, though, about just how crazy-weird our society is about breasts. We go from cherishing them as a food source for our infants to exalting them as the ultimate symbol of femininity and sexiness. We vacillate between highlighting them in all manner of ways to reassuring pink-ribbon-club members that their lack of breasts doesn’t define them. Victoria’s Secret shows borderline pornographic scenes in its TV and print ads, and even has an entire TV “fashion” show devoted to lingerie models strutting their stuff and spilling out of the latest VS styles, including a $2.5 million “Fantasy Treasure Bra.” And there’s even a discussion on whether Inga’s tattooed image is unacceptable?

8 Comments on “A tale of a mastectomy tattoo”

  1. David Benbow says:

    I love the ink! I also love that she found her own way to make the most of her situation. It’s beautiful. Thanks for sharing (and for doing your research).

  2. jbaird says:

    Wow, this does get my blood boiling. I think I had this image on one of my blog posts at one time. I really admired the tattoo work. The Oscars last night featured a song “I saw your boobs.” I thought it was totally inappropriate, but our society is so obsessed with them, it’s unreal. Because of my new stage IV status, I don’t even care to put my prostheses on. I figure it is someone else’s problem if they don’t like how my chest looks. xox Jan

  3. Patti Ross says:

    Thanks for sharing your research on this matter and reminding us again of society’s ongoing stupid focus on breasts and ignroing the wondrous women who are dealing every day with a battle with breast cancer. You are so brave and valiant–thank you. Keep up the fight!

    • I can’t imagine not fighting this kind of lunacy, Patti. If only the people who focus on boobs knew what it’s like to deal with what we deal with in a very different boob-related context.

  4. Scorchy says:

    Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer also had a photo censored on FB. I made a point of reposting it.

  5. Jennifer says:

    In view of the recent controversy over the mastectomy tatoo:

    I thought back about the equally “controversial” billboard ads from 2000, in the San Francisco Bay Area.


    I believe those 2000 ads (or maybe all the controversy surrounding them) were what triggered me to do my self-exam in February 2000, resulting in finding my stage 1, cancerous lump, not visible on mammogram.

    That was 13 years ago… I am happy to say that I am currently not just surviving, but thriving.
    I wonder about the beautiful tattoo, the subject of the current controversy, and if it might empower even one woman to perform self-exam or have her overdue mammogram; what a wonderful benefit of the controversy!

    Now, post lumpectomy, radiation, and chemo, at age 57, I do not have any tattoos, (except 3 dots they gave me for radiation mapping). Should I ever require a mastectomy, I think I would opt for a beautiful chest tattoo over reconstructive surgery. Wouldn’t it be great if Insurance companies even paid for it?


  6. Inga says:

    Hi, I just saw your post and your reader’s kind comments, thank you. That photo that keeps going around is Tina’s file copy that she took when we completed the tattoo. I am happy to say that we have finally, 20 years later, actually taken some real photos. I’ll be adding them to my blog soon. In the meantime I have some articles that have been published recently and include some pictures.

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