Scarring, seams and self-love: the life and times of Willow Noir

Image by Matt Barnes Photography

Does that seem like a complex title for a story to you?  Well, Willow Noir (Rebecca) is a complex woman.  She’s stunningly beautiful (as you can see above), yet she freely admits to being plagued by self-doubt and oftentimes throughout her life, body dysmorphia.  She says she hates her body, yet appreciates it for its functionality.  In her tougher times, she’s punished her body by harming it, by forcing eating disorders – she’s even inflicted pain on it.  Yet she also admits she is aware Willow (her alter-ego)  has “a magic all of her own.”  

Whilst I don’t know Willow personally (I hope to one day soon!) I do know she is a very well-loved and somewhat outrageous character on the New Zealand burlesque scene.  It seems strange and somewhat foreign to me that someone like Willow – so bright and so confident – should have such dark shadows.

This is an issue Willow herself is very aware of – she knows that what you see on Facebook and in photographs and on Instagram is not necessarily reality, and she holds Photoshop and its ilk partially accountable for many of the issues women have with their bodies.  For many years, she believed that what she saw on social media and in magazines, was reality and felt she wasn’t good enough in comparison.  Now she realises that stunning images (like the one above) are achieved by a team of people – hair, makeup, photographers, and yes – maybe even some digital modification as well.  This is something I too feel very strongly about – in fact my article entitled “Are apps and Photoshop ruining your self-esteem?” is one of my most popular blog posts, and probably one of the ones I am most proud of.

Anyway … speaking of modifications, I couldn’t help but notice when I saw Willow at the Very Vintage Day Out this year, that she had “seams” running down the backs of her legs, and these seams weren’t tattooed on but were, in fact, scars.

Willow Scarification
Image of Willow Noir’s seams from RAW series by

Now this is something far beyond the realm of Mumpty’s wee world, so I decided I wanted to find out more about it from Willow because it pretty much blows my mind that someone would voluntarily go through what I can only imagine would be a terribly painful ordeal!

So here is my Q&A with Willow about what I now know, is called “scarification.”

1) Did this come from a place of self-harm (i.e. wanting to hurt your body) or a place of self-love (where it’s an adornment)?
I’m glad you asked this question as people often think that body modification is a form of harming the body – yet this, in my case, and amongst my modified friends, is not the case.

People may believe the process of scarification to be a form of body mutilation, but to me it is a type of body beautification. Many of those people may also believe that tattoos and piercing are mutilation too, or an unnatural act toward the body because they can’t understand it or can’t see the art inherent in it. Yet for as long as people have been around, they have been adorning their bodies and expressing their individuality in many different ways. To me a body modification is just the same as the style of clothing you choose to wear, or the way you style your hair, or apply your make-up.

I understand that scarification – as it’s not widely seen in NZ – is not everyone’s cup of tea, but as they say … “different strokes for different folks.”

Willow cuts

2) The most obvious question I guess … did it hurt?  Or should I just say, how much did it hurt?  What was the worst part about it?
Willow: People ask me that question all the time.  I always reply with a big smile on my face and tell them … “of course it f#**ing hurt!”

I hadn’t given a thought to the pain until the morning of the procedure.  To be honest, I wasn’t actually very worried about the pain as I have a high pain threshold.

Getting the actual work done was not as bad as I thought. The outside cuts were done without any anaesthetic, but to stem the bleeding, and so that the practitioner could see where he was working, a “blue gel” was applied. Although this offered a little relief it didn’t make me oblivious to the pain, especially the ankles and backs of the knees. What I didn’t know was that the worst was yet to come …

The WORST part about it was definitely the healing process.
For some strange, unknown reason, I had decided they would only take two weeks to heal.  Now I think back to that and I smile at my naivety!  It was near-on a month until I could walk straight-legged and get around normally, sleep in any position I wanted, and go to the toilet in an easy manner! (I added this last part not to be crass, but because I found the way I had to go about my ablutions rather hilarious!) but it took over a year for them to be fully healed.

The singularly most painful part was showering – especially that very first one.  I actually had to get out of the shower and ask my friend for a juice as I knew I was very close to passing out. Yet in saying this, the twice-daily cleaning of the cuts was a prolonged agony. I was very lucky to be living in a house full of dear friends who helped me through this process – I’d lie on the lounge floor, sometimes moaning in pain, while one friend cleaned out the valleys in my skin and another was on hand to pass me cigarettes, and/or gin.

I quickly decided that budget super-sanitary pads were the most cost-effective dressings instead of the ones sold at the pharmacy.  I also used a great deal of Savlon cream and liquid. And then they got infected … but that’s another story!

3) What is the process for this type of body modification?  Where do you go?  Do you just walk in and say you want it or is there more to it than that?
Willow: You definitely don’t just walk into any place and ask for them to slice sections of your skin out of your body!  My friend, who wanted her ears pointed, actually informed me that a body modification practitioner from Australia was doing a guest spot at Ninja Flower; the only place to go in Wellington for piercings due to their service, super-hygienic methods, attention to detail and beautiful jewellery.

So after doing my research, I booked in for an appointment. I would like to stress – as with any modification – that it is essential to do your research and not just to walk into any old place. I believe it’s necessary to give plenty of thought to your idea as you want to be proud and happy of your modification.

4)  What inspired you to do it?
Willow: My inspiration came from the make-do and mend way of life during WWII.  Due to the rationing of luxury items such as stockings, women improvised by using gravy browning to stain their legs and by drawing seams down the back of them with eye pencil.  I have always loved the aesthetic of seamed stockings and this way mine are always straight and never run.  As an elderly women said to me, after stopping me on the street to politely ask about my seams, I’m going to save a great deal of money on stockings!

5)  Is there a reason you didn’t just get your seams tattooed on?
Willow: There sure is!  I believe anyone can get a tattoo (although I’m yet to get inked myself) and as I’m never one to float along with the crowd, I chose this fascinating option instead. For about ten years I’d wanted them done in this style, but I’d probably only seen two people with scarification at that point.

6) I read that you feel your body modifications give you the strength and the the courage to do other things in your life.  Can you explain?
Willow: Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

I believe that pushing my body shows me what I’m capable of, and it also reassures me that I am strong.  It gives me a sense of “well if I can do that, I can do anything”. So far, I have also done eleven body suspensions, (look that up on the internet if you are unsure about what Willow is talking about) and each time is a challenge and entirely different. There is something freeing in the knowledge that you, and your body, can do these things.

7) Would you do it again?
Willow: Of course I would. 

Willow Noir seams
The final result … image by ShayRon Photography

And that, my friends, is a little window into Willow’s world of scarring, seams and self-love.  I thank you very much Willow for being so generous with your story – you are indeed a shining star and I wish you all the happiness in the world!

Self-love by whatever means you choose …





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