Girl with the fox tattoo: Yellowknife woman uses body art to heal from sexual trauma

Makenzie Zouboules, a young woman in Yellowknife who is a survivor of sexual assault, says the fox represents "strength, cleverness and resourcefulness."

'I had spent the last few years of my life treating my body like a crime scene'

Makenzie Zouboules' tattoo covers her entire thigh. She says it's a reminder - for herself, her loved ones and strangers - that "this body is mine." (Submitted by Makenzie Zouboules)

It was her first tattoo, what she calls her "positive scar."

Makenzie Zouboules of Yellowknife says she wanted to leave a special mark on her body following the negative ones left from being a survivor of sexual assault.

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"Two years ago was the last time that I was sexually assaulted," said Zouboules, a peer leader with FOXY (Fostering Open Expression among Youth), an N.W.T. organization that is helping young women learn about sexual health through expressions of art.

Zouboules says she wanted to commemorate her personal healing journey and FOXY's fifth anniversary with her first tattoo. (submitted by Fred Cattroll)

"I wanted to pick a scar to commemorate that in a way that represented my own strength, but also the strength of my community." 

It's the organization's fifth anniversary today.

Zouboules, who's worked with FOXY since its launch in 2012, said she started looking for a tattoo artist in anticipation of the anniversary.

This body is mine.- Makenzie Zouboules

"The program changed my life," she said. "I wanted to surprise my bosses with this artwork that represents the last five years of strength."

Candice Lys, FOXY's executive director, has known Zouboules since she was 16.

"Over that time I've seen her both experiencing trauma and experience a massive amount of healing as well," said Lys.

"The tattoo's very beautiful. I'm really glad she did something for herself in her healing journey."

Resourceful like a fox 

The oval-shaped tattoo shows a fox leaping over the land, which covers her entire thigh.
Each image in Zouboules' tattoo has a deeper meaning behind it. (Submitted by Makenzie Zouboules)

"I wanted a fox that was jumping to represent the strength… cleverness and resourcefulness of foxes," said Zouboules. "They're very in tune with their environment, and that's how I feel about a lot of people I worked with within FOXY."

Under the fox's paws, there's a landscape of a snowy tundra with a dark, midnight sun coming up from the horizon. A cluster of fireweed grows out of the ground, signifying the frequent forest fires in the North.

"I wanted a scar that represented rebirth," said Zouboules.

The cranberries on the ground were inspired by a story she heard about young, Dene women not eating cranberries for a year after they started their menstrual cycle "in order to represent the new power that they had to give life," said Zouboules.

Cranberries are also "very persistent," she says. "Our cranberries up North grow all over the rocks… They're kind of sour, they're rugged, and they're rough around the edges, but they're really beautiful."

4-hour tattooing brought back memories

Zouboules said she initially wanted to get her tattoo done by a woman or an LGBTQ individual.

"It was really important to have someone mark my body permanently who I trusted," she said.

But she ultimately entrusted the task to a male tattoo artist recommended by her friends. 

Zouboules, far right, with other FOXY members. FOXY, an organization that helps young women talk about sexual health, is celebrating its fifth anniversary today. (Submitted by Kayley Mackay)

The experience was "intimate," she said. "I hadn't been on a table since [my] forensic exam, which for those who don't know, is an exam that when you report to the police, you can request… to have evidence collected after any sort of crime."

Zouboules said the four-hour session brought back memories and emotions.

"Someone who was a tattoo artist was treating my body with so much deference in a way that I hadn't experienced when I had gone to the RCMP," said Zouboules. "I had spent the last few years of my life treating my body like a crime scene."

Now the tattoo will remain on her body as a reminder to herself that "it's not a weakness to have something difficult happen to you" and to "take our bodies back after trauma," she said.

"This body is mine."

With files from Pat Kane