I've tattooed 500 nipples to help breast cancer survivors feel sexy again

Holding up a mirror to my client, who is topless, I hold my breath as she eyes her breasts, looking critically from one nipple to the other. 

I watch as her face crumples, then the next moment she’s in tears. Thankfully, they are tears of joy. 

‘You’ve done such a good job,’ she smiles as I hand her a tissue. ‘I can’t even tell them apart. I can finally put that horrible chapter of my life behind me.’ 

The chapter she’s referring to is a battle with breast cancer that led to her having one of her breasts removed with a mastectomy. 

She’d opted to have a reconstruction at the same time, where surgeons recreate the shape of a breast, but many of these reconstructions are nipple-less. 

That’s where I come in. 

For the past five years I’ve been using my skills as a tattoo artist to painstakingly recreate life-like nipples for women recovering from breast cancer – often carefully matching them to a remaining nipple. 

To view this video please enable JavaScript, and consider upgrading to a webbrowser thatsupports HTML5video

I pour my heart and soul into each tattoo, with each typically taking around five hours, but it all comes down to that moment when my client sees her reflection for the first time. It’s magical.

Obviously, I hadn’t envisioned myself becoming a nipple specialist when I first started out as a tattoo artist 16 years ago.  

I’d always loved art and studied it at A-level. I got my first tattoo as a teenager – a playful cherub on my back (although I loved the results, it was a painful experience) – and from that moment on my dream was to become a tattoo artist. 

I secured a three-year apprenticeship at a studio in Milton Keynes, before opening my very own studio, Inkantations, in Towcester when I was just 23. 

I love tattoos but I often found tattoo studios a bit intimidating – the black walls, heavy metal music and skull-and-crossbones imagery can be daunting – so I wanted my place to be welcoming and inclusive to all. 

I played soothing music, hung a floral wreath over the door and decorated the studio with plants and nature photos. Our clients all comment on the studio and how different it is to others they’ve visited. They love how it challenges the stereotype – not just the decor but the warmth, friendliness and even the smell. 

My specialism was full-colour realism and I built a name for myself in the industry for my extremely realistic tattoos of beautiful botanicals, animals, amphibians and birds.  


That’s how I first ended up re-creating a nipple. A lady who’d survived breast cancer heard about my work and contacted the studio, asking if I might be able to help her. 

She’d had a mastectomy and reconstruction on the NHS, but the nipple tattoo she’d been given as part of her surgery looked awful and had begun to fade straight away. 

When she showed me, I was shocked. She asked me if I would have a go at fixing it. 

Challenge accepted! It appealed to my creative side and I desperately wanted to help her, so over a couple of sessions I worked to create a realistic areola over her scar tissue, using her remaining natural nipple for guidance.  

She was so grateful and happy with the results; I wondered if there might be other women out there who needed my help too. 

I began researching breast cancer surgery and recovery, and was amazed to see how bad some of the attempts at nipple reconstruction looked. Don’t get me wrong – I love our NHS – but I also strongly believe that nipple tattooing ought to be done by trained and licensed tattoo artists like myself, rather than nurses. 


I found a tattoo artist in Canada called Stacie-Rae Weir who specialised in ART (Areola Restoration Tattooing) and arranged for her to fly to the UK for an intensive week’s training. 

This training was necessary: there’s a lot to consider. Every single body is different and nipples come in all shapes, sizes and colours.

Some women lose one breast, so there’s a remaining nipple to use as a template, whereas others lose both. I also had to learn how to work with scar tissue. 

I usually mix blends from a few different pigments with three different shades.

Base tones, mid tones, highlights and shadows as well as veins and nipple pert fusion blush tones are all part of the process.

The most challenging part was learning to tattoo body tissue that had been through radiotherapy or narcosis. This skin behaves very differently and the pigment needs to be applied with skill and care to ensure it’s not causing further trauma to such a delicate area.

In 2018 I founded my own medical tattooing clinic, The Kiri Clinic, from my studio, and began specialising in post-breast cancer tattooing. As well as my realistic nipples I can also cover scar tissue with beautiful designs if that’s what my clients prefer. 

Metro.co.uk joins forces with CoppaFeel!

This year Metro.co.uk are the proud sponsors of breast cancer charity CoppaFeel!’s music festival Festifeel, specially curated by their patron, Fearne Cotton.

Taking place on Sunday 18 September at London’s Omeara, the line up includes headliners McFly, comedian Rosie Jones and Radio 1 DJ Adele Roberts. For a chance to win a pair of tickets to the sold out event click here.

You can find out more about CoppaFeel! here, but in the meantime, here’s three simple steps from the charity to get you started on your chest-checking journey:

Look

  • Look at your boobs, pecs or chest.
  • Look at the area from your armpit, across and beneath your boobs, pecs or chest, and up to your collarbone.

Be aware of any changes in size, outline or shape and changes in skin such as puckering or dimpling. 

Feel

  • Feel each of your boobs, pecs or chest.
  • Feel the area from your armpit, across and beneath your boobs, pecs or chest, and up to your collarbone.

Be aware of any changes in skin such as puckering or dimpling, or any lumps, bumps or skin thickening which are different from the opposite side.  

Notice your nipples

  • Look at each of your nipples.

Be aware of any nipple discharge that’s not milky, any bleeding from the nipple, any rash or crusting on or around your nipple area that doesn’t heal easily and any change in the position of your nipple.  

I reckon I’ve tattooed around 500 nipples to date, and I’ve heard some incredibly moving and inspiring stories of resilience and recovery.  

One client told me she’d felt lopsided and ’totally wrong’ until she came to visit me. I’ll never forget her testimonial afterwards, she said I’d ’treated her like the only person in the world that matters’. 

I absolutely love my work, it’s so rewarding and I also work with a charity called the Nipple Innovation Project, which helps to fund nipple tattoos for breast cancer survivors.  

I want to shout about it from the rooftops – which is why I find social media so frustrating. 

I’ve lost count of how many of my nipple photos have been removed by algorithms for being sexualised images. I try to play by the rules, labelling my content as mastectomy nipple tattooing and blurring out any real nipples, but they still get taken down. 

I do understand the need to keep the internet safe. I have two kids so of course I don’t want social media to be full of porn. But medical tattooing is a different matter altogether and people who’ve been through life-changing surgery ought to be able to find accounts like mine that could help them. 

Some of my photos stay up – others are removed. I often dispute decisions to remove my content but it doesn’t make any difference. 

These nipples of mine aren’t naughty, or dirty, or crude. They’re a celebration of the human body and its ability to recover.

I feel privileged to be able to create them and I want to show them to the world. 

My clients tell me their new nipples are life-changing, helping to restore their confidence in their bodies and celebrate getting their lives back on track.  

Hearing that gives me the best feeling in the world.

As told to Jade Beecroft

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected] 

Share your views in the comments below.

Source: Read Full Article