Interview with Tanya Buxton by Freya Bennett
I have been obsessed with tattooing for as long as I can remember. Fascinated by my father’s tattoos as a child, tattooing called to my soul, and was something I always wanted to pursue from a very young age. The rich cultural history and creative freedom that surround this incredible art form is something I’ve always been drawn to.
How did you get into tattooing and what made you want to specialise in nipple tattoos?
I started my apprenticeship as a Traditional Tattoo Artist in 2009. I’ve been lucky enough to travel the world through tattooing, working at various studios and conventions and placing myself firmly within the industry, before basing myself in Cheltenham, UK at my tattoo studio Paradise. I’ve enjoyed a successful career so far and have been published in a number of magazines, books and online blogs over the years, both in the UK and internationally, including The Wall Street Journal, BBC Radio 4, Total Tattoo Magazine, Inked Australia, Memento Publishing and Tattoo Life Magazine.
In 2015, I progressed into Cosmetic and Medical Tattooing. I’ve always loved make-up and beauty, and this form of tattooing was something I planned to branch out into from the beginning of my career. Expanding my skills into Cosmetic and Medical Tattooing opened me up to a whole new world of people who can benefit from tattooing. It allowed me to meet people who may not have thought about approaching a traditional tattoo artist (or even felt brave enough) for these types of services.
Breast cancer has affected many close friends and family members to me, so has always been close to my heart as it is for so many people; decorative Mastectomy tattoos are something that have always been known to me through my tattooing career; but it was through Cosmetic and Medical Tattooing that I realised just how wonderful tattooing can be for people and the many positive effects it can have on a person. After having a scare myself 2 years ago when finding a lump in my left breast (which thankfully turned out to be fine) I decided to dedicate myself more to Areola Tattooing.
My nipple drawings are a result of years and years of art, drawing and tattooing. This type of tattooing is not just advanced technically when tattooing but is also an artform in itself when drawing! If you’d have told me 10 years ago I’d be specialising in nipple drawings and tattoos I would never have believed it, but I couldn’t imagine doing anything else now. I love it so much, being able to give people back their confidence and make them feel happier in themselves again through tattooing is a gift I can’t even put into words.
The best part of this job is seeing how happy people are after their tattoos. I have seen first-hand the impact tattoos have on people, from decorating a scar with a beautiful piece of art to recreating a realistic 3D nipple after mastectomy surgery, tattoos can help heal a person inside and out. They can mark a milestone moment, symbolise a new beginning or celebrate cherished memories in a person’s life; they enable people to reclaim their bodies and transform their skin into something they love, helping them to move forward, build self-esteem and boost body confidence.
This wonderful form of tattooing is what inspired me to start the Mastectomy Tattooing Alliance (Instagram @mta_org) a non-profit organisation dedicated to supporting the breast cancer community reclaim their bodies and their confidence through Mastectomy and Areola tattoos.
What is the hardest part?
One of the hardest parts of the job, and in particular with Areola Tattooing, is the censoring of these life changing tattoo images on social media. Facebook and Instagram constantly remove my mastectomy and areola tattoo images and ban my pages for ‘violating community guidelines on sexual and nudity activity’ These ridiculous and sexist guidelines lead to me starting the #celebratednotcensored campaign and petition.
I have been pushing this campaign online and on social media as a way of encouraging social media platforms to support these empowering tattoos, but the more I spoke out about this issue the more I realised how many people are subjected to social media censoring for so many other reasons, all of which this campaign stands for too.