A tattoo artist in a seersucker suit, bow tie, and alligator shoes in New Orleans has been gaining the attention of women and surgeons not for his clothes but for his unique 3D tattoos. Vinnie Myers, a Maryland native, moved to New Orleans to help women renew their sense of femininity and empowerment post-mastectomy. Myers and Dr. Scott Sullivan at the Center for Restorative Breast Surgery in New Orleans have teamed up to help women recover from breast reconstructive surgery by designing 3D nipple tattoos, or “nats,” which give the appearance of a “real nipple.”
“I would’ve never thought that I would be doing what I’m doing now,” said Myers in a The New York Times video that follows Caitlin Kiernan, science fiction author, through her journey of nipple tattoos. “We’re probably doing anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 [nats] a year, and it’s to the point now where we can’t do anymore during the day than what we’re doing,” he said. Myers helps give back something these patients have lost in their fight of their lives against breast cancer.
“Your skin kind of looks more like brown...” Myers told Kiernan during her appointment, suggesting hues for the areola pigmentation. Myers is able to transform the breasts of patients like Kiernan into a masterpiece using color, shading, and highlighting skills that create the appearance of an actual nipple. Women have requested stars, shamrocks, and even flowers.
3D nipple tattoos have become a preferred alternative to the traditional flap procedure. According to the Mayo Clinic, this procedure involves taking a section of tissue from an area of the body and relocating it to create a new breast mound. This is typically performed post-mastectomy where plastic surgeons perform the nipple reconstruction.
"We'd make the breast and then we were tattooing it ourselves,” Sullivan told WDSU News 6 about the flap procedure. Sullivan, impressed by Myers' work, now works with the tattoo artist in helping his patients on their road to recovery post breast cancer surgery. They believe they are closing a chapter for these patients.
A source of inspiration for Myers' five-year business was his sister who called him to let him know she has breast cancer. Myers felt “it was a sign,” for him to continue doing this, despite his desire for other artistic pursuits. “You definitely lose the artistic satisfaction when you do the nipple tattoos all day,” “but you gain this other satisfaction that is even more rewarding.”