Shaughnessy Otsuji is a cosmetic and restorative tattoo artist. She’s the owner of Studio Sushiko, which has locations in Langley, BC, and Los Angeles, California. Her passion lies in restoring confidence, taking an inclusionary approach to her work. She helps people reclaim aspects of their physical appearance while collaborating with them to realize their truest inner beauty.
Why do you feel like your work is important?
It's transformative, it's restorative. It brings confidence to every single person that I tattoo. It's restoring a feature that a person has lost. It's really impactful.
"The emotional aspect of my work can be difficult. I think a lot of people get into this career because it's rewarding. And it is. It's amazing to be able to offer this to people, but not everyone realizes how heavy it can be..."
How did you get started doing this?
I’ve been a cosmetic tattoo artist for over a decade. I started off brow tattooing, and got a lot of clients who were going through chemotherapy and losing their brow hair. I have an aunt who had a double mastectomy, and she was my inspiration for getting into nipple tattooing. She had a preventative double mastectomy, and she was the one who told me that I should start offering nipple tattoos. The more I learned about what she had gone through, the more I became convinced that this was an amazing thing that needed to be offered. So she kind of pushed me in that direction. Now, I finally get to tattoo her in, like, two weeks. I'm so excited!
Can you share one of the hardest things to overcome in your work?
The emotional aspect of my work can be difficult. I think a lot of people get into this career because it's rewarding. And it is. It's amazing to be able to offer this to people, but not everyone realizes how heavy it can be going into these appointments and hearing everyone's story. I've definitely learned a ton about different types of surgeries and different scarring and mastectomies, and radiation. You have to take that on. As amazing as everyone’s story is, it's heavy. Half the time I don't even realize it until the end and I'm like, wow, I just learned so much about this person.
How are taboo topics about women's bodies, women's health, pregnancy and postpartum sex holding women back?
Social media still censors a lot of the work I do. I’ll spend a good two to three hours sometimes editing a video. I’ll make sure the transitions are perfect and everything lines up with the music. Then, I’ll finally post it, and within like 20 minutes it'll get flagged and deleted. That’s frustrating. I get a community guidelines violation, and it gets removed for “nudity” or “sexual activity.” It's really frustrating because I want to show people what's available for them. But Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook will delete my posts right away. I guess I'm flattered that it looks realistic and people are falling for it, but it should be allowed. It's a tattoo of a nipple. It's not even a real nipple, but what's the big deal with nipples anyway? Everyone has them.
"It's a tattoo of a nipple. It's not even a real nipple, but what's the big deal with nipples anyways? Everyone has them.”
But as far as reconstruction goes, and as far as tattooing goes, I do have a lot of clients who go through the process and don't know what's available to them. It's great when they end up doing their research and find me and find out that there is a natural-looking option. Sometimes people will bring me a photo of what they used to look like for reference, but oftentimes they have a blank canvas so they can choose their ideal nipple type, which might even be a heart shape, which is really fun. And I like to add as many details as possible. Strategic shadows and highlights, little bumps and wrinkles—all those little details that may be perceived as flaws end up making it look so much more natural and realistic.
What do we all stand to gain by connecting women to their power and inner strength?
I feel like when women come together in a community, they're able to share so much knowledge between each other and go through things together. That’s so helpful when you're dealing with something as intense as breast cancer and reconstruction.
"I feel like when women come together in a community, they're able to share so much knowledge between each other and go through things together."
What do you hope people walk away with after working with you?
I hope that my clients walk away with the most confidence that they've ever had, and oftentimes I see it in their face, which is amazing. Once they leave my studio, it's like a weight is lifted off their shoulders. They can look in the mirror and not see scars anymore. They don't see this memory of cancer anymore. They just see what they used to look like.
Writing: Carter Selinger