When Megan Massacre walked into a biker-run tattoo parlor as a young girl hoping to learn about the business, the men inside chuckled at her ambition — but now she's had the last laugh. She painted her first piece of permanent ink at 18 years old and has since starred in TLC's NY Ink, Bondi Ink, and America's Worst Tattoos.
She's the owner of NYC studio, Grit N' Glory, and her keen eye for realism portraits has earned her millions of fans on social media and celebrity clients like Zayn Malik. With 15 years under her belt, Massacre is considered an OG in the tattoo game to some, but in an industry that is still dominated by men, this girl is just getting started. The following interview was told to Aimee Simeon and has been edited for length and clarity.
Girl In A Tattoo World
"I knew I wanted to tattoo since I was 14 years old, but back then, it wasn't really recognized as profession like it is now. A lot of shops were run by bike gangs, but that didn't stop me from walking into a shop and demanding that someone teach me how to tattoo. Of course, the guys laughed at me and told me to get out — but that didn't take away my fascination.
"All of my peers were planning to go away to college, and I worked at a furniture store. One day, a co-worker asked me to join her to get a piercing at a nearby shop. She told the owner that I was good at drawing, and he made me doodle a fish on the spot. After the fish, they asked me to draw a name in a wacky font, followed by a devilish butterfly. Soon after that, the owner put a tattoo gun in my hand, and I was doing my first piece on the shop's apprentice. Within three months, I ditched my furniture-shop job to tattoo full time."
"I was working at the shop for six months before I got my first piece of ink. I did a ton of tattoos, but I was still terrified to get one. I found this anime-like cheetah with long hair in a magazine and got it done on my leg in one night. My mom was furious, and my peers thought I was a freak. People would tell me I would never look good in a wedding dress and my kids would be embarrassed by me. Now, everyone loves tattoos."
"I bounced around from various shops to learn new styles, and once I felt confident enough, I'd move on to another shop. During this time, my friends and I made nicknames with all the punk-rock dudes that would come into shops — mine was Megan Massacre. A few years later, my work was published for the first time on a local magazine cover with my Megan Massacre nickname, and it just stuck from there."
"In 2010, I got an offer to be on the reality show New York Ink, which really showed me a whole new world of the business and the art. The show ended up running for a few seasons, and it really got my work out to the masses. Because of this opportunity, I decided to stay in The Big Apple and open up my own tattoo shop, Grit N' Glory."
"I was years into my career before I worked with another woman. One of the most frustrating things about working in some of the environments I've worked in is how objectified I — and other women — were. I've had people give me jobs because I could possibly attract male clients. Back in the day, I did modeling as a side hobby, and I've had people tell me that I'm only booked because I model, not because I'm just a really good artist."
"That is why I am so grateful for the opportunities and the platform I've been given. It's the reason why I wanted to open up my own shop. I wanted to create a safe space for women — and other artists — who want to learn the art and be in this crazy world for the right reasons. I wanted there to be a place for women to tattoo and come get tattooed, without feeling unsafe and objectified. I never want anyone trying to learn to feel the way I did when I got started, so my door is always open to women to work, explore the art, and just for support. If a client comes to me and feels safe and happy, then I've done my job — the tattoo is just the fun part."
Zayn's Famous Tattoos
"Like most of my clients, Zayn just found me. The first tattoo I did was his dad's name, Yaser, behind his ear. Since then, we've done a full coverup of the wings on his chest, a few geometrical shapes, some text on his arm... He has so many; it's hard to keep track. I am not the only one responsible for all his art, either. In fact, a Grit N' Glory artist, Janice Danger, also did the massive mandala on his head."
"The most sentimental one we've done — by far — is Gigi Hadid's eyes on his chest. Not only was it sweet, but its the only realism thing we've done so far, and I love realism tattoos. It was a really cool piece because Gigi was there, and I got to compare the ink to her eyes. It was really gratifying to see an exact replica of her features come to life on someone's body. Overall, he's a joy to work with and usually has an idea of what he wants, but trusts me as an expert and gives me artistic freedom, which is invaluable. It may not seem like he has a ton of space left for ink, but he does, so I'm excited to see what he wants to work on next."