The tattooist creating body-positive ‘roll flowers’

Written by Megan C. Hills, CNN

Flowers have been a tattoo staple for centuries, from traditional scarlet roses to delicate watercolor bouquets. But tattooist Carrie Metz-Caporusso’s new designs are a groundbreaking take on the motif, and they are challenging society’s prejudices about who’s worthy of being tattooed.

Lavender sprigs, crocuses and roses spill out from the body folds of Metz-Caporusso’s curvy and plus-size clients, some of whom travel across state lines for the artist’s “roll flower” designs. The black ink pieces celebrate their body shapes, using their natural folds and creases to create the flowers’ stems.

“The roll flower only exists if you have rolls,” Metz-Caporusso said in video call from Ann Arbor, Michigan.

A lily-inspired take on Metz-Caporusso's roll flower design.

A lily-inspired take on Metz-Caporusso’s roll flower design. Credit: Courtesy Carrie Metz Caporusso

Metz-Caporusso, who uses they/she pronouns and describes themselves as “unapologetically fat and queer,” came up with the idea for roll flowers after hearing clients wistfully talk about the tattoos they wanted to get — but only once they had lost weight.

The tattooist could empathize — they had also once felt pressure to reach “whatever weight I thought I needed to be at” before getting a stomach tattoo. However, Metz-Caporusso eventually decided to do “what made me happy” and committed to getting one, completely changing their relationship with their body in the process. Calling it a “joyful” experience, the non-binary tattooist mostly wears crop tops nowadays.

Metz-Caporusso wanted to share their newfound self-love with their clients: “(I thought), ‘If only people knew how empowering it is to just tattoo yourself, then maybe they would join me.’

“So I just sat myself down and was like, ‘You will make something for fat people, you will celebrate fat bodies’ and I literally just kept trying different ideas until I landed on roll flowers.”

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Roll flowers

While Metz-Caporusso has now tattooed over ten roll flowers since February, they initially were anxious about the designs.

“I really, honestly, thought that when I put this out there people would laugh me out of tattooing. I thought they’d be like, ‘You’re crazy, like this is so silly.’ So, I was so shocked when people started signing up for it,” they said.

Early on in their career, Metz-Caporusso’s whimsical fairytale designs were not initially a hit with fellow tattooists. While seeking out apprenticeships in 2011, they were turned down because their work wasn’t “tattoo-y enough” or was “too cute.”

Tattooist Carrie Metz-Caporusso is known for their signature 'roll flower' tattoos and works at a studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Tattooist Carrie Metz-Caporusso is known for their signature ‘roll flower’ tattoos and works at a studio in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Credit: Anthony Franchina

“I had a lot of artists say, ‘Go back and draw some koi fish and some anchors … You’re not gonna make it, this is just a trend and maybe you should stick to traditional or other styles,'” the tattooist recalled.

Meeting their partner — a fellow tattoo artist — at a party, where he offered to teach them, led to a “romantic whirlwind-slash-apprenticeship, all rolled into one.” Metz-Caporusso now works at Lucky Monkey Tattoo Parlor in Ann Arbor and has a thriving Instagram following of over 20,000 followers.

One of Metz-Caporusso’s recent clients, Abby Devitt, fell in love with the roll flower designs after spotting them on Instagram. Devitt explained to CNN Style over email, “I’ve often felt that being plus sized that I shouldn’t get a tattoo in a certain place because I’m overweight and it won’t look good (or because) I’ve never seen a plus sized person with a tattoo in that certain area.”

Eventually, she “just went for it.” Devitt gave a list of her favorite florals to Metz-Caporusso, who created a crocus roll flower design. It was drawn directly onto a photo of Devitt’s back, a technique that ensures clients’ tattoos “follow their exact shape.” Once approved by Devitt, Metz-Caporusso then began the delicate task of placing stencils of the design along Devitt’s “top and bottom rolls” — ensuring the final tattoo would look like one cohesive piece.

Metz-Caporusso's roll flower tattoos typically take between five and seven hours depending on the complexity of the piece.

Metz-Caporusso’s roll flower tattoos typically take between five and seven hours depending on the complexity of the piece. Credit: Courtesy Carrie Metz Caporusso

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“A lot of the roll flower is placing the stencil,” Metz-Caporusso said, joking that it was similar to “arts and crafts.”

The process took five hours, though other more complex designs can take as long as seven. “I didn’t cry, but I felt like it,” Devitt said upon seeing the completed product. “I was so happy and amazed by the outcome. I instantly loved this tattoo.”

Though her tattoo is still healing, she said her her body confidence is already growing. Previously self-conscious about the way her back looked, she has now purchased open-backed shirts and dresses specifically to show it off.

“I don’t have the best relationship with body, but I can’t wait to show off what used to be one of my least favorite parts,” she said, adding it is now one of her favorites.

Body-positive changes

Tattooing has come a long way in the decade since Metz-Caporusso started out in the industry. While the artist has always stuck by the mantra “draw what makes you happy,” and tries to stay authentic to their personal style, there is now more opportunity to “do your own thing,” they added.

Two arcing anemones emerge from the folds of Metz-Caporusso's client in this roll flower design.

Two arcing anemones emerge from the folds of Metz-Caporusso’s client in this roll flower design. Credit: Courtesy Carrie Metz Caporusso

But there’s still more that can be done to make tattooing more inclusive. Metz-Caporusso noted there was a “lot of fat shaming in tattooing,” and “a lot of turning people down” for being above a certain size. The most popular tattoo artists and Instagram accounts mostly feature “thin, pale skinned people,” they said, adding that even if artists do tattoo plus-size people, they rarely post the results.

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“It adds up so much. As a fat person, you think, can I even get tattooed? Will anybody even pick me? Is it even an option?” they asked.

“I knew when I designed the roll flowers, the first thing people would think was, ‘But what happens when you lose weight?’ So, I was trying to challenge that thought,” they said, adding: “A fat person isn’t a failing thin person. A fat person is just a person, and they should be made to feel as good as anyone else should be made to feel.”

A recent tattoo by Carrie Metz-Caporusso, which complements the shape of plus-size bodies.

A recent tattoo by Carrie Metz-Caporusso, which complements the shape of plus-size bodies. Credit: Courtesy Carrie Metz Caporusso

Being one of the only tattooists designing specifically for plus-size bodies can be a “lonely” experience, Metz-Caporusso’s said. But the artist also told their Instagram followers they’re happy for their local artists to riff on the roll flowers in an effort to bring more people into the space.

It’s an unusually accommodating approach, given how protective tattoo artists can be of their signature designs. But Metz-Caporusso wants “anyone who wants to spread this joy” to get inked, especially as not everyone can travel to their Michigan studio. Metz-Caporusso also won’t be taking on new clients till the end of the year.

“This is so healing for people, and I feel like it would be terribly selfish for me to say, ‘Only I’m doing them,'” they said.

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