Mira Mariah — or @girlnewyork, as you might know her on Instagram — wasn't always the cool celebrity tattooist inking everyone from Ariana Grande to Brooklyn hipsters. In fact, after losing her leg at 17 to complications from a birth defect, she first used fashion as a way to break down barriers between inclusivity and art. Now, she's sharing, in her own words, how she's since become the architect behind a new wave of feminist tattoos that help women finally feel seen, and how living with a disability helped shape her idea of compassion along the way. Welcome to Untold. This story was told to Kelsey Castañon and edited for length and clarity.
My favorite medium is myself.
Growing up, I wanted to make myself look cooler, and the easiest way to do that at the time was to make clothes. I've always been interested in art and fashion. I always liked drawing. I first learned to sew in middle school; both of my grandparents are tailors. So I started making clothes when I was in high school and went to FIT to study fashion design. Every time I told my family I wanted to be a fashion designer, they were like, "For people like us, right?" because they are fat, and I was like, "Yeah, for sure."
Eventually, when I wanted to do something that was not sit on a computer all day, making myself look cooler was by doing tattoos. But the kind of tattoos I wanted to get weren't something I was seeing at the time. The conversation was so much of, "Oh, I wanted this design, but the tattoo artist didn't want to do it that small. It's three inches bigger than I wanted, and I hate it." So I wanted to create something that felt really feminine.
I set out with the intention to tattoo cool girls, and I tried to make the imagery reflect them. I'd describe my style as "fashion illustrations," and they combine traditional tattoos and imagery — where there are a lot of plants and snakes — with modern and realistic art that the girls I spend time with want. A lot of that means, for lack of a better word, really inclusive images; drawing women as they are. My pinned tweet is, "Let me romanticize your double chin."
As a white-passing person, I have not experienced discrimination with jobs, but all of our experiences that are adverse make us more compassionate. I've learned so much compassion for people through my disability. That's a big one that has impacted the way I interact with clients. And because I'm disabled, I know a lot of disabled people, and I know people with disabilities do not appear in illustrated artwork often.
My pinned tweet is, "Let me romanticize your double chin."
When we talk about inclusivity, I don't think any major industries are as inclusive as they could be. They're all trying to get there. All I can do is make sure that my work reflects the people in my life. That's what it's always been about. And that means making sure my art is visible on darker skin.
In the beginning of my career, there were people who let me tattoo them, like my dad and brother and sister, and because they all have darker skin tones, they were unsure. My dad has darker skin and once said to me, "Is this tattoo going to look good on me? I've never seen anyone like me have this kind of tattoo before." That really caught my attention — that my own father was hesitant about getting tattoos for no other reason than being dark — and I realized how important it was that people like them felt like they could get good, beautiful tattoos.
I've learned a lot through the years, and the theme it always comes back to is the people. A lot of it is word of mouth. My introduction to celebrities came through Instagram. I live in New York, and I feel like everyone in New York is two degrees away from someone who might be considered more "high profile." Anyone I've ever tattooed who is high profile has been a friend of a friend. That, or someone who saw my Instagram and DM-ed me like, "Can I come through?"
Now, I have a booking system where I put out an application when I'm ready to take on new clients, and people can select from the work I want to be doing or pitch their ideas through there. We get somewhere between 800 and 1,200 tattoo applications every time we open the books, and then we select from there. I have help, obviously; I don't do that myself.
I wanted to make jewelry, my golden tattoo jewelry collection, because I can only tattoo 100 people a month. Especially since we do have such hefty numbers that we're turning down, it's become a cool way to make my artwork accessible to people who might not be able to get to New York right now. I wanted my artwork to be something that could be treasured and shared or passed around or gifted.
What I want to do is create something that makes people feel good about themselves. The basis of my art has always been to make people look cool. Because when you look cool, you feel a little better. It's not always clear what does it. Is it a really good sweatshirt? Is it really good socks? Is it a good hair day? Is it a good tattoo? If that means they want to see themselves in the imagery, or if they feel inspired by jewelry, great. I would love to be a part of whatever makes you feel cooler.