Stef Sanjati Opens Up About How Recovery and Self-Love Inspired Her Growing Tattoo Collection

Stef Sanjati
Credit: Sarah Harvey

Trigger warning: This feature discusses alcohol and drug abuse as well as eating disorders.

Stef Sanjati is on a journey to become her best self. The 24-year-old, Toronto-based content creator is perhaps most recognizable because of her YouTube channel, where she’s been regularly posting videos for over a decade. “Growing up trans in a small town, I didn’t exactly have many friends. I didn’t go to parties and even walking down the street wasn’t safe, so I’d go online,” she says of her start. And in the ten years since then, she’s gained fame—and hundred of thousands of followers—not only for her epic makeup and beauty tutorials, but also because of the candid look she gives viewers inside her life as a transgender woman. But her work has taken a backseat recently, as Sanjati now says her wellbeing is her number one priority.

After struggling for nearly two years with drug and alcohol abuse, in addition to an eating disorder—all of which Stef Sanjati speaks quite openly about to her fans—she took time away from her career to heal. Thankfully, she’s now on the road to recovery. “I got the help I needed to get back on track and to prioritize my mental health,” she says, and recommends that others do the same. “Treat yourself with compassion, understanding, and kindness, rather than worrying about looking a certain way or encouraging success at the expense of yourself.”

In giving more to herself, Sanjati has become an avid tattoo collector. Since getting her first in 2016, she’s amassed nearly 30 pieces, with plenty of space for more. Sanjati talked to us about her collection, why she loves the idea of a tattoo test-drive, and the meaning behind the matching piece she got with her mama.

On her first time: “I got my first tattoo when I was 20 years old. I’d spent at least a few years thinking about it and wanting it, as many of us do with our first. It’s inspired by a video game I grew up with and still play to this day: World of Warcraft. In the game, there are two playable factions: the Alliance and the Horde. I’ve always been Horde at heart. They’re a group of outcasts and exiles that band together in order to survive; growing together and learning together. I really related to that as I grew into a young adult and tied it to my queer background and experiences as a mutant [she has Waardenburg Syndrome]. It’s the Horde symbol, on the back of my neck, and I don’t remember it hurting. I wanted to keep it simple, and I’m happy with it.”

“I don’t really regret any [of my pieces] because I like to view tattoos is as snapshots of the past. Even if the design doesn’t have a significance symbolically, it serves as a reminder of a time in our lives.”

On her most outrageous tattoo: “My favorite tattoo is also my most outrageous, not because of its subject matter—it’s a beautiful moth design—but because of the circumstances around getting it. I was on an impromptu trip in Western Canada with my friend, and we were in Banff for a few days. I walked into a studio there and decided I wanted to get this massive moth design on my sternum. Who gets a foot-wide sternum piece as a walk-in? It took six hours and I’m fairly certain I blacked out twice from the pain. It was definitely my most painful piece.”

On her favorite tattoo artist: “I admire a lot of tattoo artists, but my absolute favorite is probably Kat Gomboc, who worked with me on my Inkbox collection. They’ve done several of my permanent tattoos and I really enjoy their aesthetic, linework, and sense of style. I always recommend them to people who ask about artists: They do incredible work, make their clients feel super comfortable, and have a gentle touch while also making art that lasts and is great quality on the skin.”

Love Stef and her style? Shop her collection of Inkbox semi-permanent tattoos inspired by her permanent ink here.  

On getting matching tattoos with her mom: “I really like bread. Once a viewer called me ‘Breadmom’ because I tend to exude a maternal energy, and the nickname stuck. To commemorate it, we got these pieces. They’re inspired by traditional sailor style heart tattoos with banners that say ‘Mom,’ which I’ve always found cute. Instead of getting a standard heart though, I replaced it with a slice of bread. My mom has a matching one that says ‘Nona’, because my viewers call her ‘Breadnona’. Since then, we’ve actually gotten another set of matching tattoos, on the sides of our right hands. They’re text pieces. Mine says ‘Get to the good part,’ which was a message of encouragement for me to recover from my eating disorder, and my mom’s says ‘Strong enough,’ a reminder that she overcame a hard time after her divorce.”

On her obsession with eye- and bread-themed tattoos: “Eyes are important to me because of my childhood experiences being bullied for my own. When I started collecting tattoos, I wanted to cover myself in eyes as a way of reclaiming them. I have one piece that has two eyes, and I asked the artist to space them further apart to look more like mine. I also feel like they’re most expressive part of the body, so I can communicate more with eye tattoos than others in a way.”

“When I started collecting tattoos, I wanted to cover myself in eyes as a way of reclaiming them.”

“For bread and wheat, of course there’s the connection to my YouTube channel and online presence as Breadmom, but the whole bread theme has run deeper as I’ve matured. To me, bread represents home, warmth, survival, and also access to food and a symbol of overcoming class issues. Bread is also consistent across all cultures. Across the globe, everyone seems to have figured out how to make a form of bread on their own, and I really like that. It feels like a common [thread amongst] humanity.”

On why she loves the idea of a ‘trial’ tattoo: “I think trying things on is a good way to know if you want to commit. We do it with clothes, shoes, even trial periods in jobs. There are lots of ways we test the waters in our lives and I think it’s great that we have that option now with tattoos, too. Particularly with me, as I mentioned before, impulsively getting tattoos when I was sick, perhaps if I’d known about Inkbox I would have avoided some of the more dramatic, edgy permanent tattoos I got as I grew through those darker times.”

On her lack of tattoo regret: “I haven’t had any tattoos removed and I don’t really regret any. Sometimes I do think about removing the crying eye on my hand, though. It’s one of the first tattoos people see, and I don’t feel it represents who I am. I sometimes consider the option of altering it, as well. I’d like to replace it with something happier or more hopeful, maybe.”

“Also, when I was sick, I’d get tattoos frequently as a way of feeling alive, as cliche as it sounds. Again, I don’t really regret any because I like to view tattoos is as snapshots of the past. Even if the design doesn’t have a significance symbolically, it serves as a reminder of a time in our lives. For me, the more tragic imagery—like the crying eye on my hand, the cigarette with barbed wire, and the knives—is in such stark contrast to who I am and how I carry myself now, but perhaps it adds some mystery for folks that don’t know me!”

If you liked our profile on Stef Sanjati, who just collaborated with Inkbox, make sure to check out our feature on her fellow Canadian content creator Kurtis Conner. (He has an Inkbox collection, too).

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