Tattoos in Modeling: The Needle & The Damage Done

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Model With TattoosTattoos, ink, art… whatever you call them, models with tattoos are still a minority in the professional modeling world.  As I write this article, I find myself searching popular fashion and beauty magazines in search of hard data to support or refute that statement.  Now, before the torrent of emails comes pouring in from angry, tattooed models, I’d like to clarify – yes, inked models are everywhere.  And yes, those with tattoos can get work in the industry.  Are they featured in the mainstream, major publications on a daily basis?  Not at all.   Tattooed models definitely have an uphill battle ahead of them.

I begin by flipping through the current issue of American Vogue, with rocker Gwen Stefani on the cover.  Between all the ads and articles and editorial spreads, not a single tattoo can be found anywhere.  On a related note, Gwen recently stated in another interview for InStyle Magazine, “I could never get a tattoo! I don’t want to commit to anything if I don’t know how it’s going to look in 10 years.”  I happen to have a copy of InStyle laying ten feet from my desk, so I flip through all 652 pages of their “mega issue.”  Once again… no visible tattoos in any of the ads or article content.

How about a little more cutting-edge publication, like Zink Magazine?  Their 10th anniversary edition seems chock-full of artistic fashion editorials and half-naked models but again, not a single tattoo anywhere.  Moving on, now I’m just wasting my time by seeking out tattoos in Allure and Glamour Magazine.

Finally!  I find what I’m looking for in VS Magazine, where there are no less than two fashion editorials featuring models with visible tattoos.  And what is VS Magazine, you ask?  The fact that you might need to ask that question should be a big clue as to how much tattoos can affect a model’s career.

As the circulation numbers for a publication rise, the likelihood decreases than they will take a gamble on “alternative” content and that includes tattoos.  While Vogue boasts a circulation of over 1.2 million in the US alone, Inked Magazine (the top tattoo publication out there) claims only 100,000 loyal readers.  There is a connection.

But what about all the famous models, musicians and actors in print and movies who have tattoos?

Surely the fact that supermodels like Gisele Bundchen, Kate Moss and Adriana Lima have inked their skin is proof enough that tattoos are not quite so limiting?  As much as I’d like to make some readers happy and agree, it seems that nearly every well-known celebrity got his or her tattoos after becoming famous or established in the industry.  And more often than not, their tattoos are small and easily removed with Photoshop before hitting the newsstands.     Anything that makes the client’s workflow more difficult or expensive will only make it more difficult for you to find work with them.  As Neil Young famously sang: the needle and the damage done.

But take heart.  There is no reason an aspiring model with tattoos should abandon all hope.  Yes, model agencies mostly favor talent without ink.  And no, you’re not going to see tattoos in commercial/print work like Target store ads any time soon.  That is not to say that the models in those ads can’t or don’t have tattoos, just that they are not visible in the final product.

One might ask: why is a magazine like Vogue steering away from tattoos?  This is the crazy world of fashion…  why impose any limits at all?  Obviously, large-scale fashion magazines need to make safe choices to appeal to the wide-ranging audiences they sell advertising to.  Even their most shocking content seems not quite so shocking, and more based upon carefully scripted choices and formulas guaranteed to bring maximum return on investment. Tattoos still carry the stigma of gangs, punk rockers and tribal ceremony.

Bleeding-edge publications can claim greater artistic license in order to fill the void left by the larger publications.  And this has allowed tattooed models to gain a foothold in the niches.  Runway as well has seen an increase in demand for, or acceptance of models with tattoos.

Glamour and men’s magazine style imagery seem to have embraced tattoos whole-heartedly.  Inked models can be frequently seen in two of the biggest names in the game: Maxim and Playboy.

Of course, alternative-content publications like Inked have built their business around tattoos.  As more tattoo-friendly magazines keep popping up online and in print, indicating a growing demand and acceptance,  tattoos will continue to find their way into more conventional media.

So what is a new model, just starting out, to do about all this?  Unless your goal is to be in tattoo publications, the best advice is always:

Think before you ink… and focus on career first.

Jim Jurica, BeautyLook Chief Editor