Modeling and Tattoos

Posted on February 13, 2014


One of the biggest areas that causes the most arguments are tattoos and modeling. On one side, you have the industry that demands clean skin, no scars, minimal piercings, and fresh looks so that they can market you to clients that will hire you and get you jobs that pay. The other side, the models who want to express themselves (Their story) and feel it is their right to do and express what they want to their body. They are both right. This post isn’t for me to tell you to get a tattoo or not get a tattoo, but rather to inform you about the industry and how it will impact you as a model. I expect there to be many models who are upset about this post.

If you want to be a model, you have to comply and satisfy the people who will hire you as a model. There are specific criteria that you must meet (height, age, weight, size, etc.) Ninety-nine percent of the time, that will be no tattoos and no scars. Have either, and you will be removed from consideration as a model. The reasons: a) you represent a brand or company image and they don’t want someone with tattoos representing it or them; b) tattoos are representative of “bad girls” or “bad guys” and that isn’t what they are looking; c) the cost to ‘cover up’ small and almost unnoticeable tattoos is expensive both in makeup and post production work; d) companies don’t want anything distracting from their product or service (and tattoos, scars, and piercings do); e) . While this is hard to understand and can be a slap in the face, remember that as a model that YOU wanted to be a model. The industry is looking for people, and the industry sets the rules. The rules are never set by someone who isn’t known for anything and just starting out. This means you need to comply with the industry’s standards and not your own. And, while you might think it is inexpensive to cover up tattoos, scars, and piercings with makeup and post production work – the industry as a whole does not and the mainstream industry is the one who judge if you will or won’t get a job modeling. Modeling is hard enough to break into without tattoos. Finding work is magnitudes more difficult when you have tattoos.

New and old models alike want to express themselves with tattoos and use it as a sort of diary to express events and feelings in their lives as they occur. There is nothing wrong with this as a normal person. You are free to do whatever you want to your body – put as many piercings and tattoos as you want. Just don’t expect that you will be accepted in the modeling industry with open arms. You have a right to do whatever you wish – the industry isn’t stopping anyone. They are just stopping anyone who wants to put tattoos and scars on their body and be a model.

What about all those models who have tattoos on them that model? First, take a look at who has the tattoos, where they are in their career, and the type of work they do. Let’s see who these people are. Adrianna Lima? She has been modeling since 2000, and is a top model. She didn’t get her tattoo until her career started to decline and after having her first child. Gisele Bunchen? She was the first Brazilian model to make it big in the fashion world and is considered one of the highest paid models in the world. Gisele has been modeling since the mid-to-late 1990s. She was well established as a model prior to getting a tattoo. Heidi Klum? Yet another person who established herself as a model before getting a tattoo. Abbey Lee Kershaw? She is a relatively new model who started modeling in 2005 and was signed to a major agency in 2007. She works with photographer Terry Richardson and is perfectly comfortable doing explicit shoots (for example, Purple Fashion spread shot by Terry Richardson). Lily Donaldson? Lily has been modeling since she was 16 and I am not sure when she got her tattoo. Casey Legler? She is a special case and I think she is one of a very few female models who model as a male. She is a relatively new as a model and has that “bad” look that some companies and brands want. Freja Erichson? She has been modeling since 2005, and is considered one of the top 50 models in the world. I am not sure when she got her tattoo, but I am fairly certain it wasn’t until after she was established as a model. She is known for her semi-nude and nude images. Lily Cole? She has been modeling since 2000 and when she didn’t have any tattoos. She has done several nude pictorials including one for French Playboy. Starting in 2007, she has transitioned more to an actress from model. If there are others that I haven’t listed (there are – lots of them), try to find out how long they have been modeling, the type of work, the photographers they work, and when they had their tattoo etched on them for comparison.

What can this small sampling of models with tattoos tell us? First, models are already established and known as models before they get their tattoos. For the ones that aren’t, they work with some of the more controversial people in the industry like Terry Richardson. In addition, having tattoos and piercings will put you in consideration for nude images unless you are already established. The industry probably won’t even consider you if you won’t do nudes. Finally, their tattoos and piercings are smaller and barely noticeable. If they are noticeable, they don’t work in mainstream modeling.

What if I have tattoos and piercings and still want to model. There is a demand for models like this, but that demand is much smaller and not as big. Most models in this category are also freelance models (ie-not signed by agencies). You can see a lot of these models on web sites like Suicide Girls, God’s Girls, Pandora’s Box, Zivity, and the like. You will have to travel and live out of a hotel room to survive in this lifestyle. This also means being comfortable doing full nudes. You want to work for an agency? That narrows your potential places but you will need to work hard to get in with one of the few alternative modeling agencies. From what I understand, there isn’t a lot of money in the alternative modeling industry but there is enough for some people to survive and pay their expenses. Let’s look at one of the magazines: Tattoo. This magazine is in the men’s section of magazines covered in black plastic and kept behind Playboy and Hustler. What can you infer from this?

What if I don’t want to be recognized as a model and just want to work with local photographers? Well, then you probably don’t have much to worry about and some small tattoo probably won’t hurt you. I say probably. In some local areas, it may be difficult with even small tattoos.

Posted in: Modeling