Ah, tattoos. Although more women these days are sporting ink, this form of body art is still very much associated with the male physique. Some people find tattooed fellas absolutely irresistible. Others may not care for them at all.
From time to time in my career I've been asked by photographers and clients if there are any male models I could refer them to for certain projects. One of the male models I used to refer has a lot of tattoos (on his chest, stomach, arms and even all over his back). He has a great look, amazing body and is experienced. Unfortunately, to this day, anytime I refer him, the feedback I always get is exactly this: "We would love to work with him but he's got all those tattoos. We can't use him."
That's been my experience but there is certainly a much larger scale when it comes to this subject. So what's the modeling industry's take on tattoos as they apply to male models?
***Please note that I am referring to male models who are looking for agency representation in order to work as professional models in the mainstream categories of modeling like fashion, runway, editorial and commercial/print.***
Are you an aspiring male model who has a tattoo (or two or three) but is now worried about your chances at getting an agent? Having a tattoo doesn't automatically mean you can't seek agency representation. There are exceptions to the rule but in general, below are the common factors that could sway an agency's decision based on a male model's ink:
Smaller tattoos are always better simply because they're easier to conceal and/or cover with body makeup. Larger tattoos are more challenging to work around and unless an agency really loves your overall physical look, they could choose to pass on you to find another male model with the same "look" but without all the ink. Remember, models (male and female) are replaceable and there's so many vying for an agency's attention that they know they've got their pick of the litter.
It's harder to market a new model with tattoos, compared to a newbie with no ink. Similar to having braces, excessive tattoos will limit the type and amount of modeling work an agency can secure for its models, depending on the type of modeling they do.
|The tattoo on his chest can be easily covered by makeup or left as is because it can be concealed with clothing. The tattoo on his shoulder isn't super big, either and can be covered with a short sleeved t-shirt.|
Most men have tattoos on their arms/shoulders, back or chest. These areas of skin do get shown off a lot for male fashion and runway models (commercial/print male models not so much) and if there is a tattoo there--especially if you're sleeved up--it might be frowned upon by an agency. Again, if an agency really believes in a male model's look and capability, they'll deal with it.
Got a tat on your neck or some other really visible/uncommon area? It might be an issue, especially if it's not easy to conceal or cover up.
What the Tattoo Is Of
Do you have a naked chick tattooed on you? Did you pick a tattoo image that could be offensive to others? Any symbolism that might be confused as being *gasp* "gang related"? Then your ink is probably not going to do you any favors with agencies or prospective clients. I once knew a guy who had a beautiful woman's portrait tattooed on his chest...including her very perky and very naked breasts. Yeeaaahhh, no agency's going to love that.
Is there a male model represented by an agency that has these types of tattoos out there working in the industry right now? There very well could be but don't be too lulled into the impression that exceptions to the rule will make it any easier for an agency to accept you.
Speaking of Exceptions to the Rule...
As I'm writing this post, I can already envision the comments I'll get from readers, listing the names of male models who are all tatted up to try and rebuff my take on this subject so let me talk briefly about the whole exceptions to the rule situation:
As with height, there are exceptions to the rule when it comes to male models with body art. However, this doesn't mean every male model with tattoos has an equal shot. They don't. David Beckham doesn't count. Sorry. He's an athlete first, a celebrity second and a model third. His ink didn't help him get into modeling or qualify him as an exception to the rule. His sports career and celebrity status did. I'm talking specifically about men who are only models (not actors, athletes, musicians or singers) who have tattoos.
The tatted up male models with agents that appear in magazine ads, fashion shows and on billboards are exceptions to the rule 9 times out of 10 because of their overall physical look and marketability. The more in demand they are and the greater their professional reputation, the more likely they'll be to work with designers, photographers and other clients who normally wouldn't ever dream of shooting a model with a lot of tattoos. This kind of thing does happen but not everyday and not for everybody.
What about the buffed up beefcakes with tattoos all over them that appear in their underwear all over the place (you know, the ones you drool over when you do an image search for underwear models)? Some of them are established and reputable male fashion and editorial models with agencies but a large percentage of them are pretty much the male version of "glamour" models. Instead of selling clothes, a product, company or brand, they are selling themselves like female glamour models do. These types of male models may have agency representation or may freelance. Oftentimes, the nature of their shoots is very sexual and involves showing a lot of skin (appearing almost naked or, in some cases, totally naked). This category of modeling usually doesn't care about tattoos so if it's a path you're interested in pursuing, then your body art very likely won't be a hindrance.
What Should You Do?
For aspiring male models with a lot of ink, my best piece of advice is to submit to agencies and get their feedback. Straight up. And be honest. You'll have to tell them about any tattoos or piercings you may have so there's no way around that. If you attend an open call or get invited for an interview and end up not getting a contract offer, ask if your tattoos had anything to do with their decision.
Fashion, runway and editorial male models are usually allowed to get away with tattoos but commercial/print male models are supposed to be "family friendly." Being tatted up will probably hurt your chances with a print agency compared to a fashion agency but I still say male models should submit and get the final word straight from the source.
Have you gone to the open calls, submitted photos via email and snail mail, attended interviews with agencies one-on-one and still no luck? Just because you have tattoos doesn't mean you can't ever model. If agency representation has been an obstacle, try striking out on your own as a freelance model. There is a niche of photographers and clients who have no problem working with a male model with tattoos so it would be worth trying the freelance approach to see what could happen.