Having a unique look can make or break a career in the world of modeling. While many companies embrace body modifications and other colorful forms of self-expression, some prefer that a model’s uniqueness remain all natural. If you’re interested in modeling with tattoos or piercings, you may have to seek niche gigs or be willing to compromise when it comes to your look.
Let the inked-up rejoice: Models can have tattoos—but with the caveat that while tattoos are becoming more acceptable (and even desirable) for some modeling jobs, others, such as many designer house catwalk gigs, prohibit models from having visible tattoos. Your best chance at landing gigs in mainstream modeling is if your tattoos are aesthetically pleasing, original, cohesive, and fit your style—all without infringing on copyright.
Aesthetically pleasing: If you want to become a model with tattoos, your body art should enhance your natural appearance. Tattoos placed on your arms, legs, neck, hands, and face (hello, SoundCloud musicians) are highly visible, so if you want to get inked on one of those locations, make sure it’s something visually appealing and timeless. Avoid anything obscene or offensive.
Original: A particularly interesting, unique tattoo can help you stand out; alternatively, a seemingly ubiquitous one, such as the barbed wire armband, can make you seem like one of the crowd.
Cohesive: All together, your tattoos should create a holistic narrative. Although it’s OK to mix styles and types, it should feel like all of your tattoos belong and none are blatantly disparate from the others.
Style: Remember that your tattoo style may inform the kind of gigs you can land. Witchy tattoos might fit well if you want to model for Dolls Kill or Black Mast, but may not be the best fit if you hope to help Lacoste sell preppy polos. Consider your own personal brand and where you’d like to go in your modeling career when deciding on tattoos.
Copyright: To become a model with tattoos, you must ensure that your body art doesn’t violate copyright. If a tattoo is the artist’s original creation and demonstrates creativity, it is likely the intellectual property of the artist. Be sure to either secure permissions from the artist specifically for promotional use or to simply avoid getting tattoos that are covered by copyright.
- Bella Hadid: Catwalk darling Hadid has multiple tiny tattoos, including angel wings on her ankle and Arabic script on her shoulders.
- Kendall Jenner: Like Hadid, Jenner has a series of micro tattoos so small they don’t distract from the designs she models on the runway.
- Sarah Brannon: Brannon showcases her larger ink and androgynous look in editorial shoots.
- Faretta: The Croatian fashion model and face of Ralph Lauren has a noticeable tattoo on her clavicle.
- Bradley Soileau: Although he’s best known for appearing in Lana Del Rey music videos, Soileau is also known for his many editorial shoots—as well as for his tattoos, particularly a face tattoo reading “War inside my head.”
- Cole Mohr: The runway, fashion, and arts model has over 100 tattoos, including a large one that says “AprilMayJune” on his chest.
Models can have piercings, although ideally any non-traditional piercings should be easily removable without leaving a noticeable hole. Unless you’re looking to get into alt modeling, avoid dermal piercings and ear gauging. Traditional ear piercings are acceptable and even desirable for mainstream models, since they’re largely standard and allow models to showcase earrings. Multiple ear piercings are generally acceptable, but you may be asked to take them out for a shoot.
Clients can always choose to Photoshop out your tats, or you can use tattoo-covering makeup if needed. As a general rule of thumb, however, the less work you make your client and their team have to do, the better. This means that you’re simply more hirable and more likely to get agent representation if you have smaller, discreet tattoos rather than large, loud ones. Similarly, it’s optimal to have removable, inconspicuous piercings instead of dermal ones that are anchored in the skin.
If you’ve struggled to land representation or book gigs in mainstream modeling because of your body art, you may want to consider exploring niche/alternative modeling options. These include:
Alternative modeling agencies: Agencies such as Tattoo Models, the Dragonfly Agency, Anti-Agency, and State Management specialize in certain looks and styles instead of seeking the classic mainstream look. Many of these alt modeling agencies promote unique model personalities instead of blank slates for brands. Before applying, be sure to conduct research to ensure that the agency is legitimate. Look for agencies with multiple clients, a professional site, and multiple reviews before you send or sign anything.
Freelance: If finding and committing to an alt modeling agency doesn’t feel right, you can always try your tatted hand at freelance modeling. Try reaching out to brands that match your look to see if they have any open modeling opportunities, or use casting call databases to find freelance gigs that fit you and your look.
Social media: Many tattooed and pierced models who freelance model do so promoting brands as social media influencers. Although some of the technical elements of freelancing, such as handling communication and finances, are notoriously difficult, it also gives you control over your projects and schedule.
If you do seek the path of alt or niche modeling, really hone in on your unique style and celebrate your tattoo and piercing choices.