The question if tattoos are okay or will hurt a young model (or actor)’s career is a tricky one. Yes, tattoos have become somewhat ubiquitous and many fashion icons and entertainers have them now. Some are even known specifically for their heavily tattooed look. That said; it should still be a decision that isn’t entered into lightly. Though being tattooed won’t necessarily end a model’s career today as it once would, it certainly can, and in some cases will, limit your opportunities as a new/developing model.
A model that desires long-term success and a career with breadth must be a chameleon and transform into anything the client wants – conservative or edgy, and everything in between. This is why many clients ask for ink-free models, or at the very least, have tattoos that can be easily hidden. Especially when working for cosmetics, underwear, and swimwear where glowing flawless skin are often a key requirement. Unless being tattooed is an important part of your identity and desired look, and you are okay with whatever limitations that might bring, the smaller and more discreetly placed the tattoo, the less likely it is to have a detrimental impact on your career–and being tattoo-free is always safest.
You may think that with so many options for covering tattoos these days it would not be an issue but, doing so is time consuming and costly. This often means the client has to either be okay with your tattoos or like you so much more than any of the other model they see that they are willing to incur these extra costs to work with you.
Even for clients who like the tattooed aesthetic, the nature of the artwork you have could also be a factor. A small inspirational quote or flower have very different impacts than a sexy pinup girl or menacing skull for instance. Then there are tattoos where the craftsmanship looks a little sloppy, or those that “bleed” (become fuzzy/blurry looking) or fade quickly. All of these elements can be factors. So not only does the tattooed look in general have to be in line with the client’s brand, so now potentially does the specific work you have on your body, in order for you to get the job as an unknown model.
Another possible obstacle is that there are potential legal issues relating to the copyright of the artwork and many production companies will simply refuse to work with anyone who has visible tattoos in order to protect themselves from possible lawsuits. This risk of becoming un-hirable for this reason can be mitigated, though not eliminated, by securing a Work-for-Hire Agreement and Assignment of Copyright legal agreements* from the artist when you get your tattoo done. The artwork will have to be an original creation specifically for you by the artist in order to obtain these agreements as well, so getting a tattoo you pick out of a book or off a wall in the shop may leave you without this option. Potentially, customizing one of those “stock” images with as little as a 20% difference may work—it will be up to you and the artist to negotiate these agreements and not all artists will be willing to sign this type of agreement so be sure to discuss this before putting down a deposit.
Another tattoo trend that is once again gaining popularity is permanent makeup–most commonly today, eyebrow microblading. Any form of permanent makeup is highly unadvisable for anyone hoping to pursue work in the modeling or acting fields. Not only do cosmetic beauty trends change frequently, meaning your look could potentially be out sooner than you think–and unchangeable, making you un-bookable; the risk of infection in your face, no matter how low, if it occurred, could cause permanent scaring and end your career before it begins.
*Note – these types of agreements have certain legal language and formatting requirements. Don’t ever assume that because you and your tattoo artist write out a basic statement saying you own the image and you both signed it that will be effective to legally resolve the copyright issues.
This information is not meant to serve as legal advice. It is always best to consult a qualified legal advisor for all legal and contractual matters.