Do Tattoos Have a Place in Politics? - OZY | A Modern Media Company


You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover — no matter how inked up that cover may be. 

By Lorena O'Neil

What if we ran elections like the television show The Voice? What if, before casting your vote, you sat with your back to the person as they spoke about the issues? And when you decided you liked what they had to say, only then could you press a button, turn around and see what he/she looked like. And what if, when you turned around, the candidate of your liking was covered from head to toe in tattoos?

Preconceived notions and prejudices about people are difficult to overcome, whether it’s race, gender, sexual orientation or physical looks. When people decide to put needle to skin and paint themselves, they are not just injecting ink into themselves, they are also painting themselves with stereotypes. All for the price of one tattoo — congratulations!

If heavily tattooed Vladimir Franz had run for office in the United States, would he have polled as high?

Vladimir Franz is a Czech opera composer, teacher and painter. His face, ears, lips and much of his body are covered in red, blue and green tattoos, which has led some to nickname him “Avatar.” In January he ran for president of the Czech Republic, which is largely a ceremonial position as the prime minister holds more power. Although he lost, he polled in third place out of nine candidates leading up to the elections. The Guardian reported that it wasn’t that voters were bothered by his face tattoos; they didn’t vote for him because of his lack of political experience.

If Franz had run for office in the United States, would he have polled as high? Doubtful. 


Tattoos are slowly losing their stigma in the U.S., but that does not mean the country would be willing to elect someone covered in face tattoos. There is, however, a history of tattoos in American politics. President Theodore Roosevelt is rumored to have had his family crest tattooed on his chest. Members of Congress with tattoos garnered attention in 2012 when Roll Call did a feature on the Tattoo Caucus, reporting on present and former tattooed representatives like Duncan Hunter, Allen West and Jesse Jackson Jr. The latter was subjected to jokes about how easily he could maintain his tattoos in prison. None of the members of Congress were willing to show off their body art for photographs, which seems to point to an awareness of a persistent tattoo stigmatization.

OZY spoke with tattoo artist Mike Wilson about his experiences both as a tattoo artist and someone with very visible tattoos. He shared multiple stories of people making assumptions about him because of his body art. He says he’s had parents snatch away curious kids who come up to him to see the tattoos closer, and he tells a story about being mistaken for a gang member while in jail. Wilson refuses to give young people visible tattoos when they request them because he thinks they should fully appreciate the ramifications that come with the ink.

Tight color headshot of vladimir franz whose face is covered in tattoos.

Portrait of Vladimir Franz

Source Corbis

What if tattoos were completely de-stigmatized? Should we care how people choose to express themselves or decorate their bodies? Does body art correlate at all with a person’s leadership style? Let us know in the comments.

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