Male models have never been more tattooed than right now. In fact, the archetypal models of yore were valued for their malleability, so the fewer distinguishing characteristics the better. They represented unblemished canvases for designer clothes, accessories, and, say what you will, our highest aspirations. But as male models started to gain the kind of star power their female counterparts have long known (see cool teen Lucky Blue Smith ), and as societal priorities began to shift, the demand for a not-so-blank slate set in—models are real people after all. These days hiring a male model to walk down a runway or star in an ad campaign involves careful consideration of not just how they look, but also their social media following, and their personality. Combine that with the rise in mainstream tattoo popularity and welcome to 2017.
Now male models are flaunting ownership of their chiseled bodies—inking very personal, Instagram-ready works of art all over their perfect skin. But what tattoo can rival the world's most sculpted forearm? We had to find out. So we invited every tattooed male model we know to come in and tell us their stories of going under the gun.
What is the first tattoo that you got, and when did you get it?
My first tattoo was the Statue of Liberty with a gas mask. I got it when I was seventeen, so, five years ago.
Do you want more tattoos?
Yeah, I want to get a lot more but my ideas always change. I jumped into my first tattoo, so I kind of want to take the next ones a little more slowly.
Can you tell me the inspiration behind it?
Well, the inspiration of my tattoo is just, it’s like, it’s my twist on New York City. It’s where I was born and raised. So that’s just like a little different from the normal image of New York City.
How many tattoos do you have?
I don’t even count anymore, I don’t know. I plan on getting more on my legs. Then definitely gonna close my lower back and the ribcages, so it’s gonna be like a full body suit.
Which was your first tattoo, and how old were you?
I was eighteen, and it was a little Chinese zodiac sign.
What is the story behind the tattoo in the center of your back?
That’s a Croatian flag with an eagle. I was born and raised in Switzerland, in Zurich, but my parents are Croatian.
Which one hurt the most?
Mm … the most painful area is probably the stomach. Yeah, your stomach is, that’s a tough spot.
Do you have advice for people getting a first tattoo?
The bigger the better! The chances that you’re gonna get a second one, or just more in general, if you start with a very small one. Yeah, I think if I hadn't started this small, I would have ended up with this many.
How many more tattoos do you want to get?
I want to finish both my arms, one leg, and maybe … I don’t know, do another one on the neck? But I don’t want to tarnish my chest and my abs. Those are the only parts I’m not gonna touch.
Do you want anything on your back?
On my back, yeah, I want to do on my back, a big tattoo. I already have one I want to do: It’s the Cristo from Rio de Janeiro. Because I’m from Rio de Janeiro. I want to do him big with the beach and all the views.
Do you have any advice for people getting their first tattoo?
Yeah. I mean, think about it a lot. Get a fake one before that stays for two weeks, enough to know if you really want it. Don’t do it without thinking, because it's for all your life, it’s crazy.
Which was the first one you got?
My first one is my arm. I was fourteen years old. I really didn’t think about it much. So now I have to do everything again, trying to delete some parts, you know? It’s very expensive, it’s very painful, and it’s stupid. I should have thought about that before.
Can you tell me what it was?
It was … a clown, actually. It’s a clown, I don’t know, it’s like, my English is bad to explain how it was, but it was a little clown, like, a bad clown, you know? He was not smiling that much. I just wanted to delete it. So, I covered it up and now I'm trying to start everything over again with lasers.
Which was your first tattoo?
My brother’s name, up here on the top. The one under it was next and then my mother’s name.
Can you talk about the inspiration behind them?
Well, my older brother got killed when I was younger. So I got his name tattooed. And it was just some incentive to get my mom to say yeah, because I was so young to get a tattoo, you know. I was fifteen. So I was like, “Ma, I really, really want a tattoo.” You know, and I told her I’d get something meaningful. So it was definitely my brother.
Which of your tattoos hurt the most?
Well, I have two on the inner arms, they’re anagrams, on both sides. They hurt really really bad. The closer it was to my armpit, the more it hurt. And then the one on my chest, I swear it’s so far away from my nipple, but it felt like he was directly on my nipple the whole time.
What's the story behind one of them?
I got a hand right here holding some rosary beads. I believe in God, you know, I’m not like strong into religion. But I didn’t know it was Catholic! [laughs] So people were like, “Oh, you're Catholic?” And I’m like, “Nah, hell no!” And they were like, “But you have rosary beads on your arm!” But still I don’t regret it, like, damn, I’m stupid! I think it’s funny.
Tell me about the tattoo on your wrist.
Basically, it’s the Tree of Life, but it also has a skeleton buried in there. So it basically means to me that we’re everything. No matter what, when we decompose, we can come back to life in all different ways. Oh, I guess I gotta say the most meaningful tatt, I’d have to say my mom’s name on my ring finger. I always told her I was gonna marry her when I was a little boy, so I figured I might as well put a ring on there for her.
Is there one particular artist you like the best?
Not particularly, no. I try to only go to shop owners, because usually they have the most experience. They’ve been tattooing for the longest. So I’ll wait until the tattoo shop owner has availability, and then I’ll go check out a new cool tattoo shop.
Where do you want to get your next tattoo?
I don’t really plan them out. It just kind of goes as it is. Like, if a friend says, “Hey, let’s go get tattoos,” I generally have an idea of what I want, but I'm not necessarily planning it out.
What was the first one you got?
The first one I got was my parents’ birthdays on my ankle.
Tell me about your white tattoo, and the one behind your ear.
Um … so, I have a white tattoo on my forearm, and it’s the molecular formula for THC. I got it when I turned twenty-one, as a representation that I’d moved on from that part of my life, so I got it in white ink so that it wouldn’t be visible, but I could still remember. And I have one behind my ear, which says “Amare,” which is Latin for “to love,” the infinitive “to love.” And I got that because I figured, you know, if I write something down, that means it’ll get done; but if I write something on my body, it’s guaranteed to get done. So that’s the motive behind that.
Any advice for white ink tattoos?
Yeah. I highly recommend, if you do get a white tattoo, that before they bandage it up, after you get it done, while the wound is still open, they smear white ink in it. Because I have another white tattoo on my finger, and it doesn’t show up as much, because they didn’t do the second application of white ink.
What is your weirdest tattoo?
I have a tattoo on the inside of my lip. It says “Cheeks.” When I was younger, I was a fat kid, and everyone called me “Cheeks,” because I hold a lot of weight in my face, and I guess I had a fat face as a kid.
Do you want to get more tattoos?
I would love to. To be honest, if I could, I would have them from the bottom of my chin to my toes. But because of the line of work that I’m in, I’m holding off on getting tattoos for now. I haven’t gotten one in a few years. But for a while, it was looking like I was gonna be covered, and then I stopped myself.
Do you have any advice for somebody who doesn’t have any tattoos but wants to get one?
Yeah. I would say make sure you have a good plan. Know that it is extremely addictive. I mean, my whole family is covered in tattoos. My mom, dad, and my older sister. So growing up in it, it’s hard to stop. But also make sure that it’s something that means a lot and has a good story. You know, you get asked about tattoos a lot, and if you don’t have a good story, it can kind of make a conversation go bad.
What's your good story?
The one on my arm was for one of my best friends since I was a baby. Two years ago, he was hit by a car walking home. He passed away. So I got a tattoo in remembrance of him. And then I went through a lot with my dad in high school with sports and just stuff like that, and every year, my dad and I would go on a hunting trip in Colorado for elk. And these trips kind of started to turn our relationship around. And it’s now my favorite weekend of the whole year. So, I got a tattoo with my dad’s initials under the skull and antlers of an elk. It’s probably my favorite tattoo. It's just to remind myself of how far I’ve come with my dad.
Can you tell me something about your tattoos?
The TX on the upper part of my left arm is for Texas. I was born and raised there. My two younger brothers have the same tattoo. My brother Tyler is four years younger than me, we got them at the same time. Then we had to wait, like, a good ten years until our youngest brother could get it. And then of course he wanted to be a smartass, and was like, “What if I don’t want to get it?” I was like, “That’s not an option. You’re getting it whether you like it or not.” I was like, “’Cause if not, we’ll just find a tattoo artist that’ll do it while you’re passed out.” [laughs]
What about the one on your elbow?
Oh, on my elbow is a Native American sun, which also represents another part of my family heritage, being Native American.
Which part of your family?
It’s from my grandfather, my mom’s dad. It’s his side of the family. They have been in Texas for generations, and his grandmother was a hundred percent Native American.
How old were you when you got your first tattoo?
I was fifteen. I got the first one with a fake ID. [laughs]
Which one was the most expensive?
None of them were very expensive, actually, because my dad was the landlord at a tattoo parlor. But he’s very, like, white-collar businessman and was not cool with me getting tattoos. So he hit up the people at the tattoo shop and was like, “Yo, quit tattooing my son!” Because I was a football player, and I was kind of following in his footsteps. You know, gonna go play college ball and stuff.
Did they do the tattoos for free?
I mean, next to nothing. I think my work would be well over three or four grand, somewhere in there. And I’ve maybe spent like eight hundred dollars on all of it.
What was your first tattoo?
The Om symbol on my leg. I lived in Asia for eight years (Bangkok, Japan, Thailand). So I got a lot of tattoos over there. Like, five, maybe.
Is the process any different than in the United States?
In Thailand it is. You can choose one that's called the Five Rules, done in a Buddhist temple. You talk with the monks for a while. They choose for you, they see what you need, the protection you need, and they do the tattoo for you. You don’t know what it means and it's done with bamboo.
They dip bamboo in ink?
Yeah, bamboo in ink. It takes a long time, but the pain is the same.
Which of your tattoos hurt the most?
Probably the one on my chest. Because it was right on my sternum, so that really killed. It’s my whole depiction of how Heaven looks.
What’s the inspiration for your favorite tattoo?
On my left arm I have the Archangel Michael fighting the Devil, and all the angels and the fallen angels. And on my left arm I have the whole Creation story, with God’s hand coming out of the universe, creating the whole world and the seven days.
What’s the most expensive one you’ve ever gotten?
The most expensive would be my back. One half of my back is a demon wing, the other half of it is an angel wing. It cost about two thousand dollars to do my whole back. I was saving up for it. I do construction, and I have, like, a little tattoo fund jar. I save up for whatever big tattoos that I want to get.
Tell me about your tattoos?
I’m from the island of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, so I have the USVI, US Virgin Islands on my hand. I also have a beach, palm trees, island stuff. I have the three islands on the back of my arm: St. Thomas, St. John, St. Croix and I have our flag on the top of my shoulder.
What advice do you have for people who want to get their first tattoo?
If you get one, be prepared to get more. I think they put coke at the end of the tip [laughs]. Once you get one, it doesn’t stop. You want to get more [laughs]. I don’t even know if I can say that.
What's was the inspiration for your sleeve tattoo?
It’s a swamp scene, and I’m from Louisiana. It has to do with remembering where you came from. I filled it in with alligators and the fleur de lis for the Saints and the symbol for New Orleans. That tattoo kind of became my biggest story piece, because it represents where I’m from.
What about the one on your ribs, on your side?
I’m a little bit of a Star Wars nerd, so a lot of my tattoos are Star Wars. The one that I have on my side, it’s kind of a tribute to one of my favorite characters out of Star Wars, Boba Fett. He’s a villain. He has one of the shortest screen times in the movie. And he supposedly dies in the movie. So the tattoo’s kind of a tribute to him. Because in the books, he lives on.
What’s your advice for somebody getting their first tattoo?
I’d say the biggest advice is, try not to get too wrapped up in the meanings of them. For me, tattoos are kind of a placement in time. I can look at a tattoo, and it’ll bring me back to an exact feeling, or an exact point in my life. Too many people get wrapped up in, like, “Oh, I want it to be meaningful!” But if you like something, then just do it.
William Dean Taylor
What was the first tattoo you got?
First one I got was my “Brotherly Love” across my chest.
Are you from Philadelphia?
No. No. Arizona.
Why “My Brotherly Love”?
We’re a close-knit family, only a few of us, and it was just a little motto that we had, brotherly love between me and my brother Vince. He has the same thing on his chest as well. So it’s just something we share, just a little bond.
Can you tell me the backstory behind one of your other tattoos?
Yeah. My tattoo from my mom means a lot. I have a little dog, dog paw print on there, because if you knew my mom, she just loves her dogs. Like, our dogs aren’t dogs; they're literally are family members. My mom’s dealt with a bunch of sicknesses. She had cancer in her thyroid and just to have her there with me, while I know she’s at home, kind of not feeling the best, it’s just nice to have that little reminder of how awesome my mom is.