Michelle McGee, the woman who allegedly had an affair with Sandra Bullock's husband, Jesse James, is identified in news stories as a "tattoo model." Is that a real profession?
Yes. A whole subcategory of modeling known as alternative modeling often features women (and occasionally men) with tattoos, piercings, and other body modifications. Some agencies specialize in alternative models, and many mainstream agencies represent some tattooed models, in case their clients request one. Clients looking for tattooed models (like tattoo shops) don't generally care what the tats depict; they're usually just after someone attractive with impressive-looking body art.
Alternative modeling is not a lucrative profession, and most people who describe themselves as "tattoo models" have other sources of income. Tattoo-themed publications such as Skin & Ink and Tattoo Magazine rarely pay models to appear on the cover. Instead, photographers attend tattoo conventions and shoot their subjects for free. The market for paid models is small. Tattoo conventions, tattoo shops, and companies that produce tattoo ink or aftercare products may offer compensation for modeling. Regular clothing companies after an edgy look may also hire tattooed models on occasion. But just as often they'll just ask an artist to paint a fake tattoo on a mainstream model.
The alterna-models who manage to create sustainable careers often do so by going into porn. Some run members-only Web sites. Others sell their photos to sites like the goth-themed Suicide Girls, which pays mostly nonprofessional models $500 for a set of photos.
Tattoo models don't, as a rule, get their tattoos free of charge. High-profile tattoo artists may want to have their work showcased on relatively well-known tattooed models like the fetish model Masuimi Max. But the tattooing process takes so much time and effort—an elaborate back design (NSFW) can take up to five 15-hour sessions—that complimentary tattoos are almost unheard of. Models do, however tend to build relationships with artists, which can result in discounts here and there.
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Explainer thanks Bob Baxter of Skin & Ink, Betty Ann Peed of Miss Tattoo, and Missy Suicide of Suicide Girls.