Bodybuilding is a profession that is literally all about showing your body off. You get judged on the tiniest things like the striations in your muscles, your genetics, your body fat, acne, et cetera.
So, that leads most people to wonder- can bodybuilders have tattoos?
Yes, but also no! There are no IFBB regulations restricting the use of tattoos, and many bodybuilders do have tattoos. However, many bodybuilders in higher competitions such as Mr.Olympia will NOT have tattoos as they can hide some of the tiny details that can win competitions. And as a matter of fact, some competitions (even the IFBB!) encourage judges to see tattoos as ‘bad’ when they need to break a tie between two contestants. But, they are a smaller factor in the grading, and they won’t automatically dismiss the hard work a contestant has done.
Let’s cover this a bit more in-depth, and give an in-depth answer to the question: can bodybuilders have tattoos- once and for all.
There Are No IFBB Regulations Prohibiting Tattoos
So, in terms of rules and regulations- there are NO IFBB Regulations prohibiting tattoos.
The IFBB is the International Federation of Bodybuilding and Fitness, and the body that regulates most bodybuilding competitions worldwide.
In simple terms, they are basically the boss of everything.
Now, at the top of the chain of command, there are no rules specifically prohibiting tattoos on the body.
This means that if you have tattoos you are allowed to compete and everything.
Now, it’s just like the law at home. Just because something is legal doesn’t mean you should do it. (Life advice you should always follow…by the way)
So that’s the difference here. The “law” of bodybuilding says that tattoos are legal, but it may not be the best idea.
Many Competitions (including IFBB) See Tattoos as a ‘Bad’ Feature When They Need to Break a Tie Between Two Contestants
Many competitions will actually count tattoos against their contestants when they need to break a tie between two contestants, and that includes the IFBB.
Here is an excerpt DIRECTLY FROM THE IFBB JUDGING BOOK:
“The judge should also look for good skin tone with an absence of surgical or other scars, spots, acne, or tattoos, which the IFBB considers as a skin blemish, tidily dressed hair, well-shaped feet, and toes. When having difficulty in placing two or more competitors who seem to be on the same level, the judge should look for faults in those aspects listed above which will help to differentiate among the competitors.”
That is straight from the horse’s mouth. That is directly from the IFBB judging book.
Basically, they are saying, “if you need to break a tie, favor the contestant without acne, tattoos, or scars”.
So let’s say you’re against someone who has tattoos but you guys look so similar, you will automatically win in this instance.
Every Judge is a Little Different
While that is the official guidelines, that is just in ‘theory’. In actual practice of judging a bodybuilding competition, it will depend on how biased the judges are on tattoos.
For instance, if you are in an area that has a culture that frowns upon tattoos (Denmark, Japan, Koreas) the judges may be far harsher on you for having them.
Meanwhile, if you’re in a culture that doesn’t really care about tattoos (Miami Beach, Flordia, Los Angeles) you may be in luck.
Again, it depends on the judges and their bias. While the juges aren’t supposed to use their personal bias, it’s just the nature of ‘judging’- it’s virtually impossible to get a completely unbiased judge.
Every Competition is a Little Different
So, every competition is a little different than the others.
For example, some competitions may ban tattoos outright, while some competitions may tell the judges to NOT count tattoos as a ‘negative’.
Ultimately, it will depend on which competitions you plan on competing. If you only plan on ever attending a local bodybuilding competition in town that freely allows tattoos, the IFBB guidelines don’t matter to you.
So, the best thing for you to do is just to head over to your competition’s guidebook and see what their policies are.
Tattoos Also Hide Important Details In Bodybuilder’s Muscles, Which Can Lose Them Points
One of the bigger reasons bodybuilders do not get tattoos is because it hides important details in their muscles.
Bodybuilding competitions are incredibly tough. The tiniest thing can cause you to fall from 1st place to last.
Part of the problem with tattoos is that they can hide the most important details in bodybuilder’s muscles, losing them points.
For instance, one of the most important parts of a bodybuilding competition is rating the bodybuilder’s back. The lats are hard to grow and detail, but they make up a LARGE portion of the bodybuilder’s body.
The nice thing about the back muscles is that they can be so detailed. A big back has so many striations, inserts, et cetera. And the tiniest things can make one contestant’s back better than the other.
Now, if they have tattoos on their back, it can hide these tiny striations, inserts, and details. This is because the judges are further away and the black ink can seriously conceal everything under those bright lights.
So, when it comes down to it. Most bodybuilders won’t have tattoos because they know that if they put it on themselves, they risk the chance of a judge missing some of their hard work.
Which again, you have to realize that the judges aren’t 1 inch from the contestant, they can be 15 feet away! So those tiny details can easily be masked with tattoos- and this is something bodybuilders do NOT want.
Some Bodybuilders Do Have Tattoos, But It Becomes Rarer The Bigger The Competition
If you look at a lot of entry level competitions, you will see a decent percentage of the guys there will have tattoos.
But, as you move up and look at bigger competitions, that number suddenly dwindles.
For instance, there isn’t a Mr.Olympia to date that has had a significant number of tattoos. (some Mr.Olympia winners have gotten tattoos AFTER their victory, I am referring to them at the point of their victory)
Some bodybuilders in the big leagues have had tiny, tiny tattoos that you can barely notice even if you were living with them.
But, for the most part, the ‘pros’ stay away from it. Usually, because it runs them the chance of losing a competition, but many of them are also concerned about the message they send to fans- not all tattoos are ‘family appropriate’.
Many tattoos aren’t nessecarily uh- G rated to say the least. Some people can have weapons, swear words, and other graphic images.
While most tattoos are perfectly okay for even a baby to see- some bodybuilders have desires to get more adult content on their body and refuse to as they know many kids and teens look up to them.
So, Can Bodybuilders Have Tattoos?
Yes, and no. While nothing is specifically restricting it, bodybuilders run the risk of a judge missing important details on their body. Furthermore, some of those judges may have a bias against tattoos, and some guidebooks encourage judges to see tattoos as a bad thing when they need to break ties between contestants.
Some bodybuilders will have tattoos, but at the higher levels of bodybuilding you won’t really see it. But, a tattoo isn’t going to make somebody automatically win against somebody who has put in 10x the hard work they have- it’s a smaller factor in it all.