By Zoey Angelucci
Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, adorned his chest with a tattoo of his family crest. To this day, he is the only president to be open about his ink.
Winston Churchill, former prime minister of the United Kingdom, had an anchor tattoo on his upper right arm after his time in the military. For someone of Churchill’s place in aristocracy and the political elite, having a tattoo was rare.
Barry Goldwater, former U.S. Senator and Republican nominee in the election of 1964, was tattooed in the tradition of the Smoki People, a group of largely, white Native American culture enthusiasts in the Southwest. Goldwater’s four stars and half-moon on the underside of his wrist represented his participation with the Smokie People, yet also labeled him as a rebel in politics.
Today, Pittsburgh’s very own, John Fetterman serves as Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor. Fetterman is known for his unique, un-politician-like look due to his tattoos and lax outfits. He is currently leading in the race for U.S. Senate.
“If there is a stigma [around politicians with tattoos], it is fading quickly,” Ed Meena, Point Park University history professor, said. “I do not think tattoos would influence how a person may vote. I usually vote for an individual running for office based on their stand on worker issues- tattoos are not a red flag to me.”
For years, many individuals, typically those of older generations, have created some type of stigma about tattoos. One of the largest factors in that stigma is tattoos in the workplace under the idea that having tattoos will limit one’s career potential and are less likely to get hired.
“In the education field (like a lot of other occupations I’d assume) when I was in college in the early 2000s, there was this prevailing idea that any visible tattoos would make it very difficult to get a job,” Kelly Krawchyk, a 37-year-old civics teacher at Freedom Area High School. “Thankfully 15 or so years later, our perception of tattoos as a society seems to have changed quite a bit.”
From its source, the career pathway of politics has been seen as a very esteemed and established career if done correctly. The idea of politicians having ink would very easily deter citizens from voting for them.
As the general stigma of tattoos has begun to shift, it seems as if the stigma around politicians with ink is following suit.
“Generally, I would say a politician having tattoos would not affect if I chose to vote for them, and certainly wouldn’t automatically rule out someone,” Juliet Jacob, Point Park University sophomore political science student. “ I would be much more worried about their policies and goals in the long run.”
Today, many members of Congress have tattoos.
“I certainly wouldn’t advocate supporting a candidate simply because they do or do not have tattoos… but I will say that I feel like for some people, seeing a candidate with tattoos may be humanize them a bit,” Krawchyk said. “Take John Fetterman for example, I feel like part of the reason he’s been so successful connecting with constituents across party lines is because of his relatability. And, his relatability is in part due to personal appearance, tattoos included.”
Jess Scutella (they/them), Pittsburgh tattooist and artist, hasn’t tattooed any politicians personally but does acknowledge the importance of shifting any stigma around tattooed politicians.
“Politicians are people, people express themselves, politicians should be free to have body art without stigma,” Scutella said.
The idea of tattoos in politics can also represent those who have political figures, symbols or other political affiliations tattooed on themselves. Scutella has tattooed their fair share of politically charged tattoos on people from many walks of life.
Back in 2016, Scutella tattooed a few Trump-inspired tattoos. Then in the following election, they tattooed Bernie Sanders tattoos.
“It’s like a commitment to this belief of theirs,” Scutella said. “I think its a beautiful thing but it can get lost. Sometimes people will be so hung up on what the symbol means that they will get lost in the propaganda of it all.”
As a tattoo artist, Scutella is often forced to be in a room with someone that they may or may not agree with. They take these opportunities as a way to hear, in a non-biased way, why the client would want the tattoo.
“If you see someone with a Trump tattoo or a Bernie tattoo, it immediately resonates with you, and you kind of have an idea of who that person is,” Scutella said. “But, there’s usually much more to the person or situation. Though we see them as really bold statements or examples of beliefs, it’s just a facade. That’s what’s powerful about tattoos. They’re just images of what we happen to wear but they don’t make us that much different.”