What to do with a groomsman with facial tattoos

Updated Mar 15 2021
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Most of our wedding party, including the groom and I, have multiple tattoos and piercings. My family can handle that for the most part. But the best man just got a 1/2" hole punched into his nose and has several facial tattoos. While this couldn't bother me in the slightest (he is a dear friend of ours), I can already see the problems it will inevitably cause with some of the older and more religious family members.

I don't want to dis-include my groom's best friend, but I'm worried that he might upset some of my family members. Is there any advice you can offer? -Jill

Original photo by Flickr user Mass Distraction. This isn't Jill's friend, but a nice guy named Norman.
Jill, I don't think you need to dis-include your best man — depending on his personality, this is actually a really awesome opportunity for some counterculture ambassadorship.

So, here's the first question: is your best man a friendly, patient guy? Because if he spends your wedding day walking around with a huge beatific smile, proactively introducing himself to your family members and respectfully answering their questions, you've got no problem! Imagine your grumpy Aunt Barbara's surprise when your tattooed best man approaches her, holds out his hand, and says, "You must be Jill's aunt! It's such a pleasure to meet you. Isn't the wedding just lovely? I was trying not to cry during the vows…"

If he's up for being friendly and respectful, and is willing to proactively work a little extra to be friendly to your conservative family members, he may actually be able to challenge their assumptions — heavily inked guys aren't all scary, Aunt Barbara! Some of them are kindly teddy bears who get all choked up during wedding vows.

To further answer your question, I decided to bring in the expert on freak ambassadorship, Jillian Venters, aka The Lady of the Manners. Jillian runs gothic-charm-school.com and is the author of the book Gothic Charm School: An Essential Guide for Goths and Those Who Love Them.

The Lady of the Manners says:

You should absolutely include your best man! There are reasons you thought of for including him in your wedding, and they shouldn't be ignored. And Ariel is right: including him in your wedding party would be a very good way to introduce your family members to some different lifestyles.

The very important thing here is to sit down with your friend and be up front about possible reactions from family members. Tell him, "We love you, we want to include you in our wedding, but we want to make sure that you're okay with being "on display" to our more normal-looking relatives". Give him the chance to decide whether he'll mind being something of a learning experience at the wedding.

In the Lady of the Manners' experience, people with Very Visible Tattoos (especially facial tattoos) are used to people doing double-takes or gawking at them, and generally have their own ways of defusing the situation with humor and grace.

However, the thing you should be prepared for is that your relatives may be so busy gawking that they won't think to go ask HIM about his tattoos; they'll just stare, slightly goggle-eyed, and then come and find YOU to ask about them — even though you will have a gazillion other things to focus on during your wedding day!

This means you might want to come up with some quick, easy, and friendly answers to Those Sorts Of Questions ahead of time, just so you aren't taken aback by whatever well-intentioned, but clueless, question your grumpy Aunt Barbara asks about that tattooed man.

I would take Jillian's advice a step further and say you may want to warn your family that there will be "some colorful characters" (euphemism for FABULOUS FREAKS!) at the wedding, and also see if your best man will commit to actively introducing himself to family members. If you can get him on board with the smiling, hand shaking, and respectful-conversation-having, I think your family members may surprise you.

  1. Ooh, this is excellent. The best man in my wedding happens to have the words "porn shop" tattoo'd across his knuckles. I'm very nervous at that just in regards to my conservative east Indian family… they're cool for the most part – but I can see how that might be a bit weird for them.

  2. oooh! Love this post! The best man in our wedding has a heart tattooed under his chin! He'll probably have a beard but, in the event that he doesn't, this is something good to think about! & who knows, he may have something else by then too!!!

  3. I *totally* agree that your relatives might surprise you. I used to work at a veterinary clinic and one of the technicians had numerous piercings, tattoos, and multi-color pink and purple hair. One of my clients was an elderly woman, and after this technician left the room, the lady turned to me and said something to the effect of, "Oh my goodness, she looked crazy! Don't you think all of that hurt?!" I told her that maybe she should ask the tech, not thinking she'd actually take me up on it. And then, as she was checking out, I caught her having a conversation with the technician, asking her all about her various modifications. It was awesome ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. I think a major assumption that needs to be brought up is that the best man will be happy to answer questions. If this was me, or one of my friends, I would want to spend my time dancing and hanging out with friends I rarely get to see, and not making small talk with aunt Barbara about societal expectations and aesthetics.
    If you plan to have a wedding program, you could include a list of each member of the wedding party as well as a brief description. With a blurb like "Mike Stevens, best man. Friends with the groom since middle school, Mike has been a great friend offering his support to us whenever we need it, including helping us move into our last two apartments and…" well, you get the idea. A blurb about what a great guy he is may also be a good idea to keep nosy relatives at bay.

    • I agree Nathalie. I don't feel that it's a person's responsibility to educate others who may be judgemental or ignorant about societal expectations regarding said person and who they are/what they look like/how they live their life. I'm bi, but that doesn't mean I want to be a spokesperson for LGBT issues (even though sometimes I am in the mood to/choose to). This concept applies to all sorts of things: illness, religion (or absence of), race, ethnicity, sexism, the list goes on.

      Not that I think the advice of Ariel or Jillian is off, I just think that this perspective is important, too.

  5. i have 3 tattoos, one of which is especially large and my FH is VERY proud of. (he paid for it, he should be). he and both of my parents have given me permission to display my body art and to wear a blue dress, but his father is jewish and both his father and mother are very conservative. when i got my lip pierced as a surprise for FH, they almost had a heart attack. they still disagree with ALL of my body modifications and thoroughly believe that i'm convincing their son to "destroy" his body the way i have. FH and my parents have both said they want me to be happy and enjoy the day without stress. they're all very proud of my art and can't wait to see how we end up displaying it the day of. with all that said, i'm afraid i'm going to give FH's father a heart attack or something the day of. he's a bit older and it's pretty much garunteed he will make some comment or do something to make it well known that what i'm doing is wrong. (he's well known for being crass, rude and blunt. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ ) how should i go about doing what i, my FH and my parents want without "killing" my soon-to-be father-in-law? i really like showing off my mods, but i want to be respectful of FH's parents' religion and values at the same time. FH has said if all else fails then his parents just won't be allowed to attend the wedding, but i don't want it to come down to that. any advice on how to bridge all the gaps and create a happy, joyous occassion while still being me and the girl FH fell in love with is VERY needed. with my health, the last thing i need on my wedding day is a father-in-law creating a big scene. PLEASE HELP!

    • I think that if he makes a fool of himself being rude to the bride in front of all the guests, it's his bad. You can talk to him, tell him that while you're absolutely not interested in offending him, your art is part of yourself and a part you want included in the big day. If he ends up saying something in front of everybody, well, I believe he'll be on his own. Your guests already know you and know you wouldn't do something to hurt him on purpose. It's your choice to act up and say something to him there, or just keep enjoying your day.
      BTW, please, share pics of that dress and tattoos!

      • thanks, luckily for me, FH just stepped way up and pretty much told him that if he didn't get in line then we have no qualms saving money but not inviting him or the rest of the family. (a little extreme but he's thick headed) after that discussion we got a phone call while we were looking at arbors and it now looks like we'll be getting free cadelabras to use during the wedding. i will definitely be showing pictures of my dress. my father will be in town soon (him and mom are paying for the dress) and we'll be ordering my dress by the end of the month so at one of my fittings i'll be sure to take plenty of pics. (FH picked out the dress and after trying on over 20 others, it was definitely the ONE. his face said everything so there's no doubt it's what we're getting. the only dilemma left, the color of my dress will most definitely shock most friends and a couple family members. comparing my tattoos to my dress though, no one will notice my work or that it's showing.

  6. oh and the facial tattoo advice was very nice. only at our wedding, it's going to the be the women with all the visible mods. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ

  7. I think this is excellent advice not just for tattoos but for any and all unusual aspects of the wedding or it's participants. As many people have said before your wedding should be a celebration of the people involved so it's a perfect oppertunity to introduce/reinforce the idea that all those strange things you do are a part of who you are and not just "weird for the sake of being weird" as one friend of my mums put it.

    If you can also break down some stereotypes along the "different = scary" line at the same time then it's even better.

  8. Am I the only one who tones it down a bit for weddings/formal events? Mind you, I don't have piercings or facial tattoos, and while I enjoy being different(ish), when I go to events where I know I'm going to be surrounded by older people who may look askance at my arm tats, I cover them up. When I go to Desi weddings and wear a sari, I wear my long-sleeved sari blouses. It's not that I don't love myself or feel ashamed; I just don't see the point in ruffling old women's feathers. I figure they're probably weirded out enough by my hair, why go all out and see if I can cause a coronary?

    I know that the point of this site is to celebrate the different and the extraordinary, and while I totally understand why people resist being told that they need to fit in, I also see room for compromise.

    Mind you, I don't think I'd say anything to the best man if I were the bride (other than what Ariel and Jillian suggested), but I guess if I were the best man, I'd be prone to removing a piercing or to.

    Maybe it's a cultural difference, or maybe I'm just a big wuss. I hate conflict. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Compromise is great when it's possible but that's not always the case. How can you tone down facial tattoos?

      Maybe there's something I haven't thought of but it does seem to me that in Jill's case it's all or nothing – have the best man with facial tattoos, or don't have him at all. In that case I'd fall back on the (prehaps selfish) approach that the wedding is about the bride and groom and their preferences should take priority. With the added note that their family and friends should prioritise enjoying being with them on their wedding day and things they might normally disaprove of should be let go for that one day. Which I suspect is VERY idealistic. ๐Ÿ˜€

      • I guess I was thinking of facial hair to cover up chin tattoos, but yeah, short of a burqa or a male-veil, it'd be pretty tough to cover a face full of tats. I was thinking more of piercings, but then, that depends a lot on the kind and size of piercing, as well.

        BTW, I'm very ashamed of my typo in the first comment – that should have been "a piercing or TWO." It will haunt me for the rest of the week.

        • I think a "male-veil" might draw just as much attention. ๐Ÿ™‚

          And now I'm picturing groomsmen with cummerbunds that match their pillbox hats and veils!

      • If (and I say IF) the best man wanted to "tone down" his tattoos for the wedding, he could have airbrushing done in flesh tones to cover it up. Not that I think he should, but just if he wanted to – that is an option.

  9. Good advice from everyone and here is my 2cents. If he lives in a world where facial tatts are common, he may feel uncomfortable. However he is a grown man and I am SURE he has experienced a look, stare, a comment, and even some love. He probably is more prepared for this than you think. Don't exclude, explain, to the family members who YOU think need an explanation. You peeps may surprise you and make him feel more like a blood brother. Give them a chance to be decent. After that keep it moving and stay happy.
    Oh Shannon, I am praying for you!

  10. so I read this thinking "no problem". I have a good friend with some pretty er- offbeat tattoos on his face and all over for that matter and inviting him to my wedding was a no-brainer. (his girlfriend also has facial tattoos and has also been invited, of course). Then, when I was hanging out with my finacee's grandma (someone very important to us) and she saw MY tasteful, small, easily coverable tattoo on my back she didn't hesitate to point it out and say "shame on you! that's terrible!" (which seemed like it would have been a little out of character for her). Now I'm scared that she or other family members might not just gawk or ask questions but straight out condemn some of my closet friends (or maybe feel scared themselves) loudly. This could be a problem because probably 20% of those invited to my wedding have tattoos- visible ones.
    I'd like to avoid scaring anyone at the same time as including everyone that's important to me. any polite one-liners? My finacees family already think that my family and friends are a bunch of white trash biker folk with no morals.

  11. Just wanna say, I love this site. I'm obsessed. In the case of letting one's freak flag fly, I think that perhaps the bride and grooms appearance would necessitate family members drawing the conclusion that their friends would share similar interests i.e. tattoos? So it might not be so shocking to Aunt Barbra or Grandma Ethyl or whoever considering they've seen the bride go through her modded transformation- I guess maybe give the conservative folks some credit, they might be able to handle a best man with tattoos on his face better than you think.

  12. I can understand from both perspectives, the one about not giving a damn and he shouldn't have to explain himself to the guests, etc and the other perspective where he should/can be open and talk about them or just cover them up. However, my two cents is just to say, remember that you are essentially the hostess of a large party and you want your guests, all of them, to be comfortable. If I showed up to an event/party/wedding and there were, say, flesh pulls going on (there isn't anything wrong with that if you're into it, don't attack me please), which really freak me out, and I would totally leave, regardless of who's wedding or event it was. I couldn't really think of much that would freak me out since I'm generally a pretty open-minded and tolerant person, but there are a lot of people, generations (literally) of them, that even an ankle tattoo would make them uncomfortable. I'm seconding a pre-wedding email or phone call to particularly sensitive guests to inform them and educate them about your "colorful characters".

  13. I don't think we had any facial tattoos at our wedding, but we definitely had visible tattoos, hair colors not found in nature, facial piercings, etc. I just made sure to tell my more traditional family beforehand that there would be such things at the wedding, and then added that everyone at the wedding was there because I loved them, and if anyone thought it necessary to be critical of my friends on MY day, I would ask them to leave. Everyone was very gracious and well-behaved!

  14. My brother-in-law's best man was a huge burly guy covered in tattoos and piercings. He plays in a death metal band. My parents LOVE him because he's so friendly and outgoing. Agreed, as long as the best man has a great attitude no worries.

  15. Have you guys seen this rather irritating article making the round on Facebook? http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2012/aug/11/devastated-by-my-sons-tattoo
    It might make your blood boil. Hopefully, your family isn't this prejudiced against tattoos and piercings. But as warm and friendly as your friend might be to your more conservative family members, the is a possibility that they will not be able to see past the body mods and will remain steadfast in their opinions. As long as everybody is respectful, all will hopefully go without a hitch. But make sure you don't set yourself up for a fall with really high expectations that his wit and charm (and your comprehensive introductions, warnings and explanation of alternative culture) will suddenly turn their views around. They may well do, but in case they don't, their opinions are their concerns are their own affair and not worthy of your ruining your day stressing about upset guests.

  16. This is a great article, we are having a very non-conventional wedding in that the best man is an androgynous trans* man, the vast majority of our friends have alternative lifestyles and there are an awful lot with tats and piercings (including myself & FH) plus I'm a Druid do we will be having a hand-fasting after the legal bit.

    There are members of my family who are very conservative and others who will think it's just me being weird again but I'm hoping they can all behave for the day and get on!

  17. I would issue one word of caution about giving a "heads up" about anyone's appearance, and it relates to drama llamas, narcissists, and attention seekers.

    If you have one of those personalities involved, saying "Mike has a bone through his nose and 4' long dreads but we love him and want him involved" tells them *exactly* where to seek that drama. If you show someone with that kind of dysfunction an opening for how to needle you, they'll be obliged to take it. Sometimes, it's best not to make an issue where there may not be one, depending on the people involved, which only you and your Other Half will really know. Last fall before our wedding, I was worried sick someone would have a conniption about my dress, right up until I put it on and fell head over heels for it, at which point I decided it's a "Go to Hell Dress"– if somebody didn't like it, well then they could just go to hell, because it was Perfect for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Our plan had someone raised a fuss was a simple, "I know you're worried about us having a wonderful day, but (situation) isn't a problem to us at all. But if you're so put off by it that you're no longer comfortable being here, we understand. We can have someone bring the car around for you." To my utter shock, I didn't have to use it at all on the day, and only once before the wedding because of a drama llama on his side of the family who had a heenie about the location. (Thankfully I'd seen a response on here from someone, "It's an invitation, not an obligation," and employed it, and the drama lord didn't bother to come. We almost sent him a thank you card for such a wise decision. ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    In a worst-case scenario where someone decides a friend with ink is the hill they want to die on about your wedding, you may save yourself a lot of worry if you pre-prep a speech like that, and have a back up plan for meaning it. There have been more than one wedding discussed here where a guest has required a good old fashioned talking-to about the meaning of weddings and judicious application of manners. If weddings do anything for people, it's bring up high emotion. ๐Ÿ™‚ Don't worry unless you have to. It distracts from the fun.

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