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
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.