There are a lot of undeniable truths about Dolly Parton. She’s one of the most prolific and profound songwriters ever, as evident by her induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. She’s a musical legend, with chart-topping songs like “I Will Always Love You,” “9 to 5,” “Jolene,” and “Tennessee Homesick Blues.” Dolly’s also a pop culture phenomenon, having starred in 9 to 5, Steel Magnolias, and The Porter Wagoner Show, among other films and TV shows. And yet, amongst all these fantastic truths and facts about this legend, there is one persistent rumor: that she’s more inked up than Post Malone.
Dolly’s tendency to always wear long sleeves – and her frequent use of gloves – has sparked speculation that she’s covered in tattoos. But, is she? Yes and no. “I don’t really like to make a big to-do of [the tattoos] because people make such a big damn deal over every little thing,” she told Vanity Fair in 2017. “But most of the tattoos, when I first started, I was covering up some scars that I had, ’cause I have a tendency to have keloid scar tissue, and I have a tendency where if I have any kind of scars anywhere then they kind of have a purple tinge that I can never get rid of.”
“So mine are all pastels, what few that I have, and they’re meant to cover some scars. I’m not trying to make some big, bold statement,” she added.
Dolly touched upon the tattoo talk three years later in discussion with PEOPLE. “I do have some tattoos, that’s true,” she said. “But they’re tasteful. I’m not a tattoo girl.” As to what Dolly has for tattoos, she told PEOPLE that they’re “pretty” and nothing obscene or outlandish. “They’re artful, and they usually started out to cover some scar, not to make a big statement. Ribbons and bows and butterflies are the things that I have.”
Again, Dolly explained the reason behind the tattoos. She was very sick and had to wear a feeding tube at one point in her life. The apparatus left an indentation on her side, and Dolly wasn’t fond of it. “I’m so far that scars turn purple on me,” she said. So, she decided to “make positives out of negatives” by turning this scar into art. “I had a little beehive tattooed over it — a little yellow-and-brown beehive with a tiny little bee on top of the hive. The mouth of it is that little sinkhole.”
While chatting with W Magazine in 2021, Dolly explained that she’s connected with the butterfly and has adorned her body with a few of them. “Butterflies don’t sting, they don’t bite, and they are so beautiful,” Parton continued. “And I just kind of related to them with my own personality. I claimed them as my little symbol.” The butterfly has also helped Dolly through her hardships. “I’ve had surgeries for different things, and if the scars didn’t heal properly, I just gotta put tattoos to take the sting out.”
The world first got word of Dolly’s tattoos in 1984, as Cheat Sheet noted the singer spoke with Ladies’ Home Journal about getting ink to cover up some post-surgery scars. “I’m going to get tattooed right over my stomach incision. I don’t mean mermaids. I mean, from the left side of my navel down, I’ll make what looks like a tiny ribbon of eyelet lace in very light colors.” Dolly said she wanted to make the ribbon “baby pink” with “Baby lavender. With faint, tiny roses. I’ll make a sweet, delicate bow with what looks to be a little end that falls over like a piece of string. Like a little streamer.”
“It’ll be very delicate. All the bows and ribbons will be matching. Isn’t that precious? I sketched my design and already had a consultation with someone in New York who’s going to do it for me… my doctor can’t wait to see my tattoos,” she added. During an appearance on The Tonight Show in 1996, host Jay Leno saw one of Dolly’s tattoos, and she said she has an angel and some butterflies.
While Dolly has never been shy to acknowledge her tattoos, she’s kept them covered up mostly because of their placement. “I do have a few, but they’re not where you can see them,” she said during a 2014 appearance on The Today Show. “They are mostly for my husband.”