I’ve been lucky enough to cover Dolly Parton a handful of times at Dollywood over the years.
I’ve never spoken to the Sevier County icon, but I’ve taken photos and videos of her at various media events. And I’ve dutifully taken quotes from her from the stage off and on for nearly two decades now.
I like to think of myself as an observant person. I mean, it’s supposed to come with the job. But I can say that whatever I was observing, it wasn’t Parton’s hand and arms. I just never paid them much attention.
The first time I noticed that Dolly covered her hands must have been about 2016. I was attending an event celebrating the Lightning Rod coaster.
They set a little stage next to the ride and Dolly spoke to us for a bit. Afterward, she sang her early hit “Puppy Love” with a live backing band. The song fits in well with the early 60s, late 50s vibes of Jukebox Junction, so it was cool.
Then, I got back to the office and started going through the pictures. It was the first time I saw Dolly Parton wear fingerless gloves.
Why does Dolly Parton cover her hands and arms?
If I thought much about it at all, I would have figured it was simply that she doesn’t like how her hands are aging. And she went with a cover-up that nobody would notice unless they were shooting with a zoom lens.
Like most of you, I’ve been aware of Dolly Parton for nearly all of my life.
I’m nearly 50 years old. I am a member of Generation X, a latch key kid with access to HBO where her movies ran on a seemingly endless loop.
I’ve never been a super fan, never read a biography. But between years of her music, her public appearance, her acting, her theme park and her philanthropy, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on Dolly – at least her public persona, anyway.
Would I have guessed in a million years that Dolly Parton is covered in tattoos? Reader, I would not have guessed it.
The first time someone told me she was tatted up, I laughed.
Now look, I know as well as anybody that Dolly Parton has made millions – maybe billions while being criminally underestimated. Dolly is a businesswoman of uncommon talent and uncommon savvy. In fact, she has frequently played the roles expected of her publicly while making moves in private.
In recent years, she has given more indications of her real inner self. She has shown genuine support for people and causes that her fan base has been, to put it gently, slow to embrace.
So I shouldn’t necessarily be surprised to find out Dolly Parton is covered in little tattoos under her clothes.
Does Dolly Parton have scars to cover?
It seems the accomplished country singer first started to wear gloves in 2010.
Dollymania fan page’s Duane Gordon, citing third-hand information, said she’d had corrective hand surgery – medical, not cosmetic. And that the gloves were not covering Parton’s tattoos but her surgical scars.
However, Dolly’s tattoos and the air of mystery surrounding them go back further.
It’s hard to believe that someone as in touch with the fashion scene as I am has never noticed Dolly’s proclivity for long sleeves – pre-dating the fingerless gloves.
She kept the fact that the sleeves kept her little pastel tattoos under wraps for years. Because, well, it’s not anybody’s business.
In 1996, Jay Leno spotted one of her hidden tattoos on the Tonight Show and he asked her about them. And occasionally paparazzi pictures would catch a glimpse of a Dolly tattoo.
But it wasn’t until she was doing publicity for her 2012 film “Joyful Noise” that the rumors about her secret tattoos really began to swirl. Several paparazzi had captured a photo of Dolly bending forward slightly in a low-cut blouse, revealing what appear to be pink flowers between her breasts.
At the time Parton denied the rumors, saying the pictures had been doctored.
However, in a 2017 interview with Vanity Fair, the country music legend confirmed her colorful tattoos without getting into specifics of what they are.
Are Dolly’s arms really covered in tattoos?
“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 said.
“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.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, keloid scars are a “thick raised scar. It can occur wherever you have a skin injury but usually forms on earlobes, shoulders, cheeks or the chest. If you’re prone to developing keloids, you might get them in more than one place.”
While Parton has kept her tattoos under wraps in public, according to British actress Jennifer Saunders – of “Absolutely Fabulous” fame – she’s more open in private.
In a 2013 interview, Saunders told about the time she and Roseanne Barr bumped into Dolly at a restaurant. Parton, she says, offered to show them her tattoos.
Saunders said Parton’s chest is covered in “the most beautiful angels and beautiful butterflies and baskets of flowers in pastel-colored tattoos.” Roseanne told another version of the same story on the Craig Ferguson show in 2011.
“Do you know who’s totally tattooed? I shouldn’t even tell this. Dolly Parton is totally tattooed … She showed me. She’s got all these awesome tattoos all over her body. No black or blue lines, all like, pastel gorgeous bows all over everything,” Barr said.
Of course, some people are better at keeping Dolly’s business private than others.
Why won’t Dolly show her arms?
Dolly’s creative director Steve Summers was asked about Dolly’s sleeves and fingerless gloves by InStyle in 2019. He said the real reason had nothing to do with little butterflies or little yellow flowers or a tiny little bee tattoo.
“People always ask why she always wears sleeves — well, she’s 73-years-old, and she doesn’t like her elbows,” he said. “[They ask] ‘what’s wrong with her hands?’ She’s 73, and she doesn’t like them! It’s a normal woman thing.”
Where do you think the truth lies? Does Dolly really have tattoos or does she just prefer to cover her arms? We want to hear your thoughts in the comments below!