A tattoo view: Be yourself, but be mindful of the world in which you live

HinkleHinkleBy CHRIS HINKLE
    As some local readers of the River Bend area may know, I was put under great scrutiny as I went before the city of Alton to relocate my business. In 2015, the Alton City Council decided under a very narrow margin that my business, Piasa Body Art, a tattoo establishment, could move into the Downtown District, which had previously been saved primarily for restaurants and antique shopping.
    This was a major debate for more traditional council members and alderpersons, as tattooing was generally taboo and the uncertainty of this type of business was alarming to some. The fear that persons with tattoos would litter the Downtown area and cheapen the historical district was brought to light during these debates.
    With all of the opposition at hand, there seemed to be even more individuals coming in droves to support Piasa Body Art during the hearings. There were residents from all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds that had tattoos and were there to prove that clothing one’s body in art did not equate low class, rebellion, or poor decision making. I am here to support those individuals, but also to tell a different story, in which tattoos should not be taken lightly and that personal accountability needs to be part of the decision process when choosing your body art.
    I obtained my first tattoo in 1991, before the movement that really brought tattoos to the mainstream. I was tattooed young, my tattoos served as a form of individuality and rebellion and I was judged as such. I have my own personal experiences on the judgement I received regarding employment, loans, legalities, and general trust from others. I had no idea how much those choices would influence my course in life; and I never thought of how much my outward appearance would have such a major role to play in my future. The 16-year-old me did not realize, or care, that I might be scrutinized by a human resource department because of a tattoo on my forearm. The inexperienced, unpredictable young man did not know that a loan officer may look down on him because he made a choice to express himself in this artistic way. I did not realize that I had closed doors that could have been the key to my success. I chose to learn the hard way.
    To own a business in this industry, I feel a certain responsibility to educate my clients and customers. Tattooing as an art is beautiful. Tattoos can tell a story, allow one to relive a memory, or simply be amazing works of art. They also should be a carefully considered decision that each person needs to put time and a great deal of thought into. If you know that your career path may not allow visible tattoos, then you should really take a step back to decide on the placement of your body art. Tattoos are a choice, and just as they are the choices of the individual receiving them; it is also the choice of a business to hire you with tattoos. It is clear that tattoos are becoming more acceptable in society, but the time has not yet come that they are tolerable to all, and that is ok.
    As a business owner, I understand that one has several decisions that have to be made for the future of the business. One of the most important decisions is the face or the first contact of your business. The face of your business will showcase and market you in the best light possible. In my industry, visible tattoos are respectable if done properly, but I do respect other businesses for holding a different opinion for their industry, as they may have a more conventional nature.
    Almost 30 years since I was that impulsive teen, I have put in an unsurmountable amount of work into my career and business. Some of this extra work may be correlated to my outward appearance. I suppose I can prove that hard work can pay off and that tattoos themselves do not typically affect one’s job performance. However, we remain in a culture where there are still social consequences of wearing tattoos. This is primarily due to the historical constructs of tattooing in American history, but that is another story. In the meantime, it’s probably best to respect one another. That is a very general statement, but it is transferrable to this situation. Be intelligent with your body modifications. Realize that not everyone will hold the same opinions as you and always think about your future. You can definitely have extraordinary body art along with a successful career. It’s just important to consider all of your possibilities.
    Chris Hinkle is the owner of Piasa Body Art in Alton. He wrote this column at the request of the Illinois Business Journal.