Elsie Vazquez clutched her friend’s hand as Proton Tattoo owner Chris May tattooed a small arrow on the side of her foot. Depending on where May moves the tattoo machine, she shifts from moderate discomfort to needing to cling to her friend to bear the process.
“I always wanted to get one and I thought it was just time to go for it,” the 18-year-old said – after the tattoo was finished.
The small arrow is Vazquez’s first tattoo, but if she’s like other Millenials, it won’t be her last.
A Harris Poll found one in five adults – or 21 percent – has at least one tattoo. According to an earlier study done by the Pew Research Center, 40 percent of Millenials, people ages 18 to 29, have one. About half of those who have them have between two and five, the study found.
Local tattoo shop owners say although more people want to decorate their bodies with tattoos, that doesn’t mean more people are getting them in highly visible places.
The city of DeKalb allowed tattoo shops to open their doors in late 2009 after the state implemented across the board regulations. DeKalb currently has three shops, including the first license holder, Proton Tattoo.
May said business at his shop has grown since 2010. His customers range from a steady stream of college kids to people in their 50’s and 60’s. He tied the growing tattoo trend to tattooed pop culture icons like movie stars and athletes.
“I don’t think it could get any more mainstream unless the president got one,” May said.
Despite the prevalence of tattoos, Pew found that 72 percent of adults with them keep them covered. The visibility of a tattoo is something local shop owners keep in mind when someone comes in looking for fresh ink.
“If I see someone who doesn’t have a lot of tattoos and they come in wanting one on their hand or, like, a neck tattoo, I might try to talk them out of it,” May said. “Some people might not like that, but we’re tattooing with ethics.”
Kenny Weinstock, owner of Out on a Whim, said he issues tattoo-seekers a similar warning.
“Even as tattooing is becoming more acceptable, I try to remind people that it could influence other things in their life,” Weinstock said. “I try to make sure it’s what they want.”
Discouraging people from getting a highly visible tattoo isn’t part of the routine, said DeKalb Tattoo Company owner Nick Misitano.
“We’re not going to steer someone away from doing something they really want to do,” Misitano said.
Whether or not a visible tattoo could stand in the way of getting a job or promotion depends on the workplace. According to a careerbuilder.com study, 31 percent of employers said they would be less likely to offer a promotion to someone with a visible tattoo. However, the same amount of employers would be hesitant about offering a promotion to someone with wrinkled clothes, the survey found.
The DeKalb area’s largest employer, Northern Illinois University doesn’t have a blanket policy regarding tattoos for faculty and staff, but certain groups such as graduate nursing students and educaton students who are student teaching are not allowed to have them.
Both of AJ Cada’s upper arms are covered in colorful ink. On one side, he has the Czech coat of arms and the other arm is decorated by an owl, the all-seeing eye and a rose. Although the 22-year-old is proud of the work, which was done at Proton Tattoo, he knows not everyone shares his affinity for tattoos.
“Tattoos aren’t appreciated as much as they could be, so this way I can cover them up,” Cada said.