Growing up around the city, Renee McKeith had originally wanted to be a nurse. When she turned 18, she went to Splash of Color and got her eyebrow pierced. That was the moment that completely made her rethink what she wanted to do. She realized she had a passion for piercing.
For 21 years now, McKeith has worked as a professional piercer at Splash of Color Tattoo and Piercing Studio in downtown East Lansing. Established in 1989, the local business is quite famous among Michigan State students as well as the city residents.
McKeith, who is also the current manager, said her time working at the studio has been anything but ordinary.
“It’s home and I love it," McKeith said. "I love making people happy. I get to make people love their bodies and have a semi-good time at the same time."
McKeith has done an array of piercings from septums and conchs to nipples. However, her favorite part about piercing is telling people things that they didn’t know were unique about their bodies.
“So people will come in and get one piercing and I’m like 'you have a really beautiful ear,'" McKeith said. "And people are like ‘why thank you, I grew it myself.'"
Curating people’s ears and helping them figure out which piercings and types of jewelry to use are some of the tasks McKeith truly enjoys. She said that especially during a time of masks, ears are definitely one of the main things on display. Before the pandemic, she was a fan of septum and nostril piercings.
Her two favorite piercings are conchs and nipples. McKeith said it all revolves around body positivity. She likes to call conchs the new septums.
McKeith said she has lot of women who come in with inverted nipples. According to her, it's something very common and just not talked about in sexual education.
“People don’t realize how many different sizes and shapes that our bodies come in," McKeith said. "They don’t think that their body is okay exactly how it is. It’s nice to reassure people that there’s nothing wrong with their body."
Therefore, she takes a great joy working with those women. To her, it's amazing when her customers finally feel normal to themselves even though their body was perfectly normal before too, McKeith said.
"It’s amazing the confidence that a nipple piercing can give any person of any gender," she said.
According to McKeith, lately people don’t take the time to love themselves or take care of themselves. Getting a piercing or tattoo is the one thing that she believes people can do to take control in their own personal lives, especially right now when most people barely have any control during the pandemic.
A fun fact McKeith shared is that occasionally they will have to do tandem piercings which is where her apprentice Andy, who has been with her for 11 years, comes in and does a piercing with her. Typically they are on a child’s lobe and they do it at the same time. For McKeith, it’s quite a fun experience.
Describing her role as a manager, McKeith said that all staff members try to work together and are like a family there.
“I love being around the community," she said. "I love talking to people (and) ... I like making people feel good about themselves."
McKeith said she is known for having about an extra 15 minutes tacked onto each one of her sessions because of her enthusiasm to talk to her clients.
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"Sometimes we spend more time catching up than we do actually working," McKeith said.
Sadly now, due to the COVID-19 restrictions, they need to limit the amount of people in the studio so clients don’t get to hangout.
The health and safety of the customers is a high priority for Splash and Colors, according to McKeith, which is why they attend the Association of Professional Piercers (APP) Conference every year.
McKeith advised those interesting in getting a tattoo or a piercing should take the education levels of the professionals into considerations and should do their research.
Some other recommendations McKeith gave are not to get tattoos at home as they could be very dangerous, to only use implant grade internally threaded jewelry, maintain hygiene by washing hands and not to touch the fresh piercings as they’re open wounds.
“Come in, show your dreams, expect for the most awesome experience,” McKeith said.
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