Our ability to not only tolerate the pain of body modification but also embrace it is a fascinating process. But what can take you from a small pair of hooped earrings or a discreet neck tattoo to becoming completely covered in ink and quite literally hooked?
The majority of people get tattoos and piercings because they feel they are aesthetically pleasing, considering them no different to a piece of jewellery, that they are mere accessories to the body.
Triple Flat Piercing by Garth Savage – Wild Cherry Studio, Tonbridge, Kent, UK
Piercings and tattoos are becoming so popular nowadays that they are considered far less ‘alternative’ than in previous years and have almost become accepted as the ‘norm’ in youth culture today. However the more extreme forms of body modification such as implants (the process of imbedding specially designed jewellery under the skin to create a raised shape in the desired area of the body), scarification (the act of cutting or removing the skin in a decorative manner to create a permanent scar) and body suspension are also growing in popularity. Having said this, is this trend of becoming a human pincushion going too far and encouraging people to engage in overly dangerous forms of body alterations?
Body suspension is the act of piercing sharp hooks through different parts of a person’s skin and then suspending them in the air. The hooks are most often pierced through the back near the shoulders and/or through the back of the leg but knee and chest suspensions are also possible.
Garth Savage a tattoo artist from Kent recently took part in his third body suspension after being fascinated by it for years. After working in the industry and through getting extensively heavier work done himself (such as large tattoos, multiple piercings and arm implants) he considered body suspension his next natural step in body modification “a big part of it has been how far I can push myself, both in separating my mind from the discomfort of it all and just focusing on the positive aspects and enjoying the experience. Being able to control that flight or fight response in my mind.”
Suspension 2.6 Point Knee. Photo courtesy of Garth Savage.
Since his first suspension (on his back) Garth has also progressed onto; arm and knee suspensions, claiming: “The moment my toes left the floor, everything just melted away and a feeling of accomplishment came. Neither experience was more or less painful than the one before, but they were all completely different and equally amazing.”
Having said this, experimenting with body modification at this level is not always so straightforward. A recent study found on emaxhealth.com explores how the more modern, extreme forms of body modification (especially when not preformed by a professional) can be extremely dangerous, for example “Tongue bifurcation, or splitting the tongue into a “fork”, is performed by cutting the tongue along the middle from the tip back to about midway along the tongue. Healing takes approximately 2 weeks to one month, and during this time, a person may be unable to eat a normal diet or speak clearly.” Research such as this shows that such extreme procedures can be highly damaging to the body and not always fixable. In some countries certain alterations are deemed so dangerous they have been made illegal, such as eye tattooing in Oklahoma, America.
Tongue Bifurcation/ Splitting. Image taken from russfoxx.com.
Gavin Dunbar, a professional tattoo artist and piercer from Kent explains his view on extreme body alterations: “There is no real difference in my eyes, between painting your nails a funky colour, getting your ears pierced, covering your body in tattoos or even removing a finger. Its all modification of some sort, just on different ends of the scale, and so long as its safe, sane and consensual, then I don’t think there is any problem with It.”
Although, even Gavin (a professional within the industry) has had one or two accidents with body modifications: “I’ve never felt pain like it” is the only way he could explain one of his experiences with body modification. Adorned in over twenty tattoos and multiple piercings Gavin is no stranger to body mods, but it was when a bodge scarification procedure landed him in hospital that he had to take a serious look at whether he had cut a little too deep into the world of body modification.
An example of facial Scarification. Image found on google images, also found on bme.com
Passing a studio advertising scarification in Brighton, Gavin decided to have a diamond cut into his calf. After just one line the supposed ‘professional’ said “it was looking good” but luckily, being in the industry himself Gavin knew enough about the procedure to be aware that something was wrong before the situation got any worse. After asking the man several times to stop the procedure Gavin finally managed to get out of the shop and down to the hospital to receive medical attention.
However by this point some serious damage had already been inflicted upon Gavin’s leg and he was told “not only had he cut through the outer tissue but also straight through the muscle, and down so deep the bone was visible.” Gavin was given both internal and external stitches and has luckily now made a full recovery with minimal scarring.
Although the line between modification and mutilation seems to be a fine one more often than not it boils down to a matter of personal consent/ opinion. When asked what he thought on the matter Garth stated: “I believe a modification without consent is assault and mutilation, for example piercing babies’ ears! There are some things in the ‘deeper, darker’ side of the industry that I can’t get my head around, like a Meatotomy (penis splitting), but I feel that if that is the path someone wants to take, then it’s their decision, it’s not for someone to judge. In short, the main difference is how open people’s minds are. One man’s art is another man’s trash”.
Written by Cassandra Hunwick
We would love to hear all of your opinions on this hot topic here at TBMB. Can body modification be taken too far and turned into mutilation? Or is it always in the eye of the beholder?
And you can find both the extremely talented Gavin Dunbar and Garth Savage in Wild Cherry Studio, Tonbridge, Kent, UK.