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body modification
courtesy of Instagram/@makeupbyruta

Lifting the lid on the most extreme body procedures

Four individuals discuss their relationship with body modification

For those without experience or knowledge of body modification, the mere mention of the term could well ignite a feeling of fear or dread. Yet in its simplest terms, body modification literally just means altering one’s outward appearance – so whether you wear studs in your ears or not, the term spans everything from the universal procedures of tattooing and ear piercings, through to a number of far more more extreme, esoteric procedures, for which the resulting aesthetic is often considered to be outside of the socially constructed, standardised ‘norms’ of beauty (by narrow-minded folk).

For some, body modification is simply a tool through which to disrupt their appearance, or a vehicle through which to stand out, while for other members of the community, the procedures – and the reasons behind them – extend deeper, often forming part of the narrative within a person’s exploration of identity, self-acceptance, therapy, or pain.

Of course, undergoing eye-popping levels of pain in order to outwardly transform the body is no new phenomena. While the art of tattooing is believed to have originated over 10,000 years ago, people have been pushing the aesthetic limits of their body via piercings, stretching and various other mutilations since ancient times.

From coin slots (the removal of a section of the ear that so you can stack rings inside) and the similar procedure of cartilage removal, to blackwork (a way of tattooing that covers large areas of the skin in opaque ink) and scarification (a tattoo form that involves stripping away layers of skin) – the body modification procedures that people undergo worldwide vary in their levels of extremity, while surgical modification techniques allow people to undergo more intense transformations like tongue splitting and elf ear modification.

For some members of the body mod community, the desire to undergo such procedures stems back to their childhood. While Reddit user U/TobiasWidower’s journey to tongue splitting stemmed from watching a clip of Erik Sprague on Discovery Channel, @melnotorious’ elf ears were a “childhood dream turned reality”. “Having my tongue split, to me at least, makes me feel more like myself, explains U/TobiasWidower. “It’s a way to subtly denote an outsider status, a hidden secret that sets you apart from others, making you more unique.”

As within most communities, there are certain procedures that are frowned upon by hardcore fans. For example, sensationalist procedures like the bagel head (that originated in Canada before gaining notable popularity in Japan), owing to the fact that it’s a temporary alteration. As Reddit user U/irregularjoe150 explains, “It's weird that this keeps cropping up all over the place, it was all done years ago on one day as part of a body modification performance art thing in Japan, yet loads of people seem to assume it's a regular thing, like, wake up, brush teeth, get dressed, turn self into bagel.” As the name suggests, it’s a procedure that makes one’s forehead morph into the shape of a bagel via a saline injection to the middle of the forehead — for a two hour period — before the subsequent swelling is pushed in with force to create the illusion of a bagel.

So which procedures weigh in as the most extreme in modern times? Four individuals who’ve undergone tongue splitting, scarification, coin slot and elf ear modification lift the lid on their relationship with body modification.

U/TobiasWidower on Tongue Splitting

What does body modification mean to you? 
I was raised around tattoos and piercings. For me, they are a way to express your individuality, your history, and to experiment with your vision of yourself. They can cement an identity, express ideals, denote affiliations, or celebrate culture. Tattoos in particular are a language unto themselves, from traditional Japanese to Polynesian tribal, each symbol and image communicates something specific to that person.

How did you first encounter the split tongue procedure?
My first major exposure to extreme body mods was through Erik Sprague (lizard man). I saw a clip of his on the Discovery Channel and was smitten with the idea of a split tongue. I had always been fascinated with reptiles and Judeo-Christian demon lore but admittedly I was only around ten at the time, so it had another 12 years to percolate in my mind before I went through with the procedure.

How does it make you feel?
Having my tongue split, to me at least, makes me feel more like myself. It’s a way to subtly denote an outsider status, a hidden secret that sets you apart from others, making you more unique.

What about the pain?
The procedure itself is usually done under local anaesthesia, but the healing process takes 7-10 days and could be compared to having wisdom teeth pulled or tonsils removed. Your mouth is swollen and sore, eating is difficult, and all in all, life sucks. There are also myriad risks involved, up to and including nerve damage, excessive bleeding, and infection.

@melnotorious on Elf Ears

What first drew you to body modification?
I’ve always been drawn to body modification from a young age. Some people try to pick it apart, but when it comes down to it, I just really like the look.

What about elf ear modification in particular?
The pointed ears were a childhood dream turned reality. Now that I have them, I feel like they were always meant to look this way.

How would you describe the process?
My artist was kind and well-spoken, after speaking to him I felt confident about the process and procedure. The initial pain subsided within a few days. The hardest part for me was having to sleep on my back and not roll over on them while they were healing. I hardly slept!

Do you have plans to undergo any other procedures?
Last year I scheduled an appointment for a subdermal implant in my hand. I ended up having to cancel after finding out I was pregnant. I haven’t decided whether or not I’ll reschedule yet, but I’ll always continue getting tattooed.

U/Voldemortsbf on Scarification

What first drew you to body modification and what does it mean to you?
I saw people in my class in 7th grade with the typical Claire’s helix piercing and it looked beautiful to me, so not knowing better I went to my local mall and got one. Two years later in my freshman social studies class, I watched a documentary about the rituals and modifications that take place within in African tribes and fell in love with the women and men that had stretched lobes, scarring and various tattoos on their body. The day after I bought an ear stretching kit online and have only gotten to my goal size this year (six years later). To me, body modification is decorating the body and a way to modify yourself to how you see yourself inside your head. As someone that’s MTF transgender, I found getting pierced and tattooed early in my transition was so therapeutic because it was a way to change my body to what I strived to look like at a time when my appearance was not at all something I was comfortable with.

What made you decide to undergo scarification?
I’ve chosen the scarification route since I want a modification on my face. I’m in the body modification industry and I’m already tattooed and modified, so it’s not a problem for me career-wise, but I also don’t want something as harsh and obvious as a black ink tattoo on my face.

How do you relate to pain?
Several tattoo artists have told me that I have a fairly high pain tolerance. Though even if I didn’t, that would not hold me back from getting the modifications I love. Pain like this is temporary and completely worth getting something that will make me confident in my skin for the rest of my life.

Are you considering any other procedures?
Of course! I’d like to get another scarification piece. I’m also looking into a chest sub-dermal, getting my neck tattooed and finishing my right sleeve (I have half my arm blacked out with a negative space moon on my hand) with a black and grey portrait of Voldemort from Harry Potter. I also work at an APP certified piercing studio so getting new piercings are always in the cards for me!

@mollxdoll on Coin Slot

What was your entry into body modification?
Initially, I was drawn to piercings for the jewellery aspect - I’ve always been a glitter addict!

What about the coin slot in particular?
I liked the coin slot so I could wear the maximum amount of jewellery possible in that area.

How did you find the procedure?
I’ve had this done for so many years that I don’t remember the process or the pain very well in all honesty. The procedure took about half an hour –  they scalpel the shape out first, then they stitch you back up. Considering I don’t remember it very well, it can’t have been that bad! 

Do you have any future procedures planned?
If anything, just ear piercings. Having a jewellery shop makes you want extra spots for jewellery pretty much all the time!