Taking it to the Next Level [Guest Column - Stepping Back]

Taking it to the Next Level

“What makes the desert beautiful is that somewhere it hides a well.”
-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince

Not only accepting the fact that she’s severely scarred for the rest of her life, Montreal-based professional linguist, performer, and model Ella (IAM:ella) is celebrating it. And by celebrating it, I mean showing it off. And who can complain about a hot girl who shows off her body?

Up until several years ago though, Ella didn’t show off: She did everything to avoid people seeing the scars left by a pot of boiling water falling on top of her at age four. She wore long sleeved shirts the majority of the time until age eighteen, hoping that the questions and ridicule would stop if people couldn’t see that she was any different than them.

It worked the majority of time, and that made her happy until, during her teenage rebellion stage, she decided she was going to show the world what she really looked like, and the long sleeves disappeared.

  Ella



Amina

Expecting an “OH MY GOD” reaction from everyone who came into contact with her, she was disappointed to find that very few people seemed to care. Her attempt at a “‘fuck you’ rebellion thing” seemed to go totally unnoticed.

There are events in our lives that can change our perception of ourselves, our lives, and the world. Ella’s paradigm shift was caused by someone — her then boyfriend — who not only accepted her physical differences, but found beauty in them. The point of view seemed contagious, and Ella’s attitude towards her scars changed. She too began to see them as beautiful; she started to see them as a good thing. Shortly after that, she began modelling.

Her ex-boyfriend was good friends with Jerome Abramovitch of Chapter9Photography, and they did several photo shoots together. Modelling proved to help her become even more comfortable with the way she looked, and soon she moved onto doing burlesque shows at a fetish club run by a friend of hers. She later progressed into television, where she was featured in seven out of thirteen episodes of Kink III, on the Showcase channel. Talk about celebrating your differences.

Amina Munster (IAM:Amina Munster), who I interviewed in February 2005, is planning on coming out with her secret to her SuicideGirls public within the next couple of months. As a child she nearly drowned, resulting in the loss of the fingertips on her right hand, a quarter of her right leg, and half of her right lung. Amina has done a fantastic job of hiding the fact that she is missing parts of her body in real life and online where she’s an active and popular SuicideGirl.

She’s soon ready to join Ella and celebrate the fact that her body is different than anyone else’s. In preparation for an A&E show called “Inked,” who decided to feature Amina on an episode, she had her prosthetic leg airbrushed to look tattooed. In the near future, Amina will show her online fans that she’s not who they thought she was by doing photo shoots that don’t hide her missing leg. She’s hoping for the best, of course, and expects even more positive feedback, much like the comments she got from the people of BME after the article featuring her was published.

The main difference between these two girls is that Ella considers what happened to her as a child as “body modification” whereas Amina does not. Another outcome of Ella’s paradigm shift was that she decided to highlight her scars with scarification: a testament to the fact that she loves how her body has been changed.

  

Ella

BME: 
Although you’ve already written a full experience, would you like to tell the story of what happened to you one more time?

ELLA: 
Sure. The March after I turned four years old, I was in the kitchen while my parents and grandmother were preparing supper. I wanted to help, and they foolishly allowed me to stir a pot on the stove. Through some sequence of events I’m a bit fuzzy on (I think I accidentally dipped my elbow in the pot and overbalanced when I jumped in reaction) I fell down, pulling the pot over on top of me. I ended up with third degree burns on one third of my skin surface and a couple of tiny patches of fourth degree. I spent about a month in the burn ward at the Hamilton General [in Ontario, Canada] during my initial healing, and then another several months at home wearing a pressure garment and undergoing physiotherapy.

BME: 
Do you ever see the nurses or doctors who helped you with the rehabilitation process? If you were to see them now, what would you say to them?

ELLA: 

I haven’t seen any of the medical staff who treated me in years, mostly because I live far away from where I was in the hospital. I’m not sure what I’d say to them; thank them of course, and perhaps ask them some questions about what my treatment actually entailed and why, as I was a bit too young to ask those questions at the time.


 

Ella several days after the accident, and the day she got out of the hospital.

BME: 
What would you ask now, if you had the chance?

ELLA: 
I’d probably ask them if my treatment was typical, and if there was anything that they would have done that they were unable to due to my size and age. Off the top of my head, I’d be interested to know how much was my life actually in danger, what drugs was I given, why did some of the skin grafts work and not others…stuff like that.

BME: 
How did your parents deal with what happened to you?

ELLA: 
It was difficult for them — they blamed themselves, and they were far more keenly aware of how much danger I was in than I was. They did their best, and tried to make sure they stayed positive for my sake.

BME: 
Pretend that there’s a new magical medical breakthrough where they can instantly take away all your scars by zapping you with their new invention. Would you do it?

ELLA: 
I doubt it. There are certain small areas I’d like to get repaired, that affect my mobility and the comfort level of clothes, but other than that I don’t think so. I wouldn’t be me.

BME: 
If you did do it, how do you think you’d feel walking out of the hospital?

ELLA: 
I’d feel like I wasn’t myself. At one time, something like that would have made me very happy, but not now.

  

Ella is now very happy with her transformed body.

BME: 
Do you feel that being scarred makes you a stronger person? What parts of yourself do you feel would be missing if you didn’t have your scars anymore?

ELLA: 
Yes, I think that living with the scars has probably made me something of a stronger person. Our culture is very beauty-obsessed, and doesn’t hold imperfections in very high esteem, and I indirectly get messages all the time that my scars are ‘bad’ in some way. They certainly mark me as having survived a very difficult, life-threatening experience, which is something to be proud of. My ex used to say that I was automatically the ‘biggest badass in the room’, and that has a bit of truth to it. As to what would be missing, I’m not really sure, but I’ve been scarred for the vast majority of my life — I definitely wouldn’t recognize myself at first if the scars disappeared one day. Just the idea feels very strange.

BME: 
Are your scars really erogenous zones? That must be nice.

ELLA: 
Ha ha, yes, they definitely can be. They are very sensitive, and process stimulation very differently from my regular skin. It’s still a bit of a novelty to have someone want to touch my scars in a sexual context, so that has something to do with it. On the flip side, any trauma (cut, piercing, brand) that intersects with a scar is far more painful for me, and many styles of suspension would be extremely difficult to attempt.

BME: 
Are you planning on doing suspensions?

ELLA: 
Definitely, though I’ll probably ease into it with a couple of pullings first. I was hoping to at least do a pulling last summer, but my immune system seemed a bit weak at the time so I decided to hold off until I was in better health.

BME: 
Do you have a lot of people telling you that your scars aren’t body modification?

ELLA: 
I have had some people tell me that, yes. When I first submitted an experience to BME, my first draft was rejected because I only talked about my accident and I was told that it ‘didn’t count.’

BME: 
How’d you feel about that?

ELLA: 
I was pissed off. I felt that the very people who I was counting on to understand my point of view had completely missed the point. If I hadn’t had other reasons for wanting a membership I probably would have given up on BME in disgust. Fortunately people seem to have come around somewhat in the intervening years.



Are her burns alone considered “body modification”?

BME: 
What were the reasons behind your additional cuts and scars?

ELLA: 
I started to see my scars as artistic, and as a kind of body modification, and I think that the scarifications around my old scars are a good way of visually communicating that feeling to others.

BME: 
Was it a hard decision to make?

ELLA: 
No, once I decided what I wanted it was very easy. I was a little afraid of the procedure, but I had no doubts about whether or not it was something I wanted.

BME: 
Were you mostly just afraid of the pain involved?

ELLA: 
I guess so. I didn’t have any real idea of what to expect, or how much it would hurt. The way that the procedure was described to me it sounded a lot more traumatic than it actually was. It was the first modification I’d had other than a couple of piercings, so I didn’t have much basis for comparison.

BME: 
Your first modification to your scars was done by a friend of yours who used a Dremel tool to highlight some patterns within your scars. How was that experience? What did the Dremel feel like?

ELLA: 
It was very easy, it felt like someone was drawing on my arm with a ballpoint pen. The actual scarification process was virtually painless, and it went quickly. My only regret is that it didn’t scar up very well, so it’s very difficult to see.

BME: 
I’ve heard that Dremel scarifications can be a messy (bloody) procedure. Was yours?

ELLA: 
Not particularly — I was expecting it to be but it wasn’t. The blood particles are very small, so it’s pretty messy in terms of being biohazardous, but in my case it was not messy at all in terms of visible residue. 

BME: 
Eventually, the Dremel scar faded… what made you decide to try other methods to enhance your scars?

ELLA: 
I still wanted the scarification but nobody could see it. I didn’t think that more Dremelling would result in a much darker scar, so I thought I’d give a branding a shot and see if it resulted in a more clearly visible image.

 

Cutting by Lukas Zpira.

BME: 
Are you happy with the results?

ELLA: 
It’s a beautiful scar, but even the branding faded a lot — he didn’t really do it deep enough. A couple of years later I had a cutting done on my back which is much more visible. I might stick with cutting in the future.

BME: 
Are the circles on your lower back just a design feature, or do those highlight some of your scars as well?

ELLA: 
The circles are just decorative, as far as I know. Lukas felt that they made the image more balanced.

BME: 
Do you ever go through stages of disliking your scars, or are you really just in love with them?

ELLA: 
I like my scars a lot, these days: I’m generally ‘in love’ with them. I get annoyed by them occasionally when they restrict my movements or behavior in some way (I have to be extremely conscientious about sun protection, for example, and bras are utter torture).

BME: 
What kinds of modelling have you done? Where have the photos been shown?

 

Ella the model.

ELLA: 
I’ve done mostly artistic nude stuff, some fetish modelling, and a tiny bit of fashion work. Pictures of me have been shown in a few galleries, mostly in Montreal, a couple of small magazines, and of course on the Kink III TV series. There’s also a picture of me that will appear in Hans Neleman’s Body Transform book that he is producing in collaboration with Lukas Zpira. Oh, and on the internet. There are lots and lots and lots of pictures of me on the internet.

BME: 
What kind of cabaret shows have you been in? What made you decide to do that?

ELLA: 
I really, really enjoy performing, and cabaret is something I can do pretty well. I’ve done fetish shows, traditional burlesque shows, and lots of stuff in between.

BME: 
Were you nervous for your first show? What was the audience like?

ELLA: 
Oh, I was shitting myself. I’d done shows before, but this was the first time I’d ever produced something and performed it completely by myself. The audience was much bigger than I was expecting, which didn’t help matters! The response was pretty lukewarm, but it got the ball rolling.

BME: 
What kinds of an act do you have? How long is it?

ELLA: 
My show generally lasts between three and five minutes, depending on the music I use. I try and change it up every once in a while. I generally dance and do fireplay and fire retention using rubbing alcohol and special effects fire to make it look like I’m ‘setting myself on fire’. I once did a show where I sang, which was very scary. It went fairly well, though I was a bit off key!

BME: 
What is Kink III, and how were you involved in it?

ELLA: 
Kink III is a Canadian documentary television series, which was made for the cable channel Showcase. I was one of several subjects that was filmed in Montreal a couple of summers ago. Their researcher saw my website and approached me to be on the show.

BME: 
What kinds of things were shown about you?

ELLA: 
Whatever I could think up that they had permission to film. They showed me doing my laundry, doing a photo shoot, having a barbecue with my friends, going to a vernissage where pictures of me were exhibited, going to a tattoo convention, and doing a show. There were probably other things but I can’t think of them off hand.

BME: 
Do you have any funny or amusing stories from your involvement?

ELLA: 
They filmed me at the Montreal pride parade, and they did a little interview after the parade. This woman was sitting watching us, and after they had stopped the tape she lit into me, telling me how disgusting I was and how I ‘cut myself because I didn’t like myself’. I just flipped her off and walked away, because I don’t believe in fighting with morons, but the crew stayed behind and vociferously defended my honour, which I thought was very sweet.

BME: 
If you could ask yourself one question, what would it be?

ELLA: 
What’s the most fucked up thing anyone’s ever said about your scars?

On two separate occasions, evangelical Christians have approached me and tried to tell me that if I had ‘enough faith in Jesus’ that my scars would miraculously disappear. Hilariously enough, the second time this happened the bloke was on crutches.

BME: 
Have you had any feedback from people telling them that you changed their point of view on their own scars?

ELLA: 
Yes, I’ve had a couple of people tell me stuff like that. It’s very flattering, and definitely makes it all worthwhile.



Ella today.

Kudos to Ella. Not only has she accepted what has happened to her, she’s dealing with it in the most positive light. It’s admirable to see someone whose strong body matches a strong mind. She’s a role model for other people who have gone through similar traumatic experiences, she shows people that there’s nothing to be ashamed of, regardless of the level of scarring or deformation that someone has. There’s a strong difference between simply accepting what your body looks like and actually falling in love with its changes. Intentional modifications or not, Ella’s body is beautiful.

Visit Ella at cicatrix.net or on BME’s community site as IAM:ella.

- Gillian Hyde

typealice



Gillian Hyde (iam:typealice) is a vagabond, though her roots run deep into Nova Scotian soil. She’s lived and worked on three continents since 2001, and has never lived anywhere for longer than eight months since the age of 16. She loves fonts, puns, being barefoot, and office supplies. “Calm” to her is the roar of the ocean.

Online presentation copyright © 2005 BMEzine.com LLC. Picture of Ella by Warren Baird. Front page picture of Amina taken by Steve Prue. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online March 25th, 2005 by BMEzine.com LLC from La Paz, Mexico.

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