When I was twenty in 1994, my 3/4″ earlobe piercing was shocking enough to the public that I was stopped regularly so people could take photos. Today, with a societal foundation laid where the public is “used” to seeing body modification, I doubt anyone would even notice — it takes something far more radical to turn heads. My friend Toph certainly falls into that category — with roughly an inch plug in each nostril and a nearly two inch lip plate, as well as a myriad of other modifations, he’s tormenting the programmers of facial recognition software by pushing the limits of a modern human face is.
I’ve split this interview with Toph into two sections, beginning with a discussion of his amazing modifications, and with the second section being about him and his life. As well as via the comment forum at the end of the article, you can contact Toph via his IAM page, toph.bmezine.com.
How did you do your lip stretching?
I got my center lip piercing done at a 16ga — I didn’t have a choice in the matter because the shop I went to only had that size, so when I went home I immediately put it to a 12ga. A few days later I put in an 8ga — my body stretches rather easily I think compared to most people. My steps were either every week or every other week until I got to 3/4″, which was done all with a taper up until that point. Once it got to 3/4″ it became loose every other day, and then I took my steps one millimeter at a time, every other day or so. By this time I was just “popping” them in without tapers or tape — I didn’t use tape until about 28mm.
How long did the lip stretching take in all?
My lip took a total of six months to go from 16g to 40mm (1 9/16″).
How do you usually wear your lip?
I wear it down 24/7, even when I eat, but drinking is always with a straw!
How about your tongue stretching?
My tongue was a different situation. I wanted to split my tongue, but I needed a good back brace, so at first I started my tongue off by scalpelling straight to 6mm, then stretching it up to 9mm the next day. I wore that for four days, and then scalpelled it to 16mm and stretched to 19mm the next day. By then I was ready for the split — I first cut it to 20mm, stretched it to 21mm, and used a scalpel and cut from the underneath up until the plug fell out and my tongue was split.
And your nostrils?
My nostrils were pierced when I was eighteen at a 10ga and immediately stretched to 8ga. I waited a good four months before going to 6ga, and then every month I went up to the next size until 16mm. Then about every week or so it was 1mm at a time until I took a long break at 22mm — about 5 months. I tapered them the whole way until 5/8″, then slide the next millimeters in by hand. I just recently started stretching them again.
Finally, tell me about your ear stretching? What happened to your ears?
My ears have been a work in progress since I was sixteen, when they were done with a gun at the mall. I took it slow the most of the time, but I did stretch a few times faster than I should have. Unfortunately both my lobes were cut by a bad pair of eyelets at 19mm, and then thinned out pretty badly, so I had to take it really slow after that. Then last year I had plastic surgery on my left lobe due to a landscaping accident — I was weedwhacking a lawn at work and a rock got kicked up and split the 1 1/2″ lobe!
What are the differences in stretching the different types of piercing?
The differences I came across stretching the different types of piercing were that on the ears and lip weight worked really well, whereas the nostrils were all about time — if they didn’t have enough time they just wouldn’t stretch. My tongue was cut the whole time so it was a piece of cake, and I learned that if you really really want a 20mm tongue you can cut it there in a week without a hitch.
Did you have any problems in your stretching?
I did get some scar tissue on the front of my lip during my journey, which was cut off each time it happened and healed perfectly fine. I didn’t come across any problems with my nostrils, mostly because I was really careful. The have minor scar tissue but it went away with the pressure of o-rings in under a week. With my tongue I didn’t have one problem — besides blood and drool!
You managed to upsize all of them incredibly quickly — did you have a secret to doing this or does your body just tolerate stretching really well?
I think it’s a mixture of the two — on one hand my body handles stretching really well because I keep it on a basic schedule, and I think my body adjusted to it and went with it for the most part. My goal sizes are 28mm nostrils and a 63mm lip plate. My ears are as is and if they go bigger then good, but if not I’m still satisfied.
Toph in the early stages of his modifications
Are all of your piercings publicly visible, or do you have private mods as well?
I have had a 00g PA, a 4ga scalped frenum, three ladders and two pubic surface piercings. I do my own genital mods and plan on starting my full subincision soon — I’ve already done the meatotomy.
Do you have plans for further modifications?
My future modifications will include more facial ink, full sleeves,scarification, and large conches. It’s a short list but over the years I’ve had a lot of different stuff done and I’m pretty satisfied with the way my image turned out.
Other facial configurations that Toph has tried
And if you change your mind about all of it and want to go back, do you have a “Plan B”?
If it ever came to a reversal, I would downsize the same way I went up and hope for the best — but I’ve never once seriously thought about changing my image. I’ve been planning this out and making it a part of my life, and plan on keeping it for life.
How much do you think you’ve spent on jewelry so far — you must have gone through a lot?
Over the years I’ve spent about $8000 on jewelry. That was another addiction — I collected jewelry, never thinking I would actually wear it all in multiple piercing over the years. I collected anything from normal stainless steel to one of a kind $200 plugs. Once I met Karl (iam:MobyK), he offered to make me Delrin plugs if I ever needed them. At first I was like “no thanks”, but the more I got into it… like you said, I went through a lot of jewelry.
Karl became a mentor to me and a godfather — we have been very close friends for about three years now, and have never once met. I met Pauly Unstopable through Karl who showed me how big a nostril can go — he was my inspiration for that single piercing. Jesse (iam:pillpoppinfun, featured in BME’s first article on lip plates) was my original influence for the labret. He wore pins and plugs and it interested me. Throughout the years I’ve had a lot of positive influence through the industry, not to mention the movie ‘MODIFY’ which gave me the idea to scalpel my own frenum.
How old are you, what do you do for a living, and what “life plans” do you have?
I am twenty years old, and currently unemployed. I worked restaurants for five years and landscaping for two before I moved to Oklahoma. Now I’m back at the challenge of finding a new occupation. My life plans are to find someone to apprentice me so I can take what I love and make it into a living. This is my life and it’s what I think about day in and day out. I’m just hoping for the opportunity to get into the modification industry to fulfill my life goal.
Tell me a little about yourself in terms of interests?
I am a big fan of extreme sports — skateboarding, aggressive inline, four wheeling, motor cycles, and jet skis. I’m big into nature and photography and consider myself a decent artist.
What’s your peer group like?
I don’t have a big group friends outside the Internet and I like to keep my life limited to family and close friends for the most part. When I go out in public I like to inform anyone who has questions about myself and what and why I do this, to my best ability, to try to help the public understand that we’re not freaks or assholes. I do this mostly to help the next generation of modders so people don’t get the wrong idea about us — this is very important to me.
How do people respond when they see you?
When I’m out in public people freak out… when they talk to me, it’s very funny. Once they see I’m willing to talk to them they just let go and ask me a million questions. People jump up and down, spin and laugh, saying “oh my god, that shit is crazy!” I’ve found that I get more attention from middle aged and older African Americans than I do from white teens and young adults… I don’t know why but I like it.
What got you interested in body modification originally?
I was around fifteen years old and I was a troubled kid, and I met a body piercer named Paul Kriner. He changed my life. I had already had a major interest in body modification, and so when I met him I tried to spend all my free time up at the shop that he worked at. He taught me a lot about the industry, proper aftercare and stretching, and became my mentor and someone I could look up to no matter what. I learned a lot from a young and very talented artist (he was only twenty at the time), and since the day I met him I knew what direction my life was going.
I know the why question is hard, but “why?”, and can you think of earlier influences?
This is my passion. It makes me very happy doing this, and it satisfies an empty spot in my life. I believe in concentrating and self-inflicting pain — it’s putting myself through more challenges in life… As if life wasn’t hard enough! I don’t think life should be easy, and if you’re doing something you love and it makes your life harder, and you have the ability to work through it, it only makes you stronger. This is the love of my life — more than family and friends even. If I wasn’t able to mod myself I’d feel as if I was walking around as a fake. I also find the way I look attractive — I’m absolutely amazed at what one can do to one’s body to make it completely change form.
Really, why should everyone look the same?
Like I said, my piercer was a big influence on me in my teens, but as a kid my uncle was in a state prison and all I could see were endless tattoos. He was a great guy — he just screwed up. I had a very positive image of body modification at a young age, although it went against everything my parents ever told me. As a kid I pierced my ears with safety pins and my labret with a sewing needle, as well as numerous surface temporary piercings. The more my parents said no the more I got into it… Then I discovered BME — oh my god, BME — once I was shown that site it was over. It was a candy store for me. I started hanging out at tattoo shops all summer long and every day after school for around five years until I went off on my own.
All of this added to my obsession… The interest was already there, but when my eyes were opened to how far it can be taken I never looked back. I dedicated my life to it, and to this day still do and plan on doing it until I die. It’s a part of my life that’s too good to let go.
What made you decide to start to push your modifications in a direction that’s far more extreme than most people can relate to?
My interest got so deep into it I didn’t see a reason to stop at a certain size just because it was more accepted to stop there — being accepted by the community is something I can do myself no matter how I look. After seeing some of the famous modders like The Lizardman, Pauly Unstoppable, and the movie ‘MODIFY’, I knew I could put up the fight, and so far have succeeded. I take this part of my life so seriously, and I believe you can change the way people think with the right attitude and perspective. It’s all about being nice no matter what, and fully informing them no matter how unbelievable what they see is.
Given that you’ve made these changes in such a short time, I’m sure you’ve got some remarkable insight into how people who look different are treated?
My immediate family does not accept my body modifications at all, and still don’t completely understand me. I’ve done my best but they don’t want to believe this is who I am. My friends love it — they refer to me as a rock star when we go out in pubic because I have five to twenty confrontations each time I go to a store… nothing but tons of questions, excitement, and disgust. The public is very interested but not everyone can gather the courage to confront someone to ask questions and to fulfill their curiously. You’re always going to get bad attention, but there is a lot more good attention than most people would think.
What advice would you have for people who are considering doing something radical like this?
I would seriously encourage people to take a long hard thought before doing something like this. You receive so much criticism, and it’s a lot to deal with on a daily basis. It is very difficult to handle and you have to be emotionally strong to get through it all. But if it is a decision the new generation is willing to take, it is only going to get easier as time goes on.
Since Valentine’s Day is coming up, would you like to meet and date someone as radically modified as yourself?
I believe it would be so much easier to date someone that looked like Duff or Miss Kayteek Etemine because it would be easier to deal with the constant modifications and the public response as well because they would have already been use to it in their own lives, instead of having to adjust to an extreme amount of constant attention.
It can be a lot for someone to handle who has never experienced it before. I recently lost my marriage over my body modifications — she told me it was her or the modifications…. I couldn’t believe my ears. I basically laughed, then cried, then said good bye. This path wasn’t meant for everyone and it takes extreme dedication to do what I have accomplished.
Not to mention sacrifice…
Thank you to Toph for taking the time to talk to us! Please visit him at iam:Toph.