Body Mod… Danger and Regret

Brent Moffatt has experienced some of the highest highs and lowest lows that a life in body modification has to offer. You may recall him as a former world-record holder for his piercing exploits, as well as for his Golden Palace casino URL forehead tattoo, something he came to deeply regret — you can read his thoughts on that in an earlier “Skinvertising” article. After Brent read the story of Lesya getting her husband Ruslan’s name tattooed on her face, he felt obligated to talk about his own experiences as a cautionary tale. Those thoughts follow here as he sent them to me, with minimal editing. Brent and I have not always seen eye to eye, but I share his deep worry that it’s very difficult to predict one’s future, and that the excitement of youth often leads people down body modification paths they later find incompatible with their later lives. -Shannon

Above: Brent Moffatt over time.

Body Mod… Danger and Regret
By: Brent “The Human Pincushion” Moffatt

I was reading an article by Shannon Larratt about a young woman that had tattooed her husband’s name across her face. I was also read the comments after said article, and I was horrified that Jim Ward and I were initially the only ones to openly say that this was a bad idea. So I decided to tell a bit of my story of dangers and regrets as it pertains to “my life in body mod”. I have had many many modifications and have been involved in the world of body mod for a long time, and in that time I have gotten both good work and work that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Unfortunately in the days when I first became interested in mods there wasn’t a meaningful internet — it was just in its infancy — so there really was nowhere to turn to know what to do and how to do it. Luckily young people today have so many more resources. Most of my bad modifications came from lack of understanding, immaturity — #1 fault — and the use of drugs and alcohol — #2 fault. My early misadventures include,

  1. Scratcher tats done at parties while very drunk or stoned
  2. Self-done piercings on my arm that turned septic and almost required amputation
  3. Self-done tattoos while deciding if I had the talent to be a tattooist — I didn’t want to scar anyone else

Now these might not sound that serious in and of themselves, but they have left me with thousands if not tens of thousands of potential cover-ups, while the botched self piercings very well could have taken my life. I should also say that during this time I did have some minor professional tattoos done — for example, a small peace symbol on my arm, as well as my first facial piece, a small tribal design along the crest of my nose.

After all this I decided that piercing was to become my future career and after much training — thank you Keith Kennedy, and Wink Jefferies — I was off to work in Winnipeg (Manitoba, Canada). At the same time I unfortunately got hooked up in the rave lifestyle and started taking ecstasy on a daily basis in very large doses, so my thinking had to have been affected — drugs and mods don’t mix! In the midst of new friends, a new city, and a mountain of drugs, I became quite famous within the community, especially after breaking four World Records in piercings as a publicity stunt (at first) to increase my customer base. With my life in a crazy whirlwind the thought came to me that I needed to “look the part” and I started designing a full facial tattoo while harassing my local artist to do it for me.

After many talks he agreed to do the tattoo, and the deal was done. Looking back I only remember one person trying to talk me out of my decision. For that warning I have to say thank you to “Big Scary” Bob Wilson even though I didn’t listen — I admit I have a thick head even when not under the influence! Low and behold I was one of maybe two or three people in all of Winnipeg to have a full facial piece, and I definitely stood out in the crowd. In a way, I rather enjoyed the attention, both good and bad. I truly believed with all my heart and soul that this was to be my lifelong career, and in this career a facial piece seemed a must-have, like a three piece suit for a banker. The consequences of this fateful decision were yet to come.

After working in Winnipeg for a couple years I met a nice woman who I thought would be my lifelong mate. I wanted to do more for her than just have a 9-5 job, so after reading about a gentleman online who sold his forehead for advertising space — with temporary tattoos in his case — the thought came to me that I could do the same, but with a real tattoo. Maybe I could even make enough money to start my own piercing studio, which I thought would be much better for me and my lady.

My boss, Bob Wilson, told me I was crazy and that if I did this I’d be fired. Looking back I wish that I had listened, but since getting fired was basically the idea, the threat didn’t faze me in the least. Did I mention I’m stubborn? I went ahead and posted the ad on EBay and waited, but to my surprise there was absolutely no interest in the ad. A week passed after I’d posted it and I truly began to think that it wouldn’t happen — but then in the last ten seconds of the ad a place called Golden Palace snapped up my tattoo offer for the price of $10,000, and with that bid, I was jobless. My lady and I packed up our belongings and moved back to Regina Saskatchewan to open our own small piercing studio, and even though I had this idiotic tattoo across my forehead, I was sure the dream was coming to light.

Right when I thought my life was taking a turn for the better, to my great surprise it went just the opposite direction, and shortly after we got the studio up and running, our relationship ended and with it the studio folded like a cheap suit. I was left with nothing but this stupid tattoo for all my troubles. Shortly after this hit I also had the “good fortune” to learn that I had two forms of kidney disease and my days of being able to hold down a job were at an end — employment is impossible when your troubles start with ten surgeries in a one year, and get worse from there.

So there I am, with a full facial tattoo and “” across my forehead in big block letters, the money long since gone, with no ability to support myself and no savings, living in bible belt Saskatchewan, the only person in the area with this much ink above the neckline, trying to cope with both a serious illness and the aftermath of a horrible ecstasy addiction. Are you at all surprised that I ended up in the hospital due to depression? Amazingly, this turned out to be a good thing — while there met the current love of my life and we were soon dating. Of course the universe wasn’t going to make it easy for us though! She comes from a very straight-laced family who believes “money rules over all” and the minute they met “the freak” they did everything in their power to get me out of her life as fast as possible.

Luckily there is nothing love can’t conquer. However, it’s not as easy as that, because when you love someone you would rather have a truck run over your nuts than have them in pain, and I knew that her family’s disapproval of me was putting her in pain. In an attempt to ingratiate myself I asked a friend of mine if he would remove my forehead tattoo. So off to Calgary I go in hopes that this gesture would help bridge the gap between her family and myself. I knew there would be some pain involved and was prepared for that — you’ve probably clued in by now that I have a very high threshold for pain — but little did I know the whole new world of pain that tattoo removal would introduce me to. After the first treatment was done I woke the next morning to my face swollen to the size of a basketball. I could barely see out of my swollen eyes and crawled back to Regina and the loving arms of my fiancée. I felt like I hadn’t accomplished because even though the tattoo was much lighter, it was still for all intents and purposes there.

A few years later my kidney diseases eased up a bit and I desperately wanted to get back to some form of employment. By then the body mod scene in Regina was overrun, like most large cities, and the probability of making a living were slim to none so I took every last cent that I had and went back to school to become a phlebotomist — classic choice for a body piercer don’t ya think? After about a year of living on Kraft Dinner so that I could pay for school I graduated and began looking for work. With my past achievements I thought I had a impressive resume and truly believed I would have no problem getting a job, but after dropping my resume at every possible place and never ever receiving even a call back, much less an interview, it finally struck me that the only thing holding me back were my tattoos. There was no way in hell anyone was going to hire me as a phlebotomist looking like this. I don’t give up easy so I’m going back to school again but this time as a youth drug counsellor. I believe this field will be much more accepting of my look and my past, but damn, it would be so much easier on so many fronts if I had just left my face alone.

Ultimately I’m writing this for the youth of today, but it’s a message for anyone thinking of getting any sort of permanent modification. Don’t let any twit out there try and tell you that a tattoo isn’t permanent, because it is. Yes, we have ways of removing some tattoos, and some colors are easier than others, but when you have a tattoo removed it’s painful, you risk scarring and other complications, and it is never 100% guaranteed successful. If you want a tattoo expect it to be there for the rest of your life.

To be clear, I am not against large scale visible tattoos and or any extreme modification. What I am against is the myriad of people out there that seem to think it’s acceptable to promote things like facial work to the masses when a lot of the readers are young impressionable youth who do not realize that life can turn on a dime and who you thought you were yesterday may not be who you are tomorrow. Who reading this can say with 100% honestly that they KNOW what they will be doing for a living in ten years? Or can say that they know without a doubt that they will be with that same person in ten years? In twenty? In forty?

Referring back to the Russian couple who tattooed there lovers names on their faces, I’ll give some Canadian statistics.

  • 41% divorce rate in Canada in 2008
  • Russia has the third highest divorce rate in the world behind the U.S.A and Puerto Rico
  • Average adult in Canada will change careers once every ten years

None of those people got married planning on getting divorced — they all thought “till death do us part”. All you have to do is look at these FACTS, and if you are honest with yourself you will say that putting a lover’s, husbands/wife’s, or GF/BF/etc’s name anywhere on your body — much less your face — is a bad idea. And again, if you look at the facts and are honest you can’t say with 100% certainty that you will be in the body modification industry (or work somewhere that tolerates it) for the rest of your life. A facial tattoo or any extreme visible mod is something that should take a lot of thought. Of course I hope that couple are together for the rest of their lives, and open a studio that is around till the end of time, but statistically the chances of this are slim. What happens if they break up? Do you think her next boyfriend is really going to want to stare at another guys name while making love to her? And what if god forbid something happens that she isn’t able to tattoo anymore? Could she get a job as a nurse in Russia? These are the types of question you MUST ask yourself before you get anything like this done, plain and simple.

I wish I would have asked myself these questions years back!

Thank you for listening and now I will wait for the hate mail.

Brent “The Human Pincushion” Moffatt

The Tongue-Drive System

(Editor’s note: This article will be published in the summer 2012 issue of The Point, the publication of the Association of Professional Piercers.  James Weber the article’s author, have given BME permission to publish this article for the continued education of professionals and body art enthusiasts. Enjoy.)

Late last February a rather curious news story made the rounds on Facebook and other social media sites and pop culture blogs. Various publications1 reported on an article2 about a project from Georgia Tech, one that enables a person with quadriplegia to control a wheelchair through the movement of the tongue by moving around a magnet worn in a tongue piercing. Piercers everywhere were sharing, reposting, and reblogging the article in a variety of places—including on my Facebook timeline. Fortunately, this was not news to me, as I’ve had the unique opportunity to be involved with the project as a consultant for several years. But after a dozen piercers forwarded me the article I realized it was time to write about my experience with the clinical trials of the Tongue Drive System.

In late October of 2009 I was contacted by Dr. Maysam Ghovanloo, Associate Professor at the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Over the phone he explained the project that he was working on, titled in the research protocol Development and Translational Assessment of a Tongue-Based Assistive Neuro-Technology for Individuals with Severe Neurological Disorders. Simply, this is a system that allows persons with quadriplegia to perform a variety of computer-aided tasks—including operating their wheelchairs—by changing the position of a small magnet inside their mouths. The magnet’s changing position is monitored by a headpiece that looks like a double-sided, hands-free phone headset.

His team had, at that point, experimented with different ways to attach the magnet to the tongue with varying degrees of success. Adhesives were only effective for very short periods, and the idea of permanently implanting a magnet into the tongue was not considered a workable alternative.3 This left a third option suggested by Dr. Anne Laumann: attaching a magnet to the tongue with a tongue piercing.

He then came to the reason for his call: he asked if I would be interested in being involved in the clinical trials as a member of the Data Safety Monitoring Board. As I listened to him describe the details of my involvement, I thought about the incredible places my life as a piercer—and my job as an APP Board member—have brought me. I enthusiastically and without hesitation said “Yes!”

(Note: The article is pretty lengthy, so we’ve put a break here to same some space. Click the Read More button to continue)

For those not familiar with clinical trials (and I was not when I initially agreed to be involved with the study), the Data Safety Monitoring Board (or DSMB, alternately called a Data Monitoring Committee) is a group of experts, independent of the study researchers, who monitor test-subject safety during a clinical trial. The DSMB does this by reviewing the study protocol and evaluating the study data, and will often make recommendations to those in charge of the study concerning the continuation, modification, or termination of the trial. The inclusion of a DSMB is required in studies involving human participants as specified by the Common Rule,4 which is the baseline standard of ethics by which any government-funded research in the United States must abide. (The clinical trial is sponsored jointly by both the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Health, but nearly all academic institutions hold their researchers to these statements of rights regardless of funding.)5

I was excited to be part of the project, and the following May I received the full details of the study. The clinical trial was to be performed in three phases, with three sets of participants. The first involved ten able-bodied individuals with existing tongue piercings. These participants were to test the hardware and software created by his team and to quantify the ability of those participants to operate the wheelchair with the specially-designed post6 in their tongue piercing. The second group consisted of ten able-bodied volunteers without tongue piercings. These participants were to be pierced, given time to let the piercings heal, and then monitored operating the Tongue Drive System. The third group of participants was to be a selection of thirty people with quadriplegia—without existing tongue piercings—who were to be pierced and then monitored while the piercing healed. Afterward, they were to be evaluated on their ability to operate a computer and navigate an electric wheelchair through an obstacle course using the magnetic tongue jewelry.

The study was to be conducted in two different locations: in Atlanta, at the Georgia Institute of Technology and the Shepherd Center; and in Chicago, on the Northwestern Medical Center Campus and at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, with half of the participants in each phase of the study coming from each location. (Five from each city for the first two phases, fifteen from each for the last.) Drs. Maysam Ghovanloo and Michael Jones were to oversee the trials in Atlanta, and Drs. Anne Laumann and Elliot Roth were to oversee the trials in Chicago.

The DSMB charter specified the eight people who had been drafted to be part of the DSMB: The board chair is a professor of rehabilitation science and technology; one member is a director of a rehabilitation engineering research center; one a professor of rehabilitation medicine. There are two M.D.s: one a neurologist; one an associate professor of dermatology; two biostatisticians (one acting as study administrator); and me. Also included in the documents sent was the full study protocol. This document outlined the finer points of the study, including the protocol for tongue piercings to be performed by the doctors involved with the study. The email also specified the possible times of the first meeting of the DSMB, to be conducted via conference call.

As I participated in the conference call several weeks later it was hard not to feel I was out of my element. While I routinely lecture at several local universities, it’s been quite a while since I’ve been in academia. But I soon realized I was not there for my academic credentials but for my position and experience—and as a de facto authority on piercing. This I could do.

During that first meeting I expressed the concerns I had about the piercing protocol, specifically about physicians performing the piercings—physicians with little or no experience doing so. “Do any of the members on the research team have prior piercing experience?” I wrote. “Even though it is not a complicated procedure, it is better for doctors who are involved in this task to have prior experience with tongue piercing.”

I was told that the physician overseeing the piercings in Atlanta had performed at least thirty tongue piercings in his private practice. And although Dr. Laumann—who was responsible for the tongue piercings in Chicago—had no prior piercing experience, she had conducted extensive research on piercing and tattooing7 and had often observed professional piercers at work. (Furthermore, she is considered an expert among dermatologists in the field of piercing and tattooing.) While my concerns were addressed, I do remember feeling hesitant at the close of that meeting.

The second DSMB meeting was held six months later, in December of 2010. At this time the results of the first and second phases of the clinical trial were to be discussed. Before the meeting I was given information about the second study group and about the tongue piercing method performed at the Chicago location—and including images from both locations. From the images provided, I was concerned that the piercings performed by the physicians looked as if they were done by first-year piercing apprentices—which, in a way, they were.

Of the twenty-one study participants who received a tongue piercing, five were noted as complaining about the placement of the piercing, and three piercings resulted in embedded jewelry. Based on the photos I guessed this was because either the piercing had been placed too far back on the tongue or the length for initial jewelry was improper—or both. I pointed out to the committee this left only about 60% of the subjects who were both comfortable with the placement of the piercing (at least enough to not state the contrary to researchers) and who did not have problems with embedded jewelry. I stated I thought this was far too small a percentage to ensure the well-being of each research participant. Even though it was outside my role as a DSMB member, I further stated the results of the study may be affected by the improperly placed piercings, as more than a few of the study participants had taken out their jewelry and dropped out of the study within a few days of being pierced, saying they were either unhappy with the placement or found the position of the piercing uncomfortable.8

I went on to express concerns about the piercing protocols and to question whether piercers could perform these procedures instead of physicians. Unfortunately, I was told the parameters of the study, and the rules at the medical centers where the piercings were being performed, did not allow non-medical professionals to perform the piercing procedures.9

Despite my concerns, my suggestions and criticisms were well-received. Dr. Ghovanloo agreed to re-evaluate the piercing protocol and I offered him whatever help he needed. Most importantly, I got the impression the two doctors performing the piercings were somewhat humbled by the experience. While there was no doubt that these physicians have anatomical knowledge and surgical experience that far surpasses mine, they were quickly realizing this didn’t make them proficient piercers.

Several months after that conference call, I had the opportunity to finally meet Dr. Ghovanloo in person. The quarterly meeting of the APP’s board of directors was scheduled in Atlanta in February of 2010, and Dr. Ghovanloo arranged for me to meet some of the trial staff at the Shepherd Center. I had the sense he was excited as well, and he also arranged for the physician doing the piercings during the clinical trials in Atlanta to be there: Dr. Arthur Simon. As I was at a board meeting with Elayne Angel (the APP’s then-Medical Liaison, current President, and resident expert on tongue piercings), I asked about having her attend as well. He readily agreed.

When Elayne and I arrived we were greeted by Shepherd staff member and study coordinator Erica Sutton, and we were soon led to our meeting with Dr. Ghovanloo and Dr. Simon. Compared to the necessary formality of the DSMB meetings, it was a friendly and relaxed meeting. Dr. Ghovanloo and his colleagues were somewhat starstruck by Elayne (she often does that to people) especially since her book, The Piercing Bible, was used so extensively in drafting the trial piercing protocols.

As we talked about the clinical trials, it was hard to not be affected by Dr. Ghovanloo’s enthusiasm for the project. We spoke at length about the issues the doctors encountered when performing the piercings. Doctor Simon in particular was humbled after his experience. “How do you hold those little balls to screw on?” he asked at one point during the several hours we met, a little exasperated and only half joking. I can’t speak for Elayne, but I left with an immense respect for Dr. Ghovanloo, his staff, and the whole project. I also left with the impression that they had a lot more knowledge of—and a little more respect for—what we do as well.

Since that time, stage three of the clinical trials has already taken place. I’ve been informed by Dr. Ghovanloo that the third and final meeting of the DSMB will be scheduled in the coming weeks. In fact, trials are being planned using a new prototype that allows users to wear a dental retainer on the roof of their mouth embedded with sensors to control the system (instead of the headset),10 with the signals from these sensors wirelessly transmitted to an iPod or iPhone. Software installed on the iPod then determines the relative position of the magnet with respect to the array of sensors in real time, and this information is used to control the movements of a computer cursor or a powered wheelchair.

I’m looking forward to hearing when the project is out of the trial phase and more widely available to all who can use it. When that happens, I’m sure I’ll be hearing from Dr. Ghovanloo—and seeing the news again posted on Facebook.

More information about the current trials can be found on the Shepherd Center’s web site:




3 Unlike implants under the skin, the tongue has no “pockets” in which to encase a foreign object, and there was also concern about the need to remove the magnet for surgeries and MRIs.


5 The history of research ethics in the country is simultaneously fascinating and shameful. Most of the modern rules now in place concerning clinical trials in the U.S. are as a result of the public outcry over the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, a study that ran for four decades, from 1932 and 1972, in Tuskegee, Alabama. This clinical trial was conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service and was set up to study untreated syphilis in poor, rural black men who thought they were receiving free health care from the U.S. government. The study was terminated only after an article in the New York Times brought it to the attention of the public. More information about the history of research ethics can be found here:

6 In one of my early conversations with Dr. Ghovanloo I gave him the name of several manufacturers who I thought would be willing and/or able to make the jewelry needed for the trials. Barry Blanchard from Anatometal came through by manufacturing special barbells with a magnet encased in a laser-welded titanium ball fixed on top. Blue Mountain Steel also donated the barbells and piercing supplies for the initial piercings.

7 Dr. Laumann has co-written several published papers on body piercing and tattooing. The most recent is titled, “Body Piercing: Complications and Prevention of Health Risks.”

8 Dr. Ghovanloo and the other physicians had suggestions for the reasons for the high dropout rate among healthy subjects. In response to an early draft of this article, he wrote, “We simply lost contact with a few subjects after piercing, and cannot say for sure what their motivation was in participating in the trial and consequently dropping out after receiving the piercing.” Dr. Laumann, commenting on the Chicago site, wrote, “We prescreened thirty-two volunteers. Ten of these were screened and consented. Three of these were ineligible due to a short lingual frenulum, or ‘tongue web.’ This would have made the use of the TDS impracticable and for research it would have been considered inappropriate to cut the lingual frenulum. We pierced seven subjects and—you are correct—our first subject dropped out related to embedding of the jewelry and pain on the first day. After that we were careful to measure the thickness of the tongue and insert a barbell that allowed for 6.35 mm (1/4 inch) of swelling. Otherwise drop-outs came much later during the TDS testing phase related to scheduling and unrelated medical issues. One of the subjects, a piercer herself, was particularly pleased with the procedure, the tract placement and the appearance.”

9 Though the protocols did not allow the procedure to be conducted by non-medical personnel, Gigi Gits, from Kolo, was present during one of the phase-two health subject’s piercings and Bethra Szumski, from Virtue and Vice, was able to offer advice at the first phase-three piercing session in Atlanta.

10 Dr. Laumann: “The problem with headgear is that it needs to be removed at night, which means that the disabled individual cannot do anything in the morning until the headset is replaced and the TDS recalibrated. With secure intra-oral sensors, recalibration will not be necessary in the morning, nor will the sensors slip during use, which gives the wearer a great degree of independence. Of course, a dental retainer takes up space in the mouth and this may be difficult with a barbell in place.”

Help out the youngest member of the BME family. Get a limited edition 2012 BME Classic Logo t-shirt. Read all the details here.

Rites of Passage Suspension Family [Guest Column]


Rites of Passage

Suspension Crew Family

“Rituals have the power to reset the terms of our universe until we find ourselves suddenly and truly ‘at home.’”

– Margot Adler

Rites of Passage is currently one of the most active suspension groups in America with six chapters across the North East comprising eighteen members. I was able to speak with ROP founder and current leader of the Michigan chapter, Emrys (
IAM:along those lines), as well as New York chapter members Brian (IAM:xPUREx) and Cere (IAM:cere).

BME:  What was your experience in the body modification community before getting involved with Rites of Passage?
BRIAN:  Before I began working with suspensions with ROP I was heavily involved with practicing modification work in Connecticut. I worked with piercing, implants, scarification, and many other more “pseudo-surgical” aesthetic modifications at the time.

CERE:  I was a body piercer of about five or six years and then I left piercing due to the fact that in New York even the best piercers can’t maintain a high enough standard of living (for me). Afterwards though, I remained “in the scene” by working on friends only, and going to conventions, clubs, and so on. EMRYS:  I’d been a body piercer for about two years at a local studio in my home town and served an apprenticeship under a traditional Fakir-trained piercer. I’d experimented when I was younger (nine-ish) with branding myself, cutting myself, and carving words in my skin as a relief of tension. I started stretching my lobes at around thirteen as a result of meeting a Kenyan tribesman that came to my school to give a speech on his culture. I also had a decent amount of tattoo work for someone under the age of eighteen, including a memorial tattoo crowning my head in dedication to my mother.  
Cere’s first suspension being watched over by Brian (front)
and George (back), with Emrys working in the background.

The Salaryman’s View: BME/Japan [Guest Column]


“To know what you prefer instead of humbly saying Amen to what the world tells you you ought to prefer, is to have kept your soul alive.”

– Robert Louis Stevenson

The alarm rings diligently on the floor next to his face. It’s barely 6 AM but already he is up and has stumbled into the small, plastic box of a shower room. Emerging from his steamy awakening soon after, he pulls out a smart, black suit, white shirt and purple silk tie. Darting out the door as the sun rises over the tops of the tall, modern buildings, briefcase trailing 45 degrees behind him, it’s only a short trot to the next stop on the way to oblivion. As the doors automatically swoosh open, he takes a ticket, sits quietly on the small, round stool, crammed in a line with the other bodies and begins the morning slurping ritual that descends upon them all — rice, raw egg, noodles, coffee. As they pile out and into the river of people that has developed quickly on the street his eyes are met with a myriad of weird and wonderful sights. Red hair, short miniskirts, garish, pink signs advertising rooms for sex, grey suits, lots of grey suits, convenience stores in garish yellows and greens, people, people everywhere. The sounds of outside simmer briskly above his head. He doesn’t even notice the fact that 80% of the people around him are male. Like a salmon returning to spawn he glides into the big building and down, down, down towards the labyrinth of tunnels and tubes that he knows like the back of his smooth skinned hand. For someone who doesn’t really like crowds it still amazes him that he doesn’t scream in the face of the tidily dressed man wearing a pointed hat and white gloves, who is busily pushing him backwards into the tightly crammed train.

“Nobody talks to each other anymore”, he laments. It’s all thumb movements and hand covered conversations with technology. People choose to doze their way through the pain; others project themselves into worlds of superhuman animation. Dyed blonde hair, thick brown make-up, pierced lips and ears, unbuttoned shirts, rolled up minis, gum, perfume, attitude, oozing sex appeal, the high school girls giggle at his conservative glare. He grieves the loss of respect and traditional values that his parents instilled in him when he was growing up. His society is changing, slowly but surely. Young women are marrying later, travelling more and becoming more independent. They can keep their jobs after becoming pregnant, men can get childcare payments, and shock of all shocks, some men actually help with the housework! He spat out an indignant spurt of air. “Not him”, he angrily thought.

At the office an hour later he has everything unpacked and assigned to its space on the tiny beige desk. Hazy light spills in the window, competing brashly with the fluorescent bulb overhead. The routine sights from the car park only inspire him to dream of a life not his own. Comic book imagery drawn by manic student artists night after night catapult him through the numbness and transport him into a time where people are cutting their tongues in half, tattooing their faces, hanging from meat hooks and piercing themselves with large steel needles. This is an alien world to him, thousands of light years away from the subordinate housewife, cleaner, cook and raiser of his children that his post-married life is made of.

His soul thrusts through hyperspace at breakneck speed, colours swirl like a giant kaleidoscopic hurricane, his chest tightens with a mixture of anxiety and unbridled excitement. Old, traditional culture, the one that he grew up worshiping melts in and out of sight… two old philosophies dominate the skyline here; Confucianism and Samurai thinking, a world derived from the Chinese Confucian heritage which values the group over the individual. The group, be it a family, or society at large, is greater then the individual, and group needs take precedence over individual needs. And so it is here that women took their historical place in the home and as inferior, subservient citizens. Swords and soldiers. Warriors and warlords. Tatami and tattoos. Criminals and men of distinction come forward, coloured and confidently like some bizarre, ghostly visitation. He thinks only of Yakuza and instinctively cowers into the foetal position, begging to be spared. As he cries to be saved, suddenly he finds himself dumped on the floor of a dark and pumping room. Music blares and shakes the very marrow of his bones, nubile young bodies gyrate in unison, lights flash, steam rises, all he can see are legs and sneakers. Young males and females alike breathe equality into the air, in fact, in some cases, the females appear to hold their puny male audience in some kind of spell. He just sits there and marvels.

For him, this is the world only seen in his comic books. Standing upright he moves sheepishly to the bar, feeling greatly overdressed and wonderfully overawed. Nobody seems to notice him and this makes him wonder if he really is a part of this strange new world or not. Not knowing what to do or say he opts for a seat at the neon-covered bar, orders a sublime, single malt from a country far, far away and drinks it quickly to calm his shredded nerves. The gravity of the situation now consumes him. Head in his hands he thumps on the bar and sobs for the stability of his drone-like existence, one where men and women both knew their place and the surroundings were as sterile and uninviting as his best company suit.

The music stopped abruptly and snapped him out of his trough, a last tear dried as he spun around to see only the backs of bright, spiky heads, young heads, all looking skyward. Naively he followed their line of sight and was utterly speechless at what greeted him. A beautiful young slip of a woman was suspended from the darkened roof by what looked like ropes from her back. Remembering comic book confusions explained the apparent superhuman feat of spitting ropes from your skin and attaching to something more solid, a la Spiderman in his finest web-slinging adventures, but then slowly and effortlessly the heroine of the moment spun round and around and as he squinted over the top of his thick, square salary man spectacles, a flash of silver pierced his eye. “Surely it can’t be so!” he squealed to himself, grimacing uncontrollably. Her back had hooks in it and she was hanging from them. Nobody appeared to be helping her. He sat there motionless, in emotional pain. But no matter what his instincts were telling him about the girl dangling from the ceiling, he couldn’t help but feel a burning desire to seek her out. She was smiling a lot and that made him itch for her company. He needed to talk with her, to interact with her, to probe her psyche and motivations. He just wanted to help her. A lonesome word echoed through the annals of empty space in his head… “why?”

The word had barely completed its lonely journey through his neglected neural pathways when with a “whoosh!” the young heroine was sitting opposite him, on a stool at the bar. Everyone else had vanished in the same instant. She had a strangely welcoming smile on her face. “Her name was Dita” she said and she believed he had some questions for her. He quickly scanned her friendly face and noticed firstly that her bottom lip was tattooed, subtle with a small narrow black line. His first question was of her heritage, “was she Ainu?” he asked nervously. The indigenous Ainu women of Japan tattooed their lips with a special spiritual significance, to ward off evil spirits. Dita laughed when she replied that “no, she was not Ainu”. The energy emanating from her kept her smooth, dark hair away from her small face and around it he saw various colourful adornments — a silver ring, large circular holes in her ear lobes, petit heart-shaped studs.

Almost without hesitation he blurted out “What does your mother think of all this?! And your husband too?!”

My husband didn’t like my modifications at first. As time goes by and he understands how much I like body modifications, he wanted to get some for himself. . Now he’s started full tattooed sleeves and is planning to get his back tattooed as well. I think my friends and I are a good influence on him. My mother never told me to stop what I do and enjoy. Now I think she knows all about me and my modifications and accepts what I do.

Dita’s arm and the centre of her chest start to bubble gently, like some hot volcanic mud, pushing up three, four, then five small spheres from underneath her skin. She sighs as she lets out “I’d like to get implants done but not so badly. Just thinking. My first plan is tattoo.” And with that they too submerge and are gone.

The room starts to spin violently again, no colours this time but huge Vaudeville type letters of red and yellow and green swirl clockwise above his head: T A T T O O T A T T O O T A T T O O. First one then two frogs jump in from the left, before long they have multiplied out of all proportion, jumping all over him. He recoils back into his familiar foetal position when, without warning a large enveloping womb begins hovering above his head like a mother ship. It extends its elegant fallopian tubes and descends to wrap him safely in its womanhood. He feels safe and warm and loved. Out of the corner of his eye, a pink Cheshire Cat sits perched in the corner, grinning inanely at this new surreal sight, tiny white stars on its forehead sparkling in the dark air.

He opens his eyes to see Dita holding a baby. It is leaning contently against her bosom and she is stroking its soft, dark hair. She starts to speak, her words pre-empting his next query.

Being a mother has only changed my plans for physical reasons, like I have to wait until I stop breastfeeding. That actually gives me more time to think about my future modifications. Also saving money. I don’t hide them, as I said above, and I don’t really show them off. Some people might treat me as a bad mother just because I have these modifications, but thankfully I haven’t experienced it yet.

I think I’m lucky to be a woman when it comes to modifications and their reaction. I haven’t really had any negative reactions. The only negative reactions that I’ve had are from my relatives and my boss. My relatives said that tattoos are stupid. My boss told me to take out my piercings at work. The reason why I don’t get many bad reactions is because I don’t tend to show off my modifications often to people who would take offence.

He spat out the questions anyway but knowing that they had already been adequately answered. All his upbringing seemed to be influencing his thoughts in the direction more of, what other people will think of how you look, rather than how you want to look, regardless of how other people think. This is the way he was brought up and this is the way he brought up his own children, roughly the same age as this well-balanced, down-to-earth girl and mother. She reminds him of pioneers, trailblazers, and strong-minded people, people alien to him. He was in their world now and they welcomed him. Embarrassingly he knew deep down that he would not be so welcoming to them if they had entered his world. Dropping his head in shame he falls to his knees on the floor in front of mother and child and begs their forgiveness. Of course it was instantly forthcoming and as she beckoned him up from below, Dita playfully stuck out the tip of her tongue at him, both her tips!

Turning around, he realises that they have both been sitting in the back of a shiny black truck for the last twenty minutes. It must have happened before but he was sure he had been sitting on a stool. Dita hops over the front of the hood in one short Potter-like burst and begins to pull the truck, hooks still in her back, skin stretched tautly on her back. He shouts at her to stop but all she does is turn around and blow a huge plume of bright orange flames into the air above him, while laughing merrily and skips into the darkness. Happiness flows from her whatever she does. On the floor, there he is alone again but for some small movement on his right. A pretty little baby crawls over to him and into his space. He bends over to pick it up and as he does so, it gets to its wobbly feet. With his head next to the baby’s it whispers softly in his ear, “Only if I want to. She won’t tell me to get modifications or not. She’ll be happy if I want, because it means that I would understand what she enjoys so much.

Another plume of flame and the baby was gone.

He stands dazed and confused. A light comes on and lights up a long stairway in front of him now. With trepidation leaking from his shoes he timidly creeps up towards the top to a small black door. Tentatively he pushes it open and peeks outside into the retina burning daylight that stands like a wall of intensity, blocking his entry to the next adventure. He eases out of the doorway, interested to have a look at what is going on next, only for his eyes to see a door into Clonesville. Aghast he steps into the river of people that surges past his tired face and with that he was gone. Gone down the street, miles away from the doorway, towards the big building under the ground along with all his fellow ant workers.

Just before he heads for the descent, he passes a busker outside of the crowds. She is dancing in circles, fingers clicking delicately in small brass cymbals. He is mesmerised as are others watching her show. She seems strangely familiar but annoyingly he can’t quite place her. He thinks it weird that a young girl would be dressed in such vibrant red costume and skipping around outside for the entertainment of others. The more he watched however, the more he was finding himself being drawn in, a slight foot movement here, a tiny hip sway there. It was invigorating for him to feel positively influenced by this girl. She was doing something that no one else was but he was doing something that everyone else was doing.

“Some people lead, others must follow”, he mused to himself as he slid down the moving metal staircase and into the abyss. He was back in his world again. Back on the seat. Back on his way to his daily banality. Before he sits down, he picks up the new glossy magazine lying there, left by the person before him, “2BME”, and stuffs it into his vinyl briefcase, to be read once he gets to the office. Maybe this one will take him back to that place… for once, he was looking forward to going back to the office.

– Ferg   (iam:bizarroboy)

Luvpain99: Well, it was quite a year [Guest Column]


WARNING: This interview contains graphic photos.

Well, it was quite a year.

“Practice yourself, for heaven’s sake, in little things; and thence proceed to greater.”

- Epictetus

Matthew A., a 28 year-old network administrator from Warren, MI goes by the handle Luvpain99 both on IAM and elsewhere. Matt lists his hobbies as “model trains and rockets, chatting online and programming.” Matthew is also a very staunch patriot, a born-again Christian, and involved in a long-term relationship.

A quick perusal of either Matthew’s journal, however, reveals some other, more “specialized” interests; his site on IAM in particular outlines a fascinating story of the journey Matthew undertook during the past year: over a period of twelve months, Matthew’s penis was subincised, his glans was split, a scarification project was began on the head of his penis, and three attempts were made to remove Matthew’s testicles, culminating in a successful bilateral orchiectomy (full castration) on April 9th, 2004.

The last attempt at self-castration resulted in a hospitalization, psychiatric commitment, and having to come out as both a homosexual male and a male desiring castration to his parents. He left a note in his apartment in case anything went wrong during the procedure so anyone finding him might have a better idea of what was motivating him.

Matthew epitomizes the “DIY” ethic (Do It Yourself) — although some might say a little recklessly. Aside from the last two operations to remove his testicles, Matthew completed all of these modifications himself, usually alone, with no assistance other than his own knowledge and boundless inner strength. While he still has struggles to face, Matthew is now a happy eunuch who maintains high visibility both on IAM and the Eunuch Archive.

In this interview we briefly cover what Matt’s been through this year — watch out for a full interview with him in one of BMEbooks’ next releases!

BME:  First, why do you perform such intense surgical mods on yourself?
MATTHEW:  Well the reason I do most of my mods myself are many — I’m a little cheap, and I would love to become a piercer or practitioner down the road but I don’t like experimenting or messing up on others. I’d rather make a mistake on myself and learn from that than on someone else. Plus it is a feeling of accomplishment being able to do something on myself.

BME:  I know you had some difficulties with the head split and castration attempt in particular, leading to Emergency Room admissions both times. How did you find the strength to keep going?

MATTHEW:  Well castration was something I have wanted since I was thirteen and I finally knew I was ready and had to do it no matter what. It wasn’t easy — the failed self-attempt was a major setback. I ended up being psychiatrically committed. I knew I would do it again — I tried talking the doctor into finishing it up. I kept telling them I would do it again when I got out. In hindsight, after I completed the headsplit (with a cautery pen), if I had just laid down in bed I’d have been all right, but I was afraid of falling asleep still bleeding. I decided it was better to be safe than sorry and went to the ER for bleeding control.

When I attempted the castration though I was unable to control bleeding and had complications relating to scar tissue in my scrotum from prior experiments and play. Once I saw I would be unable to finish it myself, I tried to do enough damage to both testicles that the doctor treating me would have no choice but to complete the castration. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Later, I had a cutter perform the procedure on both my partner and I. His went off with no problems, but during mine only one testicle was removed as there was equipment failure during the procedure. Again, I was really frustrated. It seemed like I would never be able to achieve my goal.

BME:  Why was castration such a big goal? Is it a turn-on?

MATTHEW:  No — it never was a turn on. The goal was to solve what I considered a problem. I wanted to get rid of my sex drive.

BME:  Why didn’t you want a sex drive? No offense, but you’re a young, physically healthy guy… why eliminate your sex drive?

MATTHEW:  That’s a very difficult question to answer, and over the years there have been many different reasons for my wanting castration. I think that question is more suited for a book than an interview but I’ll try to do my best to summarize some of the key points for this interview.

To start out, castration has been a desire of mine since I was about thirteen years old. My memory is a little fuzzy about the exact time and order of events. I think I should probably give a little background about myself first before proceeding. First, I grew up in a very strong Christian Baptist family that was very active in the church and I went to a Christian school. I had a lot of health problems as a child — heart problems, asthma, allergies, hernias, and so on, so I was in and out of hospitals and doctors offices a lot until about third grade and had a high pain tolerance, as having blood drawn and other tests just didn’t bother me after the first few hundred times.

I believe what really started my interest in castration was realizing I was attracted to other guys — with my Christian upbringing I felt it was wrong at the time (I’m still unsure about it being right or wrong but that’s another story). It was around that time I started CBT (“cock and ball torture”) and using sewing pins to pierce my testicles as a form of atonement, but I soon found out I enjoyed it. I know at that time I wasn’t being sterile as I didn’t have the proper equipment, but I was playing it safe using 99% alcohol to clean a new needle and wipe the skin beforehand. I was very lucky then that I never got an infection or caught something. Being ashamed of being gay was probably my main reason for the longest time. However, that was no longer a reason when I finally did accomplish my goal.

The second reason I can think of would be “bad thoughts that hurt others”. The people that know me know that I’m a caring guy; one that likes to help others. I try to live by the Golden Rule — “do unto others as you would have them to do unto you” — I hate hurting someone intentionally or using them or taking advantage of them. This one is hard to explain but it deals with trying to get rid of urges to do things. I am very good at my controlling urges, but am always afraid of giving into them. I gave into some of those urges as a teen and still regret it today.

That was still a reason at the time of accomplishing my goal, and I’m very glad to say that accomplishing the goal of castration really did help with this issue.

The third reason I can think of is lowering and totally getting rid of my sex drive. I know that might sound strange to most, but for me I really didn’t get any pleasure out of masturbation or sex. I get pleasure from cuddling and being with someone, but not from sex. For me, getting off was just a release my body needed and not a pleasure. I think my body had two settings: normal and pain (with maybe a slight pleasurable sensation here and there). I just got tired of having to get off all the time and work hard at it for basically no enjoyment. I figured without a sex drive there would be no need to get off. That was a major reason for obtaining my goal. It has been seven months now since I have gotten off.

The fourth reason, which never really was a reason for me until after my castration, but many other people have used it as a reason for their castration, is being calmer. I’m not sure if it is just the castration or a combination of the medications I am on right now, but I’m definitely feeling a lot better… more at ease and at peace with myself and others.

The fifth and final reason I can think of, which wasn’t a primary reason, but something I had hoped for and managed to have come true is I was able to be castrated along with my partner. It has always been a dream of mine to have another partner that was a eunuch, as sex is not important to me. I really don’t know how to describe it other than it was awesome having my partner there when I was done, and being there for my partner when he was done. There is so much symbolism there that it is just unbelievable, at least to me, and how I look at things.

BME:  So you’re happy with the castration now? Any downsides, or things you weren’t anticipating? I know you’re taking calcium supplements to prevent osteoporosis.

MATTHEW:  I’ve hardly had any hot flashes — currently I’m trying to figure out what’s causing the severe headaches I’ve been having. I actually think it might actually be the calcium, which brings up a concern. I have no plans to undergo testosterone replacement — I like not having a sex drive too much to change that…

BME:  There are weekly tablets now like Fosamax and Actonel you could investigate…

MATTHEW:  I’ve only been off the calcium for a week, but with being sick lately with the flu it’s tough to tell exactly what’s causing the headaches.

BME:  You mentioned growing up in a conservative Christian environment. I know your faith is very important to you — how does it affect your choice of modifications?

MATTHEW:  My relationship with Jesus does affect mods as I do try and keep my mods positive and displaying my beliefs, as you can see from my tattoos!

BME:  Was coming out to your parents, both in terms of your homosexuality and desire for castration, as hard as it sounds like it would be? I mean, under the circumstances, you were pretty much forced to do so, having just been hospitalized due to doing serious damage to your own testicles…

MATTHEW:  Well, it was done in the hospital, and luckily I had written a letter stating what I had intended to do in case something happened. I just gave it to them to read.

BME:  That had to be a load off your chest at the same time, too.

MATTHEW:  Luckily they have been real supportive. They don’t understand everything but they care and are supportive of me.

BME:  That’s really a fortunate (and rare) thing.

MATTHEW:  Of course the big thing is, even with people outside my family, is people doesn’t understand my reason is more to be “sex-free” — everyone thinks it’s more of a desire to become a female.

BME:  I know just from knowing you as well as I do that you don’t desire feminization; you just want to be a castrated male.

MATTHEW:  Right now things are improving, but it is too soon to say how my situation will be as I’m still fighting for disability and other issues.

BME:  Hopefully there will be fewer ER visits for mods gone wrong! Are you a supporter of doctors and other medical professionals offering these procedures, so people won’t have to continue relying on cutters or doing the job themselves?

MATTHEW:  I’m a supporter of informed people having the right to choose if they want a doctor, cutter, or to do it themselves. That being said, I do think there should be a license for cutters so we can find qualified people into body mods able to do these things, and have access to more supplies than a normal person but not have to take tons of classes.

BME:  Do you have plans for future modifications?

MATTHEW:  I’ve got lots of ideas — I want full genital bifurcation and would like to fill my now empty scrotum with beads.

BME:  Are you planning on doing those mods yourself as well?

MATTHEW:  Yeah, I am!

BME:  So no fear then?

MATTHEW:  Well, I just learned suturing, and got a nice new tool this year that I haven’t tried out on myself yet, but I have tried it out on dead chicken and it works fine for cutting and such…

BME:  I’m guessing that’s a hyfrecator? [A hyfercator is an electric cautery tool somewhat similar to an arc welder for flesh.]

MATTHEW:  Yeah, it’s nice. Also, it doesn’t put out too much smoke like the battery powered cautery pens I’ve used in the past. I’ll see how that works for finishing the glans split and for the penis split hopefully.

BME:  Whom do you admire as far as modifications go?

MATTHEW:  IMG:moddick68 has done some awesome work, and IAM:subcision has a beautiful sub.

BME:  So in your opinion, how was last year for you?

MATTHEW:  It has been a trying year full of ups and downs. I’ve managed to survive it and when I get back on my feet again I’ll be ready to do more mods and support BME and the EA (the Eunuch Archive, located at

BME:  Were you glad when you found BME? Had you felt isolated before?

MATTHEW:  BME and the EA both help me out a lot and showed me there were others like me. I used to think I was strange and only one like that.

BME:  Are you still involved with the EA?

MATTHEW:  Yeah, a little — I’m trying to get more involved again.

BME:  So how would you sum up where you’re at during this point in your life?

MATTHEW:  Hmmm… it’s hard to say. I’m just a normal behind-the-scenes guy that loves doing mods on himself, wants to become a piercer, wishes he could legally be a cutter, and loves helping others, BME and the EA…

BME:  …and one of the strongest people I know!

MATTHEW:  …and you should probably add “shy” to that… not shy shy, I just don’t talk much.

I’m sure in the coming year Matthew will continue, shy or not, to boldly make his mark in the body modification world…perhaps not with words (although this interview puts that notion to rest) but surely with scalpels, needles, hyfrecators and whatever else he can get his hands on!

Hopefully Matt will talk to us again and fill in the rest of his story, as we’ve only just scraped the surface with this introduction. Matt has been a regular contributor to BME and you can see many of his pictures both in BME/extreme’s castration and genital modifcation sections, and in his bonus gallery in BME/HARD.

– Chris Clark   (iam:serpents)

Chris Clark is a 32 year old farmboy, journalist, and musician actively involved in heavy body modification and ritual. He is also a Parkinson’s Disease survivor (and thirver) and is currently writing Matthew’s biography for BME/Books.

Online presentation copyright © 2005 LLC. Photos copyright © 2004 Matthew A. and Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online January 8th, 2005 by LLC from La Paz, Mexico.


Ryan Ouellette: Lord of the Blade [Guest Column]


Ryan Ouellette

Lord of the Blade

“I’m tired of all this nonsense about beauty being only skin-deep. That’s deep enough. What do you want — an adorable pancreas?”

- Jean Kerr

There’s something quite profound about scarification that marks it apart from other forms of aesthetic body modification. Whereas tattoos and piercings augment and decorate the body by adding ink or metal, a scar is created merely by interacting with what’s already there, harnessing one of the peculiarities of the skin and channelling it to decorative ends. By using a scalpel, branding iron or cautery pen, it is possible to create intricate patterns in the skin, which, when healed, form distinctive and permanent scars. I really see this as body modification in its purest form — the body itself is producing the artwork, sealing over the inflicted wound and leaving an enduring mark that is actually part of the skin, not an inorganic addition.

Unfortunately, the idiosyncratic nature of an individual’s healing often makes the results of scarification fairly unpredictable, and as such the designs attempted have usually been fairly simplistic. In the West, scarification has tended to be either pieces made up of single line scalpel incisions for fine work or large, heavier scars produced by branding. Over the last few years, however, a number of scarification artists across the globe, feeling artistically constrained by the limited results and narrow range of designs that can be produced by single-line cuttings and the unpredictable and brutal scars left by brands, have begun to experiment with skin removal techniques, using their tools to actually remove areas of the upper layers for skin to produce larger, bolder and more predictable results.

Fresh skin removal scarification Healed skin removal scarification
Fresh and healed skin removal by Ryan Ouellette

Skin-removal really is in its infancy, and this article is in no way intended to be a how-to or instruction manual on the intricacies of this invasive and potentially dangerous procedure. Please do not try this at home. Instead, I hope it will illustrate what it is possible to do with the human body’s largest organ and germinate a few ideas in your head. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to interview one of this community’s most prominent, prolific and talented scarifiers, and this article is in many ways both a portrait of him and an introduction to his often astonishing work.

Although not the ‘inventor’ of this technique by any means, Ryan Oullette (IAM:The Fog), a twenty-five year old artist working out of Precision Body Arts in Nashua, New Hampshire, is widely regarded by his peers as one of the best scarification artists currently practising skin removal. Photos of his scars were recently showcased in National Geographic magazine, the patterns and motifs he produces are brave and original, and his work — both fresh and healed — is simply stunning. Chatting with other scarification artists, Ryan’s name comes up again and again when they’re asked whose work they particularly admire.

Ryan Ouellette Ryan Ouellette at work
BME:  Where are you from originally, Ryan?
RYAN:  I grew up in a small rural town called Pepperell — it’s just over the border in Massachusetts only about a half hour from the little city I live and work in now, Nashua. BME:  What got you interested in body-modification in the first place?

RYAN:  I have no idea to be honest. It was never a choice, it just felt natural. Like shaving or eating. I ‘play-pierced’ myself a lot when I was younger, with sewing needles and things like that. I used to do crude scarification on myself with needle heads in my bedroom. I never thought it was unusual behaviour and I didn’t see it as ‘self harm’ or anything. It just felt natural. I started getting actual piercings in my mid teens and it just grew from there.

BME:  How long have you been ‘in the business’ as a piercer and practitioner?

RYAN:  I’ve been piercing professionally for about five years. I had hopped around part-time at some shops for another year or so before then but I would say that was more of an amateur thing. I took over my shop about four years ago and I started cutting maybe six months after that.

BME:  Did you apprentice?

RYAN:  I’m completely self-taught as far as technique goes, although I’ve done a lot of formal training for piercing (Association of Professional Piercers anatomy classes, aseptic technique, and so on). I got some little pointers here and there from talking to guys like Lukas Zpira over the internet. I try to soak up all the ideas I can from watching videos and looking at pictures of other artists’ work. But mostly it was just trial and error.

One of the bigger things that sticks out in my head is reading an interview about Blair and his branding. He talked about how a lot of branders were scared to hit the same line multiple times and he said something along the lines of “work it until you’re satisfied”. And that really influenced my cutting style. Instead of trying to get a perfect line in one pass I hit and re-hit the same multiple times until I got it looking exactly how I wanted it. My cuttings are actually influenced most by Blair’s brandings if that makes any sense.

BME:  When did you start doing cuttings, and how did you develop?

RYAN:  Aside from the little chicken scratches I did as a teen I started professional cutting about three-and-a-half years ago, early 2001 I think. Originally I only bought scalpels to do work on myself. I never intended to work on other people at first. I did some small pieces on myself over the course of a few months. After that I did one on a guy I worked with, then my girlfriend. Gradually, it grew to regular customers, and once word got out on the internet I started to get a lot more people coming in asking about it.

BME:  Do you perform other forms of scarification such as branding or electrocautery?

RYAN:  I only do cutting. I’ve never even attempted any form of branding. At first I looked at scarification as the name for any scar procedure and I looked at things like scalpels, cautery pens, hyfrecators, and so on as different brushes used for one kind of art. Now that I’m experienced with a scalpel I see cutting and branding as two completely separate art forms. I might get into branding in the future but right now I feel most comfortable with a blade.

BME:  Why and when would you choose skin removal as a method of scarification as opposed to simple scalpel cutting or any other methods?

RYAN:  It all depends on the design. My earlier work was basic geometric designs — lines and curves. No solid or bold sections. After a while, I got bored and I felt that in order for my designs to evolve I needed to have larger sections, so that’s when I tried out flesh removal. My first one came out terribly. I cut it the way I would a single line piece and it ended up being way too deep and it healed really unevenly and didn’t look good at all. I gave up on flesh removal for about a year and then decided to try it out again, this time on myself. I changed what I thought was wrong with my last one and the piece came out to my satisfaction. After that it just felt as comfortable as anything else, so I incorporate it into most of my designs these days.

BME:  How do the results differ, in your view?

RYAN:  I just like the bold sections more than single line work. There is only so much you can do with single line pieces. After doing single line pieces for a year or two I was getting a lot of requests for designs that just couldn’t be done without flesh removal. Also, it’s easier to get a nice distinctly healed scar with flesh removal. I seem to get more consistency with them. I try to push myself each time. I think I do my best work when it’s something that looks too complicated for me.

Skin removal scarification by Ryan Ouellette Skin removal scarification by Ryan Ouellette Skin removal scarification by Ryan Ouellette
BME:  Can you talk me through the procedure, from start to finish?

RYAN:  Well it’s actually pretty similar to a tattoo for set up. The skin is shaved when needed, cleaned (sometimes with iodine, sometimes with Technicare), and then I put on a stencil. After all the prep stuff I usually make a quick pass over the entire design with a #11 blade scalpel. I basically consider it guide-lining. It’s not very deep, and it looks pretty uneven at first. It’s basically just opening up the skin over the whole piece very shallowly; the depth isn’t evened out until the next step.

    Number 11 scalpel blade
Number 15 scalpel blade

Next I’ll usually change blades to keep it sharp, and then I’ll go back over the design and slowly even out the depth and width. The depth and width varies depending on the design. If it’s single line I tend to go a bit deeper and wider. If I was doing removal I would go a bit shallower because I’ve learned that if you do flesh removal too deep it tends to blob out and heal unevenly. For removal sections I get my outlining done and then I use some haemostats to basically just pull up a corner. Then I use a #15 blade and slowly separate the tissue up and away while I lift with the clamps. I try to go as even as possible because you obviously want a uniform removed section for good healing. I try to make my removed sections as small as possible because I’ve noticed that if you try to remove too large of an area the center of it tends to be excessively deep. I’ll often split a removed area into smaller sections or strips and remove them individually instead of just on one large hunk.

As far as the depth goes I’ve talked to a lot of very good scarification artists and their techniques all vary. Depth is really just whatever works for the individual. Generally you’re going into the tissue below the cutaneous layer but not through the fascia. And I’d say that good flesh removal is typically slightly shallower than single line scarification. You really want to keep it uniform. You don’t want to see pits and valleys because that means different tissue layers, hence different scar production.

Ryan Ouellette at work

In terms of blood control, basically I just pat my field with paper towels as I work, again similar to tattooing. I really like to keep my lines clean and as dry as possible. Some people bleed more than others, obviously, so sometimes it’s hard to keep things as clean as I like but I generally don’t like blood to leave my immediate field. I don’t just let it drip all over the place like some people tend to do. It’s partially for contamination control but it’s mostly just so I can clearly see the cut depth and width clearly. The bleeding tends to stop within five minutes of finishing a line. So by the time I move on to a new line my previous ones are usually dry.

I’ll occasionally clean the field during the procedure, typically between steps. So maybe once after all the outlining is done, and then again when the piece is completed. I typically clean the field with green soap solution, again like a tattoo. After I’m done I’ll bandage the area with a sterile non-stick dressing. I usually tell the person to keep it bandaged for at least four to six hours. Sometimes, particularly for flesh removal, I’ll just have them keep it bandaged overnight. As for removed skin it’s basically nothing by the time I’m cleaning everything up post-cutting. Without blood supply it shrivels up within just a few minutes.

BME:  What are the benefits of skin removal — what can be done, and what are the limitations — what can’t be done?

RYAN:  I think the main benefit with flesh removal is additional control. With a single line cut you make a cut and basically just widen it out and change the depth. So if you make a slight error all the cuts from that point on are going to have to work around that one mistake or even it out. With flesh removal you can control both the outline and center of all lines and sections. If I want to do a grouping of small tight lines, especially with angles or curves I’ll almost always do it with removal. If you do single line you are basically splitting the skin open so that can sometimes limit what you can do right next to a line. With flesh removal you are going shallower so the skin tends to open less. So I can do tightly compacted lines and feel confident that they’ll heal where I put them. If I tried to do lots of small lines within an eighth of an inch they would tend to scar outward and probably blend together during the healing process. The lines are more straight down and tend to heal in their original location unless they keloid a significant amount.

As far as what can’t be done I guess I would push people away from very large sections of removal. If someone wanted a removed section bigger than maybe two inches wide I would probably try to change their design or flat out turn them down. As far as complexity I’ve never had to turn something down because it’s too complex. I’ve had to rework designs to simplify them slightly in order to be able to cut it into someone. Obviously you can’t do shading, so I have to redraw things to make them bolder, kind of like a solid black tattoo.

There are some areas I would prefer to not work on like hands, wrists, necks, and so on. But I’m sure if someone really wanted a piece there I could figure out a way to do it safely. I’d just have to do it a little shallower than average. I did some flesh removal stars on the side of my girlfriend’s hand and it was very difficult. Two little coin-sized sections took me about two hours because I had to be so careful with my depth and remove the tissue at the exact same shallow level.

Skin removal scarification by iam:The Fog Skin removal scarification by iam:The Fog
BME:  What are the risks?

RYAN:  Risks are similar to any comparable procedure like tattooing or branding. The biggest risk would be infection but I’ve never had a problem with that. I give very clear aftercare instructions so it hasn’t been an issue. That’s the only thing I would call a risk. There are more complications that could come up like uneven healing and scarring mostly. Occasionally a person can get kind of a rash around the piece, depending on aftercare. It’s usually from wrapping it the wrong way or not cleaning it often enough.

BME:  What aftercare do you generally recommend?

RYAN:  My basic aftercare is that they keep it covered with plastic wrap and Vaseline for about seven to ten days. It keeps the body from forming a scab which makes it heal more from the bottom up instead of from the sides inward. It’s just important with wrapping that you keep the piece clean and somewhat dry. So I tell the person to unwrap and clean it throughout the day. I usually just have them use an antimicrobial soap like Satin or Provon. If they don’t clean it often enough the fluid under the wrap can cause irritation or a rash. The rashes are more frequent if I have to shave the person before the cutting.

I basically just worked out my aftercare with trial and error. I also talk to a lot of other artists about technique so I steal a lot of ideas from them. Sometimes I’ll suggest using a mild irritant like lemon juice mixed with the Vaseline. It can tend to make the body heal with either a darker hypertrophic scar or, with a little luck, raised keloid tissue.

BME:  How long is the healing period, generally, and what are the stages of healing?

RYAN:  Complete healing varies on how they take care of it. With the wrap I’d say that the body will form a new layer of skin over the whole design within around two weeks. If they keep it unwrapped the body will scab slowing the healing process to maybe three weeks. If you add in agitation, picking, or scrubbing it could lengthen it out to a month or more.

healing skin removal scarification
2 days old

healing skin removal scarification
5 weeks old

healing skin removal scarification
3.5 months old
BME:  What kind of results does skin removal produce — what do the resulting scars look like compared to other forms of scarification?

RYAN:  With my removal it’s not really making the body heal in a specific way. It’s really just emphasizing the way an individual’s body will heal a cut. I’d say on a whole removals tend to give a better more distinct scar. But it’s very difficult to force the body to heal one way or another. Keloid tissue is more of a raised pinkish tissue. It’s basically what most people hope for with healing but it’s actually not that forthcoming in a lot of pieces. I’ve notice that the body heals more commonly with hypertrophic tissue. This tends to be more of a darker granulated, less raised tissue. What I shoot for with aftercare is either a very dark distinct hypertrophic scar or an evenly raised keloid scar. I never guarantee a certain look though, that would just be impossible.

As for how it looks compared to other scars I’d say flesh removals don’t scar outward as much as some other techniques. Brandings tend to heal outward a lot more due to the heat damaging surrounding tissue. A lot of single line scarification tends to be deeper than removal so the line can heal a little wider due to it having a tendency to heal in more of a V-shape then wide U like some removals.

BME:  Is there anything else you’d like to add?


Yes! It’s really important that people remember that these procedures can be extremely dangerous if not done by a skilled professional with a decent amount of anatomical knowledge and experience working with skin. If not, people could end up in hospital! The difference between single line and removal can be compared to the difference between punch-and-taper piercing and transdermal implants. They might be similar but the latter is a lot more advanced and dangerous.

If you’re interested in getting work done by Ryan, his shop Precision Body Arts is located at 109 West Pearl Street, Nashua, New Hampshire (or call 603-889-5788). You can also see more of his work in his gallery on BME (and of course you can view other artists working in similar styles in the general scarification galleries as well).

As scarification techniques evolve, designs which previously would not have produced good, clear, dramatic looking scars become possible. The only limits are those of your imagination and of your artist’s skill. Choose wisely.

– Matt Lodder   (iam:volatile)

Matt Lodder is a 24 year old native of London England. He wrote his Masters dissertation for the University of Reading on “The Post-Modified Body: Invasive corporeal transformation and its effects on subjective identity”.

Thanks so much to Ryan for agreeing to be interviewed, and for being so eloquent and forthcoming with information. Thanks also to Quentin (iam:kalima) and Vampy (iam:vampy) for their help in answering my questions, and also to Shell (iam:stunt_girl) for her last-minute assistance!

Online presentation copyright © 2005 LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online January 7th, 2005 by LLC from La Paz, Mexico.


Forty is the new twenty. [Guest Column]


Forty is the new twenty.

By Mandi Konesni

My mother is my hero, and she’s the greatest and strongest woman I know. Having said that, most people are probably rolling their eyes and thinking of their own mother. That, and a lot of you probably think I’m biased, which I more than likely am.

“Age is something that doesn’t matter, unless you are cheese.”

– Billie Burke

Mother and Daughter

“The Backstory”

My mom was taken away from her mother when she was young, and was pushed from foster home to foster home. Sometimes, they weren’t exactly the nice place they were thought to be.

She emerged from high school to set off on her own life, but was plagued by chronic asthma so bad she could hardly walk out of the front door without having an attack. The doctors put her on Prednisone, a corticosteroid. After years of being on it, she weighed 370lbs. Rather than hiding because of her asthma, she was hiding because of her weight. It hurt that she wouldn’t come to our school performances and things that were important to us. We didn’t see what she saw when she looked in the mirror… we saw a loving and caring mother who would do anything for us.

My mom swore when she was younger that if she ever hit three hundred pounds, she would commit suicide rather than live a life of relying on others for daily tasks. After she hit almost four hundred pounds, she hit rock bottom. She got depressed and suicidal, and my dad called hourly just to make sure she was still alive. When I think of how close we came to not having her here, I still get tears in my eyes. Then on Christmas Eve she had a massive asthma attack. She almost died in front of us, and it took four paramedics to carry the stretcher to the ambulance. She was mortified, and came out of the hospital determined to find a better life.

After a year of waiting and going through tests, she was finally approved for gastric bypass surgery. It took two years for her to lose the weight, but she now weighs a hundred and forty pounds and looks absolutely amazing. However, she still has the excess skin to be removed, and because of that, she still feels that she doesn’t belong in her own body — that she’s a prisoner of her own flesh.

“Modified Mom”

Mom found an outlet for herself, a niche that allowed her to be happy with the way she looked when she saw herself in the mirror: Mom got pierced.

Her first piercings were her nipples. She got them done at Juki’s Tattoo in Toledo, but had to take them out to get tests done at random times because of her asthma and upcoming surgery. Finally she got tired of spending money on re-piercing them, and ended up learning to do them herself. My mom has pierced her own nipples five times each, and has kept them open for years. Then she decided she wanted her hood pierced, but was so embarrassed by the excess skin that she didn’t want to go to a piercer to do it. I bought her the supplies she needed as a birthday gift, and she pierced her own horizontal hood. After a week, she decided that she didn’t like it and wanted it vertical — promptly taking it out and re-piercing it. A week later she had to re-pierce yet again because the bead popped out and the ring was lost. A self-done navel piercing, two self-done cartilage piercings, and a professional tongue piercing soon followed; as well as three tattoos.

Looking at my mom now is amazing. She’s a totally different person. She smiles and laughs, she has the confidence to show off her modifications, and help other people decide if piercings and tattoos are right for them. She allows her children to find their own way as well, knowing that her modifications became such a huge part of her life that she couldn’t possibly restrict that happiness from us. She’s my best friend and I know I can tell her anything and she’ll understand. Finding herself has led her to re-discover her long-lost childhood and has helped her to better redefine herself as a woman, not as a forty-something year old housewife and mother.

“Mom Speak”

After getting gastric bypass surgery, what made you decide to modify your body further?

I’ve always found piercings and tattoos sexy, but my weight kept me away. I was afraid people would say rude things and make fun of me if I tried looking “sexy” at 370 pounds. At thirty-eight years old, I figured that if I didn’t get the things I wanted done soon then I wouldn’t do them at all. Unfortunately, it worked too good and I couldn’t stop. Besides, now, I can look down and see my piercings!

Do you have any specific reasons or meanings for the modifications that you have gotten?

Tinkerbell was kind of a “Neverland” thing. She’s magical and cute, reminding me that just because I’m not a child anymore doesn’t mean I can’t still have that naivety and innocence that I long to keep. My heart tattoo was a celebration of losing the first two hundred pounds. I felt brand new, and decided to get my tattoo as a permanent reminder of how far I had come. The Leo sign was honestly a compliment to Tinkerbell when I got it, but now I see it as an embodiment of myself — a true Leo in every way, shape, and form.

My birthday present tongue piercing I did it mainly for the shock value. I’m a 42 year old woman with a tongue piercing, and I absolutely love it. My nipples I got done before I had lost the weight. I did them to feel sexy, to feel that I had something special about me that other people couldn’t see. I always loved the look of them, and felt they made me more womanly. My hood piercing was inspired by Marilyn Chambers. She’s a porn star, and in “Behind the Green Door” she had a hood piercing and I was captivated by it. I wanted one ever since! Also, because I pierced it myself, it’s deeply personal and symbolic of my inner strength that I never knew I had.

My navel was a spur of the moment thing… I thought it was cute, but never thought and overweight woman could have one. Once I lost the weight, I decided to go for it, even with the excess skin kind of covering it.

When people first find out about your piercings and tattoos, what is the first reaction? Is there a different between age groups?

The first reaction is probably disbelief and shock. People don’t think that a forty-two year old housewife would have modifications, and don’t believe that I do. When they get over that, they always want to see them, even the more private ones. The people who know me almost expect it of me — nothing about me is what you could call “average”! To be honest, there isn’t really much of a difference between age groups. People who are in their teens react the same way as people who are sixty or seventy years old. It’s very accepted nowadays, and people are truly interested in the decorations I have.

If your husband or family complained (as in the recent Dear Abby column) what would your response to them be? How would you feel if they said you were too “old” for such things?

I would tell them that it’s none of their business. Honestly, my piercings and tattoos are highly personal and symbolic of how far I’ve come. No one has a right to tell me what I can and can’t do to my body, especially because I’ve worked so long to like myself in it. What does age have to do with it anyways? I’m a woman, not a corpse! As a human, we have the basic right to sate our curiously and make ourselves happy. No one should come between that. A husband should support his wife in any endeavor, even if it’s not something he particularly enjoys.

What would be your advice to the woman (not the husband) in the “Dear Abby” situation?

If she got the piercings for herself to make herself happy, there’s something to be said when your husband won’t support that. It’s the same thing as in the sixties when women burned their bras. Men in relationships don’t want their wives to suddenly be liberated. However, he pledged to love her and support her no matter what when he stood on the altar. A bit of metal doesn’t change the person he married, but his reaction says volumes. I say, more power to her! My husband didn’t necessarily want me to get the piercings and tattoos that I’ve gotten… but he supported me. Now he refuses to let me even think of taking them out, because he loves them so much!

What role did your weight loss surgery play in your decision to get the piercings and tattoos that you wanted?

Everything. I felt more sexy and more womanly inside, and wanted to express that wanton abandonment for all to see. Most of my piercings are sexual in nature, and I did that on purpose. When you’re over forty, it’s hard to feel sexy in your own right. Every little bit helps! Without the surgery, I probably would have still gotten everything except the Leo tattoo and the navel… only because I wouldn’t have pulled my pants down to get the tattoo, and I felt I was too big for a navel piercing. I’m so glad that I’m not limited by those misconceptions anymore, and I feel good enough about myself that I can change my body however I want to, without worrying about what others will think of me.

After your kids watched you struggle with your weight, and the consequences of losing it, how does it make you feel knowing that they look to you as a hero, and are following in your modification footsteps?

I am who I am because of the things that I went though. I wouldn’t wish my past on anyone, but I wouldn’t change it either. It’s made me the person that I am today. I’m nobody’s hero, but every mother wants her kids to look up to her, and if my children think that I’m a hero it makes what I went through all the better.

Following in my footsteps, you know… I didn’t realize that’s what they were doing. I made it “ok” for them to express their own individuality. I’m not one of those mothers whose kids are too afraid to ask for a piercing, so if they wanted something like that, they knew they could ask and I’d probably let them. Well, I suppose I should say “within reason”… otherwise that’ll probably come back to bite me in the ass!

Any further comments you’d like to share?

Yes. I think that people in this world need to grow up. As a forty-two year old woman, I want to tell Dear Abby and all columnists like her that the times are changing. If you’re writing to the public you need to open up your eyes and mind. Not everyone fits into this “cookie-cutter” mold you seem to have surrounded yourself with. I’m happy, and I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for my surgery and subsequent modifications. You can’t tell me that my happiness should be forsaken just to fit into society’s misconceptions. I’d rather be a happily modified woman than another suicide statistic.

Mandi Konesni (iam:cuthalcoven) is is a full-time student studying English and Abnormal Psychology. She spends a lot of time rehabilitating wild animals and rockhounding, as well as reviewing experiences for BME. She plans to eventually teach psychology in Toledo, Ohio.

Online presentation copyright © 2004 Mandi Konesni and LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online December 19th, 2004 by LLC in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Learning to Smile [Guest Column]


Learning to Smile
by Samantha K.

“We do have a zeal for laughter in most situations, give or take a dentist.”

- Joseph Heller

I got my teeth whitened for the same reasons I’ve gotten my piercings and tattoos: I like how it looks, I am able to do it, and it’s one step closer to perfection. I strive for excellence in all areas of my life and my body is no exception. I eat well, I make sure to get enough exercise and I adorn myself in ways that I think are attractive and flattering. Being able is about acknowledging and exerting my control and ownership over my body. Whereas my suspensions have been about what it can do, external adornment is about what I can do to it. When people ask “Why can’t you be happy the way you are?” I say “Why should I have to be? Why should I settle when I’m capable of more? Why not control my own body’s destiny?”




Two Days Later

Six Days Later

When I was in elementary school, I, like many others my age, had to get braces. Or rather, looked forward to the idea of braces up until they started to go on, at which point I started what would become five years of sheer torture and misery. My orthodontist was a liar who promised that I would have braces for a couple years and then wear a retainer for a bit and all would be fine. In actuality, I had big ugly silver braces for a couple years, then a retainer, after which I was told that my teeth hadn’t actually finished settling because they put the braces on too early and I’d need them again. The braces went back on for a few years. I felt betrayed by the dentist whom I’d trusted and questioned her every visit as to when I’d finally be free of the metal shackles. She stopped giving me even vague dates, so I started throwing tantrums and begging the braces to be taken off. Eventually, my parents gave in, signed paperwork saying that we understood they were coming off early and that my teeth would suffer as a result and that the orthodontist was no longer liable for anything. At that time, I didn’t care about what my smile would look like and was just glad to be done with the whole thing.

As soon as the braces were off and I got a good look at my teeth, I became self conscious. They were big and slightly crooked and I still had a definite overbite. In addition to all that, there were big white spots where some of the braces had been glued. Many of my pictures from that time show me with a close lipped smile or one that had been carefully controlled to show only a certain amount of my teeth. Whenever I smiled freely, I looked back later and cringed at how awful I looked.

Even though I’d never had any cavities and dutifully brushed twice a day, my teeth were never very white. Maybe it was from all the chocolate I ate, or the iced mochas which became a staple of my diet, but over the years they’ve developed an increasingly yellowish tinge. I tried the Whitestrips one can buy at the drugstore, but they only magnified the problem. They go over the front few teeth, so while those teeth became fairly white, the sides only looked worse in comparison.

I’d heard about something called Britesmile a few times, but didn’t know anyone who’d done it. It’s a one hour procedure that can be done at either the Britesmile spas or in a dentist’s office. They apply a special gel to your teeth and shine a UV light on it, taking off the gel and reapplying every twenty minutes. It’s supposed to whiten your teeth nine shades, on average. When I checked into both, the cost seemed to be about the same for that and the custom bleaching trays that you get at the dentist.

During a recent dental checkup, my hygienist commented on the disparity in color between my front and side teeth. Hearing about it while lying on my back in that chair was pretty embarrassing and made me wonder why I hadn’t done anything about it yet. I was ashamed that I had been letting my teeth control me instead of doing something about it. The hygienist showed me a simulation of what my teeth would look like after Britesmile and I immediately decided I’d do it as soon as possible. I was immediately excited, thinking about the blindingly white smile I’d soon have.

I called up for an appointment and could have gotten one the same day, but decided to wait till that Friday when I would have nothing to do after in case I was in pain. I chose to do it at the Britesmile spa rather than at the dentist’s office because it was cheaper and they did it all do so I figured they’d be less likely to make mistakes. It also ended up being a much more relaxing environment; with a very modern décor and flat screen TVs mounted above all the chairs.

The first thing I did was fill out a form with various dental and medical history information and names of my emergency contacts. After that and reading through the fine print of all worst case scenarios, my excitement turned into a little bit of fear and wondering if I’d made the right choice. I looked up, saw the white teeth of all the receptionists and realized that I wanted it much more than I was afraid of it, which is what it always comes down to for me. I gave them the form and was led into a small room by the resident dentist. She went over my forms, saw that I had an average sensitivity to hot and cold, and gave me some Tylenol to take before we started. I asked for clarification about aftercare and the dentist made it clear that I did indeed have to eat only white and clear foods for the next 24 hours. After the whitening the normal coating on your teeth isn’t there, so if you have anything colored during that time, it will stain your teeth. I got a little more nervous when she mentioned the possibility of something she called “zingers” — extreme sensitivity in some teeth leading nerves to fire randomly and sharply for the next day or so — and said that I would be more prone to that because of my age. All that aside, I was still eager to get started.

First I went and brushed my teeth and then one of the assistants came in to take a before picture. After that, she placed a dental retractor in my mouth to keep it open and some padding behind it so it wouldn’t hurt my gums. Then she applied a gel to my gums to protect them from the laser. I suddenly felt wet above and below my lips and realized that there was some kind of goop there which was used to keep the paper around my mouth in place (without that I would have ended up with a really strange looking tan from the light). That ended up being the most unpleasant part of the whole experience. It only took a few minutes before I’d adjusted to all the stuff in my mouth and felt pretty relaxed.

The dentist then came back in to finish setting things up. She gave me glasses to protect my eyes and attached a call button to the waistband of my pants. Since I was lying down and completely unable to speak, this was really comforting. I had my ipod on, but decided I might also want to flip through some TV, so she gave me the remote and headphones for that too just in case. She then painted the gel onto my teeth, put the light in place, and said she’d be back in twenty minutes. The time went pretty quickly and I didn’t feel any tingling or sensitivity. I relaxed and listened to some disco while watching cheesy soap operas. After two more sets of twenty minutes, the dentist said that she was going to do a 4th run, since my teeth had started off so dark. Twenty minutes later, all the stuff was out of my mouth and I was once again brushing (and wiping goop off my face). I was in shock when I saw how white my teeth were. They’d gone from shade D1 to A2 (one shade below the whitest on the chart, and whiter than they’d labeled it in my after photo). An “after” photo was taken and soon I was back in the waiting room buying some mouthwash and toothpaste.

I left the office beaming and I continued to smile throughout the two mile walk back to my apartment. I couldn’t believe how wonderful I looked and felt. Friends and family who saw me later said that it was a larger change than they’d expected, and that it made more of a difference when they looked at me than they’d expected. It was one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself and the feelings I had were similar to the feelings after a suspension: elation, supreme confidence in my body, and joy that I had the experience.

It’s been six days now and I’m still immensely pleased with my decision. I smile more than I have in years and am no longer hesitant to take pictures; I simply smile without wondering how my teeth will look in the picture. I finished the experience with a new school ID card featuring a big happy grin. While no ID pictures are ever great, at least this one matches my mental image of myself.

Samantha K.

Samantha K. (iam:joy) is a student of physics, art, and life. When she’s not publishing undergraduate science research, she is busy knitting. Samantha can usually be found on the streets of New York with her very ferocious little dog. If you enjoyed this article, reward her with a book.

Online presentation copyright © 2004 Samantha K., and LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online September 1st, 2004 by LLC in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.


Bena Video Interview [Guest Column]


Video interview by Allen Falkner

Over the past few years, my path has crossed with Bena’s several times. However, it was not until the Oslo suscon that I really got a chance to get to know him. Although quiet at first, I soon found Bena to be a witty, intelligent and an extremely articulate individual. From his spirit to his drive to his dedication, I would have to credit Bena as being one of the bigger assets our community has to date.

Bena is a Swedish body modification enthusiast and suspension practitioner that’s works by day as a caregiver for the handicapped. Visit bena on IAM.

The interview below was shot, edited, and conducted by Allen Falkner with additional (not very good) editing by Shannon Larratt.

Choose your format (video is just over four minutes long):
Video Size Download Size Format
Low quality: 240×180 3 meg Windows Media DOWNLOAD
Low quality: 240×180 4 meg Apple Quicktime DOWNLOAD
High quality: 480×360 22 meg Windows Media DOWNLOAD
High quality: 480×360 24 meg Apple Quicktime DOWNLOAD

Allen Falkner (iam:Allen Falkner) is a body piercer with well over a decade of experience and is the owner of Obscurities in Dallas, TX. He is one of the founders of the modern body suspension movement as the progenitor of TSD (and now Allen is credited with the invention — and naming — of much of what people take for granted in modern suspension (including the knee suspension, his signature piece). He’s also a talented photographer and is married to his muse Masuimi Max.

Online presentation copyright © 2004 Allen Falkner and LLC. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online August 26th, 2004 by LLC in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Interview took place in Oslo, Norway in August 2004.

Being A Modified Jew

“See, I have engraved You on the palms of my hands”
– Isaiah 49:16

“One shall say, ‘I am the Lord’s,’ and another shall use the name of Jacob, and another shall mark his arm ‘of the Lord’ and adopt the name of Israel.”
– Isaiah 44:5

“I decked you out in finery… I put a ring in your nose, and earrings in your ears…”
– Ezekiel 16:11
See also Exodus 35:22, Numbers 31:50, Judges 8:24, Isaiah 3:21

I fell in love with the art of the tattoo in my early twenties. The choice that I was able to consciously make to beautify my own body was exhilarating. Choosing the placement, selecting the artist and design took research and thought. Seeing the colors and designs come alive on my flesh is intoxicating.

But I am a Jew. How does body modification fit into my life?

The answer is: Beautifully.

20040819-2Judaism has a long history of distaste for tattoos and piercings. It is my understanding that this stems from the Jewish concept that we are created b’tzelem Elokim (in the image of God) and that our bodies are to be viewed as a precious gift on loan from God, entrusted into our care, but not our personal property to do with as we choose. This distaste grew stronger with the Holocaust and the tattooing that was forced upon the Jews in the prison camps.

Let’s discuss a common misconception:

Can you be buried in a Jewish cemetery and participate in Jewish ritual if you are tattooed or pierced?

20040819-3It is not prohibited to bury someone who has tattoos or body piercings in a Jewish cemetery. Although the Torah is interpreted by some to prohibit making a permanent tattoo on one’s body, those who violate this prohibition may still be buried in a Jewish cemetery and participate fully in all synagogue ritual.

I asked IAM member RachelG about her experiences with this and she replied with a personal story regarding being buried in a Jewish cemetery with body modifications:

20040819-4“After an unfortunate tragedy where a close modified friend of mine committed suicide, his family was allowed to bury him in an orthodox Jewish cemetery. He was practically fully suited in tattoos and wore three earrings in each earlobe. At the funeral service I spoke at length with the orthodox rabbi who was performing the service about Jews and body modification. He told me that these misconceptions were not only outdated, but any Jew who believed in them was not following the ways of God. Jews are a very accepting and understanding people. Who are we to judge one for intentionally changing one’s body to fulfill their own desires?”

20040819-5Deliberate, permanent disfigurement of the body would be prohibited. But such practices as ear piercing and cosmetic surgery (such as elective rhinoplasty) are not prohibited. The purpose of cosmetic surgery is to make the body more beautiful, not to disfigure it. (from

Being modified does not prohibit you from participating in Jewish ritual. The fact that someone may have violated the laws of kashrut at some point in his or her life or violated the laws of Shabbat would not merit such sanctions. The widely believed prohibition against tattooing is certainly no worse.

20040819-6What puzzles and disturbs me is the quote from a rabbi stating that such practices as ear piercing and plastic surgery(1) are not prohibited because they are meant to beautify and not to disfigure. Who is to say that the purpose of my body modifications are not to make the body more beautiful? Is this for a rabbi to decide? I believe that the decision of what makes my body more beautiful is my own. Why is plastic surgery regarded as acceptable and other forms of body modification are not? What about circumcision which is a permanent modification? Who makes those decisions?

20040819-7Circumcision is also becoming a challenged ritual within Judaism as more and more Jews regard this practice as a social choice. This is a major body modification and disfigurement to a small child that is not given the choice to modify. It is also common practice among non-Jews to circumcise a male newborn penis, and this practice is not specifically Jewish, though it is common practice among Jews specifically. For more information on the complex issue regarding facts and myths of Jewish ritual circumcision, I invite you to visit There are many modern changing views concerning the modification of infants without their consent.

20040819-8For many people, conscious modification has become a way for them to take ownership of the beauty of their own bodies. For a very long time I felt uncomfortable in my own body. I was too fat, too short, my breasts were droopy — I could come up with a list a mile long. I discovered through modification that I loved my own body more when I got to choose what was happening to it. I would not knowingly disfigure my body. I intend to beautify it at my discretion. I am not the only one and I am far from the only modified Jew. By choosing to tattoo my body, I also feel that I am reclaiming this ritual for beauty rather than the hate and disrespect that was the intent of the Nazis forcibly tattooing the Jews during the holocaust.

20040819-9My Judaism and my body modification go hand in hand for me. They are both part of who I am and how I represent myself. I am a tattooed Jew. I am proud of both of these facets of my life. I am not ashamed to go to Shul and I am not afraid of the questions. What I dislike is the assumption that I am not as good a Jew because of my modifications. I completely disagree. What I dislike is the prejudice my own Jewish people bestow upon me, and others, for choosing to reclaim the ancient art of body modification. This in itself does not convey the Judaism of acceptance that has always been expressed to me in Shul. I believe this inter-judaic prejudice stems from a sociological prejudice thinly veiled by a misunderstood religious excuse.

How did my family react?

20040819-10My family ignores it. Don’t ask, don’t tell — sound familiar? — but still love and respect me as who I am. My family’s beliefs are those of conservative Jews and I respect them for that. However, I follow more of a Reconstructionist view. Reconstructionists define Judaism as the evolving religious civilization of the Jewish people and most Jewish people, including Reconstructionists, no longer accept its binding authority. While Reconstructionists are lovers of tradition and support community celebration of the Jewish sacred year and life-cycle events, we also believe that the face of the Jewish community is changing and that individuals have the right to adapt Jewish tradition to new circumstances. That doesn’t make us any less Jewish than those who live by Conservative or Orthodox law (although there would be plenty of argument within Judaism about this).

20040819-11I think that the belief that body modification is prohibited by the Torah is antiquated, just as other Biblical laws are (and have thus been adjusted to fit modern times). Judaism is evolving in some sects; no longer do we have to hide what may be seen as “against the Torah” to practice our faith. It is quite a relief to do so. If you choose to practice your faith, there are many ways to do so. When you are dealing with Orthodox, Reform, Reconstructionist and Conservative movements, we will not agree on each others interpretation of the Torah.

20040819-12Body Modification is just as much a part of my life as my faith in Judaism. I believe that my modifications beautify my body and bring joy to my life. They do not take away from my faith in God. My personal practice allows me to be who I am, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Liz Polay-Wettengel

1 Editor’s note: It should be added that rhinoplasty has been historically a “Jewish” procedure with the goal of masking — publicly destroying — the Jewish identity in the face of bigotry. One could make the argument that tattoos that uplift the Jewish identity are a far better way to serve God than rhinoplasty ever could be.

20040819-biopicLiz Polay-Wettengel (iam:TattooedRedhead) is an executive general manager in Boston Massachusetts where she lives with her husband and two cats. She has a professional background in the music business and writes for several online blogs. Liz has been an active member of the IAM BME community since 2000 and currently runs the membership sponsorship forum and the Jew Crew community forum.

Online presentation copyright © 2004 Shannon Larratt, Liz Polay-Wettengel, and Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online August 19th, 2004 by BMEZINE.COM in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.