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

Taking it to the Next Level

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

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

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

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

  Ella



Amina

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

Ella

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

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

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

ELLA: 

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  

Ella is now very happy with her transformed body.

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

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

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

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

BME: 
Are you planning on doing suspensions?

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

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

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

BME: 
How’d you feel about that?

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



Are her burns alone considered “body modification”?

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

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

BME: 
Was it a hard decision to make?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cutting by Lukas Zpira.

BME: 
Are you happy with the results?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Ella the model.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BME: 
What kinds of things were shown about you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Ella today.

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

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

- Gillian Hyde

typealice



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

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

Missing Parts [Guest Column - Stepping Back]


Missing Parts

"One sees clearly only with the heart.
Anything essential is invisible to the eyes."

-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, Le Petit Prince

When your physical appearance changes against your will, like scarring or losing a limb, is it considered body modification? I’m not just talking about accidentally slicing your finger open while cutting a watermelon, or burning your arm on a stove rack, but rather, severe circumstances like what happened to Ella Earp-Lynch (IAM:ella), who was burned by a pot of boiling water at age four, or to Amina Munster (IAM:Amina Munster) who had her leg amputated and the tips of her fingers fall off as a consequence of nearly drowning before the age of two.

Ella, who has scarring on nearly a third of her entire body, says that she absolutely considers what has happened to her as body modification. And why? “The disingenuous answer would be to say, ‘because my body is modified from the way it originally was, it’s different from the way it was at birth’.



Amina and Ella

But I can also say that I first started thinking of my scars as body modification when I began to see the beauty in them, and to feel that having them made me more, rather than less attractive.”

These women interpret their experiences in very different ways. Ella showcases her modifications, and even highlights them with Dremel and scalpel scarification and branding. This decision was easy for her, and began when her friend, “a scarificationist, mentioned that he thought that the small scar on my left shoulder looked like a bird, specifically, like a Chinese phoenix, and said that he would like to try and “bring it out” with a technique he had been experimenting with using a Dremel tool to
abrade the skin. This started me thinking, and I realized that herein lay the solution to my problem — I had always wanted further mods but had had a hard time figuring out how to incorporate tattoos with my extensive scars.”

“Another part of what I like about my current project (of modifying/outlining my existing scars and eventually mirroring their outlines on the other side of my body with more conventional scarifications) is that I feel it reflects my attitude towards my scars more accurately to the average person, and makes it easier for them to see what I see.”

Amina, on the other hand, hides her “modifications” both in real life and online, where she is an active and popular Suicide Girl.

She debuted on SuicideGirls.com in late December 2002, and she has never shown her missing leg or fingers in any of her photos. She’s fairly heavily tattooed, has a gold tooth and breast implants, all of which she considers mods, but does not consider her “missing parts” body modification. She believes that in order to classify something as body modification, it needs to be an intentional act.

Why the gray area? Intentional amputations happen, accidental amputations certainly happen more often — but when is it considered body modification? Is it simply in the eye of the beholder?

I decided to interview Amina to find out what it is exactly that stops her from classifying the accidental changes to her body as “body modification.”


Amina Munster

BME:
What happened to your leg and your fingers?

AMINA:
When I was seventeen month old I was left home with a babysitter because I had a fever. Instead of the babysitter watching over me and my five year old sister, she decided to call her friends and invite them over for a pool party. Believing that I could swim, I left the playroom, went outside, stacked up laundry baskets to climb over the pool gate and jumped in the spa that the babysitter had been heating up for her friends. The babysitter never found me, my next door neighbor heard my sister screaming at the spa. It was the neighbor who took me out of the water and called the paramedics.

My leg was lost due to loss of circulation and oxygen. My right leg was amputated below the knee. My fingers were left to fall off by themselves. When I was sent home, the tips of my fingers were black and dead. The tips gradually fell off by themselves. Resulting from this accident I am missing a quarter of my right leg, the tips of all five fingers on my right hand and half of my right lung.

BME:
Did anything happen to the babysitter? Was she charged with any criminal acts?

AMINA:
My parent’s home owners insurance paid for the hospital bills and a hefty settlement. My parents decided not to sue anyone. When I turned eighteen, I was told by my parents that I had the option to sue anyone I wanted including my parents, the babysitter, the hospital, or the babysitter’s parents considering that she was seventeen at the time of the accident. I decided to not sue anyone; the accident happened so long ago, isn’t the expression let dead dogs lie?



Amina’s black fingertips before they eventually fell off, and her amputated leg.

BME:
Why did you become a Suicide Girl?

AMINA:
Honestly, I have loved models and modeling since I can remember. I grew up looking at the Varga girls and 50’s style pin ups. Suicide Girls was like a breath of fresh air to me. I thought that it was amazing to find a place where girls were considered beautiful and had piercings and tattoos. I became a Suicide Girl just to try something different and I will never regret it.

BME:
Why did you decide not to show your leg or your fingers in your photographs?

AMINA:
When I had originally applied to Suicide Girls years ago I decided to keep the leg, or lack there of, a secret. I felt that SG would not accept me to be a model if they knew I was an amputee. Throughout the years it has gotten difficult to keep coming up with creative ways to cover my prosthetic leg, however, I still have not been able to shoot the mermaid set that I have dreamt about.

BME:
Who takes your photos for SG?

AMINA:
Currently all of the sets that I have up on Suicide Girls were shot by a friend and Missy, the owner of SG. However, recently I was able to shoot two sets with Steve Prue, who I greatly adore.

BME:
Did your photographers try to convince you to show your leg?

AMINA:
I have worked with many photographers and I have never felt pressured to show my leg. I did recently take a series of photos displaying the temporary prosthetic leg, but that was at my request. I love this leg because you can see the insides, it looks bionic.


Her leg and fingers are always hidden in her pictures for Suicide Girls

BME:
Are you planning on showing the online public that you have amputations?

AMINA:
Right now I am wearing a temporary prosthetic leg. My other leg is currently getting airbrushed at the Hart and Huntington Tattoo studio in the Palms Hotel and Casino, they have an A&E show called “Inked” that covers the daily activities of the tattoo shop. My leg and I will be featured on that show. I honestly do not know what the artist is airbrushing on the leg other than a big Virgin Mary on the calf. After I have received the completed leg and have finished filming for ‘Inked’ I will be shooting a set for Suicide Girls exposing the airbrushed prosthesis. It will be the first time that it will be shown on Suicide Girls that I am an amputee. Should be interesting.

BME:
Is the airbrushing just for the photo shoot or will the paint stay on the leg permanently?

AMINA:
The leg is getting airbrushed to look like traditional tattoo work. The paint will permanently stay on the leg and I think I may mount it in a glass box when I am no longer able to wear it. I’ve had plans for many months now to expose the leg on Suicide Girls, I just thought it would be cool to show it looking tattooed. The artist and I both decided on traditional art work, very Sailor Jerry…but with no swallows or flames. I left the majority up to him.

BME:
Do you have any fears about the people’s reactions?

AMINA:
To tell you the truth, the general public on SG may not know about my prosthesis, but it is certainly not a secret. Rumors fly over that website all the time, people like to talk. Even many girls whom I consider to be good friends still feel the need to tell members or anyone interested in SG that I am an amputee. It is truly funny that when peoples own lives stop being interesting that they choose to talk about someone else.

When it is finally shown to the SG community that I am an amputee, I really expect for most people to be shocked. I hope that it will show them that people with missing parts are beautiful too. I really don’t expect outrage, but I’m sure I will get the occasional ‘that’s gross’ comment.

It’s very hard to offend me, as I’ve heard it all before.

BME:
So far, what has been the feedback on your presence on SG?

AMINA:
I have met many girls off of SG who are now some of my best friends. I even met one of my tattoo artists off of SG, he agreed to tattoo me in exchange for three of my baby prosthetics. Naturally I am considerably popular on Suicide Girls due to my many tattoos and the fact that I show my boobies. But I am unsure if
that will all change when my amputations are exposed.

BME:
What brought you to
BME?

AMINA:
A friend and fellow Suicide Girl, Twwly told me about BME, I checked it out and fell in love.

BME:
How long have you been tattooed?

AMINA:
My first tattoo, if I remember correctly, would have to be the Winnie the Pooh outline on the inside of my left ankle. This tattoo was done when I was 15 in my bedroom by my first boyfriend. Of course at such a young age we did not have a tattoo machine and instead used a safety pin. This tattoo has been left untouched all these years as a reminder of my first love.

Since then I have been tattooed by many talented artists including Eric Maaske, Tim Kern, Tim Hendricks, Jim Miner and Chummy. I started getting real artwork by established artists when I was seventeen. I walked into Classic Tattoo in Fullerton, CA with my court papers proving that I was an emancipated teen and Eric Maaske agreed to work on me. My first tattoo on my arm was a pirate girl with a peg leg, some think it to be a self portrait.

BME:
Is it actually a self-portrait?

AMINA:
Technically it isn’t, but I did have her peg leg be on the right side to match mine.


Chest Piece by Tim Kern

BME:
Does being an amputee impact your decision to get tattoos? Do you have any tattoos relating to your amputations?

AMINA:
The only tattoo that I currently have directly relating to my amputations is the Pirate girl by Eric Maaske on my right arm. But I do have future plans for more. When I began getting tattoos on my arm I placed all of them on my left arm thinking that it would take attention away from the right side of my body. It would be a sham if I didn’t admit that. It worked, and when I shook hands with someone they would be so preoccupied with the tattoos covering my left arm that they wouldn’t notice the missing fingers on the hand that they were shaking. Since then I have moved on to tattoo my left arm and chest, and I am no longer trying to cover up my disability with tattoos.

I have found that other people with ‘missing parts’ tried to do the same, so it is not uncommon.

BME:
Do you consider your amputations as “body modification” as they weren’t intentional?

AMINA:
Since my missing parts were not intentional I do not consider them ‘body modification.’

I think modification would have to do with the direct and intentional act of modifying something. Ha, I didn’t intentionally modify my leg, it just kind of fell off. I would, however, consider my white gold tooth as a modification. Although I did not intentionally knock it out, I did choose to replace it with white gold and not a replica of the latter, and unlike most people, I do consider my breast implants to be a modification.

BME:
How did you loose your tooth?

AMINA:
I blame losing that fucker on the leg. I have such bad balance. I was very intoxicated in San Francisco back in April of 2004 I drank some liquor that I will refer to as ‘the devil’ at the Budda Bar. As soon as last call hit, I traveled out onto the street and attempted to walk off of a curb. My attempt was ill fated. I fell flat on my face busting my lip and eye, and knocking out my front #10 tooth at the gum line.

BME:
Why did you choose to replace it with white gold?

AMINA:
The second that I was informed by three different dentists that the tooth replacement was going to set me back a whopping $3,000 bucks I knew that I wasn’t going to get a replica of what I had just knocked out. It turns out that if you knock out just one tooth at the gum line that you have no other alternative than to get a single dental implant, so I got the white gold as a treat to myself. Plus I find frontal gold teeth on men very, very sexy; I just don’t know more than one guy who has them. Bring on the men with gold teeth!

BME:
Any specific or unique reason why you wanted breast implants?

AMINA:
Not to be too blunt, but I love boobies and I love breast implants. Add that to the fact that I was as flat as a twelve year old boy. I got them June 4th of 1999, and still no regrets.



Unintentional vs the Intentional

BME:
What kind of feedback have you gotten from IAM members?

AMINA:
I have had nothing but pleasant encounters with fellow BME members. I do get a lot of questions about how I lost my leg and fingers, but that’s just natural curiosity. I guess I should have an explanation somewhere on my page, but I don’t want my missing parts to define who I am. I don’t want someone to visit my page and just see information about my leg, there is much more to me than that.

BME:
Do you find real life people more accepting than online people, or vice versa?

AMINA:
The only place that I have shown my prosthesis online is on BME. Since I usually wear pants and never have my leg exposed in real life, I do not really know what the general public’s reactions would be. Other than some people noticing that I may be limping a little one particular day, it is rare that any one would ever think that I have one leg. I have never had a problem finding lovers, most men just don’t care. Although I do have that ‘Deuce Bigelow’ fear of not telling a man beforehand that my leg is a prosthesis and then watching it fall off in his hands. Now that I think about it, my friends and I have played many jokes similar to that one on unsuspecting targets.

BME:
Why do you keep it a secret?

AMINA:
If you’ve done something for so many years it just becomes routine. I would be delusional if I ever thought that my lack of a right leg could ever be considered a secret. My story seems to be something that people like to tell at cocktail parties. More often than not, when I meet someone that knows anyone that I do, they already know of my amputations. I kept it a secret on Suicide Girls possibility to be accepted or just to be one of the girls. Instead of Amina the amputee, I am just Amina. I wear pants daily because it is simply less of a hassle. Although online I could write a story and paste it on my profile that will hinder repetitive questions, I cannot walk around daily with the story taped to my chest. I will be showing it soon on Suicide Girls because I can no longer remember any reason to keep it hidden. It is what I am and ultimately makes me who I am.

BME:
What do you think of people who intentionally amputate their fingers or other body parts?

AMINA:
I will not ever say that it is disgusting or gross or that I do not understand it. Since I was a child I have wanted to amputate one of my toes, not because I would like how it looks but for more aesthetic purposes. I’ve always hated that my toes touch, as everybody’s toes do. I just always figured that by eliminating that one toe between my middle toe and my pinkie toe that the problem would be resolved. So I myself have considered voluntary amputation. I’m sure most people do it for different reasons, like cutting the bad parts out or eliminating something you prefer to be without. I know someone that voluntarily amputated a body part and to this day I still do not know the reasons that person had. But it was their choice, not a common or accepted choice, but a choice that person is very happy with.

If I had two legs would I prefer to have one amputated? No, never. I would never wish that upon someone who did not wish it upon themselves. Why? Simply because it is a hard existence. Not just because of the jokes, ridicule, stares or innocent questions, as that could not possibly be any less of
a concern for me. But the physical technicalities are so hard and unending.

I’ve had to learn to walk fourteen times in my life, my prosthesis cost up to $20,000, and if I decided to drop some weight for health reasons, I have to get another leg. The shape of the stump changes with every couple pounds I lose. Since May of 2002 I have lost twenty-one pounds. However, I have only had two legs in that time. Some days my leg will be black and blue from walking, some days I can’t walk. Sometimes I wish that I could walk for more than eight minutes without giving my leg a rest. My knee is half the size as my other knee due to atrophy, very similar to the Chinese women who wrap their feet, and my knee never had the chance to grow beyond a juvenile’s size. Sometimes I envision my bone growing through the end of my stump as it did twice when I was younger. Also, because I am currently without health insurance, and if it were not for my Prosthetist being a good friend of mine, I’m sure that right now I would be without a prosthesis.

I have heard the saying “God only gives you what he thinks you can handle” many times. And if I believed in God I think I could find some peace in that.


* * *

Certainly, if I break a fingernail or get a bruise on my leg, I would not consider it body modification nor body art. I guess, ultimately, it’s up to the people who have unintentionally injured their bodies to classify any changes as “body modification” or not. Regardless of whether it’s by choice or accident, these girls’ bodies are different than what they’re supposed to be. Everything after that is left up to interpretation. Who really needs the labels anyway?

- Gillian Hyde
typealice


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

Online presentation copyright © 2005 BMEzine.com LLC. Picture of Ella by Warren Baird. Front page picture of Amina taken by Steve Prue. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online February 9th, 2005 by BMEzine.com LLC from La Paz, Mexico.

Mothers with Mods [Guest Column - Stepping Back]

  

Mothers with Mods

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

- Frederick Douglas

The image of what a Mother is has drastically changed in the past fifty years. Many years ago, mothers only wore dresses, stayed home to rear the children and take care of their husbands. Then they began to get jobs, laws passed to allow women to get paid the same wage as men, women even started loving other women in public!

   
Monica Beyer (IAM:Orinda)

Now it’s commonplace for mothers to not have husbands, to never wear dresses… and some… some have tattoos! Piercings! The shame! How can they be good role models for their children? What a terrible disgrace! What has the world come to?

Obviously this point of view isn’t shared by everyone, but is still dominant in our society. Everyone who has visible modifications has probably, at some point, been discriminated against, or at least been stereotyped by someone unmodified. Is it worse for a pregnant woman who has visible modifications?

A social shift in what is acceptable and unacceptable is currently underway, and we’re never going to be able to please everyone. Modified mothers and fathers can be equally fit parents as someone without modifications; tattoos and piercings don’t automatically lower someone’s intelligence or make them abusive. Pregnant women or mothers toting around children have enough to worry about, the last thing they need is to justify their lifestyle to those who don’t understand.

Monica Beyer (IAM:Orinda), a successful entrepreneur who owns and operates SigningBaby.com and SigningBabyShop.com, has created a forum for members of IAM to discuss anything and everything they want to while pregnant. She initially started the forum because she couldn’t find anywhere else online where she really fit in. After two failed attempts (they just didn’t catch on) at the forum, she now has 141 members who actively participate in topics ranging from nipple piercings to circumcision to labor. It is a closed forum, so those of us who aren’t pregnant are not allowed to join in the conversation, however anyone who is pregnant is welcome to participate, but you will have to contact Monica in order to view the forum, of course.

Initially, the forums were public, but because of some unforeseen drama (one member used what was said in the forums against other members in order to tarnish their reputation and to ultimately hurt their feelings) and excessive posts by members who weren’t pregnant, Monica decided to make them private. She wanted to keep the forum a “safe place where people can feel free to talk about whatever they want to talk about.” She and other members didn’t think it was necessary to involve people who didn’t have anything worthwhile to contribute. It is a place for support, understanding and the ins and outs of becoming a mother.


Monica’s eggwarrior tattoos
Left one designed by Corbin (age 5), right by Dagan (age 8)
BME:  How long have you been with BME?
MONICA:  I started my original IAM page in February of 2001.
BME:  Can you briefly explain what SigningBaby.com is about?
MONICA:  Well, when Corbin (my middle child) was a young baby I saw a news report on television about a mom who signed with her child, and I wanted to learn more. I bought a book and started signing with him at eleven months, and a month later, when he started signing back, I was hooked. There was an unusual lack of information on the web about signing with babies so I decided to start a website about it. It has had tons of different looks but the goal has always been the same — to share basic information about baby sign language and showcase photos of signing babies (including mine)…
At around the same time I quit my job in late 2003 I was approached by a company who offered to sell me their products at a discount and I would then be able to sell them online and make money by doing so. What a novel concept! The Signing Baby Shop started out with about two books and two videos and I had to learn “on the job” how to start a business, collect sales tax, get a merchant account, get my money out of the merchant account, and have great customer service. It’s been over a year now and I think that I’ve worked out all the kinks but there are always a few situations that come up that I’ve never had before.
BME:  Have your mods or your babies had more of an influence on the decision to start your forums? Or has it been a little of both?
MONICA:  The forums were inspired simply because I was pregnant.
BME:  What are some of the topics covered?
MONICA:  Anything and everything. Recent topics include: size of bellies, insurance issues, job loss, location of kicks, throwing up, veganism, La Leche League meetings. Other recent topics: circumcision, labor, prostaglandins in semen, artificial prostaglandins being made of pig semen, birth, nipple piercings, squirting breast milk, necessity of induction, c-sections, pelvic organ prolapse, epidurals, drug-free labor, recovery, stitches, and sex.
Circumcision is an extremely hot topic. It never goes over well. You might be surprised to hear that quite a few parents in my forums feel that circumcision is not a problem. Many of us (me included) feel that it is an involuntary surgical body modification that should not be done on a non-consenting minor. But an alarmingly large number of parents feel that they should do it so their son “looks like dad” or so they won’t be embarrassed in the locker room. I never thought I would hear a person in this community saying something like that. After all, how concerned are we with “fitting in” with the rest of society?
BME:  Do you know of any medical professionals that take part in any of the conversations?
MONICA:  To my knowledge, none.
BME:  What is your favorite topic discussed on the forums?
MONICA:  I really like talking about myself. It’s true! The pregnancy forum of course is full of pregnant women and since I have been pregnant three times I enjoy sharing my experiences. I’m not sure if I will ever grow tired of telling my birth stories. It’s kind of like, “Wow, I did that, it hurt more than anything else I have ever experienced, and I lived, and I’m going to share the details.” I doubt that it is simply me that feels that way either. I think most pregnant women end their birth experience with a need to share it.


Monica and Lauren
BME:  When pregnant, what was some of the feedback from friends, family and strangers about your modifications? Did people see you as being too immature to be a parent (opinions based strictly on their physical appearance)?
MONICA:  It is sometimes hard to read how people are reacting to you — I was 21 when I had my first baby and was condescended too often by people outside of my family, including medical personnel. Was it because of my age? My lack of a wedding ring? Or my tattoos? The more babies I had and the older I got and the more married I became, the more respect I seemed to garner, even though I was considerably more tattooed during my third pregnancy than my first.
My mother had major issues with my getting tattooed at age eighteen. I’ll never forget visiting her at work (first pregnancy) wearing a sleeveless maternity top, and she was horrified that I was exposing tattoo work to her co-workers. I was embarrassed and humiliated. She never made judgments about parenting, but her feelings seemed to be very apparent and hurt me quite easily. This is also something I’ve seemed to outgrow — I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I no longer care or she’s grown used to them (after twelve years I should hope so).
Now — I have had a recent experience with a medical professional that still makes me quite angry, and it’s not directly related to pregnancy or being a mom, but it is a result of having babies. I am having difficulties due to childbirth and I went to see a local physician. You realize that in an OB/GYN examination room you are pretty much naked and vulnerable and at the mercy of the person examining you. This woman walks in and starts feeling my tattooed skin, saying how fascinated she was with it and other meaningless nonsense, which was extremely irritating to me because I am undressed and need an answer. She proceeds to tell me that I will regret “all of this” when I am eighty and did I know how it would look then?
Mostly the reactions I get are grounded in curiosity or surprise. I have had two epidurals and one spinal block. These are anesthesia given through the back and I have a large tattoo on that portion of my body. The first doctor didn’t say a thing (it was the spinal block and I had a c-section so it was a more serious situation). The second doctor, a man from India, immediately starting asking all sorts of questions. Keep in mind that the tattoo is of a Hindu god and I am in deep labor and I wanted the epidural quite badly and also I couldn’t say a damn thing because I was having back-to-back contractions. The man is asking, “So, did you get this done in California? What made you get this? Wow…” and I was not answering any of his questions. The third doctor was really pleasant and he made the typical medical joke that “I must not be afraid of needles so this shouldn’t be too bad.” In that case I was also in seriously hard labor and was spraying amniotic fluid out with each contraction so I wasn’t talking then either.


Monica at 26 and 27 weeks

BME:  Is there anything you’d like to tell the people that scoff at you for being modified? Now’s your time to vent.
MONICA:  If you would have asked me this question ten years ago or even five years ago I would have been able to write volumes. I’m not sure if this is an attribute that comes with age or not but I no longer get negative comments on what work I have on my body. Stupid comments (stuff like “Hey, I like your tatties, look here at my asshole-baring Daffy Duck!”) are probably going to be omnipresent in my life, but I can’t remember the last time someone said something publicly negative about my body. I seem to get more respect now and I’m not totally sure why — is it my age, like I said, or is it the pack of kids I bring out with me?
Also, I also have developed the ability to be far less offended when confronted with stupidity. I don’t feel the need to justify myself any more. I used to have a big spiel on my IAM page about being a college graduate and having a ‘professional’ job (I worked for a college for two years). I don’t any more. I do care what other people think to some extent but I don’t feel I have to prove my worth over and over again. My justification comes from my kids. They are the biggest reflection of me as a person.
BME:  What do you think is the general consensus about the new parent’s child growing up and wanting tattoos and piercings?
MONICA:  I will happily accompany my children at age eighteen to make sure that the tattoo studio they choose is a high-quality one with high-quality artists (an advantage I definitely didn’t have). Same goes for any piercings they might want. I will agree with whatever local laws dictate as long as my children have demonstrated personal cleanliness and I know they will give their piercing the attention it needs.


IAM:Keebie meets Lauren at the KC Bowl Fest BME BBQ.
BME:  Do you think it’s possible that tattoos and piercings will go “out of style” by the time your children are adults, and they’re going to be embarrassed of the work you’ve gotten done to your body? If this happens, how will you deal with it?
MONICA:  I’m sure that my children will not always think I am 100% cool like they do now, regardless of if I was modified or not. I think most kids go through the “mom’s a dork” phase and refuse to be seen in public with her. My nine-year-old son was thrilled with my latest tattoo project (he thought it was a Pokemon) and I wonder how long he will be excited about things like that. I may be wrong and he may always think I am cool but perhaps not.
I started getting modified before it was as popular as it is now (twelve years ago) and will continue to do so. And if the kids think I am a dummy or a freak of course there isn’t anything I can do about it. I don’t believe I will regret any of my tattoo work.
BME:  Has becoming a parent changed your point of view on mods?
MONICA:  I can’t say that it has.
I still feel the need to get modified and I have so many plans to do so.
BME:  Do you feel that being modified makes you a stronger mother?
MONICA:  I think the lessons I learned as a youth (once I began getting modified at age eighteen) make me a stronger person in general. I learned that you cannot please everybody, that no matter what I personally do I will always be viewed a little bit differently, and I learned to take comments (rude or constructive) in stride. When you are a mother you are put on display almost instantly, and once your child goes to school you have others rating your parenting skills. It’s overwhelming. But having been through a period of time where I was treated differently for the way I looked definitely made me a stronger person.
BME:  How do modifications affect mothers in their post-partum state? Do you see a lot of people getting tattooed or pierced to make them feel better after having the baby?
MONICA:  I think that getting modified any time makes one feel so much better (for me that is true!), but when you spend nine months not getting tattooed or pierced it can be something you think about quite often and when you finally get something done you feel almost normal again, like you’ve regained your body. I had to interrupt my half-sleeve and was quite dissatisfied about that. But the first session out of my pregnancy was amazing.
BME:  Can you elaborate on why it felt amazing?
Was it better than any other time you were tattooed?
MONICA:  I constantly crave getting tattooed, and abstaining for nine-plus months was a really intense period of time. It’s not all I thought about, of course, but I did have several dreams about getting worked on and when I was able to continue work on the interrupted project it was better than ever. For those nine months I felt incomplete (as far as tattoos go).
During the other two pregnancies it was very different. I didn’t have a major tattoo project pending.
BME:  Do you think that the image of what a mother is has changed in the past fifty years?
MONICA:  I think the image and attitude of women in general has changed as well as the image of mothers. My grandmother was the typical woman and mother of the 50’s. She stayed at home with the children and waited on her husband. I stay at home with my children too but the situation is entirely different. I refuse to succumb to the “mothers are martyrs” attitude — that you must sacrifice everything for the good of your family. I’m not saying that I never sacrifice — I do it daily — but I refuse to give up the idea of me.
I know there are those who would prefer for women to do it all regarding the home and the childcare, but husbands and partners are expected to pitch in more and more. When my husband brings up the point that I am a stay-at-home-mom and the house should be clean, I bring up the point that when I worked full-time I still had to do most of the housework and childcare.
It’s been quite a challenge to change his way of thinking — his mother was also a waitress on his family — but we are slowly coming around. After all, it’s not just my home and children! I don’t think it is too much to expect a full-grown man to throw away his freaking dirty napkins or put his dishes in the dishwasher, or to bring the laundry up or down the stairs because I have a lifting restriction.
Single moms are probably the most maligned group of parents. If a single dad (or married for that matter) goes to the grocery store to buy food and has his child with him, he is hailed as a goddamned hero, but take a single mother who is trying to better her situation by going to college or who works full-time and they can be treated like they are less than a mother. I have been one — I know how it is.

Lauren, Corbin, and Dagan

It’s hard enough to deal with society on a day-to-day basis, but throw in morning sickness, weight gain and water retention and you may be dealing with a hormonal monster! Give the girl a break!

We are an ever-changing society, and the image of what a Mother is will likely be completely different by the time the children of the mothers of this generation start having babies. We’re constantly breaking ground — it’s a very exciting time to be having kids, and with the support from other modified mothers and fathers, it’s getting easier and easier.

- Gillian Hyde   (iam:typealice)


Gillian Hyde is a Canadian writer with a passion for design, ocean, travel, and fonts. If you enjoyed this article, be sure to also read her journal, This Was My Gambia about five months spent teaching in The Gambia.

Online presentation copyright © 2005 BMEzine.com LLC. A number of the photographs in this article are © 2004 Sam Lerner. Requests to republish must be confirmed in writing. For bibliographical purposes this article was first published online January 10th, 2005 by BMEzine.com LLC from La Paz, Mexico.