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Extreme Body Modification

By July 27, 2009

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I love the Discovery channel. It opens doors to worlds I wouldn't have otherwise seen. More to the point, it opens my mind to different ways of thinking and viewing the world around me.

Last night's mind-opening program was dedicated to the practice of "extreme body modification". To be honest, if I saw any of the featured guests in real life, I would most likely be shocked and dismayed. These people had transdermal (under the skin) implants in the shape of horns added to the tops of their heads. They had tongues split in two by way of the scalpel. They submitted themselves to burning and cutting in the name of bodily adornment with decorative scars. They had every inch of face and body tattooed and pierced so as to be virtually unrecognizable as human skin.

Then a funny thing happened as the show went on. I got to thinking about my own topic of plastic surgery. How are breast implants (or chin implants or cheek implants) any different from transdermal horns? How are pierced lips (and eyebrows and foreheads and cheeks) different from pierced ears? Why is marking the body by cutting or burning any different from marking the body with tattoos (except in that there is more risk for serious injury)?

The obvious answer is that we're more used to the latter. In the case of breast implants vs. transdermal horns, I suppose it's because breast implants seek to imitate nature whereas horns create something not seen in nature (at least not in humans). When you compare tattooing like that pictured above to cosmetic tattooing (called micropigmentation), does one qualify as art while the other is merely artifice? Is one or the other any better or worse? Why are body modifiers labeled as extremists while nose jobs and boob jobs have become commonplace graduation presents?

Before I wax too philosophical, let me get to the part that I couldn't get past: If one is being burned, cut into with a scalpel, and/or having foreign objects inserted underneath the skin, shouldn't the person performing the procedure be a licensed medical professional?

I was surprised and disturbed to hear during the program that no medical license was required to perform what certainly seemed to me to be a form of surgery. Of course, I realize most locales require some sort of licensing and education for body art practitioners, but I would think that transdermal implants, tongue-splitting procedures, and eyeball tattooing (yes, you read that right) go well beyond the scope of a tattooist or piercer's license.

Am I wrong? Do you think that licensed tattoo artists and/or body piercing practitioners should be allowed to perform these types of procedures? If not, do you think that there would be medical doctors who would be willing to perform them? Should there be special licenses required to perform the more invasive types of body modifications (ones which require extended medical education and training internships, much like medical doctors)?

See plastic surgery before and after photos.

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discussion in the plastic surgery forum.

March 11, 2010 at 8:26 pm
(1) Mario says:

I totally agree with you, complex procedures such as implants, bisections, ophthalmic procedures, etc.. should be performed by a licensed medical professional, consequences of inexperience or lack of knowledge in human anatomy and physiology could be pretty bad.

regarding the interest of medical professionals, I can tell you that I’m a recently graduated medical doctor, with a considerable interest in applying my knowledge to the body-modification scene and interested in performing the techniques described, I have to say that none of my university classmates/colleagues share this interest however so apparently it is pretty infrequent. there is however a tattoo/piercing saloon that a couple of dentists opened up a couple of years ago in my city called “medical body art”…

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