body modification

Piercing and tattoos are the acceptable face of body modification - but things can get far more extreme in the underground world of 'bodmods'
Simone Dill tracks down the Camden girl who speaks with forked tongue

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The body is the physical link between ourselves, our soul and the outside world. Not suprising then that In the last 30 years our society has experienced an increased interest in body modification - or that we have seen a correspondingly huge rise in the permanent or semi-permanent marking of the body through piercing and tattoos.

But these days, body modification also includes branding, cutting, binding and inserting implants.

In Camden there is a high concentration of body-modifiers. Whilst some people see it as a normal fashion statement, others apply a deeper meaning to it. A body modification could be part of a ritual, a sign of spirituality, higher consciousness, sexuality or pure aesthetics.

Some people think that these ‘freaks’ suffer the pain of their modifications for reasons of mental illness, self-hatred, traumatic past childhood experiences or just to seek attention. Certainly there is the shock value but most of them want to express a more profound meaning. In an era with fast changing technology, heavy influences of media, medical revolution and changing social values, body-modifiers say what they do is simply an evolution and an inevitable progression in ways of expressing themselves.

Ami, 33, is heavily pierced and tattooed. She works as a tattooist in Brighton. She has sixteen piercings - including flesh tunnels. But she is also one of the few people who has undertaken a further step into body modification. She has three transdermal implants on her forehead and applied horns on two of them. The implants are a disc under the skin with a connection through the skin which the horns can be attached to - almost like 'popper studs' on clothes.

For her it is a symbol of aesthetics and her chosen way of expressing herself. On the other hand, it reflects her interest into tribalism, Wicca and a spiritual way of going back to the primitive human consciousness as well as being close to nature.

You might wonder why this expresses closeness to nature. But the decoration of bodies dates far back to early African and American tribes, where it was an expression of social status and sexuality. Ami said, that she is half Indian but never met her father. She felt that she is now discovering a part of her life, which she didn’t know - the culture of India.

The implants were made in Finland by Samppa, a well-known experienced piercer. Whilst the implants were done, she had a local anaesthetic and a professional doctor was assisting. The skin layer has been separated and the jewellery pushed through three holes made for each piece. The procedure took one and a half hour and would cost average £100 per implant.

After the splitting is fully healed, the person is even able to move
both sides separately and pick up small objects with a pincer
movement using both 'tongues'

Body modification can be motivated by futuristic vision and thinking. Science fiction inspired AJ.

She is proud of her 31 piercing including 13 millimetres flesh tunnels. Her whole appearance: the hair, the piercing and fashion style expresses her philosophy of life. Her statement might confuse some people, but if we didn’t have people like her with a vision of the future, where would we be today?

“I am really into robots and androids, almost into believing I am one. When I was a kid I remember reading magazines and articles about the future in the year 2000 and what it would be like, everybody dressed in silver shiny stuff surrounded by weird shapes and advanced technology. I got excited and couldn’t wait till the future because I wanted life to be like that. But now the future is here and no one is living it.

"My philosophy includes not ever doing drugs, and I neither drink nor smoke. I love being who I am and I love dancing. I have never needed artificial stimulation because I am a happy person and like to express that.”

AJ has just recently decided to do a very unusual modification to her body - a tongue splitting.

She says the procedure of splitting a tongue can be safely done within 20 minutes. The tongue is cut down the centre - obviously done by a professional body modification expert (although it is not easy to find one prepared to do it as some legal experts says splitting someone's tongue is actually illegal). The tongue usually heals fully in a few weeks. AJ says: "It doesn’t even affect taste and eating". After the splitting is fully healed, the person is even able to move both sides separately and pick up small objects with a pincer movement using both 'tongues'.

As AJ says, it is an amazing improvement sexually to open up sensation to herself and to her partner.

Now the obvious question: Does it hurt? “Don’t ask me if it hurt," she says. "When they did it, I was so high on adrenalin that I really couldn’t tell you. But afterwards? Well it was agony for three weeks.”

What kind of reaction do you get from people? “When you have one or two body modifications, you get loads of questions all about the same thing, but the more stuff you have, the more you get approached with questions about everything. People ask ‘Are these spikes screwed into your head? Or ‘ How did you get your eyes like that? (She is wearing contact lenses). I like to wind up tourists and answer, 'yes I drilled the holes myself and nearly bled to death and yes, I have my eyes tattooed.’

In general people stare at me but I don’t care, but I hate people who imply I do this for the attention. No, No, No maybe when someone starts out as a freak for the first time, for a few months they will quite enjoy the stares and find them flattering. But after a while most people get sick of it and either grow out of it or carry on regardless. I carried on with my image creation project to an extreme. I don’t like being gawped at or yelled at, but I don’t mind being appreciated, because it is not about the attention, it is about the art and who I am and my private motives behind it all.”

One of the most interesting new areas of body modification is plastic surgery for men - which is really taking off throughout Britain and is allowing men as well as women to take part in the body modification movement.

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