Common Misconceptions in the world of Body Modification

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So I have come across a lot of people lately who lack a great deal of knowledge about piercings/body modifications and now a days it’s more common to have people say they know certain things when, in fact, they do not.

There are a lot of misconceptions about body modifications and I will clear some of them up.

  • DO NOT for ANY reason, if you are doing an “at home” piercing, put ice on the spot you will be piercing. Your skin gets tense when it’s cold which will result in the piercing being MUCH more painful than if you were to not ice it. You know how when you stub your toes when they are cold and it hurts a lot more? That’s kind of how it is. HOWEVER, there are some instances where you can ice a piercing and that is afterwards. Icing, for example, a tongue piercing after you get it pierced reduces inflammation and swelling.
  • If you think just because you’ve never had a piercing get infected before does not mean any piercings you will get after those won’t get infected. Every single cut/scrape/wound you make on your body has the potential to get infected, whether you take good care of it or not. It all depends on the after care and the sanitation of the objects used during the piercing(ex. jewelry, the piercers hands, the needle..).
  • A lot of people think that getting pierced with a gun is quicker and simpler than getting it done at a shop with a needle but that is definitely NOT true. A professional piercer would NEVER use a gun as it is very damaging to your skin tissue and can increase the chance of infection by a lot.
  • I’ve heard of lot of people say that rotating your jewelry during the healing process helps. That is not true. Doing so essentially destroys all the gentle healing tissue and brings dirt and grime into the open wound. NEVER touch your jewelry while it’s healing. You should only touch it when you are cleaning it.
  • And lastly, do not over clean your piercing. A lot of people will say “If it gets infected, just clean it a whole bunch!” and that, unfortunately, never works. It causes a lot more irritation and makes the infection a lot worse. People who end up doing that eventually have to seek medical attention. Not all infections get that bad though.

In the body modification world the acronym L.I.T.H.A is used a lot. Which means, Leave It The Hell Alone! When modifying your body, you should always spend the time to research whatever you are planning to get done, find a good shop/person who is hygienic and knows what they are doing, and never rush something.

Tightlacing

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Also called corset/waist training, tightlacing is the practice of wearing a tightly laced corset to achieve cosmetic modifications to the figure and posture or to experience the sensation of bodily restriction.  Most frequently, tightlacing is done to achieve a more slim waist and depending on the desired look you want, it can also change the shape of the rib cage.

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This is a modern day tightlacing corset. This woman’s waist measures at a circumference of 16 inches.

 

Corsets were worn my both men and women, but never really because popular until the 16th century and they weren’t used for tightlacing. They were worn to achieve a slimmed cylindrical shape, although it did slim the waist a bit. They had shoulder straps, ended at the waist and flattened the bust, which pushed up the breasts. The emphasis of the corset was not to slim the waist but the main focus was to show contrast between the rigid flatness of the bodice and the curving tops of the breasts kind of spewing out of the top of corset.

This corset was worn in the 18th century around 1730-1740.

This corset was worn in the 18th century around 1730-1740.

In the 1830’s, artificially inflated shoulders and big skirts became popular making the waist seem slimmer than when a corset was only moderately laced.  When the big shoulders and skirts died out achieving a slimmer waist involved lacing the corset much tighter. It was in the 1850’s and 1860’s that tightlacing was first recorded. It was just an ordinary fashion that was taken to an extreme. In that time, it was the wealthy woman who would tightlace to look more “fashionable” or for other occasions for display. Younger women would also be more likely to tightlace over an older woman.

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In the 1850’s, or Victorian era, the corset no longer ended at the waist, but ended several inches below the waist was exaggerated greatly around the waist giving a curvier silhouette rather than a cylindrical one. The Victorian corsets were also constructed better, being made out of spiral steel which stayed curved with the figure better.

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In the late years of the Victorian era, there were a lot of rumors spread about tightlacing being a detrimental to your health. It was also deemed that if you had a smaller waist is was more ugly than beautiful. Dress reformers strongly encouraged woman to “abandon the tyranny of stays and free their waists for work and healthy exercise”. Despite all the scares about tightlacing destroying your health and all the harrassment from the dress reformers, woman still continued to tightlace as long as it was fashionable.

By the early 1900’s, the “small waist” look had died but while they were no longer considered fashionable, some people still considered them to be “sexy” and corsets entered the underworld of the fetish. From the 1960’s to the 1990’s, fetish wear became very popular and brought the corset back. Corsets now are worn as a top garment rather than a undergarment and very few people now tightlace.

Modern day corset

Modern day corset.

 

Scarification

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Scarification is the scratching, etching, burning/branding, or superficially cutting  designs, pictures or words into the skin permanently. This process causes the skin to scar where the designs, pictures, etc have been cut/burned and some people will aggravate the wound to make the scar more prominent.

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In America, scarification is mainly done because it is a more extreme way of modifying the body and is considered more “out there” and “bizarre”. Scarification in other countries is usually not done specially for aesthetic reasons but as a right of passage, for religious or  for political reasons as well.  For example, in a West African tribe, scarification is used to mark specific milestones in both men and women’s lives such as puberty and marriage.

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Other reasons for scarification may include:

  • Scarification is more visible on darker skin than tattoos.
  • Endorphins can be released during this process inducing a euphoric state.
  • Scarring on the abdomen of women in many tribes symbolized their willingness to be a mother. The process of scarification proved that they can handle the pain of child  birth.
  • Most people who have “markings” in certain regions in Africa identify as belonging to specific tribe or ethnic group.
  • Some groups will use scarification to treat certain ailments such as measles, convulsions, pneumonia, and stomach pains. It is said that the cause of these ailments originated in the blood and so by cutting the skin in a ritualistic manner, it can cure these ailments.

Scarification is not a precise practice as every persons skin is different, and there are many different techniques that have been used to cause scarring in the skin.

Strike branding:

This process is similar to the way we brand livestock. A piece of metal is heated up and pressed against the skin to cause a burn. This type of scarification was historically used to show ownership in slaves or to punish criminals.

Cautery branding:

This form of branding is less common and uses a thermal cautery tool with a heated wire tip to cause the burns.

Laser branding: 

The term more commonly used is “electrosurgical branding” and was invented by Steve Haworth. This term refers not to the tool itself but rather an electrosurgical unit which uses electricity to cauterize and cut skin, similar to the way an arc welder works. An electric spark jumps from the hand-held pen of the device to the skin, vaporizing it. This procedure greatly reduced the pain and healing time of the branding method. Since it vaporizes the skin, it does no damage to the surrounding skin as opposed to cautery or strike branding.

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This is a disposable electrosurgical pen which is plugged into the electrosurgical unit.

Cold branding: 

This process uses the same metal rod with a design on the end as Strike branding but instead of heating it, it is frozen with liquid nitrogen. This method will cause the arms in the area of the burn will grow back white and will also not cause keloiding.

Cutting:

Cutting of the skin for cosmetic reasons should not be confused with self-harm. The lines are cut with surgical blades and  techniques have been used such as:

Ink Rubbing:

Tattoo ink his rubbed into the fresh paint. Most of the ink will stay in the skin as the wound heals and will have pretty much the same basic effect as a tattoo. Much like a tattoo, picking the scabs will pull the ink out.

Skin Removal/Skinning:

Cutting in a single line will create very thin scars so people would use this way as a way to create much thicker scars. You cut an outline of the skin you want to be removed and then simply peel it back.

Abrasion:

Scars can be formed by removing layers of skin through abrasion. You could do this by using an ink-less tattoo gun or any object that can remove skin through friction(ex. sandpaper).

 

You can touch up your scarification if the outcome isn’t what you wanted by doing a secondary scarification may be conducted.

There’s an alternative view, LITHA, or Leave It The Hell Alone . Meaning, not touching it makes the healing process by greatly decreasing risk of infection.

 

Transdermal vs microdermal transplants.

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Not a lot of people(in my experience), don’t know the different between a transdermal and a microdermal implant. While aesthetically they look similar, they are pretty different.


 

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For those who don’t know what transdermal or microdermal implants are, they are anchors implanted under the skin with a step sticking out of the surrounding skin where a ball or jewel can be screwed in. The top is interchangeable and can be changed after it’s healed completely.

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The picture above shows the shape of the microdermal jewelry and how it’s set in with a needle.


 

The microdermal implant jewelry has a foot shaped end on it which is what goes under the skin. Sometimes the “foot” will have holes in it to allow the skin to encompass the jewelry allowing it to heal and stay in the place better. The microdermal can be done two ways- with a regular needle or with a dermal punch.


 

The transdermal implant jewelry is flat at the bottom and circular, like so.

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The skin around it generally heals like a normal piercings and it’s done with a dermal punch. Unlike the mircodermal, the transdermal doesn’t like to stay in the skin and will usually reject.

 

Click here to see a video of a dermal

Surface piercings

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A surface piercing is a body piercing that takes place on the surface “sewn” into the body through parts of the body that aren’t particularly concave. Rather than a piercing going completely through a piece of flesh, the jewelry of the piercings is running under the skin following the plane.


The most common surface piercings are hip surface piercing sites but there are also the wrists, the nape of the neck, eye/cheek, the clavicles(collar bones), sternum and the the side of the head neat the ear(the tragus area).

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The jewelry shape is the shape of a staple with the balls, spikes, etc sticking up being the only visible part of the piercing. It is very important to have the right type of jewelry when getting a surface piercing because the wrong kind of jewelry could reject.

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There are a few methods used for surface piercings. Using forceps and a single needle, two needles and no forceps, and the “punch and taper” method.

Using forceps pinches the skin up giving the needle and place to go through the skin so the barbell can be inserted.

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Forceps and needle.

The “punch and taper”  method is when a dermal punch is inserted and tilted side to side to separate the dermis from the connective tissue and allow room the the jewelry to be inserted.

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“Punch and taper” method.

Another is taking two needles with no forceps and pushing the through the skin on either sides of the selected area and bringing the needles together. I was unable to find a picture of that method though.

Body Piercings

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Body piercings is a pretty common form of body modification in which the skin is pierced leaving a hole or opening for a piece of jewelry to be inserted. The word piercing can be referred to the act or practice of body piercing or to the opening in the body created by this act or practice. The history of body piercings have been obscured by lack of scholarly reference and by popular misinformation, but there is ample evidence suggesting that body piercing have been practiced throughout the world in various form and by both sexes in ancient times. 


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Stretching lobe piercings has become a popular trend lately and is seen on a lot of people now a days but it’s been around since 2000-100BC. They were worn by the Mesoamericans such as the Mayans and the Aztecs. 

Inca men wore gold or silver plugs in their ears to signify nobility or wealth and their stretched ears could reach 1 or 2 inches. That later inspired the nickname given to them from the Spanish: orejones (“big ears”)

 Ivory plugs were used by the Hymong people. Silver plugs, called rombin, were worn by Aka women. 

 

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Mayan ear plugs made from jadeite. These can found in the Los Angles Country Museum of Art.

 Among the Tlingit of Pacific Northwest America, earrings were a sing of nobility and wealth as each set of earrings had to be purchased at an expensive Potlatch(a gift-gifting feast practiced by the Tlingit and other Pacific Northwest people). In Eighteenth century Egypt, earrings were worn as simple gold dangling hoops or common folk and for the nobility, the fancy gem-studded hoops were reserved. 

Lobe and cartilage piercings aren’t the only ear piercing available. You can get others such as the ones marked in the picture below:

200px-Earrings1) Helix/cartilage, 2) Industrial, 3) Rook, 4) Daith, 5) Tragus, 6) Snug, 7) Conch, 8) Anti-tragus, 9) Lobe

Fun fact! In the 16th century, ear piercings were more common among men than woman. 

History of body modifications:

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Most people look at the words “body modification” and get weird or scary implications from that but it isn’t always something that is weird or freaky. It can be as simple as an ear piercing, which is something that most people have.

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Body modification is the deliberate alteration of your body for a non-medical reason such as a rites passage, for religious reasons, as a form of self expression, or for aesthetic reasons. The term body modification is generally associated with tattoos and piercings but can also mean branding, scarification, implants, and a number of other lesser known practices or procedures.
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It is a common misconception that a body piercing is a fairly recent trend but ear piercing is very popular through out many cultures and both ear and the nostril piercing have been dated back to the Bible (Genesis 24:22, Isaiah 3:21). Tribes across Africa, Southeast Asia and in North and South America all participate in lip piercing or have lip discs.

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 Tattooing has been around for a VERY long time and has been found on mummified Egyptians and the iceman of Otzi dating as far back as 3300 BCE. However, the practice is believed to have originated over 10,000 years ago. Means of tattooing has greatly improved over the years and the machines and inks have gotten much more sterile and easier to use. While the technology may have changed a lot, the basic reasoning for wanting tattoos hasn’t changed at all. People have been forcibly tattooed as well as a form of identification for criminals or as a form of humiliation and that sort of thing still exists in society today.  Despite all that, tattoos have been and continue to be a greatly enjoyed thing to have.