When I logged into Facebook the other day, this picture, along with this article, were staring me in the face. A group I frequent was debating – and I do use that term loosely – why anyone would do such a thing to themselves. A fair question, I suppose, but one that has no concrete answer. People tossed out everything from mental illness to low self-esteem to a desperate desire to be different, but, having worked in the body mod industry for several years now, none of these replies were satisfactory to me.
So why do people get such extreme mods? What compels people to pierce their heels, or tattoo their entire face? Why would anyone want a 0g tunnel in their labret, or spike implants in their head? The truth of the matter is, only they know. There is no single answer to this question – and that is, in and of itself, the best answer of all. Each and every person that delves into the more extreme side of body modification does it for their own reasons. Daniel, the possessor of the Achilles piercings, didn’t ever offer a reason for doing so, but many others have, and the answers are as varied and controversial as the mods themselves.
Stelarc, a well-known artist and body mod enthusiast, talks about his rather extreme mods – including an “ear” implanted into his arm – in artistic, transhumanist terms. For him, these modifications offer insight into “the increasing intimacy of machines and the human body”. Russ Foxx, world-renowned body-mod artist, offers a vaguer reason behind mods like eyeball tattooing, saying only that the eyes are “a strong communication tool” and that the ink injections can create “amazing and beautiful effects”. James Keen, a young, heavily modified eunuch, cites extremely personal reasons that include a feeling of gender-neutrality and a “primitive urge” to modify.
When looking at, and into, these extreme mods, it seems the relevant question is not “why”, but “what”. They whys are often far too personal, and too difficult, to articulate. It’s the what – the message one hopes to communicate, or the result one hopes to attain – that goes a long way in explaining the desire to have these extreme modifications, and the willingness to push the envelope. Whether the ultimate goal is artistic, philosophical, historical, sexual, aesthetic, religious, or something entirely different, there is a universal theme that runs through them all. Each and every one of these extreme mods is a declaration of autonomy, a powerful and unapologetic claiming of one’s own body. And perhaps that’s where the real discussion should begin. Rather than question the sanity of the people who enjoy these mods, we should be asking ourselves why autonomy is something to be questioned.