This entry will hopefully finalize our little diversion into the world of body modification cults. From Wired News:
Larratt was an early adopter of subdermal implants, a form of 3-D body modification pioneered in 1994 at Haworth’s piercing shop in Phoenix, Arizona. The first human canvas for the art form was a woman from New Zealand who came in and asked for a bracelet. Haworth pondered the challenge, then suggested that he could place series of beads under the skin around her wrist. She enthusiastically agreed.
In years that followed, subdermal implants became popular in the community of extreme body modification. The process creates a raised area on the skin in a shape of the artist’s choosing. The effect is dramatic: Implants can be most any form you can think of, from Star Trek ridges and small horns, to little stars and hearts sprayed across the chest. Many people with body modifications have combined their implants with tattoos to create often beautiful or terrible effects.
Today, at least 50,000 people worldwide have artistic implants, estimates Larratt, who now runs BMEZine, one of the biggest online communities in the body modification world.
Early implants were medical-grade stainless steel, but today’s are mostly molded silicone. A few are implant-grade Teflon.
To install them, the practitioner uses a scalpel to make a shallow incision to the subcutaneous layer of the skin, then wields a plastic surgery device called a dermal elevator to create a channel between the subcutis and the fascia. The elevator, which looks like a tiny spatula, clears enough room for the implant, but not enough room for it to move around.
The implant is slid into place after the elevator is removed, and the original incision is sutured shut. Anesthetic is hard to come by, so subjects typically just bear the pain.
On a purely technical level, the process is neither controversial nor novel. Surgeons and gynecologists make a similar skin pocket for pacemakers, infusion lines for chemotherapy and the implantable birth control known as Norplant. But most piercers who are asked to perform implants have no medical background, and that’s where the controversy begins.
“It is a surgical procedure, there’s no way to get around it,” says David Vidra, founder of Health Educators, a 10-year-old company that educates people in the body-modification community on safe practices. “As soon as you open the cavity, that’s a sterile environment. That’s totally different from a piercing…. Our extreme artists need higher education.”
Some bodymod artists have medical experience. “My background is medical-device design and implant design,” Haworth says. It was a family business, in which Haworth designed tools for cosmetic surgery. He often watched his tools used in procedures, working to refine his designs to suit doctors’ needs.
International artist Emilio Gonzales underwent two years of medical training before doing modifications. “I was completely given to my profession as body piercer,” he explains.
But that kind of training is exception, not the rule. That bothers Dr. Phil Haeck, a plastic surgeon in Seattle, Washington, who, like many in his profession, looks on the practice with unease.