Body Modification vs. Cosmetic Surgery

WARNING: Links and images in this post may be difficult to look at and are not appropriate for young viewers.

OK, this post is not my usual subject matter. I promise it is a momentary diversion.

Last night I decided to watch Extreme Dr. 90210, thinking it would be, well extreme-but-pretty plastic surgery. Like Heidi Montag-10-surgeries-in-a-day extreme, which I can handle. I had nooooo idea what I was getting myself into. Remember, I’ve been Down Under on and off for more than a year, and this is one show that hasn’t made the journey to Oz. Yet. So forgive me if I’m way behind the times.

Anyway, I truly thought I’d seen it all in terms of the lengths people will go to to change their bodies. I am fascinated by before-and-after makeover shows and articles, and I’ve also seen all the bad plastic surgery, freaky plastic surgery, and did-she-or-didn’t-she plastic surgery sites online. I’m all for cosmetic enhancement, though I lean toward the side of surgery in moderation. Anyway.

This show was eye opening. Some procedures were indeed undertaken with “pretty” as the intended end result—they changed people’s lives for the better. Other procedures, like “body modifications,” are a different story altogether. I don’t know if I’m more horrified that people are putting arbitrary silicone shapes under their skin, or that they’re letting people who are not doctors cut into their bodies, without any kind of numbing aid. They are splitting their tongues, burying crosses in their chests—there is big-time blood loss—and these procedures are being done in non-medical facilities. Oh. My. God.

One girl on the show said she didn’t see the difference between subdermal implants and breast implants. I disagree. Breast augmentation is performed by a medical doctor and (hopefully) a board-certified plastic surgeon, in a sterile medical facility, with an anesthesiologist and surgical nurse on hand. Cosmetic surgery procedures are done by a doctor who has been schooled in anatomy; who knows where nerves, veins, and muscles are; and who can prescribe post-surgery antibiotics to prevent infection. To compare artistic body modification procedures done by unregulated amateurs to licensed, regulated cosmetic surgery is absolute insanity. But then again, anyone who would let some dope with no medical training take a scalpel to their head or body in the equivalent of a tattoo shop isn’t thinking clearly. Case in point:

Oh, and there is more. The above videos aren’t so bad, but show you the kind of environment these procedures are being performed in. Here’s a video of some kid getting his tongue sliced in half in a tattoo shop. I think it’s his tattooist mom that is doing it. Notice how she’s shaking like a leaf. It’s lunacy. What would she do if her boy got a nasty infection and had to have more than half his tongue cut off? And how about the girl in the other videos who let some “body modification expert” jab a metal rod into her chest?

Extreme body modification is unregulated and illegal and many states, and for good reason. It’s not Uncle Sam trying to limit your creative expression, but Uncle Sam trying to limit your risk of something going horribly wrong. If you must do it, at least read Wikipedia’s page on body piercing and the risks associated with it before you toddle off to your local tattoo/piercing shop. Again, if you insist, Google procedures, understand the risks, check out the person who’s going to be wielding the scalpel. Do your homework and ensure that proper sterilization is practiced.

A different kind of chest implant.
Subdermal implants.


  1. I didn’t really read most of this post and I sped past the pictures. I can’t stand to look at it. I hate the idea of some foreign mad-made thing inside a body, under skin. The idea of breast implants creeps me out in the same way, but luckily you usually don’t know just by looking at someone so it’s not a huge problem. These mods on the other hand, there’s no mistaking them.
    .-= Kelly´s last blog ..Whitest Weekend/Champagne Saturday =-.

  2. I agree ladies, the body modifications are creepy…I was absolutely shocked when I saw them on TV.

    On to prettier things…a post on the gorgeous, ultracool Victoria Beckham is up next.

    1. FLY girl!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! HAAAA! Sorry to offend. Hey, I was so mortified I had to share it with someone!

  3. While I understand that piercing, tattooing and more extreme forms of body modification are not for everyone, I’m concerned by the dramatization and sensationalism of this post. You make it seem as though the individuals performing these procedures are little more than backyard amateurs randomly taking a scalpel to someone’s body. If you were to research further you would understand that the person who pioneered subdermal and transdermal implants invented the mechanisms and procedures after years of designing medical instrumentation. Likewise, you may be surprised to know that many of the individuals performing these procedures have degrees in anatomy, physiology, biology, and have taken specialized classes through national organizations to get proper training on how to perform these procedures. I currently have 12 piercings and 2 tattoos. I’m considering subdermal anchors in my chest currently. I look just as normal as the next person, hell I’m an attorney in a very conservative office. I respect the fact that everyone has their own level of comfort with these procedures but they are more regulated than you think by your local health departments. They are also subject to regulations by OSHA and have to take blood borne pathogen training through the CDC. Regulations vary state to state currently but there is some form of regulation in every state. I certainly agree with the fact that you need to check out the person performing your modifications and make sure the location is clean. I really hope you take the time to research your postings further before you make such generalized remarks about a group of people you may just not understand.

    1. Alicia~

      Thank you for your comment and perspective. I understand there is regulation, as I used to be married to a tattooist who ran his own shop and had a piercer on staff as well. I’m sure most people doing subdermal implants have been trained and comply with sterilization and training requirements. It’s the ones that don’t that are scary. And there are a lot of very naive people out there who think longer about what car they’re going to buy than what they are planning to do to their bodies, permanently.

      While I appreciate your perspective and opinion, as you are entitled to yours, I am also entitled to mine.

    2. Taking a class in blood borne pathogens does not make one qualified to perform some of these procedures. Having a (supposed) degree in anatomy and physiology, and biology does not make one qualified either. If that were true, medical schools and nursing schools would not be necessary. Why both going through 4+ years of specialized training if they can just take a few classes and be good to go? How absurd! What artists do you speak of that have the necessary medical training to perform such procedures? Likewise, what proof do they offer?

      People are more than welcome to do whatever they want with their bodies, and there are plenty of people who have had no problems with these kinds of mods. I support people in their choices on body mods and plastic surgery, but don’t kid yourself and claim that these artists are medical professionals. Some may be, but the majority are not.

      1. The degrees and certifications are hung on the wall. I encourage everyone that is thinking of anything from a piercing to tattoo to subdermal (scarification, branding, ect…) do your research. When you find an artist, look/ask for credentials. Usually anything large or complicated is started by a visit between the customer and the artist to plan what will be done, any complications that may come up, pre-care and after care understandings. No artist wants to be sued. There is quite a bit that goes into licensing a body modification practice. The more extreme the body mod, the more education the artist will have on anatomy and such. While they may not hold PhD’s, they certainly take their craft seriously and go through educational processes as apprenticeship periods. The biggest responsibility is personal responsibility. I have quite a few piercings and tattoos. I am responsible for my own skin. I am responsible for my after care and most of all I am responsible to find credible artists for the mods that I am looking for. Think of it this way, the offer of a kind of body modification is not what makes people get them. The desire for the mods is what makes people get them. I would much rather have an artist that has put the time and effort into educating themselves properly (which is in more common than not) than want something done, not have a place to go to do it, then figure out how to do it myself in an unsterilized environment. I appreciate all the people who put that effort into giving people like me a place to go to have it done right.

  4. I know the girl that got the subdermal “horns” on Extreme Dr. 90210. Steve Haworth, who does these procedures, would love to become a certified doctor for what he does…alas law states that any kind of aesthetic procedure is not considered a medical procedure. Therefore, numbing agents cannot be used or he would lose his career and be charged with malpractice. I honestly see very little difference in “abnormal” modifications and “socially accepted” modifications(breast, calf, and buttocks implants, Botox injections, face-lifts, etc.). One person’s taboo is another one’s normality.

    I will admit that there are a lot of amateurs damaging themselves and others with their shady modifying, but one would have to be absolutely without a mind to allow such a person touch them. These things are found by asking questions and making observations. If you see your piercer/tattoo artist is not clean, or is acting strangely, refuse to allow them to modify you. Not only that but make sure their boss knows so they can keep an eye on them. Too many cases of bad modifications come from such places, and people just shrug it off instead of reporting it.

    The world of body modification is indeed bizarre, but please don’t think it to be this horrific thing people do to damage themselves or others. Modification is a tool to become closer to your ideal image. This is nothing new either, people have been modifying their bodies since the dawn of man. Yes, even without proper equipment and without doctors!

    It was definitely interesting reading your perspective on the subject, especially since I know Dani Danger.

    Peace and Love

    1. Nathan~

      Thank you for your well-written and thought-provoking comment. You are right…people have been modifying their bodies for thousands of years. And you are also quite right that “One person’s taboo is another one’s normality.” I’m sure there are people out there that would think I’m crazy for the things I’ve done to my body. Please come back and visit again soon!

  5. Ick. I’ve seen subdermal implants before, and they kinda freak me out. I’m always thinking – What would happen if it got caught on something since it sticks out so much? What about infection? What if you get a cut, and it starts coming out and causes a tear? – Plus so many other graphic things. Ick.

  6. You haven’t seen anything yet. if you have time, watch the documentary Modify. it will blow your mind. To me, I enjoy watching these sorts of things. I used to have my septum pierced when I was younger, and I have one tattoo. I give a lot of credit to the people out there who aren’t scared to look how they think is attractive.

  7. Personally I think what you have wrote her is ridiculous. The only people that should be performing body mods such as the ones you have listed are licensed and trained professionals.
    For one thing, there is nothing disgusting about what is posted here, people are entitled to do whatever they choose to their bodies in this regard. My wife and I love body mods and have limitless tattoos and piercings.
    It may not be for everyone but it is beautiful in our eyes. That’s all that really matters. I think what you’ve posted here is more of your own opinion of how this industry and sub-culture works, not so much as on fact.

  8. If u think tattoo artists and piercers arnt as well trained as docs ur an idiot. Yes doctors go to school for years and all that but tattoo artists And piercers r highly trained. They study anatomy and they know what they are doing. Thy also have to train under a profesional artist before they get their licences. So saying putting brest implants in or getting a facelift is safer than getting tattoos or piercings, no matter hoow extream, is stupid. If a piercer or. Artist isent comfertable doing a procedure they will decline even doing it. For both cosmetic surgery and body modifications you should think it through and find a good, trusted doc or artist. One is in no way safer than the other. They both come with riskes and have precautions that should be taken.

  9. For some one who advocates being informed, you certainly aren’t.

    Lots of serious mod artists DO have some form of medical history. Steve Haworth, the artist who created the first subdermal implants and was a pioneer in multiple forms of modification, actually invented and manufactures many of the instruments, implants, and jewelry because he made MEDICAL EQUIPMENT for a living before he became a mod artist. Proper subdermal implants are made of single piece of solid, nonporous, medical grade silicone- which is MUCH safer to use inside the body than porous ePTFE Gore-Tex lip implants that highly common and even most breast implants.
    It’s the medical doctors you so strongly advocate for who make body mods a “tatoo shop chop job.” The field of medicine, and particularly the plastic surgery sector, have fought for years to make the things necessary for a more medically-adherent enviroment inaccessible to mod artists. No surgeon will perform the mods that I want, including ear elfing and intentional scarring, so I am forced to visit a mod artist who is unable to provide me the safest possible enviroment. They can’t provide me that safe enviroment, because it was made illegal for them to after medical doctors and plastic surgeons lobbied for those laws.

    Making most things illegal just makes them more dangerous. How many people were poisoned by “moonshine” during prohibition? How many women became permanently infertile from a back alley abortion when those were illegal? How many people die every year from drug overdoses because their friends don’t want to get arrested? Making it against the law doesn’t stop something from happening, it just endangers those who still want to do it.

  10. Wow, there seems to be a lot of debate on this topic. I’m with the thought of leaving people be, if someone wants to do something and it is not harmful to others then I do not see a reason to judge a person for seeking out their prerogative. It is true that there are so many cosmetic surgeries that are deemed socially acceptable and there are those that are considered taboo. What a person chooses to do is within their rights, as far as the law allows anyway, and although seeing such body modifications as those pictured does make me cringe, I always feel as if I am wrong to place any sort of judgement on anyone as I do not know these people and have no right to cast my own prejudice on what makes a person happy. You make some really great points and your sparked a lot of great conversation. Thanks for sharing!

  11. [* Shield plugin marked this comment as “0”. Reason: Human SPAM filter found “to truly” in “comment_content” *]
    Its not as simple as “studying anatomy and physiology”.

    as an actual medical student i can leave a few points here

    1) i’ll humor you people. okay so your mod artist asks a half decent medical history. coolio. so he knows A LITTLE BIT. does that mean he’ll have taken as many pharmacology classes as i have? will he know what anaesthetics to use? when to use local vs general? what local is best for your situation? do you need to enhance the local with epinephrine before hand? what if my client/patient is allergic to this ana? what if theyre more of a fast acetylator and metabolize the ana faster than others? can i handle these possibilities?

    2) no matter how much “training” these mod artists undergo, it will, invariably, always be less than, far lesser quality than a board certified plastics surgeon. Period. there is no debate. your artist may have studied under some guru of a mod artist, but he still cannot nor will ever be able to truly appreciate the vasculature, nerves, the magic of the slice. Doctors, specifically surgeons, train under very strict and rigorous conditions and are constantly put on the spot. theyre constantly challenged to innovate.

    3) if ANYTHING goes wrong, can the mod artist handle it? is he in an environment to handle it?

    you can take every single damn precaution in the book, both in a hospital or in a mod artist parlour, and you still run the risk of something going wrong.

    your mod artist CANNOT prescribe pain meds. he CANNOT prescribe post surgical antibiotics. nor immunosuppressants for whatever the hell material they could potentially use. your mod artists environment will be highly sterile, but it will never reach the level of sterility of an OR.

    if your client has a bleeding disorder will you have ffp, or o neg blood handy?

    what about the possibility of a mistake? in an OR theres tons of staff from the attending surgeon, to the resident to several nurses. theres many people there to catch a mistake and help correct it immediately. will that be the case in a parlour?

    theres a reason only 1% of the population attends medical school,

    training for plastics is arduous too. 4 years of undergrad, 4 years medical school, followed by killer grades in med school, mental board scores, amazing letters of rec from your med school profs, and then 3 years residency in plastics, followed by up to 2 years in fellowship training. we’re looking at 9 years of just medical training to be a plastics surgeon.

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