Modified People are a group of individuals who deliberately undergo extreme body modification for non-medical reasons. Modifications can range from socially acceptable alterations like pierced ears, to the more extreme like extraocular implants (eyeball jewelry). For the purposes of this blog, the primary focus will be put on those individuals who partake in the more extreme forms of body modification. The reasons why this culture of individuals undergo these alterations vary from sexual enhancement, rite of passage, aesthetic reasons, denoting affiliation, trust & loyalty, shock value & self-expression.
The values and beliefs of the individuals in this culture vary as much as they do in appearance. However, upon extensive research, individuals in this group seem to value one thing in common: being unique and creative. Upon being asked what Rick Murray, AKA “Zombie Boy” would think about people getting similar tattoos, he states: “you can’t rip off someone else’s personality. And I don’t want kids to go out there and ruin their lives because they think it’s cool – it’s got to be in you. You’ve got to know what you want.” Zombie Boy has spent countless hours and money on achieving this “walking dead” appearance. He also stated in his interview that it would be “cool” to have a group of zombie followers, but encourages people to be themselves and come up with their own creative ideas.
Since individuals of this culture are all so unique, they also seem to be slightly more open-minded and accepting than those of the general population. They are not quick to judge and seem to be more understanding of other people’s decisions on how they live their lives. Rick the Zombie Boy could not have stated this understanding better: “You’ve got to respect that everyone’s different and has to do what they’ve got to do. I can’t tell you what to do, you can’t tell me what to do – but we can still get along just great.”
Much like values and beliefs, food and feeding habits vary greatly among this set of individuals as well. Basically, it comes down to preference. There is no rhyme or reason why someone eats what or when they do, it comes down to their personal beliefs. However, there is one modified person that has a very interesting outlook on food. Dennis Avner AKA “Cat Man” is a computer programmer by day and feline by night. Cat Man states that being a tiger is more important to him than anything else, making it difficult for people to relate to him. When questioned about what normal meals include for him, he states: “I eat meat every day, just as a tiger would. It must be as close to raw as possible, or at the temperature that an animal would be if it had just been killed.”
Sense of Self/Space
These individuals are so extremely different than that of the average population, so one would think that they would want to be secluded and ostracize themselves from the general public; however, this is not the case. Many of these individuals have participated in several interviews and photo/video shoots in order to share their unique stories, some even travelled internationally to partake in these. An interview on YouTube with Lucky Diamond Rich reveals this: “I’ve always been a people person. People think it’s the opposite that it actually restricts you, but it’s not.” Lucky Diamond Rich is the most tattooed man in the world, covered with black ink and white designs over the top. He also has silver capped teeth, stretched earlobes and several extreme piercings. If a person would close their eyes and listen to Lucky Diamond Rich during his interview, he would seem like a very pleasant, intelligent and kind individual. However, because of his appearance, he may be perceived differently.
On the other hand, we have another individual who would rather live his life somewhat in seclusion. Tom Leppard, AKA “The Leopard Man” prefers his secluded lifestyle devoid of human interaction. Tom is covered from head to toe in leopard spots after he decided that he was going to get a tattoo that covered his entire body. Tom, now 73 years old, lives in a cabin with no electricity or sewage and truly wants to live the life of a real leopard. However, he does have to go to town to pick up supplies and his pension check every two weeks. Occasionally, he will stop by the local pub and have a beer with the locals. Even though Tom doesn’t live his daily life surrounded by other people, he is still willing to go through interviews and chat with the locals. “For me it’s normal. All I’m really doing is permanently camping, a thing I used to do at weekends and on my leave whereas now I can do it all the time. I’ve never been lonely if I am by myself. If I’m in a big city surrounded by people that’s when I feel lonely.”
While certain individuals in this culture, like The Leopard Man, choose to live a secluded life, many of them struggle to find a significant other to share their lives with. This could be due to a number of reasons from the way the person is perceived to how they actually live out their lives.
When asked about relationships, Zombie Boy states: “There are girls who dig it, but the kind of girls who dig it are usually trouble.” He also stated that he has difficulty finding a woman to share his life with because many of them assume that he is mentally ill or “creepy” and “weird”. Many women also try to figure him out and try to understand why he chooses to live his life this way; Zombie Boy states: “There are a lot of people I meet who just don’t understand, but there really is nothing to understand. I’m realistic, sane and intelligent.”
The Cat Man also seems to have some difficulties with finding love as well, but is certainly on the prowl to find someone to share his life with. He lives an alternate lifestyle which includes eating near-raw meat and activities like climbing trees and purring. He states that: “They understand that being a tiger is more important to me than humanity, which is difficult for many women to cope with.”
However, there are two modified people that happened to find each other, build a relationship, get married, and conceive a child. This is the relationship between Paul Lawrence AKA “The Enigma” and Katzen AKA “The Tiger Lady”. The Enigma has blue puzzle pieces tattooed all over his body and has made a name for himself by performing stunts such as sword swallowing, pushing a moving power drill up his nose and swallowing various liquids, pumping them out of his stomach and them swallowing them again. The Tiger Lady is a modified female performance and tattoo artist. Her full body tattoo theme is that of a tiger. She has received extensive tattooing on all parts of her body and wears tiger whiskers attached via piercings on her face. The Tiger Lady actually began Enigma’s tattoos and that was also the way they met. The Enigma and Tiger Lady are now currently divorced.
In conclusion, relationships are difficult for the average individual and pose even more difficulty for modified people because of their unique appearances and lifestyle. In the end, with the exception of certain individuals like The Leopard Man, people of this culture also want to find love and share their life with another person without biases or prejudice.
Modified people tend to have excellent communication skills and are able to articulate quite clearly their thoughts, beliefs, values, etc. This is evidenced by multiple interviews conducted on various people of this culture. Their unique appearances strike people’s attention and raise many questions. Therefore, individuals in this culture become very seasoned when speaking with other people and are usually open to answer questions and partake in discussion. People in this culture are also very educated about their body modifications and do research before getting their surgeries completed.
The combination of constant interaction with the public, research about their surgeries and being general “people persons” make modified people skilled communication artists.
Below is an interview with Eric the Lizardman who will be discussed later in this blog:
Current Statistics and Demographics
There is little information available specifically regarding the culture of modified people. For the purposes of this section, emphasis will not be placed on the culture as a whole, but on the modifications that these individuals may undergo: tattoos and piercings.
Anne E. Laumann and Amy Derick conducted a study of tattoos and piercings, involving 253 women and 247 men between the ages of 18 and 50. Some interesting statistics were revealed:
- 24% of respondents have Tattoo’s — 22% Women, 26% Men
- 14% of respondents have Body Piercings
- 37% of respondents have had military experience
- 58% of respondents have spent 3 days or more in jail
Here are some of their juicier conclusions:
- At all levels of education, the prevalence of tattoos was significantly higher among those of lower education.
- Of those with tattoos, 76% had been in jail for 3 days or more multiple tattoos.
- Recreational drug use was significantly more common among the tattooed.
- Body piercing varies little by educational status. However, as with tattooing, body piercing occurs more among those who partake in risky activities such as heavy drinking, drug taking, and actions that lead to incarceration.
And even more interestingly:
“We found no difference in tattoo prevalence between ethnic groups with presumably all gradation of skin color, except that tattoos were twice as common among those with Hispanic ancestry than all other ethnic groups combined. Presumably permanently decorating the skin is a fashion or a cultural practice rather than appearance driven.
What Makes This Culture Different?
“When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free”
—Charles Evans Hughes.
Around the world, there are many forms of body modifications that exemplify beauty, art and identity to one’s culture. These body modifications may be accepting in one culture but may be considered taboo in another. For example, some women from Thailand cultures place large brass coils around their neck which promotes extension. Most outsiders would deem this to be controversial and painful for the body. However, it is a sign of beauty in Thailand and it defines the culture they live in. In the United States, many forms of body modification can be illustrated day to day. Some forms of body modifications are more acceptable than others such as tattoos, body piercing, and cosmetic surgery. However, there has been an increase in extreme body modifications that can be seen in the United States. Some types of extreme body modifications include: sub and transdermal implants, bifurcation of the tongue, full body tattoos, and tattooing of the sclera of the eyes. People who get extreme body modifications have difficulty finding jobs and have to refer to jobs that correlate around their body modifications. Also, people with extreme body modifications usually have spouses, friends, and other peers whom believe in the same culture and practices. Most Americans would consider them having mental illness that would cause them to mutilate their body. In addition, the medical community believes it is dangerous for people to get extreme body modifications from a medically unlicensed individual. For instance, subdermal implants allow individuals to place body jewelry under the skin to give a raised “3D” effect. However, people who believe in extreme body modifications believe it allows an individual to separate themselves from the norm and to express what they believe is, “art.” They also believe that it is important for an individual psyche to express themselves by means which make them feel or look beautiful (National Geographic).
“Whenever a taboo is broken, something good happens, something vitalizing. Taboos after all are only hangovers, the product of diseased minds, you might say, of fearsome people who hadn’t the courage to live and who under the guise of morality and religion have imposed these things upon us”
—–Henry Miller (1891-1980) American author.
To break a taboo is to accept what is considered unusual or strange. In order to learn to accept differences, it is helpful to understand them. What makes this culture unique has been discussed along with the values, beliefs, and views. Here, some of the practices which are considered strange and unusual by some, are explained along with how they are performed.
One type of practice is known as “scarification”. This is simply pealing back the layers of skin, so when it heals, it will reveal a certain desired design. Most scarification is done through tattooing and takes about two years to complete. After which the skin heals and vibrant colors are seen in the scarred skin/design. Another modification is branding: where the skin is removed and a scar is formed. In this case, the skin is burned away in a design much like what would be done to a cow. This is a more painful type of body modification. Implants are becoming more popular within this culture and they usually consist of beads or formed silicon. The objects are surgically implanted into the desired location underneath the dermal layer of skin. Usually, people get them to represent and appear as horns. Additionally, tongue splitting is a technique in which the tongue becomes separated into two halves (much like a snake’s). This should be performed by a surgeon, but in some cases it is performed in a non-sterile environment. There are many ways in which tongue splitting can be achieved. Scalpelled splits require the use of a scalpel to cut the tongue which is then allowed to heal. Also, a cautery tool may be used to perform the cut itself then used to control the bleeding (Taboo and body modification, 2006).
Health Risks/High Risk Behaviors
In most all manners in which this culture enhances their body, the first line of defense: the skin barrier is broken. There are always health concerns with a broken barrier. In an article by Schramme (2008) he explains these cultural practices to be voluntary and informed. As they most likely understand the risks associated with their choices, it is important for healthcare professionals to be able to recognize and treat complications associated with body modifications.
There is a great amount of knowledge in medical science pertaining to infection and wound care. There are many research articles that focus on complications which may arise from the common practice of skin piercing. While traditional piercing involves the earlobes, modified people adorn nearly any area of the body, such as the face, chest, navel, genitalia, tongue, and the extremities. However, practices are not limited to body piercing; they also usually include transdermal implants, tongue bifurcation, scarification, and tattooing. Research done by Koenig and Carnes explains specific examples of piercing related complications. Their article also examines some of the psychological implications and legislative issues related to this practice.
The most prevalent complication occurs from the presence of the foreign body inserted into the skin. Infection is a likely problem. Most infections occur from either improper technique or poor hygiene. If left untreated, sepsis or toxic shock could develop. Common skin pathogens include staphylococcal or pseudomonal species. The authors present a case of staphylococcal endocarditis from a nasal piercing. A more tragic case involves severe cellulitis that occurred after a tongue piercing. The patient required intubation and mechanical ventilation along with surgical decompression of the floor of the mouth. Other ill effects include cyst formation and the painful occurrence of abscesses. It is most important to note that in the presence of an infection, closure of the wound blocks the channel for drainage. Therefore, jewelry must remain in place or be replaced by a sterile material or drainage system during treatment. Manifestations of an infected piercing include: redness, swelling, drainage, crusting, inflammation, edema, and bleeding.
The metal products used for skin piercing may also cause problems. Metal allergies and contact dermatitis have been widely reported. Nickel shows to be the most frequent metal allergy and may induce episodes of asthma and hypersensitivity. Hypertrophic and keloid scars are often reported with treatment, requiring surgical excision of the lesions. Trauma or tears surrounding a piercing is an incident that a healthcare professional can also expect. Various other complications were reported such as sarcoidal-like granulomas.
A big concern reported in the literature is the occurrence of unlicensed, untrained, or self piercing. The activity of nontraditional body piercing is licensed and regulated in only a few states and municipalities. With improper practice, the risk of viral hepatitis or HIV transmission is greatly increased. It is important for healthcare professionals to inquire about the nature and the setting of the patient’s procedure.
Below is a video of an individual receiving an extraocular implant, otherwise known as: “Eye Jewelery”
Is There a Perceived Discrimination Problem?
Body modification is an ever growing characteristic in a rapidly growing culture. Within this group of true individuals, there seems to be a common theme among the literature: self identity and thinking differently. Eric Sprague, “The Lizardman”, states:
“Embrace your individuality: The unexamined life is not worth living because it is at best a pale imitation of life. So, examine your life. Devote time and consideration to your motivations, decisions, and goals. Take hard looks at them all. Actively engage in the process of self-definition. Make a concerted effort in all things to assert and express yourself as an individual rather than as a category or role.”
The Lizardman is a former doctoral candidate and philosophy degree holder who has uniquely modified his body to appear as a lizard. Obviously, he believes in individual freedoms as he is part of this exciting culture. We are taught endlessly to be ourselves and individuality is encouraged, but there comes a point where uniqueness is greeted with prejudice.
Legislations provide clear examples of intolerable discriminatory hiring practices. These include such segregations as: sex, race, ethnicity, religion, body weight, and so on. As far as visible body modifications, most legislation leaves the decision up to the employer and therefore, modified people really are not protected by any discrimination acts.
In previous studies, as expressed by Struppy, Armstrong and Casals-Ariet (1999) modified people have been shown to be treated differently or in a less caring manner by healthcare professionals. The authors also state that these attitudes can be changed (and should be) through education and through the healthcare professionals understanding of the culture. A sociological theory purposed by Herbert Blumer known as symbolic interactionism, suggests that when people in a society interact, they draw conclusions and form opinions about those they interact with based on physical characteristics. Foster and Hummel (2000) suggest that people who outrageously modify their bodies are often perceived in a negative light, such as: having a mental illness, lower intelligence levels, or being from a poor socioeconomic background. These perceptions and Blumer’s theory indicate that modified people may be wrongly perceived by human resource personnel while interviewing for job positions based on their physical appearance and attributes.
1. As previously mentioned, and due to the invasive nature of body modification, healthcare workers must be aware of the likely complications associated with the practice. Furthermore, the treatment options and preventative measures should be known.
2. As with any patient, a nurse must assess for depression or any sign indicative of self-harm. Hicinbothem, Bonsalves, and Lester (2006) reported on a large sample of individuals who belong to a website for body modification, having body modifications (e.g., piercings, tattoos, scarification and surgical procedures) was associated with a higher incidence of prior suicidality (i.e., suicidal ideation and attempted suicide). Another study by Dhossche, Snell, and Larder (2000) also found support for the possibility of tattoos being a marker for risk of suicide. The literature does note that more research is needed to clarify the actual risk, but there is no harm to be alert to the possibility and to assess appropriately.
3. As with any culture, perceptions of personal space must be considered. In a column written by the Lizardman, he answered a question about how modified people are often asked if they can be touched (http://www.bmezine.com/news/lizardman/20050113a.html). He explains how people are very tactile by nature, and often times tend to approach modified people and begin touching away without consent. As this is obviously inappropriate, Lizardman explains how asking first is the more polite alternative. At the same time though, he notes that being asked constantly can be like a form of harassment. They do not modify their bodies for the tactile pleasures of other people, and should not be treated so. In healthcare, nurses must touch at times as it may be vital to assessment. Remember in this case to ask first and explain the need to touch the person. In addition, it is important to note that during a brief assessment, a nurse must ask if there are any other piercings which may not be obvious. It may feel uncomfortable to ask, but genital piercings are increasingly common and the patient may not always present the information without being asked.
4. A nurse’s main priority is to provide the best care possible for any patient who comes their way. At times, nurses many discriminate against the modified. At other times, the modified may discriminate against the nurses. The Lizardman, who is mentioned previously, states how modifiers tend to discriminate against others who aren’t like themselves. This possibility should be acknowledged when modified people seek medical attention. They many act defensively and they may feel as though they are being judged for being different. The nurse’s role is to provide comfort without judgment and allow the patient to confide in them. If the nurse does not gain the patient’s trust, the patient will not give a full and accurate history; therefore, the nurse may not be able to help them to the fullest. When a person seeks nursing care, whether it is a person with or without body modifications, they need to be treated with respect and dignity. Perhaps there are multiple reasons why they modify their bodies, but biases must be put aside.
5. According to current research, tattoos and piercings may be linked with alcohol and drug abuse (Crown, 2006). These individuals should be monitored for ETOH and drug withdrawal as part of their nursing care. Information about alcohol consumption and drug usage may not be given voluntarily or accurately to the nurse and we need to be aware that these can be potential complications. Toxicology tests, complete metabolic panel (including liver enzymes) and other tests, not used routinely, may need to be ordered for these individuals. We cannot assume that every person in this culture is a chronic drug and alcohol abuser, but we must acknowledge the potential for them to be.
Crown, Elizabeth. Tattoos and piercings go mainstream, but risks continue (2006). Retrieved from: http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2006/06/tattoos.html
Dhossche, D., Snell, K.S., Larder, S. (1999). A case-study of tattoos in young suicide victims as a possible marker of risk. Journal of Affective Disorders, 59, 165-168.
E. Sprague. Can I Touch you. Retrieved from: http://www.bmezine.com/news/lizardman/20050113a.html
E. Sprague. Self-Definition and Body Modification & Ritual.
Retrieved from: http://www.bmezine.com/news/lizardman/20031113.html
Foster, G., & Hummel, R. (2000). The commodification of body modification: Tattoos and piercings from counter culture to campus. Charleston IL: Eastern Illinois University.
Hicinbothem, J., Gonsalves, S., Lester, D. (2006). Body modification and suicidal behavior. Death Studies, 30, 351-363.
Koenig, L., Carnes, M. (1999). Body Piercing: Medical Concerns with Cutting-edge Fashion. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 14, 379-383.
Larid, N. (writer). Gresh E. Kemp, D. Woods, J. (Producers). Taboo-body modifications. National Geographic. Margate: Florida. National Geographic Broadcasting company.
Resenhoeft, A., Villa, J., & Wiseman, D. (2008). Tattoos can harm perceptions: A study and suggestions. Journal of American College health, 56(5), 593597.
Schramme, T. (2008). Should We Prevent Non-Therapeutic Mutilation and Extreme body Modification? Bioethics, 22(1), 8-15.
Struppy, D., Armstrong, M., & Casals Ariet, C. (1998). Attitudes of health care providers and students towards tattooed people. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 27, 1165-1170.
The Society for More Creative Speech. (1996). Symbolic Interactionism as Defined by Herbert Blumer. Retrived from: http://www.thepoint.net/-usul/text/blumer.html
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Swan, Anna. American Ink Trends (2006). Retrieved from: http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/31975/tattoo_statistics.html?cat=7