My first body suspension
This is my personal view on the subject.
I’m not implying everyone in this body modification world sees it the same way.
First off, what is body modification?
Several practices are called body modification.
Body modification is the altering of your body to achieve a different look or to decorate your body. Something as simple as earrings is body modification, but also plastic or cosmetic surgery, hair dye, make-up, teeth implants or capping, as well as piercings, tattoos and anything else that entails the embellishment or decoration of the human body permanently, semi-permanently or temporarily. In this text, when I speak of body modification I will be referring to piercing, tattoo, branding, scarification, subdermal implants, as well as the more temporary modifications or practices around the same community such as body suspension and play piercing, excluding plastic and cosmetic surgery, hair dye and the like.
To me, body modification is comparable to a religion really.
A religion is an organized collection of cultural systems and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence. Some religions revolve around one or more gods or entities, others revolve more around a philosophy, a way of life, an order of nature, the universe. I think body modification can be seen this way. Body modification unites some people in a community for a lot of different reasons where we all believe in getting modified. Be it just a tattoo, a full body transformation, suspension or any of the levels in between. Body modification can be a tradition we make for ourselves, or maybe I can better describe it as a form of ritual. A ritual is a sequence of activities that may be prescribed by the traditions of a community, performed according to a set sequence. Rituals include rites of passage as well as atonement and purification rites or dedication ceremonies, and many others. Getting pierced or tattooed can be a ritual. Body suspension or play piercing, to me, certainly are rituals.
Body modification – which I will call mods for short – changes you, on several levels. By the natural response of your body, but also the way you as a person, behave around it, react to it.
For example, when I got suspended… Well… I got sort of an epiphany.
Here’s my body suspension story first:
I was excited. I had never seen somebody hanging from hooks attached to their skin in real life before. I was always intrigued by it. Pictures and films on the internet and in books and stuff… I always wondered what it was like. A lot of people do it for different reasons. Well, that’s what I thought at least. So why do people undergo a suspension? I don’t know. Some experienced people talk about it while others just do it and don’t really speak about their experiences. I thought it was for the same kind of reasons people don’t talk about their tattoos or mods. Because people would be like “what does it mean?” or “why do you do it?” and the response would almost always be “this, again?” So what better way to answer these questions than by doing it myself? I thought of it as fun, painful, but also as a sort of meditation, mind-above-matter kind of thing. Well it is. All rolled into one really.
It was a BMXnet, a conference for body artists, practitioners and professionals in bodymods held in the Unperfekthaus in Essen, Germany.
Apparently there were people doing suspensions there and a new friend of mine, Nicholas Pinch, told me he would suspend on the last day of conference, Sunday, at five in the afternoon. So I asked if I could come and watch. Turned out he gave me his suspension as a gift instead. Which was awesome all by itself. I was nervous, scared… I felt like “I don’t know if I can or dare to”. But then I told myself “Emmie, if you’re not going to do it now, when will you?” So yeah, I had to.
It was held outside, on the roof terrace of the building. I went upstairs with Nick to meet Håvve Fjell – of the body suspension team Wings of Desire – who guided me to the massage table. I took off my shirt, and these two ladies, Marita and their apprentice, started disinfecting and marking the spots on my back. The placement I went for was called a two-point suicide. It consists of two hooks pierced horizontally in my back, between my shoulder blades. “Avoid the scar” one of the ladies said to the other, whist remarking it was smart of me to wear a bra with crossed straps “What scar?” I thought, “oh right, I have this weird birthmark on my back that looks like scarring”. Disinfection done, markings done, now to lie down on my tummy and get pierced. The apprentice got some instructions to perform the piercings but I was nervous. I indicated – as politely as I could – that I would prefer my first suspension not to be pierced by an apprentice. They were very understanding and Håvve would pierce me himself. The stings of the needles were a bit more intense than with “regular” piercings because, well, the needle is thicker, obviously – 4 or 6 mm I think.
The first prick was okay, I breathed very well.
See, the breathing is very important when getting pierced – or tattooed or anything else involving some pain but let’s keep it about piercing for now. When you hit you toe for instance, you tend to inhale quickly and loudly and clamp your fists. That’s a natural reaction to pain. The thing is, if you exhale at that moment, which is difficult but not impossible, you will notice the pain being relieved somewhat. When exhaling, your body relaxes, your skin and heart rate too. The trick is to breathe slowly and deeply. Inhale slowly through your nose, down until your belly button, hold for one second and exhale slowly through your nose again until your lungs are empty, and repeat. It really helps a lot and helps you focus and get your mind off stress, fear or pain.
The second one is always a little more painful, and it was. I took it like a boss, but once he was finished he asked if I was okay and softly, I said “yeah I’m fine. Just… OUCH!” and that was it.
They installed the hooks in my back and we were done with part one. It was really odd when I sat back up because I could feel the cold steel of the hooks against my skin. And a little of its weight. I stood up and walked with them to the roof terrace, holding my hoodie jacket against my chest. We stepped out in the cold and went to stand under a huge three legged steel pyramid. I put down my jacket-hoodie-thing and put my sunglasses on – I am just like a vampire in the daylight, my eyes can barely stand outdoor daylight, if any at all – and readied myself for them passing the ropes through the eyes of the hooks. I stood there, while Håvve started to gradually pull on the ropes. I got anxious and asked Nicholas to come stand with me and hold my hands. First, I think I squeezed really hard. I could slowly feel my skin being pulled harder and harder, the holes felt as if they were tearing and my skin was going to give.
It was painful, let me tell you that. It was excruciating. I like that word because the sound of it really describes what I endured.
When getting hoisted up I focussed on my breathing as best I could and sort of went inside myself. I think I let go of Nick’s hands pretty quickly. I kind of switched off my physical body so I could concentrate on what was going on inside. Slowly I noticed my feet being lifted off the ground. I tried to release my body’s tension with every expiration of breath. With my eyes closed I realized that my feet were no longer touching the terrace tiles. I gave it a moment, inhaled and exhaled deeply and slowly to keep my heart rate down and my body as relaxed as possible. When I was certain to be detached from the floor entirely I figured it wouldn’t get any worse. So I let go a bit more and relaxed the rest of my muscles, because I really didn’t need them any more at this point. The pain seemed to fade a bit. It gave me a numbing sensation where it used to be aching. I just felt strong tugging in my back, which makes sense. I was just hanging there. I opened my eyes. I was hanging at least 1,5 meter off the floor and it was amazing! I think I squealed. I took a moment to realize it. To take it in. I was scared shitless.
Håvve was very nice, I felt so comfortable with these people! – Håvve and his team are really awesome. After a couple minutes hanging, I felt a bit weird. Håvve noticed and asked me if I was okay. I was weak, but I thought it was normal. Then, when he talked to me, my hearing seemed different and I realized I was probably fainting. I felt nauseous too. They brought me down slowly and sat me down on a chair. Marita kept some tension on the hooks, which was good because I really didn’t think I could take that pain again. They gave me a tablet of glucose to chew on and asked me if I was OK. I was so still and quiet and probably pale that I understand that it could have looked as if I had lost consciousness. “Yeah I’m here, I’m good. I just need to recollect myself a bit.”
After a few moments, I recuperated and they lifted me back up again. Really high.
I could really enjoy it from then on. I laughed and cheered. I said I was so happy I could cry but at the same time I felt so great! I was trying to contain myself but Håvve told me I should just let go and do what I wanted to do and then I shouted “Oh my gawd! This is so awesome!” which made them laugh – well duuh. After a short while, I tried to move my arms. Before, I was too scared to because the movement pulled the skin on my back and I could feel the tension of the hooks again, but it wasn’t so bad. So I started wiggling my hips and my legs and feeling the strain on my skin. Håvve started to push me, harder and faster, like on a swing. I was laughing and trying stuff.
Okay, so I was in the air.
I was feeling great and I could really switch back and forth between on one hand, euphoria and excitement, and, on the other hand, meditation and some sort of trance, an ultimate sense of calm, quiet and alone. When euphoric, I was loud – as per usual – and happy and maybe a bit hyper and quite outgoing – have you met me? – I wasn’t alone after all. Well, I was the only one hanging, but there were Håvve, Marita, Nicholas and a bunch of people who joined us to watch. Generally, I’m very insecure and would probably have been very uneasy being observed in this very vulnerable state. But for some reason I felt alright with it. First, there was this girl and her friend sitting on the couch while I was getting pierced. She said she had never done it before and asked if it was okay for me if she came along. I was totally fine with it and told her that if at some point I wasn’t, I would tell her. Usually I know I can do that, but sometimes I just go over my own boundaries and let them, even if I don’t feel comfortable. This wasn’t like that though. She was very nice and maybe even just as vulnerable as I was at that point. So they came along. (When I found out how awesome this was, I told her “whatever you do, this is totally worth it and you should do it”) And later on even more people came to just sit around and hang out, as if they were attending a show or something. Maybe people came to watch because I hung there for quite a while, but maybe also because the atmosphere was so relaxed. At least I thought so. When in the calm – endorphins, we’ll talk a little bit more about that later – sleepy, super Zen kind of state, I would forget anything and everything. I would feel entirely alone but not lonely. I didn’t need anything any more. Just me. And I loved me. Me, myself and I were the best friends ever and we loved each other on a level I hadn’t experienced in a very, very long time. As I said at a certain point: “I forgot who I was, I’m starting to remember”.
Turns out I had – literally – hung around for over an hour when I was done.
Which is pretty long, I think. I mean, at one point I felt a little like a burden, as if people were waiting for me and I said “okay, I think this is okay, I can come down now.” And Håvve let me down slowly, but when I almost touched the ground, for some reason I lifted my feet and eased back in my calm, trance state. He must have noticed and hoisted me up again. Then I really started to experience it in more of a “me” kind of thing. I hung there, rolled in a ball, thoughts inside myself. If I had any – thoughts – that is.
Håvve was cool to tell me “you can hang there as long as you want, nobody’s in a rush, do your thing”.
This made me feel very comfortable, because after some time I was really just hanging there and doing exactly that, my thing. I was really enjoying it. You could compare it to sitting on a swing when you were a kid. Just contemplating the sky as you’re reflecting or maybe not even thinking at all, just enjoying the rocking. It’s very much like that. Except you don’t sit. You don’t use any muscles at all and that feeling is fantastic.
When I closed my eyes it felt weird, trippy and made me light-headed. That dizziness was also a little different than normal.
When you’re wobbly, or drunk or high or you have low blood pressure, and you close your eyes, you feel as if the world is spinning fast and you’ll fall. This kind of dizzy was different. It was as if you are floating in space without gravity. It was fascinating so I tried it a couple times but the longer I kept my eyes closed, the more eerie the sensation became. It gave my body – instinct I suppose – a sort of panic state. Which is why I chose to keep my eyes open after that. Honestly, it still interests me to know where that feeling comes from and what kind of physiological thing happens in that moment to make you feel this way. I think it’s because your body and balance system get confused. I mean gravity is – kind of, not really – pulling upward, instead of downward. And when you’re hanging on rings or on a swing there is some muscle tension just to keep sitting on the swing or to keep your hands on the rings. With hooks, nothing. Your skin does the work, all of it.
So what was I doing up there, during over an hour?
Aside from silence and what seemed to be some kind of meditation, I had some fun! I dangled and spun around in circles really fast – which is something you can’t do on a swing, so that by itself is extraordinary – I wiggled around, looking at my feet and made jokes when flapping my arms imitating wings. I laughed and giggled, I smiled more than I have in a long time. I smile a lot, but these were smiles coming from the inside. I looked up and down. I looked at the scenery, the surroundings, I swung seemingly over the edge of the terrace. Håvve told me to grab one of the poles of the pyramid, hold on for a bit and then let go. So I did that, and it was spooky and thrilling and I loved it. I asked for a cigarette at some point and a gentleman from the “audience” was kind enough to roll me one. I swung his way to grab it and back and forth again so he could light it for me. It was delightful.
When I was done, once I decided this would do for me today, Håvve – or was it Marita? I don’t remember – lowered me back to solid ground.
The first touch of my feet on the floor was odd. I felt as if I weighted tons. The hooks, once undone from the ropes, felt cold and heavy. It seemed to me as if my skin was hanging on my back like an old woman’s breasts. I almost had to get used to walking all over again. When walking back inside, towards the massage table to get the hooks removed, the sensation was similar to someone pushing me, guiding me with their hand on my back. The weight of the hooks was now too heavy for me. A very eerie feeling. I felt strange. I was shaking a lot. Okay, it was cold but that wasn’t it. I mean I was shaking hard, uncontrollably. But I was calm, at ease as well as queasy. I lied down on the table as if I was getting a massage. Breathing deeply as if stepping out of a hot bath. But shaking, oh my, what was I shaking. I was cold, sure, and hot at the same time. Someone put my hoodie on my lower back to keep me warm. I was shivering so forcefully my legs came up and down off the table. I worried a little or maybe was I just annoyed by the inability to control my body. Around me were Håvve, Marita, their apprentice, and Nick was on the couch behind me I think. They told me the shaking was normal “it’s the adrenaline”. Which was somewhat reassuring but irritating none the less. Having them taking the hooks out, now that was weird. A little sensitive maybe, mostly weird. I asked if there was blood. There wasn’t much. “Oh, that’s good, right?” I asked, “It’s not bad, some people like to have more blood showing though, it differs from person to person”. I can see where someone would like that to be a part of the happening. Blood can be very pretty, sensual even, thrilling. To me the sight, smell and taste of blood is a powerful thing, it gives a sense of life, living. I wouldn’t have cared if there was more, or less. I was just curious because I couldn’t see it.
That’s maybe the only regret. Not enough pictures. Pictures of the act of piercing, the suspension, afterwards, the removal of the hooks… I would have loved to see it all.
I was tired, very tired but also had a rush of energy similar to after drinking a huge can of energy drink. After taking out the hooks Marita and the apprentice lady massaged my back. It was a bit sore but also nice as well as unusual. They massage your back to press the air out. When suspending I heard and felt a sudden sucking of air on the left side, the left hook. It startled me a little but it was funny too. My skin got released from the muscles I think and a puff of air got drawn in through the hole. Which is totally normal and makes sense. See it as a vacuum, when you poke a hole in a vacuum packaging it sucks a bunch of air in an instant, that’s what it felt like. You don’t hear all of it though. I mean that wasn’t the only occasion some air was sucked in obviously. That air needs to come out afterwards as well. That’s why I got a back rub. My back farted. For real, that’s what it sounds like. As well as air, some blood is pushed out, so that must be quite a sight. I thought one side had still some whiff in there when they were done but I didn’t want to be rude so I just let it. As always, I want to know everything so I asked “that’s to push the air out right? What happens if some is left in?” Håvve answered it could be sore the next day, or more so, if any was left in but in the end it would be absorbed by the body naturally. So I wasn’t worried.
They patched me up, told me not to scratch the scabs and gave me a paper with some after-care instructions.
I put my shirt back on – which was a bit difficult to be honest – and thanked them all very much. I hugged Nick and sat down next to him for a moment and thanked him.
I really am very grateful. Maybe I would never had dared to take the step of doing this if I had to think about it, if I had to decide for myself. He did that for me basically, and I’m overjoyed. It changed my life. “Now you know you can do anything” he said.
I grabbed my stuff and was handed a drink. I needed fluids, lots of them. I thanked the team very much, we hugged. I rambled something, probably a lot. I wasn’t really myself at that point, but that was OK – even though I didn’t feel that way, I got embarrassed.
Nick and I walked down the stairs.
So many things were going around in my mind. I remember I got very uncomfortable to the point of almost panicking. Nick guided me through it. We went outside so I could smoke. I was very silent, or so I thought. The shivering was still going on too. I told him I just wanted to go back to the hotel, or to a quiet place, with the least amount of people. He convinced me it would be a better idea to just go inside and mingle. I didn’t want to but he insisted and I’m glad he did. I would drive home that evening, in about an hour actually. I texted my husband I was going to drive away later than planned because I was in no condition to drive at all. I spoke to some nice folks in the building’s restaurant which calmed me down after a bit. All the UK based artists would go and eat together at a restaurant and they invited me to come along. The walk was very soothing and helped to get my blood flowing and to stop the trembling and the uneasiness.
After dinner, I felt better and safe to drive. The journey home wasn’t fun though.
I was emotional from leaving such a fantastic group of people after an extraordinary experience – not only talking about the suspension here, I mean the entire conference was a wonderful, enhancing happening – but also, I was in pain. Just standing up was fine, but leaning against the back of the driver’s seat was impossible. I esteemed myself lucky it was only in the top of my back or it would not have been doable at all. I mean Essen, Germany is just short of a three-hour drive back home to The Hague, Netherlands. To top it off, it was raining the whole trip.
The first week was odd.
Not only to get back in the normal routine of everyday life after such a delightful stay on what seemed to be another dimension all together, but also because I was in pain. Well, my back was sore. The first night, I had to lie down on the bed in one movement, flat on my back – moaning as a pregnant woman – and stay still, right there, all night. Any movement was hurting. The second night was the same. Also, I couldn’t lean back on chairs or couches so I would rest on my side when watching series. Not the most comfortable position if you have no choice really. I think it was the second day that I noticed air bubbles in my back. A very curious feeling. Of course air goes upward so some of the air bubbles came in the back of my neck too. I could push on my skin and hear similar sounds to bubble wrap. Once I was familiarized with it I had some fun. It was another way for me to enjoy my incredible experience. Now, almost three months later, I still have pink dots on my back to remind me of it. And as soon as they fade, I will make sure to renew them.
The suspension was – and still is – an entire transformation to me. It took me about 4 days to feel like myself again.
I think you could say that the buzz of it lasted for 4 days. I was edgy and… well mood swings really. After the first week, a lot came to mind, a lot I hadn’t thought about in a long while and that seemed trivial or had faded over time. These things came back up and it was like a reality check I think. Things about me, my personality, my life, where I am in life right now and how I feel about it, but also more abstract things that can’t really be described per say. Now, some months later, I changed a lot about me, my daily life, the way I look at different aspects and the way I feel about facets of life. I think I became more real. I don’t mean real in the sense of real as opposed to fake, but I take it all in on a deeper level, I think more profoundly about a decision before I take it. On other levels. Like I said, it’s very hard to describe.
It changed my life. Not only when dangling on the hooks, but also directly after on another level, in the week after that on yet another level and right now still, on – again – another level.
Once my feet touched the ground and the tension of the hooks was released, I felt exhilarated, relieved, proud, and happy. I could also compare it to the sentiments I feel when getting a good warm hug from a person very dear to me I haven’t seen in a very long time. The sense of it is a mixture of different kinds of emotions.
Once the hooks were out, the sensations differed a little. Still proud, happy, euphoric, loved and loving, relieved, but also scared, confused, strange, detached.
When I got my clothes back on and walked down the stairs with Nick and we went outside to smoke, I got feelings of panic, anger, fear, embarrassment… but all simultaneously with the emotions I felt before that. This troubled me and enhanced the self-doubt I was feeling. Also because I was still at BMX and shy and insecure of myself with all these people I didn’t know or barely knew. Nick guided me through all this and reassured me it was normal. I mean, I did hang there for quite a while! I think my body wasn’t expecting the pain and the rush of all these hormones and neurotransmitters taking over– we’ll get into that after this don’t worry. This is the same for everyone who suspends, I suppose but I don’t think hanging for over an hour at your first time is the norm. It was a lot to take in for my body and I think that’s why it gave me such a big aftershock.
On the scientific side of things
After the suspension, I spoke with several people in the conference building’s restaurant. There was this guy – sadly I didn’t catch his name – who told me about serotonin, adrenaline, endorphins etc. and apparently these explain a lot of the experience I’ve had.
Adrenaline is a hormone that gets released by the brain in situations of stress and in life threatening situations. Pain helps a bit too. I made the acquaintance of adrenaline while hanging. I would tremble but I assumed it was the cold at first and also afterwards, when on the massage table, when Marita and the apprentice – who’s name I still don’t remember – took the hooks out. My body started to shake uncontrollably and I was cold and hot at the same time, goose bumps and sweaty palms, the classics.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter. It’s believed to give an overall sensation of happiness and well-being. It also stimulates the feeling of sleepiness. Being suspended, I felt so calm at times that I could fall asleep right then and there. Afterwards I also became drowsy and literally could have laid down, in the freaking restaurant, and sleep like a baby – but I didn’t though, that would’ve been weird.
The endorphins are the guys that made sure I wouldn’t hurt any more after hanging for a bit. After these had started working I got that euphoria it causes alongside with the suppression of fear. I read that endorphins are scarce in people with ADD or ADHD or they get absorbed or released in a different way and that’s where the concentration problems and hyperactivity come from, partly at least. Well, I have ADHD and let me tell you, I didn’t realise it at that point but, I have rarely felt as calm as when I was suspended – even though it could have seemed otherwise to outsiders but trust me, for me, that was calm.
The aftershock though, once it was all over, was very confusing.
I got a rush of all kinds of emotions such as anger, fear, insecurity, embarrassment, joy, sadness… But once this guy started talking to me about these adrenalin, endorphins, serotonin… it made more sense. The mixture of these natural drugs was very confusing once I got back down on solid ground. The feelings of happiness and euphoria confused with anger and fear and the others, like a bad trip really. And it lasted for quite a bit too.
I was in very good company and it made me feel safe. Uncomfortable, but safe.
Only after walking around for a bit, one or two hours after touchdown, I noticed the uneasiness slowly passing. I suppose the blood flow stimulation of walking and the solace of good folks around me really helped a lot. I will definitely do this again.
Body modification viewed ritualistically
There are but two things in this life you really possess.
Two things you are in control of keeping or losing. Your mind and your body. Everything else is just management. I’ve lost homes in the past and therefore a lot of material things, stuff, paraphernalia. There were two things I could never lose, my mind and my body. Thus knowledge, mind-set as well as my tattoos, piercings and the like would always be with me and became the most important. Body Modification has always been part of my life since a very young age but it grew a new meaning when realizing and truly comprehending this. Being happy with your actual self, inside as well as out are more important than anything else. And as a tattoo on my left thigh says: “Life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself.”
I started by talking about body modification as a form of religion.
That is what I think it is. Let me explain. I’m not religious. I certainly have always been intrigued by it, but mostly on a cultural and historical side of things. I always thought of myself as an atheist but I think I describe myself more accurately if I say I’m agnostic. I’ll believe it when I see it. And even then, I need more proof, arguments, substantiation. I have to know everything I need to know to understand and really comprehend whatever it is I’m figuring out or encountering. This also explains why I needed to experience the body suspension myself. Just as I feel I should get a form of all body modifications that intrigue me in my lifetime. May it just be a small silicone lightning bolt implant, a teensy weensy scar on my ankle, a magnet in my finger, an NFC chip in my hand, a branding on my back… I just want to know more about it all and I think the best way to do that is to get it done and experience it to the fullest. On the suspension part of things, I really think I’ve achieved that.
What I mean is that I think body suspension is not only a ritual for the one undergoing it, but also for the people around it, watching.
I’ve never seen it in real life – on someone else – so I don’t really know, but I felt like attending someone’s suspension séance could give you some sort of calm feeling of transcendence over the simplicity of being an individual. You’re not only a person at that point, you’re a group – endorphins, the best drug you’ll ever have – but also you’re not only a person, you are your own universe. Sounds cliché, I know, but you know the thing about clichés? They exist because they’re the truth.
Looking back on my first suspension and all it brought to me, I find it to be a form of ritual. You could see it as a rite of passage maybe.
In this western world we decide our own rites. We don’t necessarily follow a certain structure of sequences; we decide the order for ourselves. And what you get with body modification is that sometimes, you decide to do something without really having a ritualistic reason for it, but it just becomes that, for you, when you do it. This counts for tattoos and piercings and other modifications as well I think.
For instance, when I get a tattoo I have an idea of the design, I talk about it with my tattooist. Sometimes it’s to commemorate something or an experience or a person. Sometimes it’s just because I want another tattoo or I like a specific design or artist and don’t really premeditate a reason why I should get it. But it becomes something else entirely when I’m getting it done. The moment when I get the tattoo that I wanted to get for another reason becomes something bigger when I’m getting it but I only find out about it when I’m getting it or right after that.
The new modification becomes almost always a fixed point in time for some reason. Mostly not the reason I first had in mind when choosing what I would get. For example: Recently I went to this convention and met some people I have been in contact with on social media and a lot of these people I hadn’t even met in real life yet.
I was at a turning point in my life too.
I just got back from conferences where I learned a lot about myself and the industry, about my personal life too. And the convention seemed like a fun thing to do with my husband and son, just for fun on a Saturday afternoon. For me, just meeting with these people was new. I’m always a shy person really, feel out of place in the most surprising situations. Or better said, I feel as if people would see me as out of place even though I think I belong – Insecurity much? So I overcame a part of my fears when deciding to “fuck it, just go and talk with these lovely people”. Successfully too! I had an awesome time and lots of pleasant chats with cool people. Then I decided it could be fun to get a tattoo, just for kicks, if I found an artist I liked that had a spot open for me. And I did! Miss Marla had a no-show later that afternoon and she had drawn up some one-off’s for the convention. I saw one that really appealed to me, just the look of it. We agreed on a time and price and I got it. It was a very nice session, we talked a lot and seemed to have a lot in common. Everything happens for a reason right? Again, not religious, but I noticed that a lot of things happen the way they happen, coincidentally at the right time or in the right manner, or just the way I needed it to be, for me. Tattoo done, my family and I hung around the convention for a bit still and went home later.
On the road home, in the car, I realized something. The convention was fixed in time now. The memory, however it would fade, was fixed. The parts I would remember would be the parts I would need to.
Also, the design. A locket with a skull and 3 flowers, black and grey with some soft shading. The locket is not entirely open. The skull – for me – represents renewal. Something ends, something new starts. The locket, I think, is half open because it just opened. So the moment I got the tattoo, when I chose it, it wasn’t really anything special, just a nice experience, with a nice tattooist and a nice design. But once I was getting it, it became something more. And it wasn’t until I had it wrapped up on my skin that I perceived what it meant to me. Good things were coming my way but I just couldn’t see it yet. Bad things were making place for new, good things. And that’s also what the convention was for me. I overcame some fears and insecurities and got rewarded for that with some great conversations with great people. The same sort of thing happened for most, if not all, of my tattoos and piercings. The meaning of it is very personal. Maybe someone else would have associated the same image with something entirely different, but to me, that’s what it became.
All this is why I think we could see body modification as a sort of religion or ritual kind of thing, or a personal tradition of sorts.
When I pierce someone, for example a girl that normally would never get a “piercing”, gets an earlobe or cartilage piercing, they come in, a bit nervous, fill in the form, then I explain the aftercare and disinfect and mark the piercing. This is, even just subconsciously, already some sort of atonement or purification rite. – In this case I mean atonement in the sense of reconciliation with yourself. – The piercee is getting into it, readying their mind and body for what’s to come. Even if, at that point, they don’t see it that way. Maybe they never will. But, subconsciously, they mark that point in time. They get pierced, are relieved and happy, and they get that feeling of “yay I did it”. Either because they’re very excited or they’re just happy about the piercing itself, or maybe they’re not even really phased about the experience. They still get some sort of “rite-of-passage” experience. Even if the ear piercing is abandoned after some time. It was something that it isn’t any more or the act was just that and exactly that was all that was needed. Or the piercing they got was really a rebellious act that suited a certain phase of their life. Or maybe it was something else entirely. That is also one of the reasons why I love what I do. I love that I am part of that stage for my clients. Even if they aren’t conscious of it in that moment. That’s why I always try to make the short time a customer spends with me memorable for them in some way.
Some of us take body modification – or some part of it – very seriously and make an entire thing around it, while some just do it “for fun” but it’s the same none the less.
My first suspension made me stop and smell the roses. It made me remember my actual existence and individuality in this immense universe.
Endorphins play a tremendous role in all this. Especially in rituals like body suspension. As I’ve explained before, endorphins suppress pain while calming your mind and body. Endorphins have a therapeutic effect as well. The paired effect of calm, focus and euphoria give you a sense of peace that is rarely comparable to any other state of mind. It can have a massive effect on how you look at yourself and your world in that moment.
You could say there is a life before the procedure or ritual and a new life after it. Even for those who have their modification altered or removed after some time. Even if the modification was just temporary, such as suspension, or if it’s just a temporary ornament of a series of needles passed through the skin in a certain shape as is the custom with play piercing.
Body modification is the ritual, the religion, the tradition we choose for ourselves.
The escape, the evaluation, the rite of passage that makes us realize, really concretize who we are at a certain point in existence in this busy, western life. Any body modification or ritual is a very personal moment we take to stop and be ourselves.
I think it’s important to comprehend and take in who we are. Not only as a person but as a continuously changing being in an ever changing universe. This to evaluate what we have become after all the changes we go through in a life time. Some of us use body modification, play piercing or body suspension to achieve this notion, others use something else entirely.
It may seem trifling to some, but if they look at their habits closely they will find even they have some sort of ritual they abide to.
Marita Isabell Wikström of Wings of Desire
Photo’s by Panky Mikado and Andreina Alonso and myself