Body modification

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Scarification in progress

Body modification (or body alteration) is the deliberate altering of the human anatomy or human physical appearance.[1] It is often done for aesthetics, sexual enhancement, rites of passage, religious beliefs, to display group membership or affiliation, to create body art, for shock value, and as self-expression, among other reasons.[1][2] In its broadest definition it includes plastic surgery, socially acceptable decoration (e.g., common ear piercing in many societies), and religious rites of passage (e.g., circumcision in a number of cultures), as well as the modern primitive movement.

Explicit ornaments[edit]

Surgical augmentation[edit]

In contrast to the explicit ornaments, the following procedures are primarily not meant to be exposed per se, but rather function to augment another part of the body, like the skin in a subdermal implant.

Removal or split[edit]

Female genital cutting:

Male genital cutting:

Nipple cutting:

  • Nipple removal[10]
  • Nipple splitting[11]

Nullification involves the voluntary removal of body parts. Body parts that are commonly removed by those practicing body nullification are: penis, testicles, clitoris, labia and nipples. Sometimes people who desire a nullification may be diagnosed with body integrity identity disorder or apotemnophilia.[12]

Tongue cutting:

Applying long-term force[edit]

Body modifications occurring as the end result of long term activities or practices

  • Corsetry or tightlacing - binding of the waist and shaping of the torso
  • Cranial binding - modification of the shape of infants' heads, now extremely rare
  • Breast ironing - Pressing (sometimes with a heated object) the breasts of a pubescent female to prevent their growth.
  • Foot binding - compression of the feet of girls to modify them for aesthetic reasons
  • Anal stretching[14]
  • Jelqing - penis enlargement
  • Non-surgical elongation of organs by prolonged stretching using weights or spacing devices. Some cultural traditions prescribe for or encourage members of one sex (or both) to have one organ stretched till permanent re-dimensioning has occurred, such as:
    • The 'giraffe-like' stretched necks (sometimes also other organs) of women among the Burmese Kayan tribe, the result of wearing brass coils around them. This compresses the collarbone and upper ribs but is not medically dangerous. It is a myth that removing the rings will cause the neck to 'flop'; Padaung women remove them regularly for cleaning etc.
    • Stretched lip piercings - achieved by inserting ever larger plates, such as those made of clay used by some Amazonian tribes.
    • Labia elongation
    • Foreskin restoration



"Disfigurement" and "mutilation" (regardless of any appreciation this always applies objectively whenever a bodily function is gravely diminished or lost) are terms used by opponents of body modification to describe certain types of modifications, especially non-consensual ones. Those terms are used fairly uncontroversially to describe the victims of torture, who have endured damage to ears, eyes, feet, genitalia, hands, noses, teeth, and/or tongues, including amputation, burning, flagellation, piercing, skinning, and wheeling[citation needed]. "Genital mutilation" is also used somewhat more controversially to describe certain kinds of socially proscribed modifications to the genitals, such as male circumcision, female circumcision, castration,[citation needed] and surgeries performed to conform the genitals of individuals with intersex conditions to those of typical males or females.[19]

Many use body modification and self-mutilation interchangeably. In many ways self-mutilation is very different than body-modification. Body modification gives one the feeling of pride and excitement, giving one something to show off to others.[20] Alternately, those who self-mutilate typically are ashamed of what they've done and want to hide any evidence of harm. Body modification is explored for adornment, self expression, and an array of many other positive reasons, while self-mutilation is inflicted because of mental or emotional stress and the inability to cope with psychological pain. Those who self-mutilate do so in order to punish themselves, express internal turmoil, and reduce severe anxiety. [21]

Individuals known for extensive body modification[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Thompson, Tim; Black, Sue (2010). Forensic Human Identification: An Introduction. CRC Press. pp. 379–398. ISBN 978-1420005714. Retrieved 2013-02-25. 
  2. ^ "What Is Body Modification?". Essortment. 16 May 1986. Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  3. ^ "Scrotal Implant". Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  4. ^ "Microdermal". Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  5. ^ "Dermal Anchoring". Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  6. ^ "Silicone Injection". Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  7. ^ "Horn Implant". Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  8. ^ "Inversion". Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  9. ^ "Genital Frenectomy". Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  10. ^ "Nipple Removal". Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  11. ^ "Nipple Splitting". Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  12. ^ Jamie Gadette. "Underground". Salt Lake City Weekly. 
  13. ^ "Tongue Frenectomy". Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  14. ^ "Anal Stretching". Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  15. ^ "Ear Shaping". Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  16. ^ "Ear Cropping". Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  17. ^ "Ear Pointing". Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  18. ^ "Tooth Filing". Retrieved 20 March 2015. 
  19. ^ Wilchins, Riki. "A Girl's Right to Choose: Intersex Children and Parents Challenge Narrow Standards of Gender". NOW Times. National Organization for Women. Retrieved 12 September 2012. 
  20. ^ "Bradley University: Body Modification & Body Image". Retrieved 2015-10-14. 
  21. ^ "Self-injury/cutting Causes - Mayo Clinic". Retrieved 2015-10-14. 

External links[edit]