Make me an Elf!

18. September 2008

For some it is mayhem, for others it's the most honest confession in the world: Body Modification. Ever since the appearance of the piercing- and tattoo fashion in the nineties, body modification blooms in its weirdest forms in the Western industrial countries. Physicians might have to get ready for the seemingly bizarre requests in the future.

Ever since the movie version of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, elfs or elbs are hip mythical creatures. They are considered attractive and wise. At first glance you can make them out by their pointed ears. A young US American woman wanted to get even closer to her ideal character – at least on the outside – and had a body modification artist split her auricles, remove some of the cartilage and re-sew it. The effect: A young women with ears as pointed as an elf’s.
Something else takes getting used to is the description of body modification – BodMod for short – a sociologists from New York endured at her explicit request: Against cash she found a surgeon who split her tongue from tip to base about five centimeters with a laser scalpel. Since the edges of the wound kept adhering, the surgery had to be repeated twice until the result was a permanent one. Today the woman is able to hold her cigarette with her split tongue.

Omnipresent wish for optimizing the body

From the point of view of Erich Kasten, Professor at the "Institut für Medizinische Psychologie" (institute of medical psychology) at the Magdeburg University, and author of the book "Body Modification", those changes of the body are just an extreme version of a behaviour each and everyone of us conducts on ourselves: Since primeval times humans change their outer appearance. Many people color their hair or the fingernails, pierced ears are nothing special for ages now. Both, men and women, go to body building studios and an increasing number of people are paying a fortune for esthetic surgery. Nearly every human being in the Western culture is aiming to optimize his or her body one or the other way.

Drawing a line turns out to be difficult

Those optimizations process off the BodMod scene on queer grounds: To come closer to the ideal measures 90-60-90, some women chose means seeming just as extreme as BodMod: Removal of the lowest rip for a slimmer waist, leg extensions by breaking bones followed by healing under tension, enormous breast augmentations – where are the boarders between esthetic surgeries and body modification? People changing their body by esthetic surgery want to adjust to a social ideal or hyper-ideal – often with the target to be more successful or to gain more recognition. On the other hand fans of the BodMod scene want to withdraw from social rules. Whoever insists on pointing out the superficial effects – let it be a surgically created perfect body of pointed ears – speaks with split tongues about the pros and cons of body modifications.

Physician or service provider?

The observations of the criminal biologist Mark Benecke in German cities bespeak that the subcultures are getting established in Central Europe as well. For the majority of the physicians, body modifications should be like a red rag to a bull. Accordingly fervently they keep pointing out the dangers: After subcutaneous implantations of material infections might occur which might lead to a complete loss of limbs. But it might merely be a matter of time until somebody will approach one or the other German physician with those seemingly weird requests for physical body changes – by piercings, cuttings, brandings and a multiplicity of other possibilities. Whatever gains ground in the medical landscape of Northern America, the trends and novelties appear with a delay of ten to fifteen years on the other side of the pond. Across the Atlantic some dentists have filed teeth to sharp predator’s dentures on request – the customer is the king.
Should any of the local physicians ask themselves whether they would like to become medically educated service providers – we recommend reading the pleading of Professor Edmund Pellegrino of the International Bioethics Committee of UNESCO. Years ago, a discussion flared up among German physicians about the question whether physicians should offer piercings in their offices in order to provide their customers with better hygienic conditions than piercing studios. The discussion has outrun itself: The vast majority of people wanting a piercing prefer to go to a studio instead of the doctor’s office – they think a professional piercer is more capable of correct piercing than a physician.
Whether or not the medical profession misses an apparently rather profitable business with BodMods due to this lack of trust is yet to be seen.

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