The weird world of body modification

Ransom Riggs

Seeing Apocalypto and its cast of dentally-bejeweled and cranially-reshaped Mayans got me thinking about body modification nowadays -- how far have we come since then? Perhaps that's a matter of opinion, so take a look at some of these contemporary body mods and tell us what you think.

Extraocular implant

An extraocular implant is a cosmetic implant involving a tiny piece of decorative jewelry which is implanted within the superficial, interpalpebral conjunctiva of the human eye. This procedure was developed in 2002 by the Netherlands Institute for Innovative Ocular Surgery and is marketed there under the name JewelEye. The procedure is completely legal in the Netherlands, as long as it is performed by a licensed ophthalmologist under sterile conditions. (But somehow, its being "completely legal in the Netherlands" doesn't make me feel any less squeamish about it.)

Breast ironing
As much as this reminds us of female genital mutilation, the women of Cameroon who do this to their daughters do it for a supposedly altruistic reason: to protect the girls from early marriage or, worse, rape. The breasts are flattened in an attempt to make them less sexually attractive, and the grisly thing is that there's no one way to do it -- some practitioners use hot irons, others grinding stones, pestles or belts. A recent study by a German NGO has found that one in four Cameroonian women have undergone the modification, which has probably contributed to elevated levels of breast cancer in that country.

Neck elongation

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A dying tradition among some Southeast Asian and African women (notably the Padung people), these so-called "giraffe women" begin adorning their necks with heavy coils at five years old, which are augmented until they weigh up to 11 pounds. Various origins of the custom are cited, ranging from protection against tiger attacks to symbols of wealth and status, but nowadays the Padung work foremost as tourist attractions. (Before a recent police raid, there had been charges the exotic tribespeople on show were being held virtual prisoners by Thai entrepreneurs. Most of the Padaung are in three border camps in the northwestern province of Mae Hong Son. An estimated 10,000 Thais and foreigners visit those camps each year, paying an entrance fee that allows them to photograph and mingle with the smiling, colorfully attired long-necked women and girls.)

This technique uses scar tissue produced by the body to form designs, pictures, or words in the skin. Scars are most often formed by cutting or branding the skin. Therefore, unlike tattoos, scarifications are a product of one's own body. Of course, scarification isn't nearly as popular as tattooing, so if you're looking into it, you'll really have to search to find someone qualified to do it. (Mental_floss tip of the day: your frat buddy who bends metal clothes hangers into greek letters and heats them on the stovetop? He's probably not qualified.)

Tongue forking
The tongue is divided from the tip toward the back of the tongue for about 3 to 5 cm (1-2 inches), according to patient preference. The result is a bisected tongue, not unlike that of a lizard's. Who on earth would ever have something like this done? Just ask Eric "the Lizardman" Sprague, who also sports sharpened teeth and full-body green scale tattoos.