People Mutilate Themselves and Call It Art

What do these celebs have in common — beyond being famous and (mostly) musicians? Rihanna, Beyoncé, Kendall and Kylie Jenner, Miley Cyrus, Pink, Justin Bieber, Kesha, Willow Smith, Lenny Kravitz, Kristen Stewart, Amber Rose, Dennis Rodman, model Bella Hadid, Lady Gaga, Emma Stone, Christina Aguilera, and Jane’s Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro.

There’s a mile-long list of other people who share this trait — but you get the idea.

Yes, this actually involves piercing the skin with meat hooks and hanging people from a ceiling.

Each has had at least one body piercing — in some cases, many body piercings. Whether it’s cartilage, navels, eyebrows, tongues, cheeks, chins, or other, ahem, less observable regions, piercing has gradually become mainstream in Hollywood. Nose rings have lost all the shock value they wielded 10 to 15 years ago.

And because Hollywood has embraced needles during the past decade — and we’re not even talking about tattoos, which have also become routine — the general public has as well. Like it or not, pop culture’s influence over fashion and cultural acceptability is not unlike the moon’s sway over tides.

But as with many things, whether a person is famous or not, we build up a tolerance. What was once bound to really tick your mom off somehow becomes passé.

That's what seems to be happening in the body modification community, which is so far-ranging in its clientele that veteran piercer J.C. Potts, of Pangea Piercing in Ann Arbor, Michigan, told LifeZette he can never predict who will walk through his shop's door. But, he says, "You're seeing Kardashians and stars like Miley Cyrus, and some people are becoming completely disgusted. Piercing has gone to that lowest common denominator of trash culture. It's now not so much of an elite thing anymore."

Potts explains that, 10 years ago, if you saw someone with tattoos, body piercings, and a Mohawk employed as a professional, he was always superior in his field.

Bobak Ferdowsi, who sports all of the above and worked on the Mars rover Curiosity landing several years ago, is a good example. But today, Potts says, "[companies] like to put people like Ferdowsi out in front to show that, 'Oh, hey, we're a hip business, we get it, we're talking to you.' That's usually what spells death for any kind of trend. Once you become a marketable demographic, you're not edgy anymore."

Which is one of the reasons why, as unfathomable as it is, piercing culture has gone in a horrifying direction: body suspension. Yes, this actually involves piercing the skin with meat hooks and hanging people from a ceiling.

While the practice is not mainstream (and probably never will be, for obvious reasons), it's still gaining popularity. Shannon Michael, 29, of Palm Beach, Florida, is a traveling body suspension artist who told the Tampa Bay Times her first thoughts on the activity: "Wow, this is some other level of pushing your body. I researched it and learned it had a deep-rooted ritualistic aspect. That's what sparked my interest."

What else attracts people to this seemingly barbaric practice? "People always report altered states of consciousness from it because endorphins and adrenaline are extremely powerful drugs," Potts explains. "And historically, if people didn't have access to mind-altering chemicals, they would turn toward ritualistic breathing, or extremely painful rites that cause that natural high."

Christina Aguilera, once the owner of multiple risqué piercings, would seem to agree. "I had piercings when I was down," she told Us Weekly. "There's a comfort to me in pain."

Ironically, another attraction to body suspension is actually healing.

"I've had quite a few people who are in recovery from hardcore drug use, and body suspension is part of how they deal with it," Potts says.

Still another draw, he adds, is cultural: "If you are from your average European mix, then you don't really have rituals that you do as part of a bonding thing or with a bigger group. You might watch a sporting event, but that's really about it. You don't have a ritual where the same thing is said and the same activity done, with pain and blood involved."

The piercing community, therefore, has created new myths and rituals for itself. Body suspension is an extreme element of that expression.

We doubt that many celebrities will hang from hooks. (Maybe Miley would try it, but we'd prefer not to watch.) Still, stars' influence has made the piercing subculture much more visible and (mostly) acceptable. Piercings of all types, including body suspension — though their popularity and acceptability may ebb and flow — might be here to stay.

Last Modified: October 14, 2016, 5:42 am

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