There was a time when piercings and tattoos were considered taboo, or were something reserved for gangs and fringe-movement groups of people. Today, however, both are quite common, and are becoming more and more acceptable in workplace environments.
The majority of people have perhaps one or two piercings, and maybe a couple of tattoos, but there are those who take body modifications to the extreme.
Chiara, an eighteen-year-old woman from Rome, Italy, is one of those people. As an extreme body mod-lover, her appearance is striking- and she likes it that way.
Extreme Body Mods
The young woman got her first piercing when she was eleven years old, and has never looked back. Today, she has over twenty facial piercings, twelve “scarifications” (a procedure that involves cutting the skin with designs or words in order to create a permanent scar resembling a tattoo), two “brandings”, six subdermal implants and tattooed eyeballs [1,2].
One of her most extreme (and certainly most noticeable) body modifications is in her lower lip, which has been stretched to four centimeters. Many of her piercings were carried out by herself and her boyfriend, Michele, who she met at his piercing studio. The pair bonded over their shared love of body modifications, and have been together ever since.
Her Most Intimate Procedure
Michele was the one who tattooed her eyeballs, which, despite it being his first time carrying out such a procedure on anyone, Chiara says went very smoothly. The most intimate procedure he’s done for her is her labia stretching which involves lengthening the inner lips of the vagina through manual pulling or physical equipment such as weights.
“My favourite modification that I’ve done on her is a project that we had for quite a while. A little, intimate project,” he said. “We stretched her labia minora and later we put some implants on her labia majora. But I think in the end, after some ups and downs, she’s happy with it.” 
Chiara says that the procedure has left her with a slight limp, but it doesn’t bother her. She says that everything she does, she does it for herself, and she does not care what others think of her.
“My need for modification is not dictated by the need for attention or to be seen at all costs. It’s a personal need,” she explained. “If I didn’t feel at peace with myself I wouldn’t keep doing this. This is all very natural to me, I don’t have regrets.” 
A Supportive Mother, but Cautious Mother
Chiara’s mother Samantha is supportive of her daughter’s passion, but she does worry about what society will think, because people tend to judge others by appearance. Chiara, however, enjoys the stares she gets in public, and is happy with her appearance.
She says its inevitable that when she goes out, people are going to stare and point, and the only thing that bothers her is when someone tries to get a sneaky photo.
“Sneaky photos are one of the worst things. Ask me! I won’t say no, just ask me.” 
The young woman says that no matter where you go, people are going to say nasty things to you, but she doesn’t feel the need to justify herself to anyone.
Extreme Body Mods: A Passion or a Disorder?
There are those out there like Chiara who have extreme body modification procedures done to them out of a passion for the practice. However, there is a lingering question that many have: can extreme body modification be a sign of underlying psychiatric issues?
Dennis Avner was one of the most famous extreme body modification subjects, who spent years changing his body to make himself look like a cat. He even went so far as to have his teeth turned into fangs and to have whiskers implanted into his cheeks. In 2012, however, he died of an apparent suicide, and some have speculated that Avner might have suffered from a body dysmorphic disorder, which is a psychiatric condition that involves a person’s self-image .
Experts, however, say that it is difficult to substantiate the claim that the possession of a significant body modification (one tattoo or more, or multiple non-earlobe piercings) is suggestive of a personality disorder. This is particularly true today, as public perception of body modification continues to change .
Even in the case of individuals with extreme body modification who have allegedly committed suicide, studies in forensic settings have suggested that antisocial personality disorder must be carefully ruled out before looking to body modifications as the reason behind taking one’s own life.
What Motivates Body Modifications?
So what are the psychological motivators behind body modifications?
One of the most prominent reasons why someone might modify their body is to express their own individuality. The deep-seated desire to be different from others is inherent in humanity as a whole and is why some use makeup, change their hair, or change their appearance in other, non-surgical ways.
In some cases, certain individuals may decide to use body modification to enhance attractiveness or sexuality. Some piercings, such as the tongue, belly button, nipple, or genital piercings, are inherently more sexual than others, and some people may use them to draw attention to a sexy part of their bodies, to enhance sexual stimulation or both.
The Love of Art
Others engage in body modifications for the love of art. This is particularly the case with tattoos, which many people view as works of art on their bodies. Piercings can be worn as stylish, fashionable jewelry, and scarification or branding could be seen as something beautiful.
In more extreme cases, someone might choose to have their ears pinched to appear elf-like, simply because they think it’s cute.
It tells a story
Some may choose to have body modification done to create a personal narrative. Tattoos, for example, are often the outcome of an artist and enthusiast working together to create a cohesive work of art on the enthusiast’s body that tells a story, or has a personal meaning.
Tattoos, piercings, and other body modifications can be used to express someone’s personal values, culture, or heritage, and can be a way for someone to embrace their story.
Other reasons someone might get a body modification is to develop physical endurance, since these procedures can often be quite painful, to show affiliation or commitment to a person or cause, or as a sign of resistance to popular culture, society, the government, or an authority figure like a parent.
Members of the Church of Body Modification, as well as other like-minded people, believe that every modification enhances the unity of mind, body, and soul, and is a worthwhile activity as long as it is done safely and consensually. In this way, these people use body modifications as part of a search for spiritual enlightenment.
You Might Not Stop At One
Many people say that once you get one tattoo or piercing, it often leads you to wanting more, and it is difficult to stop after just one or two. Body modifications do have an addictive quality to them, which is likely due to the release of endorphins and adrenaline that occurs in your body when you experience intense pain.
This could be a negative thing if you can’t stop because you need the endorphin rush from being modified. If, however, you just genuinely enjoy the experience of being modified, and you plan your modifications out thoughtfully, then likely addiction is not a factor .
Plan Your Mods Carefully
You may have multiple reasons for getting body modifications, but whatever they are it is important that you understand and embrace them. The better you understand your reasons for your modifications, the better able you are to make sure that you aren’t doing more harm than good.
Chiara, despite the large amount of modifications that she already has, is planning on more. Her future goals include implants in her scalp, titanium horns, and silicone implants in her forehead.
“When I look in the mirror I see myself, I see everything I’ve always wanted to be.” 
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