Let’s Explore: Body Modification

This page has been compiled from Wikipedia, Wipipedia and our own research. It also appears on this site in the new Encyclopedia under Body Modification.

Body modification (or body alteration, called body mutilation by detractors) is the deliberate altering of the human anatomy or phenotype. 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. In its most broad 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

  • Body piercing - Permanent placement of jewelry through an artificial fistula; sometimes further modified by stretching
  • Ear piercing - The most common type of body modification
  • Pearling - Also known as genital beading
  • Neck ring- Multiple Neck rings or spiral are worn to stretch the neck (in reality lowering of the shoulders).
  • Scrotal implants
  • Tattooing - Injection of a pigment under the skin.
  • Eyeball tattooing - Injection of a pigment into the cornea.
  • Extraocular implant (eyeball jewelry) – The implantation of jewelry in the outer layer of the eye.
  • Surface Piercing - A surface piercing is a piercing where the entrance and exit holes are pierced through the same flat area of skin.
  • Microdermal implants
  • Transdermal implant - implantation of an object below the dermis, but which exits the skin at one or more points

Surgical augmentation

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.

  • Breast implants - Insertion of silicone bags filled with silicone gel or saline solution into the breasts to increase their size, or to restore a more normal appearance after surgery
  • Silicone injection
  • Subdermal implant - implantation of an object that resides entirely below the dermis, including horn implants

Removal or split

  • Hair cutting
  • Hair removal

Female genital cutting:

  • Labiaplasty - removal of the labia minora
  • Clitoral hood reduction removal of the clitoral hood

Male genital cutting:

  • Circumcision - the partial or full removal of the foreskin, sometimes also the frenulum—conversely some men choose to take up foreskin restoration.
  • Genital bisection - splitting of both the underside and the top of the penis, including genital inversion
  • Genital frenectomy
  • Headsplitting - splitting of both the underside and the top of the glans penis
  • Meatotomy - splitting of the underside of the glans penis
  • Subincision - splitting of the underside of the penis, also called urethrotomy
  • Suspensory ligament of the penis

Nipple cutting:

  • Nipple removal
  • Nipple splitting

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

Tongue cutting:

  • Lingual frenectomy
  • Tongue splitting - bisection of the tongue similar to a snake

Applying long-term force

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
  • 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
    • Jelqing


  • Branding - controlled burning or cauterizing of tissue to encourage intentional scarring
  • Ear shaping (which includes Ear cropping, Ear pointing or “elfing”[17])
  • Scarification - cutting or removal of dermis with the intent to encourage intentional scarring or keloiding
  • Tooth filing - generally used to have the appearance of some sort of animal.


Some sources of controversy stem from the notion of attempting to artificially beautify the natural form of the body, often leading to charges of disfigurement and mutilation. Extreme forms of body modification are frequently viewed as symptomatic of body dysmorphic disorder, other mental illnesses, or as an expression of unchecked vanity. Unlicensed surgery performed outside of a medical environment can often be life-threatening, and is illegal in most countries and states.

“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. “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, and surgeries performed to conform the genitals of individuals with intersex conditions to those of typical males or females.


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