From a pending interview:
First, BME is the largest body modification community online. What do you attribute to its success?
BME’s first goal is to let people know that they are not alone and to help them understand who they are and what they are going through. While I think it’s also an interesting magazine in and of itself, most of the elements of BME, both the main site and the community site, were built because I needed them to heal myself and stay alive. Since it had saved me, I felt it was my job to try and make sure everyone everywhere in the world could have the same opportunity if they wanted it. I think staying true to that is what has given BME its “family” feel, and its success.
And beyond, mere size, so many people pledge allegiance to BME by tattooing or scarring BME logos on their bodies. The why question is a very personal one but do you have a general sense on why people do this? What do you think the community offers them that they cannot get any where else?
I don’t think people care about BME because BME explicitly gives them something or provides something or anything like that at all. BME’s strength comes from its ability to be a catalyst; to start positive change inside people. When people tattoo a BME logo on themselves, they aren’t just celebrating BME — they’re celebrating themselves (BME stands for “Be Me” as well as “Body Modification Ezine”).
The community doesn’t offer them anything but a safe place to facilitate that change. I do worry a lot though that as body modification mainstreams and starts to be accepted as “just fashion”, that it will be more difficult to reach people who have a real need, because the noise level is so much higher and the community risks being overrun with people who don’t understand or care about people who use body modification as medicine and genuine self-definition, self-improvement, and growth. I’m not suggesting that there’s anything wrong with seeing body modification as “just fashion”, but while I appreciate that mindset and will do my best to make a good magazine for it to enjoy, it is not where my personal commitment lies.
Do you think there is such a thing as an “addiction” to pain nd the adrenaline rush associated with many modifications?
I don’t believe there is any more “addiction” happening than you see in endorphin-heavy sports such as jogging. So yes, but only in a small percentage of individuals.
Favazza, in Bodies Under Siege, discusses the symbolic and some positive aspects to body modification but he also says that there are “tremendous parallels” between body modification and self-mutilation. What is your response to this?
People can use almost anything in a negative manner, and I’m sure there are a small percentage of people for whom body modification is not a benign force in their life. However, suggesting that equates to a “tremendous parallel” is like saying all Canadians are Nazis because of the actions of a tiny percentage of the population. The thing to remember about doctors is that they tend to only see the problems, so they often have a skewed perception of what body modification’s results are. Favazza’s observations are probably correct and insightful for the small number of people he’s come in contact with, but I’m sure that they’ll become more reasonable and less insulting as he educates himself further.
In a different vein, I know you discussed the New Zealand research on the gene that shows increased risk of self-mutilation on IAM, but for the purposes of this article, do you have specific thoughts on the subject that you would like to share with a general audience on the research. Do you feel this research is helpful or harmful to the body mod community?
The NZ study regarding the “self mutilation gene” is very preliminary and no conclusions have been reached by the researchers in relation to body modification, so this is all speculation at this point. However, if it is shown that body modification is also “caused” by this gene, I think it’s absolutely wonderful — that would go a long way to proving that positive and healthy forms of body modification can save a person from self harm!
On a personal note, what are your motivations for your own mods? I guess this is the big WHY questions as well.
It’s hard to articulate why, or how, but body modification for me is a healing force, and a way of understanding who I am on some primal level. Like a lot of people I know through the site, when I was a child I would poke holes in myself in secret and thread wire through them. This was in a small farming community in rural Canada in the 1980s, and I had little comprehension that other people, at least in a modern Western context, were doing anything like this — although I’m sure I was influenced by a Blackfoot neighbor who had performed the Sundance and told me stories about those traditions. As I grew up, I started stretching my ears, getting other piercings, and tattooing myself.
While I’d been raised being told I could be anyone I wanted, I experienced a backlash from my mother and her family and was pressured both emotionally and financially to stop being myself. They decided I was “crazy” and conspired with inexperienced doctors who agreed my behavior was dangerous and put me on psychiatric drugs, turning me into a zombie and nearly destroying me. I was hospitalized and was put on even more drugs, even though I’d never shown a symptom of mental illness other than piercings, tattoos, and scarifications. I hated the shell of a person I’d become on the drugs and since I was totally under the control of the medical system (if I stopped taking the drugs, they threatened to lock me up), I escaped the only way I could and committed suicide by overdosing on a mix of tranquilizers and dopamine-altering drugs.
I was living in my uncle’s basement at the time and, as luck would have it, he happened to come home early that day and found me unconscious. By the time the ambulance got me to the hospital, my breathing had failed, but miraculously, they managed to revive me and about a week later I was conscious again, although I found myself in psychiatric lock-down on a suicide watch. Luckily that had the effect of getting me a new doctor who recognized that the only thing wrong with me was the damage the psychiatric drugs had done to me.
I was weened off the drugs, as my brain chemistry normalized, my depression abated, I felt like “me” again, and my drive to modify my body returned full-force. While their attempt to break me had stolen my memory and damaged other parts of my brain, it had not actually destroyed who I was. I began stretching my ears again as well as getting other modifications, and I think that by taking control over myself in that way I was able to heal some of the damage that was done to me. Within months of that I started BME with the goal of telling this story, helping others tell the same story, and doing everything I could to spread the message that body modification saves lives.