A woman wears a silicon mould.
A woman wears a silicon mould.

‘They’ll do anything for a buck’

FROM tongue splitting to belly button removal and everything in between, body modification has taken off around the world.

But following a number of incidents - one of which allegedly ended with the death of a New South Wales woman last year - the industry once able to operate in the grey area of Australia's legal system has been thrown into the spotlight.

The body modification industry has been largely unregulated since its inception in the 1980s but the government has vowed to stop the rule-bending from a group of rogue operators.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard described some modification procedures as "the worst barbarism imaginable".

Earlier this week, a body modifier was charged with manslaughter after a plastic snowflake he implanted into a woman's skin allegedly gave her a fatal infection.

A court heard she'd complained to the body modifier of excruciating pain. Police claim she was told not to go to hospital and died three weeks later from blood poisoning.

The case has brought the industry under serious scrutiny but most body modifiers says they pride themselves on exemplary hygiene standards and insist the allegations are ruining the industry's reputation.


In May, after a 37-year-old man was charged with mutilating a woman's genitalia with a branding iron, Mr Brad Hazzard promised to crack down on the industry.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mr Hazzard said: "This so-called body modification is just plain wacko and can lead to permanent maiming."

Speaking generally of the industry, Nicole Lyka, a Canadian woman who has spent years in the body modification industry, said people doing "anything for money" had made the industry riskier than it once was.

"It's always frustrating when something terrible happens because of bad practitioners that will do anything for a buck, that news reaffirms to a lot of people that all body mods are bad, or dangerous, and they should be banned," she said.

"It's always been such an ongoing battle, and I think it's important that people understand, sure there are risks (especially for things like implants), but if you go to a reputable shop and place, they're amazing experiences, and wonderful people that genuinely want the best and safest for their customers."

Ms Lyka advised people "do your damn research before getting any body modifications done - especially something like an implant".

"There are a lot of people that don't have the proper training or experience that will do anything for money," she said.


A star-shaped silicon mould inserted under the skin.
A star-shaped silicon mould inserted under the skin.

While many people have undergone drama-free body modification and walked away happy with the result - the industry will never be completely risk-free.

Body modifiers often perform procedures one would only witness in the operating room of a hospital.

But even highly-regulated hospital environments hospitals struggle to keep patients from contracting infections after operations while body modifiers often perform their procedures in tattoo or piercing studios.

Infection is the primary concern around modification but insiders insist complications rarely arise.

Three separate incidents have been in the news lately.

The 37-year-old Central Coast man has been charged with prohibition of genital mutilation for allegedly branding a woman's genitalia, manslaughter after a woman's alleged snowflake implant went horribly wrong and grievous bodily harm.

The third charge came after a woman was left in "horrific pain" after paying for a "tummy tuck" procedure the Central Coast man allegedly performed.

Earlier this week, a court heard the woman had paid $800 in late 2016 for a "tummy tuck".

After the procedure, it was claimed she was prescribed Advil and Nurofen but was eventually admitted to hospital, against her will, with a 5c coin sized hole in her skin and severed stomach muscles.



Body modification isn't just used as a way of self-expression - it's also increasingly become an avenue for victims of trauma to reclaim their body.

Some modifications include having ears cut and reshaped to look like elves, the top layers of r skin sliced open before getting silicon implanted into them, having genitalia branded or cut and bully-buttons or nipples removed.

Jen Brockman, director of University of Kansas' Sexual Assault Prevention and Education Centre, studies the ways people modify their bodies after traumatic experiences.

She has worked in victim advocacy and prevention since 2001 and next month will head to BMX-Net, an annual convention held in Germany for body modification experts.

The academic will train body modifiers, including piercers and tattooists, on how to work with victims of trauma.

"Tattoo and piercing studios can be a little gruff and have a history of hyper-masculinity and we want to change that," Ms Brockman said. "We've had a fantastic response from the community and we're doing things that are working."

There is little scientific research about the connection between trauma victims and subsequent body modification but Ms Brockman believes it can help people with their recovery.

"People who are healing from historical trauma, it gives them options to reclaim their life and if modification does that for some folks then that's a beautiful thing," Ms Brockman said.

"It's all about reclamation and taking back control of their body and making their own choices."

Ms Brockman hoped that in the future businesses doing body modification would connect with their local community or trauma centres to help people reclaim and "rebuild" themselves.


A person with silicon body moulds.
A person with silicon body moulds.



Following the announcement of a crackdown by the NSW Health Minister, the industry is now bracing itself for a shake-up.

Earlier this month, NSW Health invited the cosmetic industry to help create new regulations on how it could become safer and reduce risk.

"While most practitioners and clinics do the right thing by patients, NSW Health has an obligation to investigate and respond to unsafe practices," Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant said.

"Practitioners who are already operating safely are not the target of strengthened regulations, and we encourage their feedback to help us draft industry changes."

Those regulations will focus more specifically on cosmetic businesses providing procedures such as dermal fillers and anti-wrinkle injections - but they do not touch on body modification.

The ambiguity of body modification procedures - which float somewhere between tattoos and surgery - has led some in the industry to call for higher standards.

BMX-Net's mission is "to do our part in public health and education for a better, cleaner and professional industry".

They also hope that if there is a crackdown "regulations are made with a sense of proportion and that the industry will be involved in this", BMX-Net's website reads.

The convention will also host a number of body modifiers who are reputed for their skill and standards.

NSW Police confirmed that "there is currently no legislation for body modification in NSW however, members of the so-called skin penetration industry are required to follow public health regulations".

NSW Health is inviting the public to make submissions until September and promises any regulation will be "fit for purpose".

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