Slug: Body Modification
Like his friends in jazz band and on the lacrosse team, sophomore “Jack,” who requested his real name not be used, sports a mop-top of uncombed brown hair, an oversized T-shirt, and visibly worn-out sweatpants. Far from trendsetting, Jack’s appearance at school suggests nothing out of the ordinary. However, a very obscure piece of artwork is hidden by Jack’s simple clothes. Lifting up his shirt, he boasts about the scars remaining on his chest from a self-inflicted tattoo, branded by a heated paper clip. Shadowed by the former popularity of professional tattooing, body modification through branding and other forms of scarification has seen a growing number of students in the CHS community experiment with the painful fashion statement.
Whereas scarification was once lumped into the category of self-mutilation, various websites now cater to the growing interest in self-inflicted designs. Involving the application of extreme heat to the skin in order to create a burned image or pattern, those opposed to branding cite the effect on student psyche and mental health. However, designs on both male and females from every grade level suggests that students are beginning to ignore the health warnings in favor of sporting their burned scar designs on their bodies.
Sophomore “Tom” got his scars from a “strike” brand one night at his home almost two months ago. He recalls doubling over in pain after being “hit,” the term used for an individual strike, by a kitchen skewer.
“My girlfriend hit me with the skewer on my upper chest,” Tom said. “It took about three seconds for the pain to get really intense, and I basically fell to the floor because of [the pain].”
According to Tom, the primary reason for branding himself was to further his aggressive image among his friends.
“When other kids started to brand themselves, I was definitely intrigued because most of the kids that had been doing that stuff were hard-core kids,” Tom said. “It was all about the look but I didn’t mind hurting myself.”
Health advocates caution against this type of self-destructive behavior as the onset of more serious physical abuses. Among those warning students against severe body modification is nurse Robin Baron, who cites the effect on organs and physical appearance.
“Blood poisoning and permenant disfigurement can be consequnces of body modification,” Baron said.
Websites like bmezine.com offer students interested in scarification image galleries and FAQ sections that put a mainstream face on the trend. The FAQ section on the website, a noted tattoo web resource, informs readers that those who have branded themselves do so primarily to “mark a rite of passage in their lives...it has a very symbolic meaning [to these people] and often to their peers or partners.”
After viewing the scars on Jack’s chest, junior “Amanda” decided to do some research before giving herself a brand. After going to websites like bmezine.com, she says that the site creators, even after posting a warning that the information was not written by a medical technician, failed to properly indicate the repercussions from a self-inflicted site.
“When I branded myself I thought the scaring would be minimal,” Amanda said. “After a week, [the scars] didn’t go away, and the scars on my hip turned different colors and left my hip really sensitive.”
Proving to be equally problematic is informing parents of recent scars. As he was certain his mother would be incensed by his brand, Jack recalls having to sleep with his shirt on at night until the scaring was not noticeably.
“If my mother had ever found out I did this I think she’d lose confidence that I could make good decisions about my body,” he said.
No matter the consequences, students like Jack report that their scars have helped them carve out an identity in such a densely diverse and populated school.
“I get stares from people [because] I’m the kid who branded himself,” Jack said. “I don’t mind the attention from it, because my scars make-up who I am.”