Body Modification and Body Hacking

Wow — I have been working on this article forever.  What started out as a simple story on pointed ears (having ones ears surgically shaped into an elf-like point) grew into a wild discovery of current, artistic body modification practices and future, functional body hacking using interfacing technology.  So, here we go…

Body modification (like tattoos and piercings) is becoming more and more mainstream as evidenced by a recent article on msnbc called Generation of Tattooed Workers Leaving a Mark:

“The face of the young American worker is changing, and it’s increasingly decorated with ink and metal. About half of people in their 20s have either a tattoo or a body piercing other than traditional earrings…As a result, employers are finding that dress codes may need updating. In some cases, bosses are loosening up to attract young talent. In others, managers are adding new rules to keep body art covered up.”

While more people are getting bod mods, more companies are fighting against it.  The article goes on to mention the the lawsuit against Costco Wholesale, brought against them by an employee who claimed she was being discriminated against because of her eyebrow piercing (which Costco won).   She claimed religious discrimination since she’s a member of the Church of Body Modification.

Tattooed and pierced Wall Street lawyer, Marisa Kakoulas, discusses the case, employee discrimination against those with body modifications in general, and her own personal experiences in her article Employee Discrimination: Be Careful What You Sue For:

“On my first day of work at a stereotypical Wall Street law firm, four other lawyers took me for a fancy lunch to welcome me into the fold. All of us in dark suits and pasty white faces politely conversed about acceptable topics, all the while making sure we were using the right fork, until the moment when a man with neon hair, neck tattoos, and multiple facial piercings flashed before the window next to where we sat. The forks dropped. The man outside walked on. But his presence still lingered at our table.

“I don’t understand these freaks with all the tattoos and piercings,” started one at our table, and the discussion spiraled onwards towards burning the modified at the stake. Fortunately for me, my piercings and tattoos at the time were easily covered, otherwise I would’ve gotten singed.

…Or fired.”

Conservative corporations may be adverse to eyebrow rings, but I’m guessing that people in most parts of the world have seen them enough to where it isn’t even noteworthy enough to merit a second glance (or a raised eyebrow, if you will).  Although my view on this could be skewed as I live in Southern California, an area not known for its conservativeness.  While more of the regular folk embrace body art as acceptable (a tattooed bicep doesn’t automatically label you as either a sailor or a criminal like people might have assumed a few decades ago), those on the edge of the fringe continue to push the boundaries of what’s possible and what’s socially acceptable.

Luis Garcia, international liaison for the Association of Professional Piercers, said it best in a recent article called Split Tongues, Implants Take Body Art to Extreme:

“With television shows profiling tattoo shops and increasing numbers of piercings in the mainstream, more people are searching for procedures for the ‘one-upping factor.'”

Following are a few (painful looking) ways you can modify your body.  All these photos are courtesy of, mostly from their modblogWARNING:  Before you go cruising around this site, be aware that it contains photos of modifications to parts of peoples bodies you might not want to see; also, the pictures below, while not of anyone’s private parts, may be disturbing to some, so click with caution.

(And do me a favor — if you strongly disagree with these practices and want to voice your opinion, do so here and not there, and spare them the drudgery of having to delete or respond to yet one more negative comment, as I’m sure they’ve heard it all before.)

And if you think that’s freaky, I didn’t even include teeth filing, nipple swelling, urethral rerouting, or self amputation in that list.

Considering the extreme changes you can bring about in your body today due to technical and medical advances, where will the future take us?  Some people are considering this question already.

Adam at has written an interesting post linking to Philips Electronics regarding a concept for an interactive tattoo:

“The general premise is that you have some type of electronic ink / blood pathogen(?) under your skin that reacts to various stimuli across your skin. This is my guess on the workings, as it’s not described in theory anywhere. But the jist is that you turn your skin into a multi-touch, nerve reacting LCD screen that dynamically draws out tattoos on your skin to match the stimulus.”

To go directly to the conceptual video, click here.  Although not body modification oreinted, Philips has other cool and futuristic ideas you should check out as well, including the skin dress and the emotion sensor (expect a lot of hubands to buy this for their wives).

Quinn Norton, who gave a talk entitled Body Hacking at a recent ETech conference, is interested in going beyond merely cosmetic modifications and hacking into our bodies to improve their functionality.  She had a rare earth a magnet implanted into her finger which gave her the ability to sense electro-magnetic fields, as discussed in this article at

“…she could feel the hard drive spin up under the load seconds before her laptop began stalling, she could could tell if an electrical cord was live, feel running motors, security devices, etc. She explained that very rapidly her brain had adapted and developed a sixth sense.”

While I’m not at all into the whole tattooing/piercing subculture, any future invention of interactive tattoos and sense-improving, body-interfacing technology could potentially and quickly make me into a devoted and hardcore practioner of body modification.


  1. I’m a friend of Quinn’s and you may be interested in an email list that we recently set up to create a community around this topic. Details are here:

  2. i am 17 years old and i currently have 15 piercings, 1 subdermal implant, 3 tattoos, 2 scarification marks, 4 hook suspension, and numerous brands

    each one of them have a very high meaning behind them to me. i highly believe everyone has an opionion, and the right to voice it, but i think people need to be more informed about body modification

    that is a reconized church based around modification, they’re both very informal sites about body modification if you, or anyone would like to read them

  3. Brad & Dustin: Thanks for your input & the links.

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