Body modification is a vast yet arcane realm, despite the growing popularity of tattoos, piercings and the Modern Primitives movement. Flesh-pulling is one of the kingdoms in that realm. Meet one of its citizens.
Body modification – in this case, flesh-pulling – requires a great deal of thought, as terrible things might go wrong, but if one is careful and intelligent in their choices there’s a lot of fun to be had. This is how I felt when I offered to participate in a show that the Freak Factor team in Grahamstown, South Africa were putting on. Occasionally they would do suspensions, corset-piercings and flesh-pullings for the entertainment of the public. I doubt they took me seriously at first. After all, at that stage I had few mods myself, though in my defence this was due to careful consideration and meaningful preparation rather than lack of interest. But eventually my buddy John Wayne called me up and invited me to do a pull with two other girls. So, this is a guide for anyone wishing to do the same. I can only tell of my experience and the consequences it had.
For the record, flesh-pulling is when a number of hooks are inserted into the skin and connected via (for example) ropes or chains into someone elses skin. Then you tug against each other, which provides an adrenaline rush and is basically just a way to test the bodys limits. Similar but more hardcore are the tug-of-wars, in which the participants try to pull their opponents across an agreed line. I participated in the former. John Wayne told me that preparing one’s mind is most important. He meditates before each suspension, but I’ve never ‘learned’ how to do so. So I tried to imagine the pain of it, envisioning as much agony as I could so that I would find the actual process disappointing in comparison or that was the plan, anyway.
I also had to prepare my body at least a month before the experience: no alcohol, hard drugs or excess caffeine combined with general healthy eating with lots of water. This was fine, because I don’t drink or eat meat and have almost completely cut out animal products (my only vice is chocolate). The only change I made was to ensure I took my vitamins; I also added a few extra iron tablets to the mix. Dietary requirements? Check.
I was also advised to stop anything other than very light exercise (to prevent excessive tightening of the muscles and skin) and to get a massage a few days before to loosen everything up. Laziness? Check!
I also began carrying a few ‘healing’ crystals around with me, though I hadn’t done so ever before. I supposed that it couldn’t hurt, right? So I guess that’s a check for spirituality; although my reasons for doing the pull at all were mainly for the experience itself.
The Flesh-pulling Experience
I wore a dress with thin straps that left my upper back mostly free for the hooks. The other two girls just wore halterneck bikini tops, but I wasn’t quite that confident. As long as you leave your shoulders/ back (or wherever the piercing site is located) mostly free, you can wear whatever you like. The area was marked with red lines and the piercings were done just between my shoulderblades with a 3.5mm hollow needle that punched out a small circle of flesh. Some breathing exercises, a sharp sting, like a hard pinch; then another, and then it was done. I smiled a little after the first one it really did not hurt that much. My plan for overcompensating with regards to pain was working thus far. Hooray!
The hooks slid in. I felt fine, just a little weak in the knees, so proceeded to feast upon some sugary juice. One of the piercers tucked a surgical wipe-thingie into the back of my dress, to prevent the blood from staining it. He said vegetarians bleed more because their blood is thin from lack of good healthy meat. I say this is all LIES; my ‘unhealthy’ blood was a shiny candy-apple red. It may have looked like something out of a really stupid B-grade slasher horror film, but the rich colour proved I was toxin-free.
Us girls all stood facing away from each other in a triangle-formation and were rigged up with ordinary nylon rope to a centre carabiner. Thus we were linked by steel and backskin. Mmmm, backskin. Now the great thing about a flesh-pull is that – unlike flesh-hook suspension – you can control the strength of the pull and how much pressure you put on yourself. I found out later that the others were mostly still, but I wanted to ‘test’ myself and began leaning forward until my body was at an angle, with my weight shared by the other two. It was interesting to feel the skin around my collarbone-area being pulled around my body to my upper back, which left my chest feeling strangely tight and unprotected.
Most of the time I had my arms crossed over my chest to try combat this discomfort. Other physical sensations included cold sweatiness from the adrenaline rush, a shudderyness from the pain of the hooks stretching and pulling in the fresh piercings. But the pulling and tightness was about the most uncomfortable. It made me feel like my skin might tear, because there were only two hooks to distribute my weight and they were not of suspension size; therefore not meant for really intensive pulling.
The guys from the shop kept doing the rounds to check on all of us and guard against tearing. One of them told me not to pull so hard because of the risk of skin trauma, and to take a few steps back so I wouldn’t put too much pressure on the other girls. Yeah, it hurt – but it was manageable pain. Mind over matter pain. Nothing like the agony I’d imagined beforehand. It made me think of what Fakir Musafar said: There is no such thing as pain; there is only intense physical sensation. Then it was over. I felt like I could have gone for longer, but enjoyed it nonetheless. Hooks were removed, photos were taken and sugary drinks were consumed. It was lovely.
A few days after the show I went to have the air-bubbles massaged out of the skin. This is not generally necessary and more of a precautionary thing, or so I have been led to believe; air is only really trapped during more intensive procedures such as a suspension. I didn’t feel any ‘rice crispies’, as the others called them, in any case. There was no need to provide special care for my four tiny puncture wounds, just washed with anti-bacterial soap and let the shower water run over them.
The hardest part was dealing with the reactions from various friends. My housemates, who had been at the event, were incredulous but accepting; most of my friends congratulated me on my perceived achievement. However, there were a few who didn’t like it at all. Understandably so, I guess. I was accused of butchering myself, told that I had a problem, that there was something wrong with me. My interest in experimentation and pushing my own body was seen as a desire for self-harm and indicative of an unhealthy mental state, which I suppose is logical but misguided nonetheless.
I tried to explain that one does not prepare a month in advance to ensure that the body is healthy and well-nourished in order to use it to express some inner pain or frustration felt several weeks before. I’m not well-versed in self-harm, thankfully, and feel much sympathy for those who undertake in such activities; but this is what I glean from various other sources.
Anyway, no matter how articulate I was in explaining myself I lost the respect of a few people and the friendship of one, despite the tininess of the scars and the minimal evidence of the event itself. However, I do not regret it for a moment and am looking forward to doing a body suspension next year. I feel like my experience taught me something about myself; that I was tougher than I thought I was. I had always pictured myself as afraid of pain and discomfort; a fairly weak person. After coping with physical sensations which would make most people shy away, I have a greater respect for myself and my body. I have realised that my body is stronger than I give it credit for, and that my mind can control its reactions to a degree. When I explained this to one of the more disapproving members of my friendgroup, he accepted the validity of my conclusion and said that he understood the precept behind it. Grudging recognition? Check.
To anyone looking to jump into a similar experience, I say: Go for it. Be sure to research, to prepare both body and mind, stock up on chocolate and sugary drinks and try to lose yourself in the moment. Nevertheless, be aware that your bit of fun may be negatively perceived, so it might be a good idea to keep the experience to yourself (I didn’t tell my parents, for obvious reasons) and only tell selected and supportive friends. It might be nice to get one of the less-squeamish of these to hold your hand during the piercings and chat to you during the pull, to get your mind off things. Obviously if you’re doing a public show word may get around anyway, but a Mook may dream. In this case be sure that you aren’t tagged in any incriminating Facebook albums.
Most importantly, be absolutely certain that you are doing it for the ‘right’ reasons and that you trust the people you are working with terrible things could happen, so be aware of dangers and adhere to safety precautions. Do a little research to get an idea of what to expect I looked at the ‘Pulling and Trucking’ experience stories on BME.com, as well as the images at http://www.suspension.org/hooklife/. If you are interested in finding out about body modification in general I can recommend watching the Modified documentary, while Flesh and Blood (similar in title but definitely not the horror film Flowers of Flesh and Blood) focuses on body suspension.
Have fun and take care.
Photos by Simon Subrosa.