Beauty that's really skin deep

It's now easier to find a place to get tattooed than to get frozen yogurt. Ten years ago it was a shocker to see an inky rose on a model's ankle in one of the edgier magazines. Now it would be nothing but an aside on "The E! Gossip Show" if the Queen Mother rolled up her tweedy sleeves to reveal a thick tribal arm band. Ditto piercing. It seems to be more-common-than-not to run into teen-agers who have as many extra holes in their bodies as Bonnie and Clyde. Piercing and tattooing may be attractive and sexy fads (come on, I can't be the only one who thought Quee Queg was right sexy), but they're fads nonetheless and destined to go into the out-basket of fashion just like powdered wigs, handlebar mustaches and hospital scrubs. The question naturally and often follows, "What's next?"

Those who thought the deliberate marring of one's appearance had reached its peak with the liberty spikes and safety- pinned faces of the '80s are having a hard time trolling the seas of imaginary fashion violence and wondering how the upcoming generation is going to top pierced tongues for aggressive, scary, ultrahip ugliness. It's like waiting for the next act in a Jim Rose show and wondering -- half queasy, half enthralled -- what are they going to do to themselves next? Teeth deliberately blackened out for that crême de la chic Appalachian coal miner look? A big plate under the lower lip? Will you only be able to answer the hip call if you can hold up a hand that you've cut a finger or two off of?

Well, the wait may be over.

Under wear

;;According to the "Scanner" section of the April issue of Details magazine, implanted jewelry is going to be the next big thing in a truly customized body. The jewelry is implanted between the skin and the subcutaneous tissue and taped down so tissue will grow around it. Cited as the inventor of the procedure, Steve Haworth of Phoenix has, using "FDA-approved materials such as surgical steel" made 450 of these flesh friezes thus far. The accompanying photo shows a man with arms that are bubbled with under-skin bangles and who looks less like the Spin cover than someone who perhaps has visited South America and come back with a botfly infestation (or some other type of insect that burrows under the skin and lays eggs) or, at the least, someone who should be inspected, not by Details readers, but by the team of bad actors on "Psi Factor" after he unfortunately gave the finger to a voodoo priest. One can only imagine the delays experienced at the airport's metal detectors.

Outer limits

And there is nothing to make you feel old and middle-class like reading about a trend in Details and going on to find that to a lot of people it's already old- hat. An online interview by Urban Primitive's Raven Rowanchilde with Body Modification Ezine editor Shannon Larratt showed pictures of implants in the shape of the state of Texas and one of Raven with a prosthetic forehead that gave her a Klingon look. The story goes on to refer to Shannon's tongue-splitting surgical procedure, wherein Shannon says that the most common response (if not disgust) to his bisected licker is sexual curiosity. The incision is short, maybe an inch, and a forked tongue hasn't affected his speech. As shocking as seeing a tongue that looks as though it could walk right out of his mouth on its two little stumps like a finger puppet is the fact that the most common response is not to take him by the shoulders like an overly empathic school counselor and say, "What are you thinking?"

In an e-mail interview, Shannon tells me the procedure is extreme and not terribly common and yes, he can move both tips independently. When asked why he would want to do something like this, he invited me, politely, to figure it out, leaving me to imagine we're back to the sexual curiosity thing again, and to the foregone conclusion of "to each his own" and it's really none of my goddamn business.

While it's highly unlikely that forked tongues are going to be the next thing schools will try to ban after "South Park" T-shirts, subcutaneous jewelry may just be the fad to watch for in the future. And if you think it's stupid that people are having themselves opened up to implant visible mementos in their bodies, you forget that people have had themselves opened up to implant big baggies of silicone, or pec or chin implants, all the time. The only difference is that the latter of the self-butchery is culturally sanctioned. That one inspires revulsion and the other inspires highly paid Playboy shoots is one of those ironies you just have to love.

And as far as "doing that to yourself," the crunchy, blue rice cakes that we expect women to make out of their own hair after a certain age is certainly a much weirder aesthetic than, say, tattooing, any day.

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