'Extreme' Body Modification: Beauty Is All About Perspective

The internet was abuzz this week upon hearing about Amber Luke from NSW, who underwent an excruciating procedure to have her eyeballs tattooed blue.

So extreme was the procedure that Ms Luke went blind for three weeks after it was complete.

Tattooing yourself blind might sound grotesque, but it follows a long history of body modification, from tattoos to piercings to scarification -- a practice humanity has been participating in for centuries.


It's believed tattoos first became a widespread practice some 10,000 years ago, with oldest documented tattoo on a corpse who died in 3300 B.C.

Mummified bodies in ancient Egypt bear scars resembling animals and mythical creatures indicating an early form of bodily expression.

Body piercings have a lengthy history in various cultures, with the pierced lips being a common feature of many African cultures. Scarification has also been historically popular within African, Papua New Guinean and Maori cultures.

Nose piercings were popular in the Middle East some 4,000 years ago and tongue piercing formed part of Ancient Aztec religious practice.

Portrait of a young man with facial scarification, circa 1899-1910, Africa. (Image: Getty)

It doesn’t stop there.

Teeth sharpening has been practiced throughout China, Indonesia and Sudan for centuries. Lip-plating amongst Ethiopian and Amazonian tribes is also well documented.

A Bagobo man from the Philippines with filed teeth, circa 1910. (Image: Getty)

European cultures also have their history of extreme modification. The corset, invented in Italy in the 16th century and a popular feature of Victorian England, constrained and shaped the female bodice.

Indeed, more modern forms of cosmetic interventions, from boob jobs to botox, sit along the spectrum of more socially acceptable forms of body modification.

European cultures also have their history of extreme modification. (Image: Getty)

According to researchers Dr Ruby Grant and Dr Bruce Tranter from the University of Tasmania, body modification is on the rise in Australia -- particularly amongst the young working class.

In a paper from last year the researchers noted that tattoos and piercings have survived as a marker of working class status down under, despite research overseas indicating it has undergone a ‘hipsterfication’ to the middle classes. In an analysis of survey data, the researchers found that:

"Working class Australians are most likely to have piercings and tattoos, with the propensity to have either type of body modification decreasing through the class hierarchy."

Body-mods tended to be younger in the sample with piercings peaking in the 18-24 demographic and tattoos amongst those aged 25–39.

Interestingly people with tattoos and piercings also tend to be more politically progressive, with the researchers finding that Liberal/National coalition party identifiers are least likely to have any body-mods.

Whilst the survey didn’t distinguish between more socially acceptable body mods such as nose piercing from more ‘extreme’ practices such as eye tattooing -- it’s important to note that artistry through flesh remains a staple of Australian working class culture.


When it comes to extreme modifications, the labels tend to come out flying.

Last year, NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard sought to ban the practice of body modification, telling reporters that fans of scarification, genital piercings and embedded horns must have "major issues going on in their head".

Body modifiers tend to get called ‘self-mutilators’ by the moral majority, despite all of us divulging in far more hazardous and harmful practices on a weekly basis.

Are you downing another bottle of vino on the weekend or ‘numbing yourself with a carcinogen to feel alive’? Are you on a diet or 'withholding nutrients to fit an arbitrary beauty ideal’?

What counts as nuts is all a matter of perspective really.

It's all a matter of perspective. (Image: Getty/Instagram)

Grant and Tranter’s research did note that: "body piercings are more common among those who claim to be unhappy, as are tattoos". However, the researchers suspect that this correlation is better explained by other factors such as age and socio-economic status rather than as an explanation for why people modify themselves.

When it comes to fans of body modification like Amber Luke, what counts as ‘extreme’ is in the eye of the beholder.