I have a 3-D body mod in my chest. It’s a hand-carved (medical grade) silicone implant, completely encased in my skin. Here’s what it looks like today:
In terms of body modification, speaking as a person with a 6 G (4.1 mm) septum ring and a fuck load of tattoos (including on my hands), this is easily the single-most radical mod I’ve ever had done. And like virtually every body mod I have (or have had and have since retired), I would do it again in a heart beat.
Why I Had It Done
3-D body modification is still fairly new, which means that very few very skilled people are offering it. That also means that the very few people who are offering this mod know what they are doing and are extremely careful to manage all of the possible risks so as to reduce them as much as humanly possible. So right off the bat, I knew going into my request that what I was about to ask for was going to be as safe as possible, given the narrow selection of people involved from whom I could make my request. I also knew that no medical doctor, doctor of medical dentistry, or otherwise qualified surgeon would ever offer this mod, because due to the socially aberrant nature of the result, it would constitute a form of medical malpractice. However, that it would be malpractice by a doctor’s own professional standards does not make it illegal for non-doctors to do to someone or to have it done to oneself. Said another way, this body mod is not criminalized or illegal here — it’s non-legal, as there are simply no written laws in place that regulate it one way or another. This is important, because a lot of things in this country are non-legal. Access to abortion is another one of those things, and that was Major Victory Number One in a legal battle that still continues in the face of constant threats of re-criminalization. More on that part of the issue later.
A major reason why I had this mod done is because I felt inspired when I first observed that the implant was even available. Until I went merrily lurking all over a particular website, where I was exploring various services offered by this particular body modification practitioner, I did not even know this implant was possible. But when I saw it, I knew immediately that I wanted it. It took some time for me to decide where, and I didn’t even know how big it was until the day it was going into my skin, but once I decided where it would go, it seemed like a natural progression about to take place in my life. It almost seemed like it had been there the whole time in a sense that I can’t really describe, except to say that it was just like deja vu even though I had only seen it for the first time. And in fact, I’ve had this experience with most of my mods (even the ones I’ve retired, with very few exceptions).
I had also spent quite some time already with multiple visible body modifications: multiple facial and oral piercings (my lower lip and tongue have each been pierced four times), multiple stretched earlobe piercings (one woman literally shrieked at me when I stuck my pinky finger tip through my earlobe), and multiple visible tattoos (my entire back is covered and had been for some time already at this point). To suggest that I was ill-prepared for the way people might respond to my body as a result of this modification would be extremely patronizing, so don’t do that. I not only knew roughly how people would respond to me after the fact — I also felt a little excited to see it happen the first time. I’m an instigator and a cherry popper. I get a rise from introducing people to new experiences. Incidentally, this experience would be popping one of my cherries too.
How Was It Done?
I am frequently asked how it was done when I show it to someone and encourage them to poke it, squish it around by pushing on one or two of the edges, touch it, or do it all myself in front of them. The simple answer is it was done by someone who knows exactly what they were doing at the time and has taken as many precautions as possible (sometimes even if it seems redundant) to minimize every conceivable risk. The long answer involves a bit of gore and a fair amount of pain on my part. I am intentionally leaving out certain details in my account in order to protect the business of the very few people offering this service, as the worst case scenario is someone sitting reading this in their parents’ basement, getting the bright idea in their head that they can do it themselves after reading a first-hand account.
DO NOT EVER ATTEMPT TO DO THIS YOURSELF, EITHER TO YOURSELF OR TO ANOTHER PERSON. ONLY SEEK OUT REPUTABLE BODY MODIFICATION PROFESSIONALS WHO HAVE BEEN TRAINED BY OTHER REPUTABLE FELLOW PROFESSIONALS IN THE BODY MODIFICATION INDUSTRY. I AM NEITHER OF THESE PEOPLE. WHAT YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ IS NOT AN INSTRUCTION MANUAL IN ANY CAPACITY.
I arrived on the day of my appointment, dressed for the occasion and prepared to remove any articles of clothing that may obstruct the sanitized field my chosen body modification professional would be working on (i.e., my chest). I had a good nights’ sleep the night before, a well-balanced meal, plenty of fluids, and an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory on my way to my appointment. I had not been drinking at all for months prior (and don’t really drink anyway, so this wasn’t much of a change from my normal habits), and since I don’t smoke, this wouldn’t even be a part of my considerations that day. I arrived sober as a Tibetan Buddhist monk, and stayed that way during my visit (and for months afterwards, but that’s really just the way I am in general). There were no pictures allowed, no one else witnessed the procedure, and I arrived alone for my appointment. I trust this man with my body, so this is not to suggest that this is abnormal. In fact, these have been the circumstances around a majority of my body modifications.
When it was time to get me ready, I removed my top and the bra I was wearing before I laid down on a sterilized table covered in a fresh sheet of table paper. My body modification professional showed me that the implant itself had been sterilized in an autoclave (evidently, more than once), and was still sealed in the autoclave package. He had also inspected it before sterilizing it in preparation for this day, to see if any adjustments needed to be made to the carving that had been done to it in South America where it was made. He knew what to look for — I couldn’t tell you about that myself, as I have no training or experience in how to assess either a hand-carved or mold-injected silicone implant for its suitability in human skin.
He talked to me about what he would be doing as he laid out a series of sterilized tools I did not do any close inspection of. Many of these tools are custom-made from implant-grade metal specifically and exclusively for this purpose. Given my lack of skills in this department as a mere recipient of the mod who has no training as a professional in the body modification industry (apart from a blood-borne pathogens and infection control training certificate), a closer look would serve no purpose.
Then he used a series of surgical scrubs (between multiple glove changes after touching virtually anything non-sterile) to prepare my skin. This was nowhere near the typical outward-spiral wiping of a non-sterile alcohol swab that has preceded virtually every piercing I’ve ever received. In fact, it wasn’t even like having my skin wiped down with a mixture of surgical green soap before the stencil or any hand-drawing is done for my many, many tattoos. This was a whole other level of clean like nothing I’ve been conscious for—I have gone under IV sedation and under general anaesthetic for fairly invasive surgical procedures, and that is what I am obliquely referring to by suggesting that I’ve been unconscious for something like this level of clean. Neither IV sedation nor general anaesthetic was used here, but from what little I know of how clean a surgery patient’s skin is in the operating room before the first incision, I would honestly call this a fair comparison.
Then my skin was marked with a surgical pen that had not been used on anyone before. This would be an approximation of how high in my chest this implant would be going. I was given the opportunity to check it out before we committed to doing it. I was not allowed to even raise own my hands near my chest in a gesture of appreciation, but I was satisfied where we planned to put the implant. I laid back down, and the procedure of getting it inside my skin began.
As you may or may not have guessed, the visible scar on the left side of the photo (my right side) is from the only incision that was made. While I will not specify exactly what happened after that incision was made, I will state transparently that my hands were under my rear, where they needed to stay to prevent me from trying to crawl right off the table at a point in the procedure when the pain hit me in five-alarm magnitude (that is not to say that the entire procedure felt that way, and individual mileage varies). I can also say with confidence that I have never previously been conscious for the kinds of horrific sounds I heard coming from my chest through the first ten minutes of the procedure. I was not at all prepared for that aspect of it; but this was in part due to my body modification professional doing his work as quickly as possible without sacrificing technical accuracy, risk-management, or harm-reduction.
As you also may or may not have guessed, the visible scar is markedly smaller than the implant. The professional who conducted this procedure made this decision primarily in the name of harm-reduction. He wanted to minimize injury from the procedure as much as possible, and a larger post-procedure wound is simply so-much-more prone to the possibility of an infection from me brushing it in my sleep or when I’m not paying attention to what I’m doing in the hours and days following. The aesthetics were an afterthought. The implant was rolled up like a cigar in order to fit it through the incision, and a custom-fabricated tool of medical grade steel (or possibly titanium — don’t quote me) was used to unroll it once it was inside. Then it was moved around until it was approximately centred where I had been marked at the beginning of all of this, and I was prompted to check to make sure I was satisfied with where it was. Then the incision was stitched up with 4-0 nylon sutures (seven stitches total, if I recall correctly), my skin repeatedly cleaned again, and the incision covered with a special surgical bandage. That was it.
BUT I CANNOT STRESS THIS ENOUGH. THIS IS NOT AN INSTRUCTION MANUAL. DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DO THIS YOURSELF, EITHER TO YOURSELF OR TO SOMEONE ELSE. IF YOU HAVE NOT BEEN TRAINED TO DO THIS BY A REPUTABLE BODY MODIFICATION PROFESSIONAL, YOU CANNOT GAIN EVEN THE SLIGHTEST CONCEPTION OF WHAT YOU WOULD BE DOING FROM READING THIS DELIBERATELY VAGUE FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT, WHICH CONTAINS REMARKABLY FEW DETAILS AND NO SPECIFIC INFORMATION ON THE PROCEDURE ITSELF. DO NOT PUT YOURSELF OR OTHERS AT RISK — JUST GO TO SOMEONE WHO HAS BEEN PROPERLY TRAINED.
How It Healed
Sleeping was extremely difficult for the first few days, as I bruised from each of my areolas, almost right up to each of my clavicles, and all the way across my chest. I am not the type of person who sleeps on their back (or even on their stomach, but that was absolutely strictly forbidden until at least the day the stitches came out following this particular mod), but I had to find a way to manage sleeping chest-up or I just wouldn’t be able to sleep at all. I was also advised to put a pillow under my shoulders as I slept, to keep the area elevated where the implant had been inserted. Though it was immediately adjacent to my heart, if I could keep it elevated above my heart, it would help keep the swelling down. I was also advised to use hot compresses (i.e., a washcloth soaked in the hottest water I could stand) a couple of times a day, as this helps circulate the blood around the new implant, and reduces swelling and bruising. I kept this up long after the stitches were out, until there was just a faint yellow trace of my former red blood cells left in my cleavage.
I could tell from about the second or third day following the procedure that my skin was developing what’s called a hypertrophic scar where the incision had been made. That’s a really technical word to describe when the body decides arbitrarily (but temporarily) to reproduce skin cells faster than they can mature after a trauma has been incurred in the skin. When a sample of hypertrophic tissue is taken from anywhere on the body and examined under a microscope, the skin cells are really big and generally elongated, because they were pushed up to the surface so quickly that there was scarcely enough room for them. In other words, they get squished as they move up. I’ve had hypertrophic scarring in facial and oral piercings, on nipple piercings, and even on a genital piercing, so this was nothing new for me. I’ve even had hypertrophic scarring result from a tattoo, which is still palpably raised even ten years later. I could tell it was happening again this time because the skin towards the inside the incision was turning bright pink, and the texture of the newly developing scar was becoming ropey.
This type of scarring generally doesn’t tend to happen with these particular mods — it just depends on your genetics, and once your body decides to heal skin trauma with a hypertrophic scar (if it ever does), there’s generally nothing you can do except use a drug store scar serum to reduce it later. I did, and all that happened after three months of diligent twice-daily applications of the serum was the ropey texture of my scar flattened, but it’s still pink. A hypertrophic scar is not the same as a keloid, which tends to appear later on, tends not to appear pink in an area like the middle of one’s chest, and does not flatten with the use of scar serum (i.e., it has to be surgically removed) and may even continue to change shape or size if it is disturbed by non-surgical intervention. Though it is commonly held that keloids only happen to people of colour, anyone can develop one. It, too, depends on your genetics. Most of the incision scars I’ve seen from subdermal implants are nearly invisible, and that even counts for other people of pale complexion who have had the same incisions repeatedly re-opened.
In part due to how ambitiously my skin mends itself, and in part due to the hypertrophic scarring, I was pulling out my stitches within less than a week, before my body permanently encased them inside my scar. By the fifth day, all of the stitches had actually moved the equivalent of their own length, into the scar. This in turn resulted in additional scarring, as the skin was very gradually being cut open by the sutures due to their very tiny width, and then sealing itself behind the suture. Generally, surgeons use 3-0 sutures (slightly thicker) for skin closures where there is a lot of tension, but my body modification professional was using 4-0 sutures for my implant. He uses them for everyone’s implants. I could clearly see little white scars forming on either side of each suture by the third day (in reality, I spotted them on the second day but just wasn’t sure if I was actually seeing this), indicating that the stitches were moving. Each knot was on the very brink of becoming engulfed by the scar tissue, and my body modification professional was on a short trip out of town at the time. I happened to be well-equipped with oodles of surgical tools and a steam autoclave in my own home at the time, so on the fifth day, I got to work with what little there was left to grab and a sterilized set of suture-carrying forceps.
Since most people won’t happen to have a working steam autoclave and suture-carrying forceps just laying around, I would advise virtually everyone else in the world when they are ready to have their stitches removed to return to their body modification professional for assistance, and if this is not possible (without an expensive plane ticket, for example), go to a doctor. Since neither you nor your body modification professional have done anything illegal (except where explicit written law forbids these activities), you won’t get in trouble if you disclose honestly why you have these stitches that need to come out and what that weird looking bruise with a suspiciously distinguished pattern of swelling is. One person who had implants done in their forearms from the same person who did the one in my chest had an extraordinary amount of swelling and unusual bruising, the day after the procedure. They reported to a hospital emergency room and simply became the most interesting curio—I mean patient—in the ER that night. No other repercussions were experienced by either party.
When the swelling went down, I could feel the skin knitting itself back together in the negative spaces of my implant. After the first few days, the bruising wasn’t this gigantic hematoma trapped in between layers of my skin, and the implant stopped feeling hurty. Gradually over the course of a month, it became more defined, although not nearly as much as you see in the picture I’ve attached, even after a full year. 99.5% of the time, I don’t feel it at all, and this has been the case since about a month after the procedure (possibly sooner than that, even, but after two and a half years, my memory of this particular detail is fuzzy).
After a little more than a year, I started injecting testosterone weekly, as a part of my chemical transition to a more transmasculine/genderqueer social identity. These injections initiated a series of changes in my body, including the coarsening of my skin as the subcutaneous fatty layer thinned out somewhat all over my body, as well as the inward displacement of some deposits of body fat such as around my hips (which are quite wide in bone structure, so I only lost a few inches in total there) and a change in the consistency of remaining body fat and related tissues (including my breasts). That’s a really long way of saying that the entire structure of the skin and fat in my chest changed because of these testosterone injections. A couple of times for a few days to a couple of weeks at a time, right around the two-year mark, my implant actually felt like it was itchy from the inside, because of how quickly testosterone changed my skin. That went away on its own, though I’ve since learned that virtually every other implant carved by the same person in South America has rejected on its own right around the two-year mark. So I guess that makes me as lucky as the day I found out I was the first person to order cherries from this particular body modification professional.
My implant is significantly more distinguished now than it was after a year, as a result. I am also tugging slightly downward on the skin on my chest, just outside of the frame of the photo, to bring out definition in the implant, ever so slightly more (plus, my chest doesn’t look like a set of D-cups, which I actually still have, nearly a year and a half into testosterone — betcha didn’t see that one coming, didja?)
Where I live, which is the same city where I had this procedure done, there are no written laws regulating who is permitted to conduct the procedure of implanting something into the human body, and/or who is not. It is strictly the professional opinion of those in the body modification profession on this continent, whether or not this procedure should or should not be considered a surgical procedure (most say it is), and who should or should not be doing it (most say only a qualified surgeon should do it, therefore, no one should have them because a surgeon won’t touch this with a ten-foot pole).
On the upside of non-legality (which is not the same as illegality), the industry has the freedom to regulate itself and thus protect as many people as possible from either being criminally negligent or having something done to them that constitutes a form of criminal negligence. This is really important, because it only takes one case of criminal negligence being heard before a particularly opinionated judge to set the precedent that leads to establishing a written law strictly forbidding this procedure and many others. But when a law is written prohibiting something from being done that there is already a demand for, this simply pushes the practice underground, into a black market where it cannot be regulated because it is for all intents and purposes “unseen”—that is, until someone shows up in the ER with a life-threatening case of sepsis from a negligently implanted hunk of low-quality silicone. The industry regulating itself the way it currently is, is actually keeping the government from cracking down on it with red tape. And that means more people (yourself included, if you are so inclined) get to enjoy the industry more fully at the end of the day.
On the downside of non-legality, an industry regulating itself by prohibitively pricing access to the procedure or proper training and/or tools, to restrict as many of the wrong people as possible from accessing the procedure, training, or tools, there is also the possibility of people making desperate bids with their own health and safety (or someone else’s), in an attempt to learn how to do it with the budget they can afford. This is primarily why someone like myself, writing about their first-hand experience as a recipient, is deeply motivated to be as vague as fucking possible when it comes to key details. It is actually for everyone’s protection that access to the procedure, proper training, and tools, is as prohibitively difficult as it is. Hack jobs will happen no matter what regulations are or are not in place, and no matter which centralized authority or lack thereof is responsible for the regulation. But at least it won’t be because of a blog post somewhere on the internet (or at least, not mine, anyway).
A reputable body modification professional will not only be able to tell you whether or not there are laws prohibiting these procedures in your city (as there actually are explicitly written laws prohibiting subdermal implants and many other forms of 3-D body modification all across the United States), but they will tell you before you even finish asking about the particular mod you’re interested in if there are — just like how they will tell you before you even finish asking about the particular mod you’re interested in, if what you’re asking for is absolutely asinine, physiologically impossible, or so high-risk that they know they don’t have the skill set to minimize risks of permanent damage in the process of attempting it. A reputable body modification professional will actually talk you out of anything that just isn’t safe, rather than take your money and put you (and themselves and their business and industry) at risk. A reputable body modification professional will also have a portfolio of their work that contains pictures not just of freshly done body modification work, but of work that’s actually fully healed too.
Take my word for it on this one: don’t go to a hack when a professional tells you it’s either a bad idea, completely illegal, or both. You may want a body modification like my cherries really badly, but it’s not worth putting yourself (or the entire industry that serves this demand) at serious risk. Invest due diligence, find a reputable professional, and be prepared to hand over a good chunk of coin for it, no matter what it is. You always get exactly what you pay for in a non-legal industry, and when you’re going to be wearing it in your body until it forces itself out, you don’t want to go cheap on that one.