People Dangle Themselves From Skin Hooks (To Relieve Stress)
Even the weirdest behavior starts to make sense if you look at it through the right lens. Every "freak show" is in reality just a bunch of people trying to get by. Take body suspension, for example. That's the practice of jabbing thick hooks through your skin, then attaching those hooks to ropes and dangling from the ceiling. If you walked in and saw your grandpa doing that, you'd probably think it was strange.
But the people who do this regularly swear by it. We reached out to a veteran body suspensionist, the Bond-villain-sounding Tiax Psytiax, about why in the hell somebody would do this.
WARNING: Contains unsettling pics of the thing we just described.
Things Don't Go Wrong Often, But When They Do, It Can Get Ugly
There are lots of ways to do body suspension, but they all involve piercing hooks through your skin and hanging yourself off the ground.
Naturally, this leads to a lot of questions, most involving the word "Why" (the question may simply be that word, screamed very loudly). The next question would probably be, "What if your skin tears?" The answer is that it happens, but not often. We're getting this part out of the way first, in case any of you are about to rush out to try this with the supplies in your garage.
"That's actually a nice feat of the body. Skin is incredibly resistant and strong," says Tiax. "I weigh around 165 pounds, so we usually put two hooks for a regular suicide suspension [as pictured above]. So that's 82.5 pounds per hook. And it holds. Twice I held another person in my arms while I was doing a body suspension. And then I asked someone to push us so we would be swinging."
"That all being said, when you have an amateur or inexperienced person hooking you up and they put a hook somewhere where it will not have even weight distribution, bad things happen. (Pros raise you a tiny bit after hooking to make sure it's all good, amateurs do not.)"
OK, if you're squeamish, you may want to bail out now.
"Now, sometimes skin does tear itself, usually because the hook was placed somewhere the skin was too thin (e.g. the forearm or knees). If it happens, depending on how serious the injury is, people will stitch the skin back together using a thread and needle (sterilized, obviously), or the person will be sent to the ER."
"The worst I ever saw was a poorly rigged-up guy having a wad of skin rip up like paper for four inches -- in fact, from over a decade doing this, I only saw two go wrong. But one of my friends in Basel, on a trip to Germany, saw the 'Superman' style (hooks are in your back so you are floating up) go wrong. The hooks on his shoulders failed and he hit the ground from the chest up -- only the hooks were still holding the skin. They rushed him to the hospital, the skin was easily sewn back on, and he was back to suspending within a month."
The fact that the guy didn't immediately find another hobby says something about the allure. We'll have more on that in a moment. But this does require a professional. A Florida man nearly fell to his death during equipment failure in the rigging. Ripped wounds may not close properly, forcing the need for emergency care. Gifted suspenders can actually tell when their skin is tearing and how much time they have until stitches are required.
"It's safe," says Tiax. "It's like flying. People have been doing this long enough that all the kinks have been worked out and we know what to do and what the warning signs are if something is about to happen. It's why it's so rare nowadays. We've practiced it so much. No one has died from this. [True.] To us, that tiny risk is worth it for what we get back."
And what is that, exactly?
It's A Natural (And Mostly Harmless) High
"Body suspension gives you a very strong high for two reasons," says Tiax. "The first one is that having hooks put through your skin and then having yourself lifted using them creates a massive endorphin rush. The second one is that once you're in the air, without any limbs in contact with the ground, you're gonna feel like you're floating. We get some former drug addicts who want that same high, but can't go back to drugs because they are tested for them."
If you know that guy or girl who's full of piercings, they can tell you why they keep going back -- it's that same high, only to a lesser degree.
"I must have got like 20-25 different piercings in my entire life," says Tiax. "I realized that I liked the act more than the final result. At some point, it was more like, 'OK, I'm gonna do a piercing this evening, I don't really care which one.' There was a sort of mild addiction to the small rush you get from having a metal needle put through you skin."
If this was a movie, he'd probably be depicted as descending into a terrifying underground scene of mutilation addicts. In real life, he just got invited to a quiet, low-key affair with a few people doing some suspension under the guidance of a professional. "The place I went to was a small private event ... the whole room was cleaner than a hospital, and everything he used (hooks, needles) was sterilized using an autoclave." Yeah, that part is super important. Getting gangrene from used people-hooks and dying of sepsis will in fact ruin your high forever.
It's true that you can find people doing suspension stage shows over ear-shattering industrial music. There's plenty of shock value for the uninitiated. But that's not what this scene was about. "Those Vegas shows and performances are nothing like how it actually is. It's just regular people being hung and gently swinging in hospital-like settings."
It Hurts, But Not Like You'd Think
We're not going to pretend here. This looks like it hurts a hell of a lot:
It's simple logic: Pain + body pressure = even more pain. But the body handles it in unexpected ways. "Your first time out might hurt a bit depending on your pain threshold (these are, after all, hooks going into your body for a bit), but once you find the sweet spot for weight distribution, there's no pain." No blood, either -- not if it's done right.
Still, first-timers tend to, you know, scream for awhile. Surprisingly, it's not for the reason you'd expect (that is, being skewered alive and hung up like a light fixture). "I saw people who started screaming once they were in the air." Tiax says. "They were screaming just because the sensation of floating but feeling your weight is totally foreign -- not because of any pain that might be there. Screamers usually stop after half a minute. Every single one always says the same thing: 'And then I stopped screaming when I realized that there was no pain.'"
That said, if it's pain you want ...
"The hooks that go in your belly pierce the skin in places with more nerves than the upper back, meaning you have to deal with a much more present pain. This is one of the few methods that have pain of any kind, and that's only because of the hooks on the belly area with all the nerve endings."
Otherwise, "We actually had a few people looking forward to pain come in, and they left sorely disappointed. Movies like Hellraiser show this as torture, when in reality it can be relaxing." In fact ...
It Serves As A Form Of Therapy
Technically, anything can be therapy as long as you get better, so we have choices ranging from acupuncture to emotional support turkeys. If it works, it works, regardless of how others may judge you. And there are plenty of people who swear by body suspension.
"People take one look at this and think to themselves, 'What a bunch of freaks!'" says Tiax. "Well, the first misconception is that body suspension is some kind of 'hardcore' thing to do ... from pictures, it's hard to get a feeling of this kind of very specific atmosphere. But I had several people tell me that after seeing a suspension in calm/private setting, their whole view of the thing was altered for the better."
Hey, acupuncture would be terrifying too if you didn't already know it was a thing. You just have to get past it. "You have 80-year-olds chatting with dudes in their 20s while suspended in nothing but shorts." Tiax said. "Put in a creepy rock background and it would look like a Gary Larson cartoon where two people talk about the banalities of hell."
"We have people walking in saying something like 'I need a form of stress relief' or 'I need therapy for my stress,' doctor's note in hand." Note that the doctor didn't specifically recommend body suspension -- there are few doctors that cool. But the patients don't see it as being much different from yoga (which, depending on the method, can hurt like hell). It's a choice between the one where you can dislocate your scapula and the one where you become your own personal swing set.
Well, there is another factor: Only one of them will probably freak out your family if they find you doing it. Then again, not caring about what other people think can be its own form of therapy.
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