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The Breathtaking Beauty of Imperfection]

March 1984 had one of the biggest snowstorms ever seen in our area. It left glistening white piles that towered over my four-year-old head. I've never been much of a winter person, even as a child, but this was a winter wonderland that no kid could resist. I was outside playing with my friend Siobhan, little Michelin Women wobbling about the drifts, but we got bored, and tired, and cold so we came inside. My family was making canneloni stuffed with ricotta, a special treat that I couldn't remember ever having had before. I wanted to be in on the action, and clamoured to help. My parents let me stand on a step so that I could stir the pot.

I can't remember exactly what happened next: perhaps my elbow dipped into the water, perhaps I just slipped. In any case I lost my balance and fell, and in the process brought the pot of bubbling water down on top of me.

I screamed.

Yeah, it hurt. (Afterwards, one of the most inane questions that I was ever asked was "did it hurt?") But it was only painful for a second, really. The shock and the endorphins set in almost immediately, so for the next few hours I was high as a kite and feeling no pain. My mum grabbed me and stuck me in a cold bath with ice cubes (note for future reference – cool or lukewarm water is a better bet) taking off my clothes as she went. I remember after I took off my t-shirt I looked down and saw another layer and peeled that off. My mother cried out and reached to stop me. I couldn't figure out why at the time, but I suppose that it's a little disturbing watching your baby taking off her skin.

A friend of my dad's had just then arrived at our house, so rather than get the ambulance to fight its way through the un-cleared streets of our small town he drove me to our tiny local hospital. They didn't have the facilities to look after me properly there, so they did some basic first aid and bundled me into an ambulance and up the highway to the nearest city with a good burn unit.

I don't really remember the first couple of days in the hospital; I was too doped up on morphine. I'm told that it was touch and go for a while. I was a small 4-year-old and I had third degree burns on a third of my skin surface as well as some second-degree burns. I was fortunate that all of the burns on my face and on the front of my neck were only second degree; they faded very quickly. Then the fun part started. Most burn victims will concur that the most painful part is the treatment – dressing changes must be done every day and they are so much fun! As a special treat (I think once a week or so) I got to have a bath to soak the bandages off. As infection is the biggest danger with extensive burns, once they took the dressings off they had to clean the scars. This took the form of wiping me down fairly firmly with a pad of rough gauze soaked in Savlon. They had to exfoliate the dead skin off me, you see. That hurt.

I remember the first time that I walked after the accident. There was a night nurse who gave me seven kinds of shit if I ever wet the bed and I needed to pee so badly and my dad was asleep so I suppose I felt that I had no other choice but to get up. I hobbled down the corridor bowlegged like I'd just finished a hard day riding a draught horse and the nurses at the station saw me and clapped and cheered as though I'd just performed some amazing feat of strength. In retrospect I suppose that I did. At the time I was just deeply embarrassed and couldn't understand why they were applauding my urinary efforts – I'd been potty trained for 2 years now!

I was discharged from the hospital after about a month. I still had to be bandaged, but they only needed to be changed once a day and a visiting nurse came in to do that. Once my wounds healed the bandages came off and I got to wear the Jobst Garment. This was a heavy nylon "pressure" garment which is custom built to cover all of the scars in an effort to reduce keloiding (the term used for raised scarring) as much as possible. In my case this meant that I was pretty much covered from neck to wrist to ankle in a thick nylon bodysuit almost twenty-four hours a day. During the most stinking hot summer. I don't remember playing outside that much that year except to go swimming.

And there was the physio. Scar tissue contracts, reducing mobility by a huge degree. In my case I couldn't straighten my right knee or my right elbow, and I couldn't raise my right arm even to shoulder height without pain. So I got lots and lots of physiotherapy so that I wouldn't end up a cripple. If you've experienced this you probably know exactly how horrible this is. If you haven't, I can't properly express it. I now have almost full flexibility in all of my affected joints. I screamed and cried and swore at them at the time, but there are now few people in the world who I hold more respect and gratitude for than the wonderful sadists who made me move normally again. My mum is at the top of that list.

It was of course after all the treatment was over that the real fun began. My scars were truly visible for the first time, and I was terribly self-conscious of them. Of course every year I had to explain what had happened to me to a new crop of kids, and though I didn't exactly mind I kind of got bored of telling the story. And then there was grade 3, the year that my nickname was "Freddy's Sister". Kids have such a great sense of humour. To give them credit, that's the only time I really remember being directly teased because of my scars. Most people just asked stupid questions like "is it catching". But after a few years of introductions starting with, "Eeew, gross, what's that on your leg? Is it catching?" one can be forgiven for developing a bit of a complex. I refused to wear anything sleeveless in public until the age of 17 or 18, at which point the teenager rebellion hormones kicked in and I decided to send a great big "fuck you" to the world. I was really qu ite shocked when nothing happened.

Almost exactly 16 years after my accident, I met some wonderful amazing people who told me that I was beautiful because of my scars, not just cute despite them. They thought that they were cool. All of the positive thoughts about myself that had been lurking deep in my reptilian hindbrain burst into my frontal lobes all at once. I felt so good. I feel so good. I am beautiful. All of me, not just the bits that the water missed. I have easy wipe clean surfaces. I have irreproducable chaotic fractal designs built right in. And I have a great erogenous zone covering 33.3% of my body. Life is beautiful. And so am I.

Now I think of my scars are a form of body art. Though I did not put them there by choice, I can honestly say that if someone came to me and offered to take them away I believe that I would choose to keep them. Sadly most people don't see me in this way. Even many people who are involved in body modification fail to see my scars the way I do. So about a year ago I decided to start helping them out.

I've been looking at my scars for so long that I see pictures in the folds of tissue. There is a splash on my arm that is just like a swallowtail butterfly. The patterns on the back of my right shoulder form an almost perfect dragon. And the small scar on my left shoulder bears a striking resemblance to a bird with its wings outstretched. So I decided that my first 'intentional' body modification (other than a couple of piercings) would be a scarification around my bird scar to give it the outline of a phoenix.

I wasn't sure what method to use to achieve this. I didn't want it to be too obvious and I wanted it to blend in with the original scar as much as possible. My friend Dave, who is an accomplished brander, had just started experimenting with Dremel scarifications and he was really excited about his initial results. A Dremel tool is a common multipurpose power tool, which is used for various things including etching. As far as I can understand, when using it for scarification you are basically abrading the top few layers of skin away. This technique is different from others because of the precise, tattoo-like effect that is possible and because of the subtle nature of the resulting scar. While potentially very dangerous, in the hands of someone who knows what they are doing, (kids, don't try this at home) a beautiful, calligraphic look can be created in a fairly short time. I was pretty impressed with what Dave had already done using a Dremel, so I decided to go fo r it.

As he doesn't have a studio, Dave came over to my house and set up in my living room. While not the most sterile of surroundings, we did our best to make sure that everything was clean and safe. We spent about an hour perfecting the design with a Sharpie, and then he started buzzing away. The Dremel makes a pretty scary noise and I was a bit trepidatious about the pain, but it ended up feeling like someone was drawing hard on my arm with a ballpoint pen. After a fairly boring hour or so of holding still and wishing that I could read my book, he was done.

I was so happy when I looked in the mirror. The scar was beautiful – the silhouette of a phoenix in flight that looked like it had been drawn with a brush or a calligraphy pen dipped in my blood. Dave gave me instructions on keeping it clean and irritating it to make it scar and left me to it.

For the first couple of months the scarification was perfect. The picture was subtle but easily visible. Sadly after about three months it had faded quite a bit. I could still see the watermark-like scar on my shoulder but I was the only one. I'd point it out to people and show them what it was but they still couldn't see it. I was probably somewhat culpable in this in that I probably could have done more to irritate it, but it seems that this happens to most people with light skin who get a Dremel scarification. And boy do I have light skin. While I still love my phoenix I would like it if other people could see it and appreciate it, so I have decided to get Dave to redo it with branding. I'll let you know how it goes.

While I wouldn't recommend a Dremel scarification to anyone who wants a strong, easily visible scar, if you are a darker skinned person who wants a subtle, precise, calligraphic scarification, and you have access to someone who knows how to use a Dremel to produce a scar, I would tell you to go for it.

Check out Dave's burningskin portfolio and the Dermabrasion Scarification section on BME's Scarification page if you are interested in seeing some images of Dremel scarifications.

Yours in imperfect beauty,



submitted by: Anonymous
on: 22 Aug. 2002
in Scarification

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Artist: Nature%2FDave+Taylor+%28burningskin%29
Studio: at+home
Location: Canada

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