Body suspension is a practice closely linked to the world of body modification. Celebrities like Jane’s Addiction’s Dave Navarro are amongst its fans. At first sight it looks can look a little terrifying, not to mention dangerous. But what is it, exactly? Jillian Boyd has put together a primer for the curious, with some basics and what you should know about the art, the agony and the ecstasy of body suspension.

*Trigger warning!  This article contains images or content relating to piercing, blood, needles, etc. - The Editor.


What is body suspension?

Body suspension is the act of suspending someone from hooks put through temporary body piercings, performed just beforehand. It has historical roots in a religious ceremony called Okipa, which is a major part of the life of the Mandan tribe of North Dakota. It’s a complex ceremony, dealing with the creation of Earth and involving, amongst other aspects, piercing and suspension. 19th-century painter George Catlin depicted aspects of the ceremony in one of his paintings, showing a piece of this elaborate ceremony to a non-Native public.

Imitations of the suspension shown in Catlin’s painting, combined with the creative experimentation of non-Native performance artists like Allen Falkner and Fakir Mustafar/Roland Loomis, make up some of the bones of modern-day suspensions. Some suspensions can make you look like an angel, like Superman in flight or like you’re in the middle of the Michael Crichton movie Coma.

Quick facts about suspension

  • Suspension uses a specially-made block and tackle-like machine to lift you, with rope that attaches to the hooks pierced through your body
  • There are two different types of rigging – in static rigging, every hook is separately connected to the suspension apparatus
  • And in dynamic rigging, which uses mainly ropes, or something similar, one long piece is used to connect the suspender to the apparatus
  • Allen Falkner co-owns The Nines in Dallas, Texas, a club which hosts regular suspension events (he also founded SUSCON, one of the world’s first suspension conventions)

Preparation is key

As you can imagine, there are quite a few risks involved in skin suspension. Make sure you are in the hands of either a professional or someone with extensive experience and knowledge. It’s a delicate, risky process and you need to be in safe, good hands. Preparation is essential – sometimes the time spent preparing, setting up the rigging, etc. takes longer than the actual act itself, and there are often several people involved in the process of setting up a body suspension scene.

The person doing the suspending must study the body of the suspendee to be able to know important details like the size of the hooks, the number of hooks to be used, and where the hooks need to go. Once this has been figured out, the hooks are then temporarily pierced into the skin so your suspendee can... well, commence their suspension. This can last for just a few minutes to several hours.

I cannot emphasise enough that you want to be in the hands of a professional in skin suspension, or someone with lots of experience and knowledge. Your rigger should come with some knowledge of basic geometry, which helps with figuring out the number of hooks needed and where to place them on your body. An understanding of anatomy and physiology, in addition to awareness of the durability of your skin, is also required.

Playing it safe is key here. In a 2013 article for The Guardian, trauma and orthopaedic surgery registrar, Tom Bowers talked about some of the risks involved with putting yourself through body suspension pain, such as infection, suspension shock syndrome and the possibility of nerve or tendon damage caused by improper hook placement.

"Anyone keen to pursue this needs to ensure thorough aseptic skin preparation, and any sort of needle or hook should be single-person, single-use and be sterile." - Bowers

Also, a healthy dose of self-knowledge is also needed: get a medical check-up and obtain your health history, so that medical professionals on site know how to treat you in case of emergencies. Also, take the advice given by the good folks at - prepare for both the possibility of being overwhelmed and underwhelmed. Not everyone experiences a spiritual or physical high, and the psychological effects vary.

body suspension
Suspensions can last for a few minutes to several hours.

The art of body suspension pain

If the thought of partaking in body suspension yourself feels a bit far out, then you can always indulge your curiosity by watching someone else do it. The fetish performance scene has plenty of awesome suspension artists amongst its ranks, and there are plenty of clips of them performing on YouTube. Marlo Marquise has performed on stage with Jane’s Addiction, as has Starr Belew. Extreme performance artist Miss Crash, nicknamed The Queen of Suspension, has a possible world record to her name – at the 2008 Chicago Tattoo Convention, she completed a 27 hook, 18 transition suspension.

Images from Flickr Creative Commons user kris krüg



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