Sunday, November 19, 2017
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In her own words: Dangling from my piercings makes me comfortable in my own skin

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Shannon Michael, 29, Palm Beach | body suspension artist

She tattoos people for a living but considers this her art: having her skin pierced with temporary holes and being strung up by hooks for onlooking crowds. The traveling performance artist, who has participated in shows from the Tampa Tattoo Arts Convention to New Orleans' Voodoo Fest, spoke with Floridian about how she got into suspension, what it feels like and why she loves it. These are her own words:

I originally saw it through piercers I'd worked with. … "Wow, this is some other level of pushing your body." I researched it and learned it had a deep-rooted ritualistic aspect. That's what sparked my interest. …

You talk about what you're wanting to do, how you want to hang. You discuss that with who's going to pierce you and who's going to rig you. … You tend to avoid certain areas, whether it's a fresher wound or if you don't feel it's comfortable. … You don't go to the muscle; it's just as deep as your skin. It doesn't seem like very much, but it's hearty enough to hold the weight. We used to use fish hooks, but now we use a specifically designed hook for suspension. … The piece that goes through you is a piece of titanium the thickness of a straw. …

Usually I try not to let it build up, because it will. My adrenaline kicks in before I even get pierced, because I'm anticipating it. By the time I get pierced, it's not as bad as I was thinking it would be. … It kind of stings. It feels pinchy. Once you're hanging, the skin feels really taut and almost becomes numb. … The more hooks you have, the less painful it will be. … Once I'm fully lifted off the ground, I don't feel it much. … "Oh, I'm here, I'm already doing it." Fear and pain is replaced with a satisfaction of success and perseverance. …

You can swing. You can hang. It's really what you want to get out of the experience. I feel like the more you move, the less you feel what's going on. … Any time I felt I was doing anything really painful to myself was when I was the most still. … I could feel every little thing because there was nothing else; there was no sensation of wind in my hair. …

It's more pushing the limits of your mind than your body. Once you do it, you realize your body is a hell of a lot stronger than you expected. Most people say, "I wouldn't do that" versus "I can't do that." … I've seen people who are 18 do it, and I've seen people who are almost 80 do it. I've known people who do some pretty extreme stuff to themselves, hang other people from them. I've seen some of my friends do it who are just frail little girls. … I've hung people who are more than 300 pounds just from six piercings in them. I've seen it from just two piercings. That's a lot of weight to be putting on two little dinky hooks. …

I struggle with anxiety. … It definitely puts things into perspective of what I'm capable of doing. I use it to re-center myself. … I think I'm more afraid of common, everyday things like driving in a car in Philadelphia, new personal interactions. I'm more afraid to make myself vulnerable than I am about my actual vulnerabilities. … I realize, what am I nervous about? I refer to it as an adult spanking. … "Stop it, you're throwing a fit for no reason. Just do what you've got to do."

I would never get in front of a crowd if it weren't for suspension.

It just made me feel more comfortable in my own skin.

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.

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