"This stinks!"
@body:Not surprisingly, few members of the medical profession would disagree with Saunders' remark. "I certainly wouldn't advocate branding at all," warns Dr. David Blanchard, medical director of the emergency department at Mesa General Hospital. "It may be in vogue or in fashion to do this and, outside of the obvious scarring, most people who do it will probably get by without any permanent damage. However, if they were to do this in an area of bending or a joint area, they could possibly develop a disability involving range of motion." On a more optimistic note, Blanchard points out that brands can be removed via laser. "But it's a trade-off," he warns of laser removal. "What you're doing is spending a lot of money to trade one scar for another scar that doesn't look quite as bad. These people are setting themselves up for scarring, disfigurement and infection. Basically, this is quite a stupid idea."

@body:To the best of anyone's knowledge, the recent spark of interest in recreational branding was fanned by body-modification pioneer Fakir Musafar. A former advertising executive, the 60ish Musafar was catapulted to fame four years ago when he was interviewed for Modern Primitives, a trade paperback investigating the then-revolutionary world of tattooing, body piercing and other anatomical tribal rituals, all subjects dear to Musafar's heart. (One of the book's more disturbing photographs depicted a nude Musafar suspended lengthwise from a horizontal scaffolding by nylon line and fishhooks.)

Today, Musafar conducts workshops and lectures in the San Francisco area, unofficial headquarters for the body-modification movement, a largely West Coast phenomenon that has yet to penetrate the East Coast to any great degree.

Late last year, when Musafar published the first issue of Body Play magazine, thrill-hungry fans discovered that the enterprising pincushion had plenty of other tricks up his sleeve. In addition to a story on the joys of "corseting" (using a specially designed girdle, the adult Musafar once reduced his own midsection to 19 inches), a lengthy, how-to article on branding, based on Musafar's own personal experiments dating back to 1950, was included in the cultish quarterly.

Among his more painful discoveries were that wood burners, soldering irons, red-hot coat hangers and paper clips were far more apt to produce unsightly blisters and/or uneven scars than the small, stainless-steel strips that are standard branding tools today.

Although Musafar is largely responsible for whatever popularity the practice currently enjoys, the bod-mod maverick was not the first to introduce voluntary branding to this country.

Since the turn of the century, branding has been--and continues to be--a ritual among members of black fraternities on university campuses across the country. Still practiced today (though perhaps not as widely as in the past), the rarely publicized but common ceremony has, in recent years, been chronicled in publications ranging from Rolling Stone magazine to the 1986 book Bigger Secrets, a hodgepodge of information that the omnipresent "they" prayed you'd never find out about.

Truth be told, those fraternities probably couldn't have cared less who found out about those brands. "This was something that had been going on for years, and if you were in a fraternity, you didn't give it a second thought," recalls Valley psychologist Dr. Brad Bayless, who witnessed several such brandings while a member of a black fraternity at Arizona State University in the mid-Sixties. Typically performed with heated coat hangers during drunken frat parties, the ritual usually "produced a small brand on the bicep or chest," recalls Bayless. "The whole point was to show your faithfulness and allegiance to the fraternity. I don't drink much, so I could never get drunk enough to do it. Believe me, it just wasn't that big of a deal."

But Bayless points out a big difference between frat-house brands and the elaborate rituals Haworth is involved in. "With us, it was one quick shot with the coat hanger and--ouch!--that was that. What these people are doing with the multiple brandings is something else entirely. I can't even begin to imagine that."

@body:Despite the enthusiasm of branding buffs, most observers doubt that human branding is ever going to set the world on fire, even among hard-core members of the trend-of-the-month club.

"I seriously doubt that branding will ever begin to reach the popularity of, say, piercing or tattooing," says Erik Dakota, 29, a professional piercer who operates in the Santa Cruz, California, area. Dakota's reasoning? A lack of trained branding practitioners. "Take tattooing," says Dakota, who has performed "hundreds" during his five years in the body-modification business. "It's been around forever, so there are a lot of people who really know what they're doing. But branding is relatively new, and if someone doesn't know what he's doing, he can really, really mess someone up. Plus, to a lot of people, the very idea of branding is simply off-putting."
But perhaps a much more obvious stumbling block to a branding bonanza is the very nature of the beast. "Let's put it this way--how many people do you know who've been branded?"

So says the surnameless Vaughn, proprietor of San Francisco's Body Manipulations, a body-jewelry shop.

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