Higher Human Forms: Bagel Heads

The bagel head transformation.. Image via National Geographic Channel

Body modifications don't have to be permanent in order to make an impact.

Just consider "bagel head" forehead augmentation: The subject receives a six-hour saline infusion (400 milliliters) to the forehead and a well-placed thumb creates the desired torus shape. The effect remains visible for 16 hours on average as the body absorbs or urinates the saline within 6 to 24 hours [source: Bosmia, et al]. This perfectly allows the user to transform themselves into a "Star Trek" alien for the weekend, and then reenter normalcy on Monday.

(Image via Tchintcha.com)

Bagel head modification first captured widespread attention in 2012 after an episode of National Geographic Channel's "Taboo" program, but media reports blew the whole situation out of proportion, casting it as a Japanese counter-culture phenomenon.

In reality, very few individuals have undergone the procedure and Tokyo-based photojournalist Ryoichi "Keroppy" Maeda remains its primary practitioner. There's not even a high level of danger here, as the primary risks are permanent skin laxity, neurovascular injury and infection -- all of which can be readily avoided via professional administration of the procedure. If you're looking for all the details, this 2013 article from the journal Dermatology Practical & Conceptual has all the answers.

What Does It Mean?

The biggest question surrounding the bagel head is of course "why?" The most obvious reason is the transhuman spectacle of the torus-shaped bulge. We're hardwired to look at such a distortion of atypical human appearance, but the bulge's central indention easily distinguishes it from natural disfigurement. There's authorship at work here -- and ownership of the condition. The procedure gives us the power to make our flesh truly and startlingly inhuman without permanent mutilation.

While the procedure isn't directly linked to any deeper world view or ethos, one can't help but think of third eye motifs from eastern and new-age spiritual representations -- as well the modern trepanation movement that preaches transcendence through permanent cranial perforation. In fact, I found at least one reference to this interpretation from Montreal psytrance promoter Daniel Doors, who related the following to Rave News:

"Having a bagel head electrifies your third eye, and activates your ajna chakra man. That little injection of saline not only makes you look better, it makes you see the world better. If you're a hippy, you should definitely get a bagel head at least once in your life. Preferably while on a shrooms [sic]."

Who's to say that's not the case? Body modification is mind modification. Body modification is soul modification. Even without the added effects of psilocybin ingestion, one can easily imagine the rush of becoming the transhuman center of attention, if only for one wild night of psytrance.

Higher Human Forms is an ongoing blog series profiling the many fascinating ways in which humans have reshaped their bodies throughout human history. To quote plastic surgeon Joe Rosen, "The body is a conduit for the soul, at least historically speaking. When you change what you look like, you change who you are."

About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.