Friday, April 12, 2024

This Plastic Surgeon Will Happily Split Your Tongue

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At first, Jean M Loftus, MD, seems like a garden-variety plastic surgeon. She’s based in Northern Kentucky, and her work days are filled with the bread and butter procedures that typify aesthetic surgery: breast implants, tummy tucks, blepharoplasties, and liposuction.

A couple of times a month, however, Dr. Loftus performs a surgery that very few other plastic surgeons offer: She splits tongues.

When she first began offering tongue splitting, or bifurcation, 15 years ago, Dr. Loftus was under the impression that the candidates would be a largely young segment of the population. She was wrong. “It crosses every demographic, from 18 to 70 [years old]. They’re male, female, educated, uneducated. I just split the tongue of a 55-year-old business owner, and a 65-year-old engineer. [I’ve had] a truck driver and a woman who specializes in healing arts,” she says. Dr. Loftus is one of the few surgeons who’s repeatedly referenced for tongue splitting on Reddit’s r/bodymods subreddit.

A brief history of tongue splitting

A split tongue might seem radical (and reptilian) to most of us, but this type of body modification isn’t something new, or even niche. Humans have been altering their bodies for eons, be it for beauty, religion, or storytelling. Scarring was practiced by Indigenous Australians, tribes in Africa and Asia stretched their necks, earlobes and lips, and a sect of Hindus still practice skin piercing and suspension rituals at religious festivals. In fact, the oldest discovered incidence of ear stretching, piercing and tattooing dates back to a frozen mummy from 3300 BCE.

Though forked tongues have been widely depicted in religious and folk imagery for centuries, documentation of the actual practice is nearly nonexistent, possibly because split tongues have been viewed in several cultures as having a negative connotation. Ancient Roman poet Prudentius even blames a bifurcated tongue as the very origin of sin. According to the Cultural Encyclopedia of the Body, “On his fall, Satan’s tongue becomes forked, and as the physical division both literally and metaphorically corrupts his speech, he is consequently able to lead humanity astray.”

According to Guinness World Records (which keeps tracks of notable firsts) the first modern-day recorded tongue bifurcation can be traced to an anonymous Italian man who had a dentist friend perform the procedure in 1994. But the first person to do it and be identified by name was Dustin Allor, an American piercer who used her existing piercings as a jumping off point to split her own tongue with the help of some fishing line.

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