Regular Bizarre readers will recognise the name Pauly Unstoppable. He’s cropped up in dozens of articles we’ve written about body modification, and he was all over the Body Art book we published last year (still available in good book shops, since you ask.)
He even appeared on our cover, with two knives sticking through what were once the largest known nostril stretchings in the world. But until now we’ve never written anything exclusively about Pauly, despite the fact he’s one of the most recognisable faces on the body modification scene, and someone Bizarre readers clearly admire. We’re sorry. Enjoy.
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In the last couple of years Pauly Unstoppable has become synonymous with extreme body modification, and a list of his work reads like an A-Z of modding procedures. He has implants, brandings, scarification, tattoos (including one on his eyeball), nullification, piercings, a split tongue, and more.
He even became a a minor celebrity when his stretched nostrils broke out from body modification web site BMEzine.com onto message boards across the internet a couple of years ago. And even though he’s not yet turned 23, body modification has been his life for as long as he can remember. We caught up with Pauly in his home, the small town of Whiteland, Indiana, on the outskirts of Indianapolis.
“From a young age, I’ve always been into Native American culture and, of course, Maori Indians and the African tribes because my family is supposedly descended from Maori ancestry,” Pauly says. “I guess that’s probably where my body mod cravings stem from. I had my ears pierced when I was about seven, just with a normal ear-piercing gun, and when I was about 10 or 11 I started, without really realising what ear-stretching was, putting larger stuff in my ears.”
Around the same time, he pierced his septum (the piece of cartilage separating the nostrils) with a sewing machine needle – “obviously not the best method but it worked out for me,” he says – and also gave himself “a few genital piercings” because “they were stuff that other people couldn’t see”.
However, Pauly’s septum piercing wasn’t easy to hide, and he had to use jewellery that he could flip inside his nose. “The only people that saw my pierced septum before I was 18 were people at school that I showed, or my dentist,” he admits. “I didn’t want people to go, ‘Oh, what’s that crazy thing in your face?’ And my parents obviously wouldn’t have liked it either.”
That’s almost ironic, given that a few years later Pauly’s nostrils were stretched to a whopping inch and a half. And although he doesn’t like to be known as The Nose Guy, Pauly concedes that it’s what most people know him for.
“I guess it had some sort of impact,” he says. “A lot of people reacted the photos when they appeared on the web. It was two-and-a-quarter inch pieces of jewellery right in the centre of my face; everyone noticed that. Most people were like, ‘That’s cool, I haven’t seen that before.’ Or they’d ask me how I did it, how long it took, whether it hurt, and the big one: How did I sneeze?”
Pauly first decided to stretch his nostrils after he saw a guy called Pat Tidwell who’d stretched his nostrils to about five eighths of an inch. “I just liked how it made his nostrils look,” says Pauly. But he also admits that he was curious to see how far his own nostrils would go.
“When I started opening my nostrils, it was just to see how big I could go with them,” he says. “I didn’t want to outdo people or get the world record. I just like to test my body to see what it’ll let me do.
“When I got to an inch and a half, I figured that was a plateau. I could’ve got to an inch and three eighths or an inch and three quarters, but it was becoming uncomfortable to wear on a day-to-day basis. That’s one thing with me – if I have a body mod and it turns out to be uncomfortable, I won’t keep it. I wouldn’t have had my ears stretched so big if it was painful. You can’t live a normal life if you’re in constant pain.”
A lot of people assume Pauly’s massive nostrils must have a negative effect on his health, but he claims that’s not true. In fact, he claims that he never gets sick: “Opening my nasal passage and breaking down the barriers so that more bacteria and dust could get in is something people were concerned about, but it really hasn’t affected me. And as for the big question about sneezing, when I blow my nose or sneeze I just cover my entire nose.”
One of the most surprising things about Pauly is how young he is. Most heavily modified people have transformed themselves gradually, adding pieces as they go. For one thing, the process is expensive. And more to the point, most people don’t start with serious mods until they’re 18 because it’s hard to find artists who’ll work on someone who’s still a child in the eyes of the law. However, Pauly got around this by doing his early work himself. “Everything I had done before I was 18 I did myself,” he says.
As well stretching his ears before he turned 12, around the same time Pauly pierced his septum, his scrotum, his nipples and performed a Prince Albert modification on himself.
“When I was about 15 I did my meatonomy, which is the splitting of the bottom half of the head of the penis,” he says. “I cut from my urethral opening to where my Prince Albert was. I just opened the head up and from there cut another two-and-a-half inches. I did it with a razor blade, which isn’t advisable, but that was all I had, along with my determination to do it. I didn’t really know about scalpels and they weren’t widely available to the public anyway.”
Although Pauly wouldn’t recommend these eye-wattering procedures for anyone else, he says that he wouldn’t change a thing: “I don’t anything I’ve done in my past, but I cringe a little when I think of some things, like ‘Urgh, I used an unsterile razor blade to cut open my own genitals.’ But kids will be kids. That’s all I can say.”
Pauly’s more obvious body modifications had to wait until he was older, and he was 18 before he got his first tattoos. His first ink first was a simple design on his arm, and then he got his knuckles done. Next he tattooed his own face, all while he was 18.
“I didn’t tell anyone I was getting it done because I knew people would try to talk me out of it,” Pauly says. “I knew it was what I needed to do, and when I get an image in my mind there’s no changing it. It’s just how it goes. You can’t brush it under the table or talk me out of it. Once I want something, once I get the idea, it’s going to happen one way or the other.”
Pauly also says he got his modifications done, at least in part, to make it impossible for him to live a conventional life: “I had my own dream that I wanted to accomplish, my own things that I wanted to do, and I knew that I didn’t want to get stuck in a monotonous job that would cause me to hate my life.
“I tattooed my own face because I knew only I could do the work the way I wanted it done. There’s still a social stigma to having your face tattooed, but I’m a hair stylist, which I love, and no one really cares what you look like when you do hair. Tattooing my face definitely made me work harder to push myself to show people that I’m more than just a ‘freak’. I’m intelligent. I can do my job well. I have my own dreams, my own ambitions. But in the past my people have just judged me on my tattooed face.”
As well as the face tattoo and the stretched nostrils, Pauly’s also had Teflon ribs implanted under the skin of his penis, creating an effect not dissimilar to a ribbed condom. He also has stars tattooed on the top of his penis. But that’s not all.
“I have a penis sub-incision – an opening up the urethral canal for further stimulation,” he says. “When you open it up, it actually helps to stimulate more nerve bundles in the penis, so that’s why people put things down their urethra. Opening it up just makes it easier.”
Aside from his body modifications, people always ask Pauly about his name. As you probably guessed, ‘Unstoppable’ isn’t his real name. It’s a tribute to his habit of attracting, but ultimately overcoming, bad luck.
“I’ve had a lot of stuff happen to me that most people wouldn’t bounce back from,” he says. “I was hit by a drunk driver and ended up in a coma. When I was younger I tried to commit suicide and overdosed. I’ve been shot and stabbed. I’ve been set alight. And I’ve fallen out of a third storey window.”
Those events left Pauly clinically dead for a total of eight minutes. His ability to survive seemed to suggest some kind of superhuman luck, hence the nickname.
“I seem to attract a lot of crazy things, but they always end up OK in the end. Following my overdose, my heart stopped for five minutes and they brought me back. I decided not to take the overdose in the end, but it was too late. I threw it up and went to hospital. They pumped my stomach, but I ended up going into cardiac arrest. They worked on me and eventually injected adrenalin into my heart and I woke up. I was out for probably five minutes. And when I was in the car accident my head went through one of the windows. I was in a coma for three weeks and my heart stopped two or three times as well.”
The shooting and the stabbing were separate events. Both happened in Boston. Both were arguments that didn’t directly involve Pauly that got out of control. He was also set on fire during a bar fight.
“I had an altercation with someone and they broke a vodka bottle on me and set me alight,” he says. “There was no serious damage. I had some second-degree burns, but I wasn’t in a burns ward or had to have skin grafts or anything like that.”
As well as the near-tragedies listed above, Pauly has also survived falling out of a third storey window. He says he was in the top room at a friend’s house when things got “a little rowdy” and he got knocked out the window. He landed in bushes and, although he “broke a bunch of stuff”, there was no serious damage.
“My friends always tell me that I’m unstoppable because I’ve had all these things happen to me,” he says. “I’ve had all these obstacles put in my way, but I’ve still won through. Like, I’ve had my face tattooed, but I still work in a public environment on people that normally wouldn’t see someone with a face tattoo, horns and ears stretched big enough that you could stick your head through.”
But Pauly’s emergence from the close-knit body modification scene onto the computer screens of some more sensitive types wasn’t without consequences. Some people just don’t understand why anyone, especially one so young, would get modifications like Pauly’s. And when he put his unconventional head above the parapet, and wanted to take shots.
“There was a time when my picture was circulated on every online messageboard,” he says. “I got a lot of comments saying my parents mustn’t have loved me, and that I was going to work for the rest of my life in McDonalds, blah blah blah. All those people were just hiding behind their screens, picking on someone to make themselves feel better. I just feel sorry for them, that they have to go out and find pictures of people that they don’t know and then make baseless judgements on them.
“I’ve been called every nasty name under the sun. But it’s nothing. It doesn’t bother me. None of these people have any impact on my life. I know who I am. I know what I’m doing. I know what my life is about. I know that what I’m doing is what’s pure for me. So if anyone else says any differently, then that’s fine. But something that I say all the time is, ‘It’s my mind, it’s my body, it’s my time, it’s my money and I am going to do whatever the hell I want with it’.
And he points out ‘too far’ is a completely subjective term: “The only thing I consider as going too far is when people go about things the wrong way, and things don’t turn out in the right way because they were too ambitious; they stretched something too fast or they did something too big too soon, and it ended up going awry and not looking good. Who am I to say what looks good?”
The upside of Pauly’s foray into the mainstream is that he’s become a bit of a celebrity. He admits also that he gets stopped by between five and ten people whenever he goes out. Most just want to ask him about the simple logistics of being so modified, or have their picture taken with him. Albeit reluctantly he’s become a poster boy for extreme body modification, especially among a younger generation. And he admits that it’s nice to have some positive comments to counter the haters. But he takes the responsibility seriously, and wants to make it clear that you really shouldn’t attempt to do your own body mods. If you have to, make sure you know everything about the procedure, exactly what the risks are, and have made contingency plans should anything go wrong.
“I was smart enough and did enough research to do what did and it turned out OK,” he says. “But it was still a dangerous thing to do on my part. It’s best to wait to get it done the right way because, if you don’t, then you can seriously injure yourself. If you’re trying to split your own tongue and you hit a vein, or if you’re trying to remove your nipples or your finger or something, then you can also cause severe blood loss. If you hit a wrong nerve trying to do some genital thing then you can lose some sensitivity. It’s too dangerous for people that aren’t trained or haven’t had experience to try to do on their own.”
Surprisingly, Pauly has even more modifications planned, even though he admits that he’s “content” with what he sees in the mirror.
“When I see myself, I’m content with what I’ve done, even though I continue to push myself further,” he says. “It’s what I love, it’s what makes me happy, and it’s what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. Right now, what I see is perfect. It’s what I intended to do. But there’s still more to do.
“Why? Simple – when I didn’t have modifications, I felt alien in a world of humans. Through modification, through adorning myself and filling in the blanks, I’m making myself more human. I’m changing my body because I want it to look perfect. Some people will go, ‘You’ve gone too far, you’ve wrecked your life, you’ve wrecked your face’ but if you don’t know me and you haven’t talked to me, then you have no right to say that, because all you’re doing is judging me based on your personal biases.
“Like I’ve said before – it’s my mind, it’s my body, it’s my time, it’s my money, and I’m going to do whatever the hell I want with it.”