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Video: Woman says being suspended from metal hooks has helped her combat anorexia

Breanna Cornell derives pleasure from being suspended by her skin from metal hooks, a practice known as ‘flesh hook suspension’.

An engineer who enjoys being suspended by her skin from metal hooks and running 100 mile ultra-marathons, has spoken of the “immense sense of joy and feeling of achievement” provided by her hobbies, which have helped her combat anorexia and body dysmorphia.

Breanna Cornell, 26, said both activities involved pushing her body to the limit and, while having sharp objects threaded into her skin was initially uncomfortable, the fear and excitement was also thrilling.

Currently single, Breanna, of Flagstaff, Coconino County, Arizona, USA – where suspension is illegal as it is considered a medical procedure unless it is carried out by a doctor – has taken part in the practice 12 times, since being introduced to it by her then boyfriend two-and-a-half years ago.

 
 

Describing the pleasure her hobbies bring, she said: “There is certainly a connection for me between long-distance running and suspending that accounts for why I enjoy them both so much.

“There is that feeling of fear and adrenaline at the start that then becomes an almost calm-like meditation once you get going, and then the overwhelming feeling of achievement at the end.”

Yet, despite the inevitable pain experienced by hook suspension – which has been practised by Native Americans for hundreds of years – Breanna insists she is not a masochist, seeing the pastime more as an artistic and emotional expression, while admitting that she does enjoy challenging her body.

Breanna has 15 piercings (PA REAL LIFE/Collect)

She continued: “I wouldn’t say that I derive my pleasure in suspending – or marathon running for that matter – from the pain, but I would certainly say that I like being able to push my body to its limits, which does involve some amount of pain.

“For thousands of years, humans have endured pain as part of daily life, but in the modern world we have been able to live pain free.

“This seems to me to make us lacking at a genetic level as pain is an essential element of human existence and I, for one, couldn’t do without it.”

Breanna suspending (PA REAL LIFE/Collect)

A long-distance runner since childhood, Breanna completed her first marathon just after leaving school in 2010, but soon set her sights on greater goals than 26.2 miles and in 2012 was competing in ultra-marathons in Africa.

Around the same time, while studying environmental engineering at Michigan Technological University, she developed a penchant for body modification, having her first tattoo, a wing on her foot, aged 18, followed by a series of piercings on her ears and nose.

“Growing up, I had had a lot of problems with anorexia and body dysmorphia, where you have a very negative perception of your body,” Breanna continued.

Breanna and her dog Sophie (PA REAL LIFE/Collect)

She continued: “I liked getting piercings and tattoos of drawings that I had made, because it allowed me to look at my body and focus on them instead of the way I looked.”

At this point hook suspending was not yet on her radar,  although she was aware of it, but viewed it as “gory and unpleasant.”

That changed in April 2016 when Breanna – who now has three piercings on her nose, seven on her left ear and five on her right, as well as tattoos on both thighs, both arms, her back and chest, and a split tongue – joined her then boyfriend, a suspension enthusiast, at an event.

Breanna suspending (PA REAL LIFE/Collect)

Watching him being strung up by a professional piercing artist at a studio in Phoenix, Arizona – where suspension is legal – she was fascinated.

“Up until that point, I didn’t think it was for me at all. It looked very scary and frankly quite gory,” she explained. “But then, as soon as I saw it for myself, I knew immediately that this was something I wanted to do.”

She would have to wait another six months, however, before she could be hooked up herself, during which time, she and her boyfriend sadly parted.

Breanna running with her dog Sophie (PA REAL LIFE/Collect)

But in October 2016, having arranged a session with the same piercing artist in Phoenix, costing $100 (£75), Breanna recalled: “I was really, really nervous beforehand and was sick twice because there was so much adrenaline pumping through me.

“I was put in the ‘suicide’ position, so called because it looks like a person hanging as the hooks are through the skin at the top of your back, and there was a lot of fear to overcome, as I lifted my final toe off the ground, as it feels so unnatural.

“But once I was up there, suspended five feet off the ground, I had a rush of immense joy and it felt as though I was weightless and floating.”

Breanna suspending (PA REAL LIFE/Collect)

Staying suspended for half an hour, Breanna knew as soon as she was eventually let down that she would have to do it again – she was, literally, hooked.

So, six months later, she returned – this time being rigged up in a ‘superman’ position, flying forwards with 10 hooks along her back and legs.

Having now been suspended 12 times,  or roughly every six months and usually during the spring or autumn when the weather is cooler, Breanna says her hobby provides her with an outlet for her emotions.

Breanna suspending (PA REAL LIFE/Collect)

“My response to each suspension really varies on my mood. If I am happy then I will have a lot of fun and swing around a bit,” she explained, adding that she also chooses her position according to her mood.

“But if I am feeling a bit stressed then it can be really nice to get into a more static position like the hammock – where you are sitting into the suspension with your knees and shoulders hooked. That way, I can sit comfortably for hours and just relax.”

Despite its long history and growing popularity around the world, hook suspension is not without its detractors, some of whom Breanna has encountered.

Breanna suspending (PA REAL LIFE/Collect)

“I realise that not everyone will understand the appeal. One person I know said it was ‘appalling.’ But that’s why I often try to compare it with marathon running – a much less maligned pastime,” she said.

“There is just as much pain involved in running long distances, but you don’t necessarily do it for that reason – you do it for the satisfaction of having pushed your body.

“And that, for me, is one of life’s greatest joys.”