Why on Earth ... ?
The nature of an attraction to branding isn't easily defined. No two people come to the procedure from the exact same place. Still, it's fairly safe to say that at their core, attractions to any form of "body art" are also attractions to an "alternative" status. Branding, though, with its intense pain and association with disfigurement, may represent a more extreme distinction from the norm than other modifications.
Some point to the pain of the procedure as its primary appeal, noting the purposeful lack of anesthesia used in a process that, by most accounts, hurts intensely. And many people are attracted to pain, which can trigger the brain to release dopamine, the "pleasure chemical" often associated with addiction [source: University of Michigan Health System].
While most people who undergo body modification say pain is crucial to the experience, they would argue that's only part of it [source: Ward]. There is also the procedure's spiritual nature, its indication of devotion or the depth of its "abnormality."
A group calling itself the Church of Body Modification refers to body modification as a rite and states its mission as practicing that rite "with purpose, to unify our mind, body, and soul, and to connect with our higher power." The group considers body modification procedures and results as ongoing processes of self-discovery [source: CoBM].
The practice of branding in black fraternities (and some sororities) is one that signifies an extraordinarily deep commitment to the group. It's something that dramatically sets the branded members apart from the rest of society. Some black fraternity members also note a connection to their slave ancestors, who may have been branded as livestock by their owners (experts claim that slave branding, considered barbaric, was actually pretty rare in the Americas, though) [source: Battle].
And then there is the "abnormality" that is an end unto itself. Some people who choose to get branded may be looking to reflect their separateness from, not their involvement in society. Although it would be hard to argue against branding as an unavoidable initiation into a subculture – the body modification subculture. It's popular in some gangs and prisons too.
Branding differs in some noteworthy ways from other forms of body modification, perhaps the most interesting being that its results are unpredictable. The final appearance of a brand, the keloid scars that result from serious burns, depends more on the genes of the branded than the talent or technique of the brander, since everybody forms scars a little differently.