Longneck Tribe, Inle Lake
One of the indigenous tribes that inhabit Myanmar and Northern Thailand are the Karen people. One of the subsets of the tribe, the Kayan, are know for a very unique sort of body modification performed on the women of the tribe. The ladies elongate their necks through the use of brass rings (actually a coil) that begins as early as the age of 5. It begins with only a few rings weighing maybe a kilogram then over the years at certain ages the coil is cut off and a new one with more turns or rings are added. This typically ends in the early twenties where a woman can have up to 20 coils weighing several kilograms. The rings don't actually elongate the necks however. What they do rather is crush the clavicle and compress the rib cage resulting in what appears to be a longer neck. Coils are also worn on the arms around the wrist and forearm and on the legs on the ankle up to the calf. We learned of several reasons as to why the rings are worn. One being that they might at one time have protected the women from tiger bites. This really sounds like an excuse a man would give considering what they are most likely for - a desire for women to appear more attractive by exaggerating the look of a long, slender neck. Some have suggested the coils may have protected the women from becoming slave by making them less attractive to opposing tribes. The rings may have also given the women a resemblance to a mythical animal important to the Kayan people - the dragon. Whatever the reason, the coils are a unique cultural identity of the Kayans. The practice of adorning oneself with the rings is becoming less and less common with the onset of modernity in rural areas. Young women are rejecting the notion of body modification for men's idea of beauty in favor of education and work. The Kayan women we got to see work as traditional weavers and tourist attraction. It felt very exploitative seeing them in a shop in full dress with people ogling over them and trying to get their photo. However, we were guilty of this cultural exploitation as well and realized it shortly after visiting their shop. It would've been one thing to travel to a remote village to see and experience the Kayan way of life rather than visit what amounted to a human zoo.