Throughout much of our history, humans have found ways to modify their bodies. And they aren’t just for cultural reasons, since many of us get our ears pierced or tattooed just because we want to. But many societies go to great lengths to alter their appearance, in ways that will leave you speechless. This article highlights some of the most incredible examples of body modification in various cultures.
1. Head Shaping
Head shaping or artificial cranial deformation is exactly as it sounds, where a significant amount of pressure is applied to the skull to change its natural shape. It is only done on babies for up to two to four months, particularly before their fontanel closes during the normal growth process. Doing this ensures that the skull retains its new shape when the sutures close. This was particularly common among the Egyptian royals but was also seen in many other cultures including the Mayans, Incas and a few Native American tribes.
2. Lip Plates
The practice of stretching one’s lips with a disk goes all the way back to 8700 BC in Africa, with tribes in Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea still keeping the tradition alive. For the Mursi and Surma people of Ethiopia, it’s part of a rite of passage usually done about six months before a marriage. A wooden peg is inserted into the lips between the ages of 15 and 18, then slowly replaced by larger pegs and finally a wooden or clay disk. The disk can be any size, with the largest one recorded thus far, measuring an impressive 23.4 inches.
3. Neck Elongation
So far, you’ve learnt what people do with their head and lips, all in the name of beauty. But that’s not all. There’s also neck elongation, and it’s the standard in many African and Asian tribes. This is where women place a number of rings around their neck to create the illusion of a long neck. The reason it’s only an illusion is because they don’t physically lengthen their necks, but rather twist and push the clavicle and ribs much lower than where they should be. Removing them is possible, but also really painful and could even lead to death, so many women simply live with it.
4. Fingertip Removal—Dani Village, New Guinea
Body modification isn’t always done to fit beauty standards. Sometimes it’s simply part of a culture’s supernatural belief system. Take for instance the Dani people in the jungles of Indonesia where female members willingly cut off the upper half of their fingers whenever a loved one dies. This is known as Ikipain and it’s part of a ritual meant to ward off evil spirits. The tradition has since been banned by the Indonesian government, though their members in Western New Guinea haven’t given it up yet.
5. Foot Binding
Foot binding was an old Chinese custom that hasn’t been practiced since the 20th century. It is believed to have originated during the 10th century among the upper-class dancers. Women were the sole practitioners and would begin binding their feet from a very young age, usually four years old. It was often done during the winter so their feet could be numbed by the cold. Then it was soaked in a mixture of herbs and animal fluids, followed by binding the toes against the soles until both the arches and toes were broken. This would then be repeated for several years until the desired shape was achieved.
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