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What You Didn’t Know About the Practice of Neck Elongation

Ancient History | August 15, 2019

A Kayan Lahwi (Long-Necked Kayan) woman with neck rings. Source: (gettyimages.com)

Human beings, it seems, have always practiced some sort of body modification or another. Piercings, tattoos, foot binding, and skull flattening are practices found around the world. One of the oldest known forms of body modification is using neck rings to elongate the neck. Let's look at some of the myths and facts about neck elongation.

Neck elongation is an ancient practice. Source: (atlasofhumanity.com)

Ancient Origins

Neck rings have been used by cultures in Africa and Asia for thousands of years. In fact, anthropologists have definitively traced the practice back to the 11th century in parts of Asia, but it appears to be much older. It was commonly practiced among groups in Africa, Asia, and India. 

Did neck rings start as a way to protect the neck? Source: (worldtravelling.com)

How Did Neck Rings Start?

Historians are unsure why ancient people began to use neck rings to elongate their necks. According to one story from Myanmar, the neck rings were worn to protect the villagers from tiger attacks, since tigers often clawed at the throats of their victims. Another legend claims that the neck rings were used to make the women of the village less attractive so the men of neighboring tribes would be less likely to kidnap them. If the goal was to make the women look ugly, then the neck rings had the opposite effect. The neck rings gave the women an elegant, beautiful appearance. Even today, they are associated with beauty. 

Neck rings as a status symbol. Source: (worldtravelling.com)

Neck Rings Symbolized Wealth

The different cultures in which neck rings are found have varying symbols attached to them. For some, the rings indicate wealth and status. For others, they are a symbol of the faithfulness of a wife to her husband. They are also viewed as a fashion accessory, and the gracefully long neck is seen as beautiful and desirable. 

The neck rings are not individual rings, but one long coil. Source: (marieclaire.com)

Most Aren't Rings At All

Most so-called "neck rings" are not really rings at all. Instead, they are coils of brass or gold alloys. As the neck is extended, the old coil is removed and a new, longer one is added. The neck rings can weigh as much as 20 lbs. 

As the x-ray shows, the neck is not longer...the collar bones are lower. Source: (reddit.com)

The Neck Rings Don't Make the Necks Longer

Contrary to popular belief, the use of neck rings doesn't really make the wearer's neck longer, but it does give the illusion of length. The rings actually push the collar bone and ribs down, making the neck look longer. If attempts were made to truly lengthen the neck by stretching it, serious damage can be done. It could result in paralysis and even be fatal. The use of the neck rings, however, does cause the wearer's neck muscles to weaken. 

Girls as young as five start wearing neck rings. Source: (atlasofhumanity.com)

Starting Young

Girls as young as five years old wore neck rings. As the child grew, the neck rings would be replaced with rings with a larger diameter so that they didn't choke the wearer. The younger the child, the more pliable the skeletal system, so it becomes easier to move the collar bones. 

Pieces of cloth tucked into the neck rings can help prevent chafing. Source: (annieowen.com)

Neck Rings Equal Lifestyle Changes

Wearing the neck coils means some adjustments need to be made. For example, the wearers cannot lean their heads back, so they need to drink from straws. The metal is hot and can cause chafing, so the wearers use natural ointments or pieces of cloth to protect their skin. The elongation also impacts their vocal cords. After prolonged neck ring use, women are said to have deeper, hollow-sounding voices. 

Neck rings can be a fashion statement. Source: (pinterest.com)

Still in Use Today

Although it is not as widespread as it once was, the practice of elongating necks with neck rings is still used today. In most cases, the neck coils are not as thick as they once were, so they do not do as much structural damage as in previous generations. Also, modern women are more likely to remove their neck rings on a regular basis, either for comfort or to conform to cultural standards of appearance. The use of neck rings, however, is still viewed as an attractive trend that makes a woman appear more graceful. 

Tags: Practice of Neck Elongation

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Karen Harris

Writer

Karen left the world of academic, quitting her job as a college professor to write full-time. She spends her days with her firefighter husband and four daughters on a hobby farm with an assortment of animals, including a goat named Atticus, a turkey named Gravy, and a chicken named Chickaletta.