When we think about body modification, we think about piercings and tattoos. Some people love it and see these decorations as a way of expressing who they are, others simply hate it. But the desire to make ourselves more attractive through body modifications is far from new. Since ancient times, people have had a mental image of perfection. And even though the image has changed somewhat throughout the centuries, it has showed us that people are willing to suffer for beauty. No pain, no gain.
Around 45,000 BC, it was really fashionable to have an elongated skull. The Egyptians did it as well, and less then 150 years it was still done in some parts of Africa (especially the Mangbetu tribe in Congo) and South America. When a baby is born, the skull is still soft and not fully-grown. So they wrapped the baby’s head in cloth or rope, and add wooden splinters for extra pressure. This practice was called cranial binding.
More common is the neck-stretching, practised by some Burmese-Thai tribal groups. When a girl is five years old, she receives her first ring. Gradually they add more, up to 37 rings that weigh more then 20 pounds! The women are called long-necks or giraffes, but all these rings actually do is crush the collar bones, so the neck looks longer. In the old days, only girls born on Wednesdays or on a full moon were to wear the rings, but now most girls undergo the process because it provides them with an income: whole villages were constructed were tourists pay to go see these long-necks. Some young girls who wanted to go to college took off the rings in their twenties, without any problems. But women who have worn them most of their lives simply cannot: they would choke as the muscles have weakened so much.
Other extreme examples are the Mursi and Sura tribes in Ethiopia. When a girl has reached the child-bearing age (around 16 – 17), and incision is made in her lower lip. They insert a ceramic dish, and replace it each time with a larger one until the lip is about 4cm in diameter. At this point, between 2 and 4 front teeth are extracted to accommodate a clay lip plate. The ideal is to wear a lip plate of about 15 – 20 cm in diameter. Talking, eating and drinking is of course extremely uncomfortable, that is why the women wear them only around men.
In China, for centuries long, it was custom to bind the feet of young girls to prevent them from growing. Small feet were seen as elegant and perfect. When girls were between 3 and 8 years old, their mother would break their toes and bind them underneath the soles of the food with linen bandages. Sometimes the girls were forced to walk long distances, so their own weight would crush the bones of the feet. Every week the wrappings were taken off (if necessary the toes broken again) to wash the feet, and then applied even more tightly, until eventually the arch of the foot is also broken. Unnecessary to say that is was a painful process, but one hundred years ago it was impossible for a girl with normal feet to find a husband. The greatest danger was the risk of infections, gangrene and rotting flesh.
You want to find out more about Chinese customs and traditions? An excellent place to start is the Centre for Chinese Culture in Berlin, inaugurated in 2008. Rent the best apartments in Berlin and enjoy a perfect mix between east and west!