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Kayan culture: Why do women stretch their necks?

Do you know why Kayan women wear neck rings to stretch their necks? Learn this answer and other facts about Kayan tribe beauty from this article.

Kayan women

Beauty is quite a relative concept. It is often dictated by tastes and preferences of the one who is applying judgment. That is why sometimes the beauty standards set by different countries are considered pretentious or rather odd by people from another country.

Even today, even though our world tends to establish universal beauty standards everywhere by all the means of global mass media, a lot of countries are still divided over the understanding of how a beautiful woman is supposed to look like.

In this article, we will examine the question and understanding of Kayan women and what they believe about real beauty and its standards. Kayan people belong to a minor group of Tibeto-Burman ethnic minority of Burma. There numerous divisions inside this ethnical group; nevertheless, they still consider particular Kayan women more beautiful than others.

Kayan culture formed in the course of a long period of time defines that a beautiful woman is the one that has the giraffe-like neck. Sure, this tradition is not as painful as cutting ornaments on the skin or changing one’s shape with the means of the knife and amateur medicine, but still shaping your neck in such a way is not a piece of cake.

Kayan culture

Kayan women have been long known for wearing special attributes. These attributes are referred to as “kayan culture neck rings”. A girl born into a Kayan culture is given a neck ring as soon as she turns five years old. It is placed on her neck, and as time flies this ring will be replaced with a bigger coil with the greater number of turns on it. These women given their peculiarities are often called “giraffe-women” which they are not offended with. They only say that beauty demands sacrifice. In their case comfort is what they pay for looking beautiful.

Nevertheless, Kayan tribe neck ring does not change the form of the neck. All it does is adding more weight and pressing the collarbone down. As a known scientific fact states the shape of one’s neck cannot be changed. It only creates an illusion of it being changed. It is collarbone that undergoes serious deformation in the process of wearing this coil for the sake of Kayan tribe beauty.

Scholars have suggested numerous theories about these coils. One group stated that this way men wanted to protect their wives and daughters. Knowing that women were often kidnapped and sold into slavery, people offered their wives to wear these coils to seem less attractive to those willing to capture them.

According to other anthropologists, these rings somehow made Kayan women more attractive sexually. Psychologists say that subconsciously men are drawn to these women, as the rings represent their hidden sexual beauty. Meanwhile, other historians mentioned that these coils might have stood for the symbolism of a dragon man have to conquer in the name of love. Finally, there are scientists that believe that somehow these neck rings are helpful when it comes to Kayan women’s safety in the area they live in, as there might be tigers.

Kayan tribe culture

In the meantime, women of Kayan tribe believe that now these rings are their way to stand out. This is what they got famous for, first, among the neighboring tribes, and then worldwide. No women have ever got rid of these neck rings before 2006. The procedure seemed just impossible, and moreover, now as the neck is elongated, it needs constant support of the coil. That is why these coils can be only replaced with a bigger one or a new one of the same length.

As the research has shown, Kayan women do not want to get rid of these coils, as the place where they stood on the skin no longer looks beautiful and attractive, so they would rather keep wearing their “jewelry” not to expose that part of their body.

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However, as the Western civilization started to express their interest in the Kayan women, they offered them an idea that they should no longer wear neck rings and instead fight for their freedom from the restrictions and expectations of the culture they live in as well as prejudices of what truly is beautiful. That is why when a group of Kayan women got rid of their coils in 2008 in one of the refugee camps, they reported that they felt dizzy for some time, and then began feeling better. Researchers noted that one of the women that removed her neck ring wore it for longer than forty years. She felt okay in the long run, but it was rather uncomfortable for her at first.

Kayan tribe beauty

As women from Kayan culture remove their neck rings (except for elderly ones and those living in very remote areas), some other tribes have recently implemented this tradition in their ethnical groups. They claim that this serves as an attraction for tourists who come to visit and, consequently, bring their money to the tribe.

If speaking about tourism, it only became available for tourists in 2014 given a military conflict that took place in this area. Once the borders got open, a famous photographer from Ukraine named Dmytro Gilitukha came to see and shoot this unknown beauty of Kayan tribe. His pictures became extremely popular, and he added his personal comments on the situation and perception of beauty in te Kayan tribe.

First, he mentioned that it stood out for him how young girls are also wearing these rings. He was also the one who emphasized that he eyewitnessed how a woman that wore the neck ring for a long time removed it. She did not fall apart like a lot of people were afraid she would. On the contrary, in two to three weeks she got back to normal life feeling no discomfort whatsoever.

Kayan tribe culture

Dmytro also stated that he finds it amazing that these women still kept this tradition (at least some of them did) despite the numerous attempts of Western cultures to change their understanding of beauty. Kayan culture did not give in easily and saved its identity with these neck rings.

So you see how different beauty might look like to different people. It all depends on the historical and social background. And what some people see as beauty might be absolutely ridiculous for others, but it still has a place to remain there.

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