In the modern world body modifications mean one of two things: A tattoo, or some kind of piercing.
But, across the world and throughout history, though, body modifications have been more extreme than we could ever imagine. From the neck plates of Thailand to the teeth-sharpening of Indonesia, there are some body mods that simply take things to the extreme. Unfortunately, these historical practices weren’t all about self-expression: Instead, many of them were symbols of oppression and the cause of endless health problems.
Check out seven of the most peculiar examples below.
#1. Historically, lip plating can be found in certain countries in Africa, Europe, and South America.
In fact, the practice can be seen as far back as 8700 B.C. It’s currently still in practice by the Mursi tribe in Ethiopia, where it’s done at the same time as the removal of the two front teeth. Typically, the plates denote social class and status.
#2. Skull elongation sounds dangerous, but it was something that was done for years.
In Peru, Iraq and Egypt, elongated skulls have been found that trace back to thousands of years ago. The process is begun when an infant’s skull isn’t completely formed, making it easier to “mold.” It, too, was a sign on status.
#3. Breast ironing is an awful technique found in Cameroon.
It’s used to stop girl’s breasts from growing, so they don’t look like women and aren’t distracted by boys. The process is pretty horrifying They apply hot spatulas and pestles in order to dissolve the fat and make the breast flat. Of course, it creates numerous health issues, including breast cancer, cysts, and problems with breastfeeding.
#4. Feet binding is probably one of the most well-known extreme body modifications.
Done in China to little girls with the explicit intention of stopping their feet from growing. This deforming custom lasted for almost 1000 years, until it was banned in the 20th century. It was a symbol of wealth, since the idea of not needing to use your feet meant you had money and didn’t need to work. Unfortunately, it just caused generations of women to live with disabilities and health problems.
#5. Scarification is done by the Sepik River Tribes in Papua New Guinea.
They spend weeks doing these rituals, and consider it a rite of passage. That’s not the only place it’s done, either. In South Sudan, the Dinka tribe practice facial scarring, etching patterns into girls for beauty and three lines across the faces of boys to represent manhood.
#6. Teeth sharpening is terrifying to us, but was thought in some cultures to make someone more beautiful.
Mayans would do it as an expression of status, while the Mentawai people, from Indonesia, believe sharpened teeth are a standard of beauty. It’s mostly an antiquated practice now, but it can still be seen every now and again.
#7. Finally, neck stretching, a practice of a specific tribe in Thailand.
Women of the Kayan tribe begin with this procedure at the tender age of five. They start with four coils, and ideally end up with 25. The neck itself isn’t actually stretching, but rather the shoulders are being pushed down. This elongated look is a sign of beauty.