Extreme Beauty: The Desire for a Longer Neck

The desire for a long neck started in the fifteenth century, the collars gradually began to loosen and both Italian and Nothern paintings included women exposing more open necklines. From the book ‘Extreme Beauty: The Body Transformed by The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I read page after page of strange ways of elongating the neck.

The ruff is an item of clothing worn in the mid-sixteenth century to the mid-seventeenth century. It was worn by women, men and children. What started as the outlining of the neckline rapidly transformed into a framing of the face. At their extreme, ruffs could be a foot or more wide. The widening of the ruff made the head look separate from the body. It also created an optical illusion: the broadening plane of white conveyed a greater distance between the head and the torso. The ruff made the head look like it was floating above the body.

(Padaung women with brass neck coils)

The most extreme of ways of lengthening the neck still occurs in Africa, Thailand and Burma. Brass neck coils are worn by the Padaung women of Burma. The women are fitted with the coils at the age of six. Though I have heard it can even be as young as 2. The neck rings push the collarbone via a counterweight, about eight pounds, and the causes the collarbone change to an angle of over forty-five degrees. It is caused by extreme triangulation of the shoulder.

(X-rays showing the effects of Burmese neck coils on the human skeleton)

Paduang men have often pressured their daughters to wear the coils as tourists will pay to take photos of the goose-necked women. Though most women do this by choice because of their tradition and belief.

I find this particularly interesting, however, I do not know if I would want to take on such belief. These women must be pretty tough and stay true to their religion which I admire and respect.


6 thoughts on “Extreme Beauty: The Desire for a Longer Neck

  1. sarah says:

    You shouldn’t because if you knew how tough those people’s lives are you wouldn’t find it hard to believe that some parents do ask their children to wear neck coils for money. To them it is like you said a beautiful ‘good’ thing.
    I find it hard my self to believe that some people are good with talking about human rights but not good with applying their believes on them selves.

    Informative blog though. Good luck

    • Zoe says:

      Yes very true. I totally respect people’s belief’s especially from tribes and so forth. I have lived with a Sarawakian tribe for a few weeks so have witnessed different traditions. I am just imagining my dad asking me to do this. If I were in the Paduang people’s shoes I probably would. But in the end, I can’t help but feel a bit troubled with this tradition, that’s just my opinion.
      Thanks for the comment, you’ve made me think!

  2. Sheri says:

    We shouldn’t apply our own cultural norms to people of another culture. This practice seems strange to us, but has significance and meaning to them. Likewise there are practices in YOUR culture, what ever that may be, that some people disagree with. I say that with confidence not knowing anything about your beliefs but only because no single practice is upheld universally.

    • Zoe says:

      Hi there, yes I did not wish to offend anyone’s belief’s when writing this post I was simply researching (because my project at that particular time was tradition and adornment) and I am generally really interested in what different cultures. At that time I was reading a brilliant book about extreme beauty and ways in which various cultures beautify themselves. I just wanted to share my interest in this subject as I study jewellery and body adornment.

  3. Graham Lewis says:

    As a man ‘ i came across a picture of a couple of long neck women . I have been curious ever since ‘ On there way of life . And the beauty . Costume they wear . As a westerner who has a rwasonable / good way of life . I am concerned on the poverty they live in .

  4. I’m impressed, I have to admit. Rarely do I encounter a blog that’s
    equally educative and engaging, and let me tell you, you have hit the nail on the head.

    The issue is an issue that not enough people are speaking intelligently about.

    I’m very happy I came across this during my hunt for something concerning this.

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