Image source – Wikimedia

The body is often considered to be a temple. It needs to be worshiped through proper care and maintenance. But for some people around the world, their body becomes a part of their different cultural practices. Throughout history there have been numerous evidences of modifications of the human body for various reasons. While some practices were considered to make people beautiful, there were others that had spiritual significance.

Some of the body modification techniques that stem out of cultural practices are now lost. They have been often associated with compromising the normal functioning of the body and with time been rejected. Others that still exist commonly face criticism for being inhuman and extreme. In this article, we will discuss 5 different techniques of body modification from around the world that are both intriguing and shocking at the same time.

Elongating Neck

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The Kayan Lahwi tribe of Myanmar are people of Tibeto-Burman ethnicity. The women of this tribe are known for their extremely elongated necks that are gradually modified with the use of brass coils. These brass coils are wrapped numerous times around their neck to provide a constant stretch on the neck. Girls are first made to wear these rings when they are about 5 years of age. Slowly as they grow, longer coils are used with more number of turns. The process of the elongation with these brass coils results in pushing down the collar bone and compressing the rib cage. It must be remembered that the neck itself never occurs. This deformation of the collar bone is what makes the neck appear to be longer.

There are many speculations about the reason for wearing these brass coils. Many anthropologists believe that women were made to wear these to make them look les attractive to the other tribes and in turn protect them from being taken away as slaves. Other theories suggest that this was done to enhance the beauty of the women. Women with long slender necks have always been considered as the epitome of beauty. Some even believe that these were used to protect the women’s neck from attacks by wild animals. The practice of wearing the brass coils is nearly lost among the women of this tribe. But there are some places in Thailand where this practice has seen a rise recently. This happened because this attracts tourists who have interest in cultures and witnessing them first hand.

Inserting Lip Plates

Image source – Wikimedia

Inserting lip plates made of clay or wood is a common practice observed among the women of a number of tribes in Africa. While the Mursi tribal women insert these plates in the lower lips only, there are other tribes where it is seen on the upper one or both.

The insertion of these plates are done 6 to 12 months prior to their marriage. Women of this tribe are usually married at an age of 15 to 18. The process of the piercing is done by the mother or a close female relative of the bride. The piercing is actually an incision of 1 to 2 cm. A wooden peg is inserted into this cut and is left undisturbed till the wound heals. Gradually the size of the peg inserted is increased till it can accommodate a lip plate of 4cm diameter. The size of the lip plates are also increased with time and the final one can measure anything in between 8 to 20 cm in diameter.

The women take pride in wearing these lip plates and are also known for decorating them with their choice of jewels. There have been numerous speculations behind the significance of this type of body modification. Some said that the size of the lip plate was proportional to the number of cattle paid as the dowry by the bride’s family. But this theory has been rejected later and is now believed to represent self esteem and pride. The tradition of wearing lip plates have also been observed in numerous Amazonian tribes of South America as well. But among them this tradition was also followed by the men as well.

Filed Teeth

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This form of body modification is seen in numerous cultures around the world. While there are some tribes who file their teeth and make them sharp, there are others who make their teeth blunt. It has been seen in many figurines found in Mexico and also among the Zappo people belonging to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

In Bali, there is a ritual that is known as Poton Gigi. This means cut teeth. In this ritual, teenagers get their canines filed down. This is done because they believe that sharp canines represent negative emotions like anger and jealousy. It is also interpreted spiritually as a way to dissociate from one’s animal instincts. This tradition is considered to be the gateway to adulthood and gives the individual the right to marry.

On the other hand, the Herero people of Africa used to observe a tooth sharpening tradition. This has now become extinct. The young boys and girls of this tribe, especially those in their puberty would knock down their 4 bottom teeth. They would then get the upper ones filed in a v-shaped manner. This was considered to be beautiful in their culture.

The tradition of knocking out teeth was also seen in the ancient CHinese society of Ta-ya Kih-lau. Here the women who were about to be married had to extract 2 of their anterior teeth. It was believed that doing so will prevent any damage to the husband’s family in the future.


Image source – Wikimedia

Scarification is the ancient and widespread practice that has now evolved to one of the most common types of body art – tattoos. It is believed that this type of body modification had originated in India. It is done by either scratching, etching, burning or cutting the skin. Scarification usually involves pictures or inscriptions on the surface of the skin. Often ink was also used in these scars that would give it a colour and make it look more aesthetic.

The original reason behind the practice of scarification is not known clearly. Even then, there are a few hypotheses about its origin. These reasons include – right of passage and hardening/trauma procedure. There are also certain aesthetic, social and spiritual relevance of this type of body modification. Various West African tribes mark the milestones of their lives by getting specific scars on their bodies. These events can include puberty, marriage, parenthood, etc.

While there are many theories about the significance of this practice, some of them are extremely unique. Certain tribes in Africa believe that scarification on the abdomen of the women show their willingness and capability to become mothers. Their ability to withstand the pain of getting the scars make them eligible for becoming mothers and hence are suitable for marriage.

These scars have also been a good long lasting tradition of branding people. Tribes that perform this type of body modification practices usually have specific designs and patterns of doing this. This helps them to identify those belonging to their clan and also differentiating from the others.

Foot Binding

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Foot binding is possibly one of the most talked about and discouraged forms of body modification. There are various reasons for which this practice was heavily criticized and eventually abolished in China. Foot binding is believed to have begun among the court dancers belonging to the upper class in the time of the five dynasties and the ten kingdoms. This was during the 10th century.

It was a painful practice where the women’s feet were bound tightly as a child. They were made to wear iron shoes that were ideally 11 cms in size. The result of this was an extreme deformation of the foot that caused a string of physiological problems that coil even cause immobility. This type of foot was called a “Lotus foot”. This name was derived from the dance floors of the court where the elite performers used to display their talent on a stage lined with freshly bloomed lotus.

Women who had bound feet were prone to getting infections. This was one of the biggest health problems associated with this practice. If left untreated, these infections could prove to be fatal. There were women who also developed gangrene and required amputation because of this tradition. It was quite a strange tradition to go on for generations. This form of body modification originated the common beauty standard of women having small feet. With so many strange traditions and practices our world is quite a unique place to live in. Apart from these 5 body modification techniques, there are quite a number of others that are even prevalent today. These include extensive piercing in different body parts, having dreadlocks, tattooing, etc. Few of the most uncommon ones seen include piercing the genitals and the tongue and tattooing in the eye. Some even tend to insert certain things within their skin to make it look like a horn or even get their tongue cut in half.