Women and children lengthen their necks with 22-pound brass rings to ‘look like dragons’ as part of an ancient tribe in Asia.
It is a tradition in the Kayah state in Myanmar, formerly Burma, and makes the Kayan people distinct across ethnic groups in south east Asia.
Some women felt they were unattractive without the rings and others felt the pressure to wear them for visiting tourists.
The rings were used to protect people from being attacked by tigers and others claim they were a tribute to the group’s ‘dragon mother’.
Rings have also been traditionally seen as symbols of wealth and reserved for favourite daughters, as a more common theory.
Padung author Pascal Khoo Thwe told Channel New Asia that ‘our mother was a dragon’ and ‘they have the same sort of neck’. He claims to have grown up with his grandmother wearing 14-inch high sets of rings.
Mu Lone, 88, told the Mirror how women felt they ‘weren’t beautiful without neck-rings’ in her time.
She added: ‘The rings choked me and felt too tight at first. Food would get stuck when I tried to swallow. I had to stretch my neck to eat. But I got used to it.’
Mu admitted that she will wear them until she dies and they will be buried with her.
Meanwhile mother-of-two Muu Pley removed hers after 13 years in fear of her neck growing too long.
The 23-year-old felt ‘free and light’ unlike some women who still feel the pressure to wear them for tourists who visit to see the ‘long-necked women’.
But Muu decided to put the rings back on after a tourism boom in her village.
There are around 500 women who follow the custom which inspired the creation of ‘tourism villages’ in 1985.
Kayan locals had fled raids by Burma’s army which had suppressed the country’s ethnic minorities, and were granted temporary stay in Thailand. The provincial official saw the ‘outstanding traits that could attract tourism interest’ in the women’s golden neck rings, according to the culture ministry account.
Documentary maker Lorna MacMillan spent five months with the tribe and found the rings do not support the head which means their necks would not collapse if they were removed.
Speaking at a National Geographic documentary Suffering for Tradition: Taboo: Body Moification, she said: ‘In fact women can reach their hands down and clean their skin so it’s not actually something that’s gripping them in any way.’
The accessory is often removed during child birth, a doctor’s appointment or if the woman is caught committing cheating.