… this woman. I met her in Nyaungshwe at Inle Lake in Burma.
Women who wear these brass rings on their neck belong to a sub-group of the Karen known as the Padaung. They are an ethnic minority in Burma. A further myth is that these rings act to elongate the wearer’s neck. Any chiropractor or orthopedic surgeon will tell you that this would lead to paralysis or death. In fact the appearance of a longer neck is a visual illusion. The weight of the rings pushes down the collar bone, as well as the upper ribs, to such an angle that the collar bone actually appears to be a part of the neck!
There are many different accounts of why the Padaung practice this bizarre custom. Girls first start to wear rings when they are around five years old. Their own mythology explains that it is done to prevent tigers from biting them! Others have reported that it is done to make the women unattractive so they are less likely to be captured by slave traders. The most common explanation, though, is the opposite of this — that an extra-long neck is considered a sign of great beauty and wealth and that it will attract a better husband. Adultery, though, is said to be punished by removal of the rings. In this case, since the neck muscles will have been severely weakened by years of not supporting the neck, a woman must spend the rest of her life lying down.