Showing that the human body can overcome a whole lot of ridiculousness (think about every episode of “Intervention,” ever), women can remove the neck coils without suffering some sort of horrible Gumby-like neck collapse. The deformation of the collarbones and ribs in permanent, and the neck is weak for a couple of days afterwards, but then everything’s fine and dandy. Oh, except that the neck remains bruised and discolored for years, which seems to be the reason why some women keep wearing the rings even if they don’t want to anymore, since who wants a neck that’s both long and discolored?
The long neck tradition stretches (pun!) back probably to the 11th century – in any case, since far before any written evidence of Kayan culture, and so we don’t really know why the practice originated. There are lots of theories. One is that they were meant to protect the women from tigers, who tend to kill their prey by biting their neck. This seems like way too much trouble for the off-chance of a tiger attack, but I am inspired to explain my high heels, the next time my boyfriend rolls his eyes because I want to take a cab rather than walking five blocks, as protection against… um, rat attacks? Shallow
puddles? I’ll think of something. Also, since the neck coils restrict movement (not fully, but a bit), Kayan men traditionally take a more active role in child-care and housekeeping work, which sounds like maybe a fair exchange for a little collarbone compression. I’m going to start wearing my high heels full-time so I can force my boyfriend to clean the bathroom. Well, more realistically, so I wouldn’t have to step on whatever would accumulate on the bathroom floor if I left it up to my boyfriend to clean it.
Another theory is that the long necks were a way for distinguishing Kayan women from the women of neighbouring tribes so that they could be ransomed when captured in tribal warfare. This also seems like an over-the-top solution to a potential problem since aren’t there easier ways to identify your womenfolk? Give them a secret password or tell them to memorize their home addresses or something.
Or maybe the explanation is simply that a long neck is hot. The Karyan people explain their neck coils as a way of making women more attractive. This makes sense if you think about how exaggerating sexual dimorphism (the difference in appearance between the male and female of a species) is a fairly common way of tarting it up. Think about how Barbie’s slim waist plays on the difference between men’s and women’s waist to hip ratio. Women usually have more slender necks than men, so maybe the neck coils are there to exaggerate that difference. They function like breast implants – taking
something feminine and making it more so. A lot more so.
An ever-decreasing number of women choose to wear neck rings, and the ones who do sometimes to so less for reasons of beauty or cultural identity than because of the money to be made for visiting tourists. Seems that, soon, I won’t have any enhanced competition for my naturally long neck. Maybe I’ll go buy lots of necklaces, just in case.