Many of us would say that we’re at our most impressionable during our younger years. Those are the times when our attitudes and opinions are starting to develop, after all. When Sydney Smith was young, she saw something in National Geographic that caught her eye: the distinctive Kayan Lawhi tribeswomen and the copper rings they wore around their necks.
Inspired By The Kayan Lahwi
Sydney was inspired by what she saw, as she thought the women, with their copper rings and outstretched necks, looked quite striking. The Kayan Lahwi tribe is from Burma and they are known for wearing the copper coils, adding rings periodically as they get older. It’s unclear what started this tradition, but Sydney knew that she wanted to get in on it.
Sydney was still a minor and her parents certainly weren’t about to start putting copper rings around her neck. Instead, she tried to bend up clothes hangers and put them around her neck at night in what was a very dangerous practice. She wasn’t comfortable and just decided to settle for a variety of tight copper necklaces, as she grew to enjoy the feeling of weight around her neck.
A Big Commitment
When Sydney was older, she was still a little unsure of whether she should really pursue getting ornamental copper neck rings for herself. After all, in the U.S. it isn’t commonly done and she was bound to get confused stares and disapproving looks. She started with a few rings anyway, even wearing thick sweaters to hide them from critical eyes.
Eventually, Sydney knew she had to either really commit to wearing the rings around her neck or stop entirely. At that point, she was inspired by pop star Lady Gaga. “Her freak empowerment message made special sense for me. I figured if she can wear meat dresses, I can be a giraffe woman,” said Sydney. She bought some customized rings and had them soldered around her neck, even though the process was painful.
Harder Than It Looked
The problem with seeing something in a magazine and trying to emulate it is you may not realize the sacrifices that are required. In Sydney’s case, her new copper rings were restricting her ability to move her neck and making everything from daily chores to social interaction difficult. Her neck would frequently get hot underneath the rings and people often whispered behind her back.
Inactive Social Life
Sydney also found it hard to interact with others, particularly when it came to dating. When she did go out on dates, she found that guys would fixate on her rings and be more interested in them than her personality. Perhaps that’s a cautionary tale for doing things that are such a novelty; people are going to be naturally curious, after all.
In addition to the many inconveniences that came with wearing her neck rings, the “giraffe woman” found that there were health concerns that she hadn’t been aware of, either. Sydney had started to basically put her bones into traction with downward pressure on her collarbones and rib cage from their weight. Neck elongation can also damage your nerves, doctors warn.
The Giraffe Woman
Sydney became known as the “giraffe woman” and even was featured in Ripley’s Believe It or Not. Ripley’s had actually covered neck elongation through copper rings in the past, when it profiled the Kayan Lahwi tribe back in 1923. Back then, a Ripley’s crew got to see first hand as one of the women removed her rings, finding severe scarring below.
Although wearing 15 copper rings on her neck did come with some frustrations, there were also some perks involved. For instance, some companies found the rings so interesting that they offered her modeling gigs, including prominent men’s magazines. She was featured in other photoshoots that profiled “sideshow attraction” looks of various women.
Unfortunately, wearing neck rings wasn’t always a way to gain positive attention. Instead, women were viewed as “freaks” for doing so. The new “giraffe woman” didn’t have to go through what some women of the Kayan Lahwi tribes did when they were kidnapped or forced to join circuses and sideshow attraction tours. Even Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circuses once featured such women.
While the circus profession is much more on the up and up now, there are still trends toward people wanting to see freaky individuals when they attend. For instance, Katzen the Tiger Lady has performed in Texas and other states throughout the U.S. Katzen is very committed to her look, as she has had whiskers implanted into her cheeks through surgical methods.
Crazy Cat Lady
Other women haven’t quite owned their body modifications like Katzen has. Jocelyn Wildenstein is a socialite who has been long known to have undergone all kinds of plastic surgeries for her distinctive “cat lady” look, but she incredibly denies having had any work done. People even refer to her as the Catwoman, though Batman probably would prefer the one from the comic books.
Lots Of Rings
Sydney was truly serious about living up to her giraffe woman label and had assembled 15 copper rings at one point, which added up to five pounds of pressure weighing down on her collarbones. It still didn’t approach the efforts of the Burmese tribeswomen, however. Some of them have been known to have as many as 20 or even 25 rings!
“I Couldn’t Function Properly”
Sydney said that when she realized she was unable to function properly, she had to give up the rings. She would repeatedly set appointments to have them removed, only to cancel right before the time came. She was not only reluctant to give them up, but also scared of what might be underneath. Scarring? Bruises? Damage and atrophied neck muscles?
The Time Has Come
Finally, Sydney decided to remove the rings with the help of a good friend. Although it only took about 15 minutes, it was still an “arduous process,” Sydney said. Her friend had to apply a special chemical that could melt the glue that kept the rings together, then cut through the rings vertically in order to remove them.
Checking Out The Results
Sydney was nervous about what she would find underneath the rings, but was surprised to find that most of the bruising wasn’t on her neck, but instead on her collarbones. However, her neck was very weak and skinny, making her body look “like arms on a toothpick,” she said. She underwent physical therapy for weeks to help strengthen her neck and regain mobility.
Missing The Rings
Although life was hard with 15 copper rings on her neck, the giraffe woman said that she misses wearing them because of the feeling they gave her. She liked the feeling of weight around her neck, she said. As to her claims that the rings were successful in lengthening her neck, you can be the judge. It’s hard to tell whether that was the case.
No More Barriers
Without her copper rings around her neck, there was nothing to keep the giraffe woman from just being Sydney, instead. She was able to start dating and meet a regular guy that wasn’t interested in the novelty of dating the “giraffe woman.” Her conversations were no longer always about her rings or answering the same old questions.
Sydney became a new mom in 2017 when her daughter, Skyler Rose, was born. Sydney decided her days as the giraffe woman were over, but she decided to market the image with special jewelry, including necklaces. She also decided to wear a removable necklace similar to what the rings were like before. Not everyone who has undergone body modifications has turned away from them, however.
Self-Professed Queen Of Body Mods
Amber Luke was apparently bored of just being a young, beautiful woman and decided she wanted to have a more characteristic look. Calling herself the “Blue Eyes White Dragon,” she complained to others that her look was “plain and boring.” She started a transformation that would lead to her calling herself the queen of body modifications by the age of 23.
As with many such things, it all started slowly for Amber when she got her first tattoo. By the time she was 18, she had three of them, which still wasn’t that many. However, she started to pick up the pace and got tattoos in highly visible areas, such as her forehead and neck. She has since done other body modifications, too, including getting a forked tongue.
If you see her now, Amber looks much different than she used to, which is what she apparently wanted in the first place. Some of her more extreme modifications include actually dying the whites of her eyes to blue. This was quite dangerous and could have ultimately blinded her, and she didn’t see right for weeks after the procedure.
Not only has she taken some real chances with her health, but she has also spent lots of money changing her look to how it is today. All of the tattoos, piercings, eye and tongue treatments, and more have racked up thousands of dollars in expenses. However, Amber is quite proud of her appearance and says she has “no regrets whatsoever.”
By Her Side
You might wonder whether Amber’s family and friends are taken aback by her peculiar sense of style and rather dramatic body modifications, but she said that they have all been extremely supportive throughout the years. In fact, she said her mother has been her biggest supporter, though even she was concerned about the procedure to color her eyeballs blue.
No Negativity Allowed
Amber tries to ignore the reactions of those who disapprove of her look and lifestyle, but she also said that she gets many more fascinated reactions than disapproving reactions. Amber said that she filters out any negativity that comes her way, choosing to focus on positive reactions from those who are fans of her body modifications.
The Next Level
When it comes to body modifications, however, someone like Ethan Bramble really takes it to the next level. He was the one who inspired Amber to dye the whites of his eyes after he dyed his black. At just 21 years old, he already had 150 tattoos done along with subdermal implants, piercings, and other operations and procedures.
Paint It Black
Amber considered doing the whites of her eyes black like Ethan’s before ultimately deciding that blue would look better. Just as with all of her procedures, she worked closely with her body modification artist to determine what to do and how when it came to the dyeing process. Amber clearly isn’t going to stop modifying her body anytime soon.
Nothing’s Off Limits
You might wonder if anything is off limits for Amber. At first it would seem like the answer would be no, but she actually has said that she is unlikely to get subdermal implants. Even then, however, she thought about getting horns once. She also has decided to sharpen her canine teeth to look like a sort of vampire.
You might think that someone who has had as many procedures done as Amber would encourage others to jump right in with both feet, too. However, Amber actually advocates a conservative approach for others, warning that you should work closely with your artist before making any rash decisions and always think carefully about procedures before you get them done.
Any reputable tattoo or body modification artist will tell you that you need to be careful when making choices that could affect you permanently. This is particularly true of some of the more serious body mods, such as Amber’s colored whites of her eyes, which could have had serious repercussions. Like Amber says, think carefully before you make a decision.
Even something as simple as a tattoo can be dangerous if done incorrectly. Also, some people, though it’s quite rare, can even have allergic reactions to the ink in their tattoos. Sometimes, these reactions don’t show up until years later, as a matter of fact. It all adds up to more evidence that these permanent modifications are not to be taken lightly.
Is It An Addiction?
When people get dozens – or even hundreds – of tattoos or other body modifications, there’s a serious question about whether there’s an actual addiction at work. While some people just want to express themselves through body modifications, others are actually addicted to the rush, the pain of the procedures, or even the attention they get from others.
Not Your Father’s Tattoos
Tattoos are interpreted much differently today than they were years ago when they were considered to be the refuge of bikers and tough guys. Now, all kinds of people get tattoos and often in visible areas, too. It’s up for each person to decide where and how they want to modify their bodies and how others might react if they do make that choice.
Don’t Live In Regret
Although you aren’t likely to be unemployable simply because you’ve gotten some tattoos, it’s still something to take very seriously, as nearly one out of five people say that they wish they hadn’t gotten their tattoos. Also, sometimes poor work results in blurred, faded tattoos years down the line that can also lead to regret.
Not A New Trend
Although it’s tempting to pretend that tattoos are a new trend (and they have definitely grown in popularity), it’s important to remember that they’ve been around for thousands of years. In fact, back about 3400 B.C., a man historians have dubbed Otzi the Iceman sported some tattoos. Many cultures since then have used tattoos, piercings, and body modifications to define themselves, too.