Last month, during my trip to Myanmar, I met a group of women with 12-inch necks wrapped in brass coils.
“What?” you may be exclaiming in horror. “No way! How could that be? Isn’t that painful? Why would they do that to themselves?”
Throughout history, women have tortured themselves to look beautiful. In ancient Mayan times, the women would attach a board to their female children’s heads and dangle a bead in front of them, resulting in flat heads and crossed eyes. In China, feet were bound so that adult women walked in tiny steps (with assistance) on five-inch claw-feet, and in Africa the Mangbetu tribe of Congo bound their heads so their skulls looked extremely elongated.
Frankly, things haven’t changed that much.
Even today, people still go to extreme measures. Women inject their faces with botulism and plastics, insert silicon bags all over their bodies, and break bones… all in the name of beauty. But rarely do you come across an ancient tradition practiced in this day and age of computers and globalization – which is why it is so rare and fascinating to see the women of the Padaung Tribe of Myanmar, whose necks are so long they are sometimes called the Longneck tribe or the Giraffe people.
The Padaung women start wearing brass coils around their necks at a very young age, increasing the number of rings as they get older until their heads are balanced on top of a long, thin, pole-like neck.
The women I met were watched over by their matriarch MuLe, who told me the tradition is dying out, but that she and her family still want to continue to wear their coils despite the fact that it makes sleeping difficult and makes quotidian things, like looking at your feet or putting on your underwear, nearly impossible.
“I think it is beautiful,” MuLe said, noting that her tribe believes it has descended from dragons and alchemists. “It honours our ancestors and the mother dragon.” In the video above, MuLe’s niece continues family tradition and dons the coils for the first time.
This article originally appeared on Yahoo Travel.