(Image credit: Flickr user Rita Willaert)Lip stretching is a body modification that goes back 10,000 years and had been practiced all over the world, from Siberia to South America, from the Middle East to Europe, although there is no evidence that the custom traveled from one area to another. The procedure survives only in Africa and among some Amazonian tribes in South America. The practice is seen among women in the Mursi and Surma tribes of Ethiopia. The lower lip is pierced and a peg is inserted, to be replaced with a larger peg as the skin stretches. A plate or labret is inserted when the piercing is large enough. Traditionally, this is done as a young woman prepares to marry, but is now a personal decision rather than an obligation.
(Image credit: Wikipedia user Robrrb)Skull binding has been practiced at various points in history in widespread parts of the world, with some evidence of Neanderthal skulls that had been shaped around 45,000 BCE in Iraq. The custom of head shaping has been most notable among skulls excavated in Peru, where the practice dates back 9,000 years. The skull can only be shaped during infancy. The bones eventually harden to the point that skull modification would only break the cranial bones. An infant's skull would be wrapped with cloth (sometimes with wooden boards added) to restrict its expansion sideways, causing the head to grow long and tall instead. This practice was usually restricted to the wealthier classes. Reproductions of such skulls can be purchased online.
Scarification is a traditional alternative to tattooing in Africa, as ink doesn't stand out well on dark skin (link contains nudity). There are several purposes to the procedure: to decorate the body, to prove bravery and willingness to bear pain, and to signal allegiance to the tribe and family to which one belongs. The practice goes back at least several hundred years among widely scattered tribes. In some tribes, the process of scarification is part of a rite of passage into adulthood at puberty. See more pictures of scarification in Africa (contains nudity).
(Image credit: Flickr user florathexplora)The women of the Kayan Lahwi tribe of the mountainous region straddling Burma and Thailand undergo a body modification that causes their necks to appear extremely long. Starting at the age of five, brass coils are set around their necks. These are replaced with longer coils as the girl ages, until a woman is carrying around about ten pounds of brass. This process does not elongate the neck; rather, it reshapes the collar bone and presses the shoulders down, which creates the illusion of a long neck.
7,000 years in Japan. Egyptian mummies four thousand years old were discovered with skin tattoos. In Europe, the practice is quite old as well. Ötzi the Iceman, a well-preserved European frozen European who died 5300 years ago was tattooed with 57 dots and lines on his spine and legs, which may be related to the arthritis he suffered.
(Image credit: Flickr user The Life of Bryan)The word tattoo comes from the Polynesian word tatu. Western explorers first encountered the custom in Tahiti in the 1700s. The traditional Maori moko facial tattoos were already a part of tribal culture when the Maori left Polynesia and settled in New Zealand over 700 years ago.
Circumcision is an ancient bodymod that goes back further than recorded history. Some scholars believe it began in eastern Africa, long before Abraham made it a ritual of faith. It may possibly have been used to dampen sexual desire and pleasure. The practice spread to Egypt and the Middle East over time. In males, circumcision entails the removal of the foreskin from the penis, which can affect sexual pleasure, but does not destroy it. However, some cultures also practice "female circumcision", which is actually genital mutilation, as it involves removal of the clitoris. This is done to prevent any sexual pleasure, and therefore prevent a woman from straying from her husband. The practice can lead to lifelong pain, sexual dysfunction, problems in childbirth, infection, and even death.
(Image by Flickr user Okinawa Soba)Foot binding in China lasted for about a thousand years, until the 20th century when the practice was outlawed. The reason most often given is that small feet were sexually alluring. Why would crippled, deformed feet make a woman more attractive? The underlying reason is that a woman with bound feet is a status symbol, an indicator of wealth and social standing. Only a man of considerable means could afford to have a wife, concubine, or daughters who couldn't work. Read more about foot binding in a previous Neatorama post.