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September 22, 2015

Vintage Photographs of Burmese Beauties Visiting London in 1935

The Kayan Lahwi people, also known as Padaung, are a minority ethnic group with populations in Burma and Thailand. Padaung women are famous for their distinctive custom of wearing brass coils around their necks. As the women grow, the coils are lengthened, compressing the rib cage and displacing the collarbone, creating the illusion of an extremely long neck.

Explanations differ as to why – some explain that the coils are to protect the wearer from tiger bites, others attest that they are intended to make the women less attractive to men from other ethnic groups, and still others claim that the coils are a mark of beauty and a sign of wealth. As the years go on, more and more coils are added until the neck appears extraordinarily long – but what most don’t realise is that the neck itself has not ‘stretched’. The effect is caused by the coils pushing down on the collarbone and compressing the ribcage, giving the impression of a much longer neck.

Kayan women rarely remove their coils except to replace them with longer coils. This is partly because the coil causes the neck muscles to weaken and bruises the area around the collarbone – but also because, over time, the women feel as though their coils have become a part of their body, and it feels wrong to remove them.

According to Mashable, in the 1930s, circuses and sideshows were tremendously popular in the United Kingdom. Padaung women, advertised as “giraffe women,” were star attractions, drawing crowds of curious gawkers. Below are some of vintage photographs of Paduang women when they visited London in 1935.

A policeman directs three Padaung women along Elgin Avenue in London. (Image: General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

Padaung women with a Grenadier guard at Horse Guard's Parade, London. (Image: General Photographic Agency/Getty Images)

Three Padaung women play cards. (Image: Keystone/Getty Images)

Doctors examine Padaung woman Mu Proa working for the Bertram Mills Circus in London. (Image: Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Padaung women wave at Londoners upon their arrival at Victoria Station. (Image: Imagno/Austrian Archives/Getty Images)

Paduang women arrive by train. (Image: Harlingue/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

Mu Proa with her newborn child. (Image: ullstein bild via Getty Images)

Mu sits up in bed with her baby. (Image: Harlingue/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

(Image: Harlingue/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

Mu Proa with her child. (Image: Boyer/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

Mo talks to a police officer with her baby. (Image: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images)

A Padaung woman celebrates her 21st birthday with a cake in Folkestone, England. (Image: A. J. O'Brien/Fox Photos/Getty Images)


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