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April 9, 2022

The Famous Photograph of Madam Gustika Smoking a Pipe With an Extended Mouthpiece for Her Lips, 1930

Madam Gustika was a performer in a freak show. That fact has come to define her memory, but there was so much more to her than that. She was famous for having stretched lips, which was considered extremely bizarre for the time.

To Madam Gustika, her lips were completely normal because that was part of her culture. Her fame revolves around a photograph taken on April 12, 1930 that shows her smoking a pipe. By placing ever-larger disks between her gums and her lips, she was able to stretch her lips to about 8 inches (20) cm out from the rest of her mouth. While we don’t know much else about her, we’re certain that she appeared in a freak show, probably on Coney Island.

Madam Gustika of the Duckbill tribe smoking a pipe with an extended mouthpiece for her lips during a show in a circus. Her lips were stretched by the insertion of disks of incrementally increasing size, similar to some earrings used today. New York, April 12, 1930.

Madam Gustika was probably from Ethiopia. However, people like her were erroneously described as being from the Ubangi tribe because it sounded exotic and was easy to pronounce. She was billed as being a member of the Duckbill tribe, but not much else is written about her.

The fact that she was smoking a pipe in the photograph made her relatable, even though her pipe was a western model. This was probably a gimmick to show that she could still use her mouth because the practicality of having enlarged lips must be questionable.


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