6 August 2020

Karen

I took these pictures of Karen womenfolk in northern Thailand back in April 2011 and rediscovered them when reviewing old photo folders last night. In the Karen culture - the unnatural elongation of women's necks through the addition of brass rings is considered somehow beautiful or admirable. Most Karen or Kayan people in northern Thailand are refugees from Burma. Interestingly, it's only the women who wear neck rings - never the men. Does that sound familiar? Of course I gave these women money. They needed it. As refugees, they have few other options. The necks are not actually stretched. Apparently, that's just an illusion. The weight of the rings presses down upon their upper chests and collar bones.

39 comments:

  1. I was watching Miriam Margolyes travelling around Australia on the Tv just this week and she spoke with a Karen woman in a tiny country town. Apparently her family moved there to work at a duck processing factory. I didn't think I had ever heard of the Karen people before but I have heard of this tribe who wear neck rings!
    They must be very restrictive.

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    1. Being and feeling comfortable should be a state that we treasure. I know you realise this more than most with your mobility issues.

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  2. That looks awfully uncomfortable. It makes me sad.

    It's always women who get stuck wearing uncomfortable and even harmful garments, the world over. From corsets to high heels to foot bindings, women's bodies are stretched and squeezed and forced to fit into unnatural molds--both literal and figurative. We humans still have a long way to go to achieve equality for women.

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    1. What about stiletto heels? Fashionable modern women seem happy to endure the discomfort and potential danger that these shoes represent.

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    2. Stiletto's make a useful weapon if needed!

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    3. Sounds like you are speaking from experience CG!

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  3. They are beautiful women but I'd hate to wear those rings. I bet it is hard to get comfortable enough to sleep in those rings. Excellent pictures!

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    1. I understand that most do sleep in their rings.

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  4. There is that old adage that we must suffer for our beauty.

    Women's necks being long is considered beautiful, therefore desirable - in most cultures. Think Nefretete. And what of Chinese foot binding? Which is cruel. If I had to limp through life I'd rather not.

    I had a lucky escape. My mother took measures regarding my posture only. So, if and when slumped over homework, on passing through the room she'd give me a friendly punch in the back. Once or twice, to reinforce the message, she'd put a broomstick behind my back and through my elbows. It makes you sit up straight. And quite difficult to keep pen on paper. The other one - which I took to like a duck to water - was prancing around with a heavy book on the top of your head. It's an art. Like ballet. And as illustrated by many an African woman carrying water from well back home. Such grace.

    My son, and it makes me laugh, has now taken over from my mother. When he finds me, sitting or walking, even vaguely not straight like a rod of steel he'll too takes measures. No, not with a broom. One word will do. MAMA! Accompanied by a brief alignment of my shoulders. Better than an osteopath walking down one's spine.

    Hunchback greetings,
    U

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  5. I can only agree to what the others here have said.

    Urula's experience with posture rings a bell. My parents were not given to such measures, but they would verbally admonish us every now and then when we were slumping over our homework or walking with a shuffle. We had very little money back then, but our parents always made sure we wore good shoes; they knew that ill-fitting shoes can do a lot of harm not only to a child's feet but to the entire moving apparatus, legs, spine, shoulders. It didn't cure my scoliosis but it brought home to me the importance of taking care (and responsibility!) of my own health.

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    1. PS: I sent you an email earlier this week, just wondering whether it got through or stuck in your spam folder.

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    2. I will go and check Meike. I haven't seen it.

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  6. I wonder why it is, in cultures all over the world, that women are made to do these things, but men aren't. Other examples are face coverings in Muslim cultures or footbinding in China. All highly uncomfortable or painful. And dont get me started on unequal pay.

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  7. I suppose our modern day equivalent here could be the need for all young women to have lip fillers, silicone implants of all kinds and to wear plastic trays of bleach on their teeth.

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    1. I have never worn make-up but I have known women who wear it like masks - hiding their real selves. I find that as sad as the neck rings.

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  8. I wondered what you were going to say because Karen has another meaning - overprivileged middle-aged white women (i.e. all of them) are now aid to be "Karens".

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    1. I guess that a Karen is the female equivalent of a Tasker.

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  9. Lucky you visiting Thailand YP. I would love to visit Japan. Is Brasso cheap there? Could do with some for my copper and brass kettles. Better still, someone to clean them. Super photos. Karen is beautiful.

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    1. Adding up two spells, I spent a year of my life in Thailand. Funnily enough, I never saw "Brasso" for sale - only "Duraglit".

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  10. Surely these days one can differentiate between cultural mores (brass neck bands and the huge lip 'enhancers' some Amazonian (?) cultures require men to endure) and the 'fashion' for lip enhancing with botox. Botox enhancing is not, by the way, restricted to women either.

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    1. Excellent point, Graham. What is deemed to be attractive in one culture not so much in an other.

      And yes, as you say, it's not just women flaunting their wares. In the animal world, and it makes me smile, it's the peacock strutting his feathers, the antler that secures Bambi's mother whereas the females, in comparison, are quite plain. Compare a rooster with a hen. But then, on reflection, human males too have to flaunt something. I shall not expand on this lest I'll write an essay.

      U

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    2. Botox, cosmetic surgery, stiletto heels and even make-up speak of modern western cultures just as much as those brass rings or plate lips speak of the Karen of South East Asuia or the Mursi, Sara or Makonde people of Africa.

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  11. I have not seen this particular version of beauty, but I have seen tribes in Ethiopia that enlarge their lips. I suppose it really is all in the eye of the beholder. There is a fetish for tattoos these days that I find revolting.

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    1. I hate tattoos but I find their growth in popularity culturally interesting. Thanks for calling by David.

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  12. I came here because the title of your post caught my eye. My first name is Karen. At what age do the females have to start elongating their necks? I really do feel their pain. You see I have four of my seven disks in my neck fused and have titanium plates screwed into my neck to hold the fusions in place. In my younger years, I had a lovely long neck, but not like these beautiful, mistreated ladies. I'm assuming that this is a cultural thing, but it's horrendous! Oh, the things others make people do and for what? What's fair is fair. I think the men of this culture should have elongated necks, also!

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    1. I decided not to include two pictures of young girls in neck rings Mildred/Karen as I thought some people would find them disturbing or possibly offensive. They start young!

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  13. Remind me never to complain about bras again.
    Of forget it. Bras are awful.
    I read somewhere that every human culture has ways to modify and/or ornament their bodies. I love seeing ancient finds of jewelry that despite their age, look so familiar. Earrings, bracelets, necklaces- these are seemingly almost universal. But some cultures definitely get into the modification. And it does seem as if women are almost always the ones who suffer to achieve these cultural ideas. Think of Chinese foot-binding. What a horror that was!
    I will say that Karen's beauty seems timeless.

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    1. Bras do seem like instruments of torture or subjugation. Tear off the bras I say! Liberty!

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    2. Amen. Have done. Freedom for bosoms!

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  14. I can't imagine those rings are comfortable. The things we do for beauty! (I thought this post was about my boss! LOL)

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    1. If it had been about your boss, the blogpost would have been respectfully titled "Ms. Field".

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  15. I could not read this yesterday. Just the sight was too upsetting. I'm glad I came back to it, and I'm glad one woman pictured is a weaver. I hope you bought a weaving.

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  16. As a small boy I had a book about 'People of the World', and there was an illustration of these beautiful people. I was totally fascinated by them; but pitied them at the same time.

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  17. I have read about the Karen women. Neck rings look like gold bangles on their necks. Hopefully it is not painful and heavy but it is their culture for women to wear them

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