Top 10 Fascinating Examples Of Cultural Body Modification - Listverse (2023)


[WARNING: This list contains disturbing footage.] Archaeological finds have shown that people have been modifying their bodies in interesting ways for much of human history. Body modification remains popular today, and while it can be something as ubiquitous as an ear-piercing or tattoo, some cultures have taken it a step further.

The cultures that appreciate body modification are widespread throughout history, and some of them are far more extreme than others. These ten examples are truly some of the most fascinating examples of cultural body modification.

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10 Neck Elongation

Why Do These Women Stretch Their Necks? | National Geographic

Neck Elongation is the practice of placing neck rings around a woman’s neck at various points throughout her life to achieve an ideal standard of beauty. Over time, they stack and create the illusion of a long neck, as they don’t physically lengthen the neck. Instead, they push the clavicle and ribs down, making it look as if the neck is longer than it truly is.

Over time, the rings’ weight twists the collarbone and upper ribs 45º lower than where they would naturally be. Neck elongation is found in African and Asian cultures, though they are likely best known in the Kayan Lahwi Tribe in Myanmar.

Kayan girls wear brass collars as early as two to five years old. Over time, they add rings as the girl ages, creating the bones’ deformity that results in the illusion of neck elongation. The practice was first described to the West by Marco Polo, who wrote about it in 1300 AD.

The modification to the body is permanent. While removing the rings is possible, it can result in death if done incorrectly. Simply removing them often causes pain, so for most women, the addition of rings is a permanent choice.[1]

9 Lip Plates

EXTREME Lip Plates On Suri Women – Tribe With Bruce Parry – BBC

It’s relatively common in the West to see people placing successively larger gauges in their earlobes to create large holes, but the practice isn’t new. In some parts of Africa, increasingly larger disks made from clay or wood are placed into a pierced lower lip (sometimes upper) until a large lip plate can be worn.

The practice was independently invented at least six times in Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Mesoamerica, and Ecuador, with Africans starting as far back as 8700 BC. The placement of lip plates continues in various places around the world, though it is most common in Ethiopia.

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The Mursi and Surma people who inhabit the lower Omo River valley begin the process about six to 12 months before marriage. This is usually around the age of 15 to 18 when the lip is first pierced. At this time, a wooden peg is inserted.

Over time, the peg is replaced by larger pegs, and eventually, a plate is inserted into the hole. The size of the plate depends on any of several factors, though the largest one ever recorded, in 2014, measured 23.4″ (59.5 cm) in circumference and 7.6″ (19.5 cm) wide.[2]

8 Blackening & Filing Teeth

The Bagobo people of the Southern Philippines in Mindanao are an ancient tribe who have inhabited the region for centuries and is credited with bringing Hinduism to the area. While many members of the tribe have embraced modern life, some continue their traditional practices, including sharpening and blackening their teeth as a rite of passage for young Bagobo.

When a Bagabo youth reaches the age of puberty, they have their teeth filed by placing their heads against the person carrying out the sharpening. They then bite down on a stick, and the teeth are filed, leaving only the stump of the tooth, ending in a sharp point.

Once the filing is completed, the teeth are then blackened to complete the process. To darken the teeth, powder created from a tree or black smoke passed through bamboo is applied to the teeth, which blackens them.

Throughout this process, the person having the treatment done is not allowed to drink any water, nor can they eat sour food. They are also prohibited from attending a funeral, so their less-than-pristine teeth don’t cause offense.[3][4]

7 Circumcision


These days, people don’t often think about circumcision as anything more than a simple medical procedure. Still, the practice has a long history, and it very much is a form of cultural body modification. Circumcision is a form of genital mutilation that involves removing the skin (prepuce) covering the tip of the penis.

It’s most commonly performed shortly after birth. In many hospitals throughout the West, it’s common to circumcise a child without any cultural or religious stipulation. Despite this, the practice is deeply rooted in history and has been conducted by numerous cultures around the world.

Circumcision and other forms of genital mutilation began in eastern Africa sometime after 3,000 B.C. Early uses of circumcision likely centered around the fact that a man’s foreskin is the location of their primary erogenous sensation. Removing it may have been seen as a sacrifice of enjoyment in life for a potentially better afterlife.[5]

The ancient practice was carried into modern times via Jewish customs, which continue to conduct circumcisions on newborn boys, eight days following birth. Judaism ascribes circumcision as a commandment honoring of the covenant between Abraham and God.

6 Scarification

Scarification | National Geographic

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One of the oldest known practices of body modification is tattooing. Still, another similar process of creating images on the skin is called scarification. The process involves cutting, branding, scratching, or etching images into the skin. Doing so creates permanent scars in the desired image.

The reasons someone might use scarification over tattooing are various, though there are several potential cultural reasons. They could be done as a rite of passage, for religious reasons, or for social reasons. In that respect, scarification is found more often in dark-skinned cultures, as the resulting images are easier to see than traditional tattoos.

There are numerous cultures worldwide, and throughout history, that have utilized some form of scarification for various reasons. It is most commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa, West Africa, and East Africa, including the Gonja, Tiv, and Maasai people.

Regardless of the methods used, scarification is inherently more dangerous than tattooing. The skin is subjected to a much larger trauma, and the risk of infection is substantially greater. Additionally, the process takes much longer than tattooing due to the need to heal between treatments.[6][7]

See Also: 10 Horrifically Botched Circumcisions

5 Fingertip Removal—Dani Village, New Guinea

There are several instances of fingertip removal across various cultures in history, with Yakuza members being one known to many around the world. Another culture that practices removing portions of the finger is the secretive tribe of the Dani found deep in the jungles of Indonesia.

Whenever a loved one dies, female members of the tribe have the upper half of their fingers amputated, in a process called Ikipalin. This is done as part of a ritual meant to ward off spirits. It is believed that removing the upper part of the finger helps to keep the deceased person’s restless spirit away from the family.

Additionally, it is meant to be a symbol of the pain of bereavement, and it doesn’t stop with adult women. In some cases, the mothers will bite the tips of the fingers off of their own babies to have them take part in the practice.

The Indonesian government banned fingertip removal, but members in Western New Guinea are believed to continue the practice. Older women are often found to be missing parts of their fingers, which suggests Ikipalin continues in some areas of the country.[8]

4 Genital Beading

Singapore Beading

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Genital Beading or Pearling is a form of body modification believed to have originated in Southeast Asia sometime in the early 1400s. A more famous account of Pearling came from members of the Yakuza, who insert a single pearl for each year they are imprisoned.

Pearling involves permanently inserting small beads beneath the skin of the genitals. It is most commonly done by men who insert pearls in the penis’ shaft, though women have been known to do it directly under the labia’s skin. There are several reasons a person might do this; however, it is commonly done to enhance sexual pleasure during vaginal or anal intercourse.

Historically, pearls were used in the practice, hence the name, though any material can be used, including gold and ivory. In modern times, Teflon, surgical steel, titanium, and silicon are used, as they are the safest option for permanent insertion into the body.[9]

These days, it’s common for Filipino sailors, who largely do Pearling to curry favor with prostitutes. “Filipino seaman are famous for them… that’s why they [women in port] like us, why they keep asking for us. When they hear that Filipinos are coming, they’re happy.”[10]

3 Female Genital Mutilation

How I Survived Female Genital Mutilation

While removal of the prepuce in boys only lessens their erogenous pleasure during sex, female genital mutilation aims to destroy it altogether. The practice involves the partial or complete removal of the clitoral hood, clitoral glans, inner & outer labia, and the vulva’s closure, leaving a small opening for the passage of urine and menstrual blood.

While most people around the world consider female genital mutilation to be barbaric, that hasn’t stopped it from being carried out on an estimated 200 million women living in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.[11]

The practice began long ago, but the origins remain unknown. It is believed that female genital mutilation may have been practiced in ancient Egypt’s Middle Kingdom period, which would set the custom as far back as 2050 B.C. Evidence has been found in hieroglyphics, though it hasn’t been found on mummies from the period.

It is known that Egypt continued the practice well into the 2nd and 3rd-century. Pilio of Alexandria wrote that “the Egyptians by the custom of their country circumcise the marriageable youth and maid in the fourteenth (year) of their age when the male begins to get seed, and the female to have a menstrual flow.”[12]

2 Foot Binding

Foot binding is the Chinese custom of wrapping a young girl’s feet tightly so that over time, they change shape and size. The practice is believed to have originated among upper-class dancers in the 10th century but became popular over time among the elite during the Song dynasty. By the Qing dynasty, the practice spread to all classes in China.

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When a woman’s feet were bound in this manner, they were considered to be exhibiting a beauty standard called lotus feet. There were various means of carrying out the practice, but the end result was often the same: the feet were smaller and had the toes tucked unnaturally beneath the sole.

The process began before the arch fully formed and could begin with girls as young as four. They would begin in the winter months to take advantage of the cold’s numbing effect and soak the feet in a mixture of herbs and animal blood. The nails would then be cut back as far as possible, and bandages were used to tightly bind the feet until the toes broke.

Once broken, the toes were held tightly against the foot’s sole, and the arch was then broken. The process was maintained and repeated for years until the foot’s shape was completely altered. Fortunately, the practice concluded in the 20th century.[13]

1 Head Shaping

The Mangbetu Tribe – Skull Elongation

Head Shaping, or artificial cranial deformation, is an ancient form of body modification that aimed to alter the skull’s formation through flattening or binding. The practice could only be done before a child’s fontanel closing during the normal growth process.

Head shaping predates written history, and several cultures around the world have been found to practice it. Evidence has been found in Proto-Neolithic humans’ bones dating as far back as 9000 BC, where skulls have been found to be elongated to a near conical shape.

The earliest written record of the process comes from Hippocrates’ writings, who named the Macrocephali (long-heads) as practitioners around 400 BC. In the Americas, the Maya and Incans reshaped their children’s heads, as did some Native American tribes in North America.[14]

People in France practiced head shaping until the late 19th century. They would bind an infant’s head in a tight bandage, which was left in place for two to four months. The bandage was replaced with a fitted basket, which would be strengthened as the child grew using metal threads.

The Vanuatu people of Tommen Island continued head binding well into the 20th century, though the practice has widely been abandoned in the 21st century.[15]

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fact checked by Jamie Frater


Jonathan H. Kantor

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Jonathan is a graphic artist, illustrator, and writer. He is a Retired Soldier and enjoys researching and writing about history, science, theology, and many other subjects.

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What are some examples of body modification done in US culture? ›

There does not have to be a deep or particular reason behind every body modification. Tattoos, piercings, and plastic surgery are among the most common body modifications in the United States. Almost half of American adults have a tattoo, while some 20 percent have considered getting one.

What are some examples of body modification? ›

Dieting, body-building, tanning, ear piercing and cosmetic surgery have long been common in the United States, and practices such as tattooing, body piercing and scarification are becoming increasingly popular.

What is cultural body modification? ›

Cultures around the world still honor ancient traditional practices of body modification, or the intentional and often irreversible alteration of the skin. For many practitioners, body modifications are deeply sacred rites that include stretched ears, tribal tattoos, scarification, binding and branding.

What was the first body modification? ›

Some of the earliest forms of body modification included crude body piercings, tattoos and scarification designs. From there, body modification grew to encompass more extreme forms of body modification, like tongue splitting, implants and suspension, but these aren't the only ways people modify themselves.

What are the most common reasons people undergo body modification? ›

Body modifications may be done for cosmetic or reconstructive reasons. People who have cosmetic procedures typically are unhappy with the size, shape, color or texture of some body part and choose to have it changed in some way. Others may need procedures to reconstruct injured or damaged body parts or areas.

Is body modification a religion? ›

The Church of Body Modification is a non-theistic religion with approximately 3,500 members in the United States. The church practices body modification in order to "strengthen the bond between mind, body, and soul" and to experience the divine.

Why body modification is beautiful in Africa? ›

In many cultures, body modifications are seen as a rite of passage, or a religious symbol which ensures social acceptance. In Indian, African, and Arabic countries, artistic body modification in this sense is viewed as beautiful because they symbolize things like fertility and worship of the gods.

Is body modification a subculture? ›

Many members of the body modification subculture are able to find work in tattoo and piercing studios, and this allows body modification to permeate their lives.

What are the 5 types of cultural appropriation? ›

According to Rodgers (2006) there are four types of cultural appropriation: exchange, dominance, exploitation, and transculturation.

What are cultural bodies? ›

Description. Cultural Bodies: Ethnography and Theory is a unique collection that integrates two increasingly key areas of social and cultural research: the body and ethnography. Breaks new ground in an area of study that continues to be a central theme of debate and research across the humanities and social sciences.

What is the impact of culture on body image example? ›

The Western culture in general, for example, is one that tends to hyper-focus on dieting and body appearance. Digitally retouched photos are the norm in which our society is saturated in, and this mentality can negatively influence an individual's body image.

Who is the most modified woman in the world? ›

María José Cristerna from Mexico holds the record for most body modifications on a female, with 49 body mods altogether....

Who is the most modified person in the world? ›

Rolf Buchholz, 62, holds the Guinness World Record for his 516 changes to his body, including the horns implanted to his forehead and his tongue sliced in two.

Who is the person with the most body modifications? ›

A couple from Argentina, Gabriela Peralta and Victor Hugo Peralta has set the Guinness World Record for the most body modifications. The married couple is passionate about tattoos and body modifications and so far they have about 98 of them. Victor Hugo Peralta told Guinness World Records, "Enjoy life, enjoy the art.

What is body modification called? ›

body modifications and mutilations, intentional permanent or semipermanent alterations of the living human body for reasons such as ritual, folk medicine, aesthetics, or corporal punishment. In general, voluntary changes are considered to be modifications, and involuntary changes are considered mutilations.

Is hair removal a body modification? ›

In western cultures, the cutting or removal of one's hair is not usually considered in the category of “body modification” despite it being literally modifying one's body, and "body modification" is used to describe only less socially acceptable body alterations.

Is a tattoo a body modification? ›

Physical alteration, such as a tattoo or piercing, is referred to as body modification, which is a broad category that includes just about any alteration that a person makes to their body. These alterations can be small, like pierced ears, or more dramatic modifications, such as a stretched neck or branded skin.

What is the psychology behind body modification? ›

Some people also experience an endorphin rush during the body modification process, creating a strong want for further piercings or tattoos. Further, body modification can align with co-occurring disorders like body dysmorphic disorder, indicating other mental health issues.

Is body modification a form of deviance? ›

According to The American Journal of Psychiatry, “…by the early 20th century, body modification had become a mark of social deviance.” In recent years, there are still forms of bias exhibited against those with tattoos and piercings.

Do body modifications help self-esteem levels? ›

Having body modification, in form of tattoo or piercing, is associated with reduced self-esteem; 3. Subjects with body modification (tattoos and/or piercings) have a higher likelihood of mental health problems than those in the control group. The study was conducted from July 2012 to September 2013.

Does plastic surgery count as body modification? ›

Plastic surgery is basically a more socially acceptable form of body modification. However, there is a big difference between plastic surgery and extreme body modification.

What religions do not allow medical procedures? ›

Blood Transfusions and Medical Care against Religious Beliefs
  • Jehovah's Witnesses oppose blood transfusions. ...
  • Christian Scientists also oppose transfusions. ...
  • Courts struggle to balance rights of parents and children. ...
  • Minority faiths are not required to provide medical treatment to children.

How does religion influence body image? ›

Religious individuals may have higher levels of sanctification, or tend to view their bodies as being a manifestation of God and as possessing sacred qualities; these individuals in turn have higher levels of health-protective behaviors that can increase satisfaction with one's body (Mahoney et al., 2005).

What is cultural body art? ›

All cultures decorate and make modifications to the human body, whether it is temporary or permanent. This is called body art. Body Art includes cutting, styling, or dying hair; body piercing; body painting; tattooing; and scarification.

Is African body modification an art? ›

Body modification including body painting, scarifications, tattooing and body piercings are some of the oldest art forms across Africa.

Is henna a body modification? ›

Henna, a coloring made from a plant, is approved only for use as a hair dye. It is not approved for direct application to the skin, as in the body-decorating process known as mehndi. This unapproved use of a color additive makes these products adulterated.

What are 4 examples of subculture? ›

There are numerous groups of people that could be classified as subcultures, for example: hippies, antigun groups, high school jocks, environmental activists, people in the furry community, people in the cosplay community;,punks, goths, and many more (Lennon, Johnson, & Rudd, 2017, 292).

When did body modification start? ›

2,000 B.C– first nose piercing documented. Mentioned in the bible (Genesis 24:22). Along with tattoos, it shows ancient forms of body modification. 618 AD- foot binding became popular for woman in Chinese culture.

Is body image a matter of culture? ›

Culture shapes the context in which body image is formed, and hence it is a critical component to consider when understanding how body image fluctuates.

What is a good example of cultural appropriation? ›

As a result of systemic racism, Black people face consequences for wearing dreadlocks that non-Black people do not. Non-Black people wearing their hair in dreadlocks is cultural appropriation. As these examples show, the consequences of cultural appropriation can be wide-ranging.

What are the 4 types of cultural appropriation? ›

Defined as the use of a culture's symbols, artifacts, genres, rituals, or technologies by members of another culture, cultural appropriation can be placed into 4 categories: exchange, dominance, exploitation, and transculturation.

What are the iconic examples of appropriation? ›

An Iconic Example of Appropriation

Let's consider Andy Warhol's "Campbell's Soup Can" series (1961). It is probably one of the best-known examples of appropriation art. The images of Campbell soup cans are clearly appropriated.

What are 7 examples of culture? ›

They are social organization, customs, religion, language, government, economy, and arts.

What are 8 examples of culture? ›

8 Examples of Strong Culture
  • Shared Experiences. A history of shared experiences such as difficult problems that were overcome as a team.
  • Habits. Shared habits such as the norm that people keep common areas in an office clean.
  • Expectations. Pervasive expectations. ...
  • Language. ...
  • Ethical Climate. ...
  • Tone. ...
  • Comradery. ...
  • Traditions.
24 Nov 2017

What are 3 things that influence a person's body image? ›

A negative body image can develop from many different influences, including family, peer group, media and social pressures. A positive body image can improve self-esteem, self-acceptance, and a healthy relationship with food and physical activity.

How can culture affect your appearance? ›

However culture plays a huge role in our ideas of beauty. For instance, “youthfulness” is the beauty goal in America, while naturally flawless skin is the beauty ideal in Europe. Fairness is coveted in most Asian countries. A voluptuous figure, long bouncy hair and tanned skin is considered beautiful in Brazil.

Who is the shortest living woman? ›

One of our most iconic Guinness World Records title holders is Jyoti Amge, from India. She became a part of the GWR family in 2009, when she was confirmed as the world's shortest teenager living (female) at 61.95 cm (2 ft).

Who is the largest woman in the world? ›

Also, with a towering height of 6 feet 9 inches, Tanya is only three inches shorter than the world's tallest living woman — Rumeysa Gelgi who is 7 feet 0.7 inches tall. “Growing up, I was always the tallest around.

Who is the lightest woman in the world? ›

The lightest adult of all time is believed to be the Mexican woman Lucia Zarate who weighed only 4.7 pounds (2.13 kg) at the age of 17 (and was 21.5 inches tall). She had put on weight, and was up to 13 lb. (5.9 kg) by her 20th birthday.

Who is the most tattooed woman? ›

Julia Ann Gnuse

Who is the most pierced man? ›

Rolf Buchholz holds a Guinness World Record for having a total of 453 metal piercings all over his body, and his body modifications are extreme, not to mention his tattooed eyeballs. Add to that, the German even has horn implants on his head.

Who is the world lightest person? ›

She was entered into the Guinness World Records as the "lightest recorded adult", weighing only 4.7 pounds (2.1 kg) at the age of 17.
Lucía Zárate.
Kiran Saidha
DiedJanuary 15, 1890 (aged 26) Sierra Nevada, US
Cause of deathHypothermia
Known for"Lightest Recorded Adult"
Height50.8 cm (20.0 in) (claimed) 68 cm (26.8 in) (GWR)
2 more rows

What are the risks of body modification? ›

Read more about skin penetration procedures and the law. There are a number of physical risks associated with body art. These can include: scarring.
Other potential risks
  • swelling.
  • airway obstruction.
  • increased amount of saliva.
  • permanent numbness.
  • loss of taste.

How can I modify my body? ›

18 Ways to Change Your Body to Get Stronger, Leaner, and More Toned
  1. Strength Train 3 Times a Week. ...
  2. Cardio 5 Times a Week. ...
  3. Fast, Slow, and Everything in Between. ...
  4. Don't Just Target Trouble Zones. ...
  5. Mix Up Your Interval Training. ...
  6. Multitask. ...
  7. Incorporate Hills. ...
  8. Mix Up Your Routine.
10 Dec 2018

How can cultural traditions shape body image? ›

Cultural Traditions Can Help or Hurt

The culture in which we are surrounded by has a significant impact on how we feel about ourselves and the manner in which we think about our body. Many cultural traditions also contribute to body image and can influence either negative or positive body image and self-esteem.

What are 5 examples of customs? ›

11 Surprising Customs from Around the World
  • Pointing with lips in Nicaragua. ...
  • Kissing in France. ...
  • Spitting on the bride at weddings in Greece. ...
  • September 12 is the Day of Conception in Russia. ...
  • Groundhog Day in the US. ...
  • Tipping in the US. ...
  • Hanging out in cemeteries in Denmark. ...
  • Pointing with the thumb in Malaysia.

What are 3 examples of American cultural traits? ›

Let's take a closer look at what this means from a cultural values perspective.
  • Independence. From a young age, Americans are taught to be self-sufficient and independent. ...
  • Equality. For Americans, equality means everyone is born equal and no one is inferior or superior to the other. ...
  • Individualism. ...
  • Materialism.
5 Jul 2022

What are 5 aspects of American culture? ›

American culture includes both conservative and liberal elements, scientific and religious competitiveness, political structures, risk taking and free expression, materialist and moral elements.

What are the six basic American cultural values? ›

In this lesson, we will look at six of these core values: liberty, self-government, equality, individualism, diversity, and unity.

What are two examples of American cultural traits? ›

Religious beliefs, language, and holiday customs are examples of cultural traits.
Examples of American include:
  • Independence.
  • Love of privacy.
  • Belief in equal opportunity.
  • Insistence on punctuality/timeliness.
  • Relative informality.
  • Respect for personal ambition and achievement.
  • Directness.
  • Orientation towards the future.
25 Mar 2022

What are some weird cultural practices? ›

10 of the Strangest Traditions from Around the World
  • La Tomatina, Spain. ...
  • Smashing coconuts on people's skulls in India. ...
  • Festival of scrambled eggs in Bosnia. ...
  • Throwing cinnamon at 25-year old's in Denmark. ...
  • The monkey buffet festival in Thailand. ...
  • Polterabend in Germany. ...
  • Shoving faces in cake in Mexico.
19 Jun 2019

What are cultural values examples? ›

The examples of it are morals, rules, values, languages, beliefs, arts, literature, music, social roles, customs, traditions and many more.

What are examples of cultural traditions? ›

Unique Cultural Traditions
  • Wedding Cake, UK. Few areas of daily life have generated as many traditions over the years as the food that we eat. ...
  • Eating Jesus, Italy. Some traditions span more than one country. ...
  • Red Brides, India. ...
  • Magpies, UK. ...
  • Red Envelopes, China. ...
  • Royal Worship, Vanuatu. ...
  • Remembrance Day, Europe. ...
  • Flamenco, Spain.
6 May 2020

What are the 6 cultural features? ›

All cultures share these basic features.
  • Culture is learned. It is not biological; we do not inherit it. ...
  • Culture is shared. ...
  • Culture is based on symbols. ...
  • Culture is integrated. ...
  • Culture is dynamic.

What cultural influences shape your identity? ›

Cultural identities are influenced by several different factors such as ones religion, ancestry, skin color, language, class, education, profession, skill, family and political attitudes. These factors contribute to the development of one's identity.


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