28-year-old Sydney V. Smith’s goal in life is to become a ‘giraffe woman’. For the past three years, the Los Angeles resident has been trying to extend her neck by wearing no less than 11 copper rings around it. The idea stemmed from her lifelong fascination with body modification, especially the tribal women of Thailand and Burma who encase their necks in rings at an early age.
“I’ve always had a long neck,” said Sydney. “In middle school, they called me ‘giraffe girl’. Then I saw pictures of the long-necked tribes in Thailand and Burma in National Geographic and I became fascinated with them.” That’s when she began to cut up coat hangers and wrap them around her neck at bed time. Naturally, her parents thought the idea was ridiculous. But she persisted, and she believes that her night-time ritual actually helped elongate her neck.
“After a few years, it became obvious that my neck was longer than the other girls, but not freakishly,” said Sydney. “So I stopped for a while to consider if being a long-necked woman was what I really wanted.” But soon, it became clear to her that she was quite attached to the rings. “I had missed the comfort from the pressure on the top of my neck and shoulders and had been thinking about doing it again for a while. The comfort and exhilaration of this process was really what I was after.”
So in 2011, Sydney started wearing a tight-fitting copper necklace made specifically to her requirements. She took it slow and added an extra ring when she needed it. But she’s always been rather shy about displaying her neck rings. When she lived in Maryland, she used to wear thick turtleneck sweaters to hide them. She also chose restaurant jobs behind the scenes to avoid unwanted attention.
Soon, Sydney’s neck muscles couldn’t support the weight of her head without the rings. At this point, she needed to make a decision – to wear the rings forever or get rid of them. “I asked myself, ‘Should I stop or should I go for it?’ knowing that I would be enslaved to a ringed necklace for the rest of my life,” she said. But after attending a Lady Gaga concert, Sydney was finally able to decide. “Her freak empowerment message made a special kind of sense for me. I figure if she can wear meat dresses, I can be a giraffe woman.”
The rings that Sydney wears were customized by a friend. They are soldered around her neck, but feature a special screw so they can be detached in case of medical emergencies. But as far as she’s concerned, they are permanently attached. “He managed to do it safely, though I did get burned a little,” she said. She estimates that her neck might be 10 to 11 inches long, thanks to the elongating effect of the rings.
As much as Sydney loves her neck rings, they do come with their own inconveniences. “I don’t have the normal range of motion I once did. It makes driving a little hard, but my peripheral vision improved,” she said. “It took a while to learn to sleep with them, but now if I take them off, my neck feels limp.” And neck sweat is another major issue. “If it’s summer and the air conditioner isn’t working, my neck starts to sweat and I start to smell,” Sydney revealed.
And then there are the medical issues and health risks associated with the rings. Dr. Jonathan Nissanoff, an orthopedic surgeon from Southern California, said that he doesn’t recommend anyone doing this because it could injure the nerves in the neck. “If she’s finished growing, then all she’s doing is stretching her skin or putting the bones into traction by pulling them apart. The rings aren’t going to make her bones longer. Once she removes them, her neck will come back to size.”
But nothing’s stopping Sydney – she’s actually contemplating adding a 12th ring. She also hopes to make some money out of her unique physique. “I’d like to work as a specialty model, but my original intent was not to exploit myself,” she said. “However, it seems to be my calling.” Well, we’re not sure if she’ll make it as a model, but she’s quite deserving of a place on Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. Thailand’s Kayan tribe has been a regular feature on the show. They even filmed one of the tribal women taking her rings off. It didn’t kill her, but she sure had a severely scarred neck with smelly mold growing all over it.
Sydney does realize that she’s risking her health, but she’s tempted with the possibility of becoming a fashion icon. “You’d be surprised at how many women see me and ask where they can get it done,” she said.