Modification Around the World: Lip Piercings and Stretching

by Lorna
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Piercings of the lip have steadily grown in popularity over the past 50 years in Western culture, and today such modifications are common place.  Amongst those who are pierced, small groups, such as those belonging to what’s referred to as “the Modern Primitives Movement” are also known to practice the stretching of these piercings.  Lip stretching, however, has been around for a lot longer than 50 years.  In fact, archeological evidence can be sighted to suggest that this practice existed up to 10,000 years ago, and perhaps even farther back in human history.

 Western piercing styles

Once common amongst a myriad of tribal cultures, today the stretching of lip piercings to accommodate large plugs or plates exists primarily amid a few tribes in North Africa and the Amazon.  Most noted for the size and prevalence of their lip plates are the women of the Mursi tribe, though others indigenous peoples in Brazil and Central Africa sport fairly large ones as well.  This tribe and at least two others occupying the same region in Southern Ethiopia are often seen (women only mind you) with large gauge lip piercings, as well as stretched and/or pierced ear lobes.

 stretched ear lobes in Africa(source: WGSN)

For Mursi women, the art of stretching is passed down by their mothers and female elders at around the time they reach 16.  At this point the lower lip will be scalpelled and a wooden peg inserted, and following a couple weeks of initial healing, larger wooden plugs will be inserted in succession.  Most often these plugs are carved by their wearer from the small branches of indigenous trees, until the piercing reaches a large enough size to necessitate a plate rather than a plug.  Such a plate, generally made of clay and inscribed with a unique design, may also be used to continue stretching, with larger pieces inserted progressively.

 an Ethiopian tribeswoman with lip plate

For some, the final size of their lip plate may reach as much as five or six inches in diameter, a very large size to be sure.  In Ethiopian tribes in particular, two to four of the bottom teeth may also be extracted at front, to better allow for proper placement of the lip jewelry.

In Western culture, very few have accomplished the feat of such a large stretched lip piercing, though most don’t endeavor to stretch to this size.  One of the more famous Westerners to attempt it is a young Russian man named Jenya, affectionately known as “the human platypus.”

by Lorna

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