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Long Neck Karen

By AlanBW
When we were in Chiang Mai, Tricia and I arranged ourselves a trip to a Karen hill tribe village some distance outside the city. The Karen people are mainly situated in Burma, but some are settled over the border in Northern Thailand. It is believed that their ancestors originated from Tibet. The village was found up a narrow track and was built on the side of a steep hill.

It is traditional for the Karen women to wear spirals around their necks that give the appearance of giraffe-like proportions. The origins of the tradition are uncertain. We were told by our guide that young girls from around the age of five wear a small(ish!) spiral, which is changed at puberty for a larger and longer spiral, with the final change coming when they reach adulthood. We were also told that they are even buried wearing their spiral and that the only time that they take it off is on their wedding night. The spirals are heavy and one version of the tale tells that the weight slowly crushes the collar bones to give the appearance of the long neck, while the second and possibly more accurate version asserts that the weight causes the rib cage to 'sag', pulling down the shoulders and giving the long neck appearance.

The image above is of a young Karen girl aged about ten years old. She was a beautiful child but unfortunately she did not embellish that beauty with a smile. I did not ask her to pose, I simply captured the image as she stood leaning against a table. The village was full of traditional handicrafts for sale and when we purchased some items from the young girl, we got a most gorgeous smile, but this was so fleeting that it was not possible to capture it.

I am very busy at the moment following up a review meeting with social services and health authorities regarding the immediate and longer term care provision for Tricia's mum, who has Alzheimer's. I will endeavour to catch up on portfolios and recent uploads over the coming days, but if I simply click rather than comment, I hope you will understand.

Tags: Portrait Photo journalism Travel General Candid Girl Thailand Karen Long neck Portraits and people

Voters: User_Removed, Paul_cats, robway and 198 more

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Paul_cats Plus
12 61 22 Scotland
15 Apr 2008 9:27AM
Wonderful image Alan and a very informative write up. Shame she didn't smile for you though. Good luck with your review meeting. Hope all goes well.
I am currently offshore and internet access is limited so apologies for the sporadic clicks and comments.

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anpix 10 88 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 9:41AM
nice photo, great composition
mrswoolybill Plus
11 1.2k 1929 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 10:06AM
I have mixed feelings on this. She is so beautiful, her look is dignified and graceful, she doesn't need to smile. But it's a horrendous practice.
MickyMc 10 8 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 10:09AM
Thank you for the information, I think it is better really that she did not smile, she is rather hauntingly beautiful and a smile may have destroyed that look.
I am so pleased that this particular tradition did not catch on here!! On her wedding night when she takes it off she must surely feel dizzy, and not just with love either.
Great shot
AlanBW 12 20 England
15 Apr 2008 10:12AM
Many thanks Paul, Andrew, Moira and Mavis, very much appreciated - Alan
Cormy 10 3 England
15 Apr 2008 10:15AM
Super shot of a beautiful girl.
una Plus
14 10 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 10:34AM
Fabulous image and great write up.
Bodiewil 10 46 Wales
15 Apr 2008 10:34AM
What a beautiful image Alan, superbly captured

Herge88 11 40 4 England
15 Apr 2008 10:42AM
Fantastic capture and informative commentary as usual Alan.

Best Matt
AlanBW 12 20 England
15 Apr 2008 10:45AM
Many thanks Alan, Una, Dave and Matt, very much appreciated - Alan
imander 11 388 7 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 10:47AM
This is so charming, she is a beautiful young lady. very well taken and described
Rogerex 11 32 12 Australia
15 Apr 2008 11:05AM
An attractive young lady, well photographed, but I feel sorry for her having to wear those rings.
derekv 10 3 England
15 Apr 2008 11:19AM
Great shot, Alan, superb detail of this beautiful young girl.
AlanBW 12 20 England
15 Apr 2008 11:26AM
Many thanks Ian, Roger and Derek - Alan
15 Apr 2008 11:27AM
Beautiful image, excellent write up,
delboy1145 10 29 8 England
15 Apr 2008 11:29AM
I think a smile might have spoilt a simple natual pose
15 Apr 2008 11:32AM
First class Alan
Nettles 11 England
15 Apr 2008 11:44AM
I wouldn't smile if I had to wear those awful rings.
Great candid shot though Alan and something very different.
15 Apr 2008 12:46PM
nice photo and story
lonely_oryx 10 61 55 England
15 Apr 2008 12:47PM
Excellent portrait
AlanBW 12 20 England
15 Apr 2008 12:50PM
Many thanks Fred, Dave, Graham, Annette, Peter and John - Alan
gary_d 10 576 13 Wales
15 Apr 2008 12:50PM
A lovely looking lady captured beautifully Alan. - gary
Milla 10 7 2 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 1:03PM
This one is strong because of the story behind.
Seen loads of shots of mature women with those rings, but young, pretty girl wearing them.. well, it definitely makes a strong impression.
Joline Plus
11 30 53 United States
15 Apr 2008 1:05PM
What a beautiful girl. Interesting cultural tradition...glad it hasn't caught on in the west.
glyndwr 11 66 10 Wales
15 Apr 2008 1:11PM
Crikey that's different.
You are right she is a beautiful child, I don't know what to think of this tradition, I suppose it is similar to the images we see here with piercings and rings.

Great capture.

AlanBW 12 20 England
15 Apr 2008 1:22PM
Many thanks Gary, Milla, Joline and Robert - Alan
GalleryGirl 10 4 2 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 1:32PM
Poor thing but I guess it's their tradition and perhaps we shouldn't judge.
Well captured - beautiful image.
Marilyn x
User_Removed 13 32 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 2:13PM
Lovley face: it's ashame that these women and girls are still subject to these sorts of traditions. Jeff
challicew 10 1 1 South Africa
15 Apr 2008 2:32PM
Oh Alan, your images are simply terrific and this one is no exception. It was amazing to see that in that village the women done these rings. I thought that it was only here in Africa where this was still happening!
AlanBW 12 20 England
15 Apr 2008 2:47PM
Many thanks Marilyn, Jeff and Challice, very much appreciated - Alan
pascalg Plus
10 37 France
15 Apr 2008 3:02PM
impressive portrait !
what a look on her face...
dawnmichelle 10 12 United States
15 Apr 2008 3:25PM
excellent image...she looks so sad .. she is a beautiful little girl..
DP_Imagery 13 24 6 Wales
15 Apr 2008 3:43PM
Very interesting info - and a lovely photo. Do agree with Dawn though that she does look sad. Bruce
AlanBW 12 20 England
15 Apr 2008 3:55PM
Many thanks Pascal, Dawn and Bruce - Alan
VintageRed 12 15 1 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 4:07PM
As always Alan, your patient and full explaination adds to the impact of the image.
microchip 10 1 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 4:12PM
A lovely capture Alan and an excellent narrative
she looks a gorgeous child,
AlanBW 12 20 England
15 Apr 2008 4:18PM
Many thanks Alan and Nick, very much appreciated - Alan
RockArea 11 18 3 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 4:25PM
A very evocative image, Alan and your description fills in the rest of the picture so well.

Best wishes

SandraKay Plus
11 233 4 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 4:34PM
Ouch! Wouldn't fancy wearing those spirals one bit. It's a beautiful portrait though and she looks very calm and composed.
GlynnisFrith 11 23 3 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 4:35PM
It's a great portrait.

But I am not sure I agree with young girls wearing neck rings I know it must be their custom but I feel it's barbaric & not good for the young girls well being
AlanBW 12 20 England
15 Apr 2008 4:43PM
Many thanks David, Sandra and Glynnis - Alan
AlanC1 11 1 England
15 Apr 2008 4:45PM
You are a true master of this type of photography. Excellent expressional shot as usual.
Richsr 11 91 223 England
15 Apr 2008 4:53PM
Nice portrait image Alan - well captured.
Regards Richard.
imagio 11 12 1 England
15 Apr 2008 4:59PM
Wonderful capture Alan, maybe she could'nt smile because of the rings?

fentiger Plus
16 918 24 England
15 Apr 2008 5:05PM
Top class Alan. Very well done.

AlanBW 12 20 England
15 Apr 2008 5:07PM
Many thanks Alan, Richard, Bernie and Albert - Alan
ketch 10 770 50 Turks And Caicos Islands
15 Apr 2008 5:16PM
Love the write up - and such a haunting image - magic
FeatherFriend 10 38 217 England
15 Apr 2008 5:26PM
A superb shot, and such a lovely informative write up.
Rende 11 38 4 Netherlands
15 Apr 2008 5:39PM
Beautiful portrait with nicely enigmatic expression.
Very nice.

Bogdan Fiscutean
AlanBW 12 20 England
15 Apr 2008 5:54PM
Many thanks Robert, Geoff, Rende and Bogdan - Alan
TelStar 13 116 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 6:09PM
Strikingly beautiful.

kanu 10 India
15 Apr 2008 6:09PM
What an idea of making the neck look longer, a good shot
phototime 12 8 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 6:17PM
She is beautiful Alan,wonderful portrait.

15 Apr 2008 6:28PM
Stunning Alan. beautiful golden tones too. helen x
AlanBW 12 20 England
15 Apr 2008 7:11PM
Many thanks Tel, Kanu, Mo and Helen - Alan
pamelajean Plus
12 1.1k 2016 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 7:15PM
This is a lovely portrait, Alan, and your narrative is so interesting. I cannot believe that those rings are comfortable. However, when I think of what women here do to themselves in the name of fashion, the mind boggles. I would assume that the rings are compulsory and that she has no choice. That's something different.
Rock Plus
16 10 2 England
15 Apr 2008 7:19PM
A super Portrait of a fine looking girl and your discription is very good.

Libby_M 11 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 7:39PM
seen these on t v not nice 2 look at but if thats what they beleave in what can you do
such a great clear sharp detailed shot
well taken
bayleaf 10 8 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 7:45PM
What a beautiful image.
15 Apr 2008 7:55PM
O dear, I hope she never gets an itch...
cats_123 Plus
14 4.8k 28 Northern Ireland
15 Apr 2008 7:59PM

steve_r 10 England
15 Apr 2008 8:08PM
GOOD SHOT.Good capture beautiful girl,thank's regards Steve.
rmr 10 1 Wales
15 Apr 2008 8:21PM
well taken image
bricurtis Plus
12 2.2k 49 England
15 Apr 2008 8:27PM
Not keen on the 'shaping of youth' practice you have described Alan but its a fine portrait.
HUMIE 11 2 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 8:29PM
Excellent shot and narrative Alan.

GrahamBaines 11 39 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 8:34PM
Simply beautiful.

lostintime 10 13 5 Germany
15 Apr 2008 8:38PM
Great shot and an interesting story to go with it. I does look uncomfortable...
Vicalli 10 Scotland
15 Apr 2008 8:42PM
Nice shot!
myrab 11 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 9:09PM
Great shot Alan, the little girl is very beautiful.

JudeC 11 6 3 England
15 Apr 2008 9:19PM
Excellent image - I can't imagine what these neck ornaments do to the spine over time - Jude.
Hop-A-Long 11 52 1 England
15 Apr 2008 9:25PM
Fabulous shot. I always thought it actually did elongate the neck and that they couldn't remove them, you learn something new every day.
csr 10 3 England
15 Apr 2008 9:31PM
Sory I've missed everbodies pictures have not been on site for a long time. Due to working long hours at work and home.And problems with new camera (40D) can't open raw images yet't Jpeg only. Nice one looks great
Glostopcat 12 255 2 England
15 Apr 2008 9:55PM
An excellent image and narrative Alan. I bet it must be jolly uncomfortable wearing one of those for any length of time!
Mavis Plus
16 143 2 England
15 Apr 2008 10:02PM
A beautiful child but oh so sad . a wonderful capture . I think if they took off these rings her neck would be damaged .xxxx
CaroleA 12 5 3 England
15 Apr 2008 10:04PM
She might not be smiling but you've captured a very enigmatic look here- as someone said, very haunting.
bunbeam 12 2 United Kingdom
15 Apr 2008 10:11PM
superb capture and explanation, must have been a great experience
15 Apr 2008 11:57PM
Nice candid of a lovely child. Wish I could take those rings off her.
annefromleo 12 11 1 United Kingdom
16 Apr 2008 7:13AM
lovely Alan and excellent editorial as well

ps hope all goes well with meeting
AlanBW 12 20 England
16 Apr 2008 7:20AM
Many thanks Pamela, Rock, Libby, John, Chris, Jeff, Steve, Mark, Brian, Mike, Graham, Alexandra, Vicki, Myra, Jude, Andy, Chris, Ed, Mavis, Carole, Bon, Mac and Anne; very much appreciated - Alan
Rylands 10 1 2 United Kingdom
16 Apr 2008 7:30AM
Brilliant capture
wyatturp 12 2 England
16 Apr 2008 8:09AM
Makes me hold my neck , great to look at and read Alan

DougSmile-have a good daySmile
Ridgeway 11 222 2 Ireland
16 Apr 2008 9:31AM
What a great shot,,I've seen this before but didnt know to much about it,thanks for the background,very informative,,
JONTHELENS 11 34 United Kingdom
16 Apr 2008 9:44AM
been there myself Alan. Nice capture.

AlanBW 12 20 England
16 Apr 2008 9:47AM
Many thanks Ray, Doug, Aidan and Jon - Alan
riprap007 13 1.6k 37 England
16 Apr 2008 9:51AM
a strong and disturbing image... a smile would have 'broken' the image for me, good photo journalism

hope that the review process goes smoothly, must be a troubling tme
nickyv32 Plus
10 135 England
16 Apr 2008 12:29PM
Lovely shot and as a lot of people have commented, very disturbing image, great shot of a practice that will probably never end.

AlanBW 12 20 England
16 Apr 2008 12:37PM
Many thanks Nicholas and Nicky - Alan
bliba Plus
12 2 Austria
16 Apr 2008 3:23PM
superbly captured
AlanBW 12 20 England
16 Apr 2008 4:00PM
Many thanks Ollie - Alan
photophantom 10 108 3 Philippines
16 Apr 2008 5:36PM
Historical and timeless piece of work of art. Excellent shot Alan.
Silverzone 10 2 England
16 Apr 2008 6:39PM
Fabulous image. Sylvia
danbrann Plus
13 637 17
16 Apr 2008 6:54PM
A tremendous insight.
Cat&Mouse 14 114 Russian Federation
16 Apr 2008 7:09PM
How interesting!

Great photo, and strong girl Smile

Malik & Mary.
AlanBW 12 20 England
16 Apr 2008 8:18PM
Many thanks Dennis, Silvia, Dan, Mary & Malik, much appreciated - Alan
VNelson 13 3 United States
16 Apr 2008 9:31PM
The lack of a smile actually makes the shot, I think. Great, soft-toned colours.
dianah 11 24.5k 4 United Kingdom
16 Apr 2008 9:36PM
Fabulous photo with such an interesting deserve more than one click.
ginz04 14 281 20 United Kingdom
16 Apr 2008 10:22PM
hi alan it is an excellent image and im pleased this practice doesnt go on in manchester.

piccy 12 8 Wales
16 Apr 2008 10:29PM
Fabulous shot but such a terrible custom I think. Great narrative as usual.
JimV 11 6 3 Canada
17 Apr 2008 2:22AM
A beautiful child but, as so many others have already said, a ghastly practice.....taken off on her wedding!
Rgds., Jim
chrissd 12 304 United Kingdom
17 Apr 2008 6:05AM
incredible image Alan Smile
AlanBW 12 20 England
17 Apr 2008 6:38AM
Many thanks Verne, Di, Freda, Ian, Jim and Chris - Alan
17 Apr 2008 12:46PM
Other culture, other traditions.
A most beautiful face. Great photography JNC
17 Apr 2008 2:02PM
Lovely capture.
AlanBW 12 20 England
17 Apr 2008 2:44PM
Many thanks Jean Noel and Mia - Alan
17 Apr 2008 2:50PM
A lovely image, great info.
Hope all goes well for Tricia's mum.

MandsH 11 England
18 Apr 2008 8:25AM
Beautiful such a pretty girl
daffydill56 14 190 United Kingdom
18 Apr 2008 8:59AM
She is stunningly beautiful for one so young. When she is older she won't have a problem finding a husband!! Truly an amazing write up Alan, and great portrait too.

GregorP 13 4 Slovenia
18 Apr 2008 9:13AM
Smile Nice story...always a pleasure to read your stories... Nice photo, too! Wink

Chant57 Plus
12 395 3 United Kingdom
18 Apr 2008 9:16AM
fabulous write up Alan as usual which adds to the impact of the image, and a beautiful young girl, the eyes are so expressive.
AlanBW 12 20 England
18 Apr 2008 9:58AM
Many thanks Christine, Mandy, Fran, Gregor and Chant - Alan
norton 14 6 United Kingdom
18 Apr 2008 10:53AM
Superb image and description Alan,well captured..........

AlanBW 12 20 England
18 Apr 2008 11:49AM
Cheers Tony, much appreciated - Alan
hebdens 12 5
18 Apr 2008 12:17PM
Traditions aren't always easy to understand sometimes. Pretty little girl even with such a sad expression.
Wish you all the best with your mum in law.
GarethRobinson 11 1.0k 2 United Kingdom
18 Apr 2008 12:54PM
Excellent capture of culture.
AlanBW 12 20 England
18 Apr 2008 2:47PM
Many thanks Tracy and Gareth - Alan
paulb20 Plus
11 12 United Kingdom
18 Apr 2008 6:18PM
A face so full of innocence and really well captured Alan.
mikbee 11 3 8 Scotland
18 Apr 2008 7:05PM
Super ''lines'' here.
TEASE 11 10 England
18 Apr 2008 7:09PM
Lovely capture as usual hope you manage to sort your family probs out soon all the best...Smile
18 Apr 2008 7:48PM
Brilliant nothing more to say.
AlanBW 12 20 England
18 Apr 2008 8:41PM
Many thanks Paul, Mick, Keith and Harry - Alan
Paree 13 616 3
18 Apr 2008 11:15PM
cant say any thing more
franken Plus
15 4.6k 4 United Kingdom
19 Apr 2008 9:08AM
An interesting and really excellent portrait.


ps, been away for a while moving house. Spent most of yesterday on my mobile phone getting broadband and cable tv to work, I've got to wait until next friday to have my landline working! (i've only moved 1.5 miles!
panda 13 5 1 England
19 Apr 2008 9:47AM
Stunning capture Alan, I wouldn't think she has much to smile about having her neck stretched like that.

Regards Phil
AlanBW 12 20 England
19 Apr 2008 10:12AM
Many thanks Maureen, Ken and Phil - Alan
mjharps12 10 34 United Kingdom
19 Apr 2008 10:12AM
like it good shot Smile
Bluke 13 303 1 United Kingdom
19 Apr 2008 1:28PM
Hi Alan... more amazing shots in your P/F..... excellent images...
Pegon 12 78 1 England
19 Apr 2008 2:39PM
An excellent capture Alan, she's a beautiful looking young girl. It can't be very comfortable for them having to wear those but I suppose over the years they'll get used to them.
AlanBW 12 20 England
19 Apr 2008 4:47PM
Many thanks Babs and Pete - Alan
HectorRivera 10 17 1 United States
20 Apr 2008 1:34AM
Great shot, nice journalism work, nice to be able to travel as much as you do.
Brilane 11 5 12 Wales
20 Apr 2008 2:55AM
A beautiful portrait.
sandrish 14 36 United Kingdom
20 Apr 2008 8:53AM
Another beautiful capture. She is such a lovely child and although it is fascinating to learn about the world's customs and traditions I find this custom quite horrific. I work in the Children's Department of our local Hospital and I think this tradition is sheer child abuse!

BigK 12 8
20 Apr 2008 9:57AM
Good to see I can still travel the world through the lens of your camera.

AlanBW 12 20 England
20 Apr 2008 10:41AM
Many thanks Hector, Brian, Sandra and Kirk, very much appreciated - Alan
Portknockie 13 48 Scotland
20 Apr 2008 12:07PM
A Haunting image Alan and a beautiful shot..

Sandra is so so right

AlanBW 12 20 England
20 Apr 2008 2:16PM
Many thanks Don, much appreciated - Alan
20 Apr 2008 5:27PM
Beautifully captured

BonaFideNut 11 14 United States
20 Apr 2008 5:54PM
I'm with Moira on this. It's a nice portrait. I find her non-smiling face appropriate for what the spiral is going to do to her body.
AlanBW 12 20 England
21 Apr 2008 6:22AM
Many thanks Graeme and Richard - Alan
SueTurner 13 81 3 England
21 Apr 2008 10:44PM
simply amazing image
AlanBW 12 20 England
22 Apr 2008 6:41AM
Many thanks Sue - Alan
A Booth 15 11 4 United Kingdom
22 Apr 2008 6:48PM
beautiful girl, tribal traditions are not always pleasant.
Frase 10 Scotland
22 Apr 2008 8:30PM
Fabulous Image , although very sad.
AlanBW 12 20 England
22 Apr 2008 9:52PM
Many thanks Alan and Don- Alan
23 Apr 2008 6:20PM