After five years of extending her neck with homemade rings, Sydney Smith, also known as the Giraffe Woman, has called it quits on what was meant to be a lifelong commitment.
The 30-year-old woman, who began trying to extend her neck with a custom bronze coil necklace at the age of 25, has taken her rings off for good. Inspired by the long-neck women of the Kayan tribes in Thailand, as well as a life-long obsession with giraffes, Smith began adding rings to her neck that were meant to push her collarbone down and give her one of the longest necks in the world.
Against the advice of doctors and medical professionals, who warned her of potential nerve damage or collarbone deformation, Smith pushed on in her journey. After starting out with two rings, she managed to get 15 rings around her neck, which totaled to almost five pounds. Eventually, the weight of the ornaments became too much for her to carry.
“I couldn’t function properly as a long-neck woman with 15 rings around my neck in the United States of America,” Smith said. “Unless you are willing to completely isolate yourself and you’re a trust fund baby and don’t ever need to leave the house, don’t ever need to drive, then maybe you can pull it off.”
Smith, who lives in Los Angeles, pointed out that many of the Southeast Asian women who served as her inspiration had an entirely different support system around them. Life in a slow-paced village of non-working women is a bit different than living an upbeat life in Hollywood.
“I spent five years of my life with rings around my neck and I just became very introverted and isolated and felt like the rings were taking over my life in every way,” Smith said. “It was always about the rings, it wasn’t about Sydney anymore.”
“I tried sticking my neck out to make it work,” she added with a laugh. “But logic kicked in after awhile.”
Since her childhood, Smith felt a strong emotional connection to giraffes. In middle school, she used to amaze her fellow classmates by stretching her abnormally long neck. She even said giraffes at the Los Angeles Zoo would approach her, choosing her out of a crowd of hundreds. But for Sydney Smith, it wasn’t just about the animals or the villagers in Thailand.
She also just believed in the beauty of having a long neck.
“Even now you look at a woman with a short neck compared to a woman with a longer neck, the woman with the longer neck is always going to be more beautiful,” Smith said. “But that’s not emphasized in American culture. Someone might find it kinda weird like, ‘Oh, check out that girl’s neck.’”
Now, though, the era of the experiment seems to have come to an end. When Smith took the necklace off, she had severe bruising around her collarbone and said her “neck felt very weak, kind of like arms on a toothpick.” Yikes.
Luckily, Smith beat the odds and the recovery process has surpassed doctors’ expectations. A month after taking the necklace off, she said she doesn’t regret the decision. Her anxiety has gone down, she’s doing yoga, swimming, working out, transforming her body into a “fitness model physique,” and says she is closer to her family and friends.
Though Smith won’t be wearing the rings on a regular basis, she remains emphatic that her connection to the custom necklace is far from over.
According to Smith, she continues to receive tons of emails from fans that want removable versions of her necklace simply as a fashion item. Smith has even connected with a plastic surgeon who suffered a neck injury in a car accident and who said he wanted to investigate the potential medical uses of a similar-looking necklace. He’s been putting weights on his collarbone to relieve pain but thinks that with the right modification, a necklace like the one Smith wore for five years could provide relief of its own.
For the Giraffe Woman, all of the fascination makes perfect sense. Body modification is an obsession, one that she says she had believed in even before she put on her rings.
She previously had piercings all over her body but said the “thrill” of that form of body modification wore off rather quickly. Once she got the neck rings on, she removed all of her piercings and hasn’t had an interest in other kinds of body modification since.
When asked whether she thought the necklace ultimately worked in extending her neck, she said it is kind of hard to tell.
“People have this misconception that they think that your neck is going look super long when you remove the rings,” Smith said. “It actually goes back to normal, the neck goes back to normal. I do feel my neck is longer than when I started but I feel like it has shrunk since I took them off.”
Though she won’t wear the rings 24/7, Smith admits she still wears them from time to time.
“I really enjoyed the feeling of the rings around my neck,” she said. “I miss the sensation of the weight on the collarbones, which was in a weird way very comforting.”
Interview and Photographs By Jeffery R. Werner
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