Body modification is the practice of deliberately physically changing your appearance. It can be as simple as getting a nose piercing or as complex as getting plastic surgery. For one woman, Sydney Smith, her body modification of choice was something a little more extreme.
Also known as the “Giraffe Woman,” Sydney has spent five years elongating her neck. While the practice actually has roots in a remote Southeast Asian tribe, it has hadan intense impact on her health, both physically and mentally.
Read on to learn about Sydney’s unique—and dangerous—journey to stretch her neck.
Sydney Began Her Journey When She Was 25
Sydney has long been a fan of giraffes, and at the age of 25, decided she wanted to pay tribute to her favorite thing in the world. So, she did what any of us would do, and went about elongating her neck.
It might seem like a crazy idea but it’s a process that is a tradition in some cultures around the world. Still, it’s not an easy thing to do, and Sydney would soon find out how much the transformation process would take out of her.
Seriously…She LOVES Giraffes
I know what you might be thinking. How does a picture with a stuffed animal giraffe prove she has a weird obsession with giraffes? Well, that’s not just a stuffed animal — it’s an actual purse that she carries around.
“I never go anywhere without my giraffe purse.” I think it’s safe to say she likes giraffes more than we gave her credit for. She definitely likes them enough to want to look like one.
She Put A Ring On It
Actually, she put a couple of rings on it. Sydney decided that the best way to fully embrace her inner giraffe would be to elongate her neck. It’s not an easy process, and it would take her on a while ride.
She started off with a modest amount of rings, and would continually add to them as her neck grew and stretched.
Next, learn about the culture that inspired Sydney’s journey.
Inspiration From Another World
It turns out the giraffe wasn’t the only reason she decided to make her neck longer. Sydney also drew inspiration from the Kayan people of South East Asia. Girls of the Kayan Lahwi start wearing the rings around the age of five.
As they continue to age, they continue to add length to the coil around their necks. The process can be as short or as long as the woman doing the neck stretching desires.
Why Do They Do This?
There are a couple of reasons why anthropologists believe this tribe wears the coils. The coils might be used to make the women look less attractive so other tribes won’t turn them into slaves.
On the flip side, it could also be a way to make them look more attractive. Women generally have more slender necks than men so this could be a way to form it. Whatever the reason is, this tribe is unique in their commitment to body modification.
Isn’t This Dangerous?
If you’re wondering if the practice is safe then you’re not alone. It certainly looks a little dangerous. It turns out, the practice doesn’t actually elongate the neck at all and is safe. Instead, the elongation happens because the weight of the rings pushes the collar bone down and compresses the rib cage, which can become more dangerous over time.
However, the Kayan women who wear these necklaces cite that the purpose of wearing them is for their cultural identity.
Sydney Went Slow And Steady
Despite having no cultural connection to them, Sydney decided to take on the same challenge as the Kayan women. Unfortunately for her, it is all the more difficult considering her body had already matured physically by her age. There wasn’t really much more growing left for her body to do.
She started off slow and continued to add rings as they became more comfortable until she reached her peak number of 10 rings.
Her Story Went Worldwide
You know things are starting to get serious when Ripley’s Believe It Or Not features you in their comic books. The franchise is known to take the most bizarre and unusual stories they can find, and Sydney’s story definitely makes the cut.
This was only one of Sydney’s brushes with worldwide fame.
Her Own Comic Book Character
It’s not every day that you get your own comic book character named after you. I’m not too sure if she has any superpowers, but I imagine she would be like Plastic Man or Elastigirl.
Whatever her superpower is, I’m sure she turns plenty of heads.
‘Progress’ was the caption Sydney used for this picture, and it’s pretty easy to see why. Her coils have clearly grown from her first days, and there does appear to be some changes in her physique.
However, by the end, the coils would take a toll on her body, and she would have to finally shed them.
She Couldn’t Handle The Weight Any Longer
Apparently, all the coils on Sydney’s neck became too heavy to deal with any longer. She eventually was able to fit 15 rings around her neck, which weighed in at five pounds.
I’m sure that five pounds doesn’t sound like much, but when you have that literally surrounding your neck 24 hours a day, it sounds like a cruel form of torture.
The Rings Began To Rule Her Life
According to an interview Sydney did, she said: “I couldn’t function properly as a long neck woman with fifteen rings around my neck in the United States of America.”
It does sound like a daunting task. Things of all the things we take for granted because we can freely move our heads around with ease.
‘It Was Always About The Rings’
People were obviously intrigued by Sydney’s look, but over the course of five years, the questions started getting old. She began to feel isolated and introverted from the rest of society.
‘It was always about the rings, it wasn’t about Sydney anymore. I tried sticking my neck out to make it work but logic kicked in after a while.’
Finally, She’s Free
After five long years, Sydney Smith removed the coils around her neck. She realized that the cost of her livelihood wasn’t worth it. The daily burden was something that made her life very difficult.
‘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.’
Her ‘Giraffe Woman’ Persona Lives On
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Despite no longer wearing the coils around her neck, Sydney still considers herself the ‘Giraffe Woman.’ She has no regrets about her attempts to lengthen her neck, even if there has been changes to her body.
Sydney had severe bruising around her collarbone, which is pretty believable after five years of wearing a five-pound weight around your neck.
Road To Recovery
Despite the stiffness and bruising Sydney originally faced after removing the rings, doctors were surprised that her recovery was moving along quicker than they anticipated.
Sydney first described her neck as ‘very weak, kind of like arms on a toothpick,’ which is not something I wish to think about any further. Sydney isn’t the only one who went to drastic lengths to change their look. A number of people have undergone extreme surgeries in order to look like their favorite celebrities.
Romario Dos Santos Alves as The Hulk
Aside from actor Lou Ferrigno, no one will ever be able to portray The Incredible Hulk. This didn’t stop Romario Dos Santos Alves from trying. The Brazilian native wanted to model himself after the popular comic book character, so he injected a dangerous mix of synthol, painkillers, and alcohol into his biceps to have them grow to 25 inches.
This proved to be very dangerous to his health; he almost had both of his arms amputated, and he even tried to kill himself. The synthol rocks in his arms were removed via surgery, and Romario has sworn to avoid drugs on his path towards being a successful bodybuilder.
Next up: a real-life Jessica Rabbit.
Nadya Suleman as Angelina Jolie
Nadya Suleman was already a celebrity in her own right before undergoing plastic surgery. Nicknamed “Octomom” after giving birth to octuplets in January 2009, Nadya was told after gaining media attention that she resembled Angelina Jolie.
After the comparison was pointed out, Nadya decided to make the similarities even more pronounced by undergoing rhinoplasty and collagen injections. She claimed that she got plastic surgery to more closely resemble Angelina Jolie, but the pictures of her post-surgery prove otherwise. She claimed, “I have never even thought of Angelina Jolie, except the last time I saw a movie. I think that was like years ago. This is so far away from the place I’m in right now, to think of any celebrity.”
Justin Jedlica, a New York native, spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars in order to look like the Ken doll. He has undergone at least 190 operations in order to achieve his dream. Unlike Carlos Santobañes, Jedlica is not using his looks to enhance a modeling career; he and his husband are business owners in Chicago.
Justin Jedlica’s many procedures including rhinoplasty, chest implants, gluteoplasty, calf implants, lip augmentations, thigh implants, subpectoral implants, cheek augmentations, brow shaving and lifts, triceps implants, bicep implants, and shoulder implants. His obsession with plastic surgery began when he was only seventeen and unhappy with his looks. He underwent his first procedure just four days after turning eighteen.
Mikki Jay as Michael Jackson
The late Michael Jackson was known for his various plastic surgery ventures, which almost overshadowed his music career. British impersonator Mikki Jay is one of the biggest MJ fans in the world, and after thousands of dollars spent on rhinoplasty, a chin implant, and cheek implants, she looked just like her idol.
Not only does she look like the late star, she also has the singing voice to back it up. Since 1992, she has been touring as one of the most sought-after Michael Jackson impersonators in the world, which led to her performing for the King of Pop himself.
Crystal U as Britney Spears
When it comes to plastic surgery, singer Britney Spears is one of the most requested looks out there. In the hit MTV television series, I Want A Famous Face, office worker Crystal U had dreams of looking like her favorite pop star.
She dropped around $25,000 for breast implants, a nose job, fat grafts in her cheeks, and lip injections with hopes that she could either become a stripper or a member of the Anaheim Angels Strike Force. There’s no word if she managed to get her dance moves going in the strip club or the baseball field.
Claire Leeson as Kim Kardashian
After years of being bullied in school and two suicide attempts, Claire Leeson found serenity in the hit TV show Keeping Up With the Kardashians. When friends told her that she looked similar to star Kim Kardashian, The U.K. native dropped more than $30,000 to really look like her, and with the rising costs of surgery, debt collectors were on the hunt.
To cover costs, she started working as an impersonator and had a couple of television appearances. Recently, she has publicly regretted ever getting the surgery done and hates being compared to Kim Kardashian. The added online attacks from random people only fueled her sorrow.
Toby Sheldon as Justin Bieber
German singer-songwriter Toby Sheldon moved to Los Angeles with big dreams of becoming a pop star like his idol Justin Bieber. Due to his obsession with the pop star, Toby spent over $100,000 on surgery to look like him.
He found small fame with appearances on the television shows Botched, The Doctors, and My Strange Addiction. Unfortunately, he was found dead at the age of 35 from a dangerous mixture of Valium, sleeping aids, Xanax, and alcohol. Before he tragically died, he had a rough break up with his boyfriend, which some people believe led to his demise.
Coming up, the knockoff Ivanka Trump
Tiffany Taylor as Ivanka Trump
As the daughter of billionaire Donald Trump, Ivanka was already a modeling star at the age of 16 with appearances for Versace, Tommy Hilfiger, and Sassoon Jeans and features in the Maxim Hot 100 and AskMen.
For oil and gas consultant Tiffany Taylor, she felt as if looking like Ivanka would give her the confidence to take on the world. For the cost of $60,000, Tiffany received two breast augmentations, two nose jobs, and a mini facelift and eyelift. Even with all of the procedures, the Texan and mom of three won’t stop enhancing herself in the near future.
Donna ‘Marie’ Trego as Lady Gaga
Donna Marie Trego has performed in clubs with acts such as Angie Brown and Boyzone, but after seeing platinum-selling pop star Lady Gaga in action, she decided to take her career through a different path.
While she has spent $60,000 on plastic surgery to look like Gaga, the South Wales native spent even more on recreating Gaga’s classic outfits and hiring dancers for her live show. Donna has performed at various events throughout Europe, including GlastonBudget, which is the area’s biggest tribute concert. In 2014, she finally met Lady Gaga, and the artist was in awe of her dedication.
Nileen Namita as Nefertiti
Nefertiti is one of the most popular queens of all time, and she has been featured on various television shows and films over the years. Ever since she was a kid, Nileen Namita always thought that she was the Egyptian queen in a past life. After some counseling in her early 20s, she decided that she needs to look like Nefertiti.
Since 1987, the U.K. native has thrown $100,000 towards 51 cosmetic operations, including six mini facelifts, five eye surgeries, and eight nose jobs. Her three children approve of her changing look, which will see more changes with additional surgeries in the future.
Matt and Mike Schlepp as Brad Pitt
Twin brothers Matt and Michael Schlepp, who are both graduates of North Canyon High School in Phoenix, Arizona, were big fans of actor Brad Pitt, and with the help of MTV’s I Want a Famous Face, they were able to attempt to look like his stunt doubles.
For $20,000, they both got nose jobs and chin implants, but Michael added on cheek and jaw implants. Unfortunately, after the episode aired, a plethora of people thought they looked nothing like the actor. An online poll suggested that both looked more like television personality Steven Cojocaru, who is best known for his work on Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight.
Kitty as Jennifer Lawrence
Hailing from Houston, Texas, Kitty was completely enamored with actress Jennifer Lawrence. After gaining weight from giving birth to her daughter, she decided that it was a perfect time to make herself look more like the Oscar-winning star.
With the help of Dr. Franklin Rose at the First Surgical Hospital, Kitty received liposuction, breast augmentation, and rhinoplasty. The process was filmed for a feature on Nightline. While Kitty completely loved her new look, her husband, Eric, isn’t the biggest Jennifer Lawrence fan in the world, and wasn’t fond of her going through surgery. Though he ultimately respected her decision.
Jordan James Parke as Kim Kardashian
Jordan James Parke was a simple guy working as a makeup artist when he decided to watch an episode of Keeping Up With The Kardashians. He instantly became obsessed with Kim Kardashian, and started to get a plethora of procedures done to look like her, including laser hair removal, eyebrow tattooing, and over 50 lip-filling procedures.
Overall, Jordan has spent more than $150,000 to become the male Kim Kardashian, but he has no intention of slowing down with the surgery any time soon. While he does get awkward stares from people and receives a ton of negative comments online, he uses it as motivation to become a better person.
Xiaoqing as Jessica Alba
In 2010, a 21-year-old Chinese woman named Xiaoqing decided that she wanted to undergo plastic surgery in order to look more like Jessica Alba. She started her transformation slowly wearing a blonde wig over her naturally dark hair at the request of her boyfriend who gave her the wig and asked her to wear it all the time.
The two later broke up which is when Xiaoqing decided to undergo the operations in order to win back her man. Her ex-boyfriend was reportedly obsessed with the actress and hung photos of her on his walls and had stored may pictures of her on his phone.
Jocelyn Wildenstein as a Cat
Strictly speaking, Jocelyn Wildenstein did not try to impersonate a celebrity or famous icon, but she did undergo a bizarre transformation. The Swiss-born socialite fulfilled her dream of looking like a cat. The procedures cost millions of dollars.
Jocelyn began her transformation to look like a cat in order to keep her marriage to Alec Wildenstein happy. Alec was a big fan of large jungle cats. He had a private reserve in Africa where many of the animals roamed. Jocelyn thought since her husband enjoyed cats so much she would try to resemble one. It did not work; the couple still divorced.
Jack Johnson as David Beckham
Jack Johnson decided to make himself look more like soccer superstar David Beckham. He spent $26,000 in government benefits in order to achieve the look which was done through tanning injections, an eyebrow lift, cheek and chin fillings, and teeth enhancement.
Maybe he thought that looking like David Beckham would get him more success with the ladies or would transform him into one of the world’s best athletes. Whatever his reasons for the transformation, Jack Johnson said “I’m happy looking like David Beckham.”
Carolyn Anderson as Pamela Anderson
While the two may have already shared a last name, it cost thousands of dollars in order to make the resemblance even larger. Carolyn Anderson spent $40,000 trying to look like Pamela Anderson. Over 14 years, Carolyn purchased hair extensions, Botox, fake tans, teeth whitening and straightening, skin peels, breast implants, and beauty spot tattoos, in order to look like the celebrity.
Boasting that she is now “better than the original,” the fake Pamela Anderson has spent another $160,000 purchasing a wardrobe worthy of the Baywatch star. That is a lot of money, but Carolyn Anderson thinks that it is well worth it in order to look like Pamela.
Rodrigo Alves The Human Ken Doll
On a mission to achieve the perfect face and body, Rodrigo Alves has had over 10 nose jobs, a butt lift, silicone chest implants, laser liposuction, calf shaping, a facelift, eight-pack abdominal implants, and even plastic surgery on his eyeballs.
He’s had so many plastic surgeries performed that doctors have told him his body is incapable of handle any more procedures. Although Alves has said is “100% happy with his looks,” his doctors have urged Alves to seek therapy for body dysphoric disorder.
Sarah Burge as Barbie
Sarah Burge had a traumatic experience in which she was beaten and left for dead. Fortunately, she survived the horrifying event, but the reconstructive surgery she had following the attack left her with a strange obsession: looking like Barbie. Sarah became virtually addicted to appearance-changing procedures.
The housewife and beautician reportedly spent more than half a million British pounds trying to look like the famous doll. She has undergone over one hundred procedures in order to achieve her dream of looking like a Barbie doll, including having her face lasered to give her skin a more youthful look, breast surgery (including having her nipples moved), and liposuction.
Valeria Lukyanova and Olga Oleynik as Barbie
Valeria Lukyanova has also had a dream of looking like a Barbie doll and has taken her obsession to the greatest of extremes. She has spent thousands of dollars in order to achieve her look. She met her best friend, Olga Oleynik online. Olga has also been obsessed with looking like Barbie, and their transformation has been a bonding experience.
Both Barbie lookalikes hail from the Ukrainian city of Odessa. They use their looks to attract clients to their business where they hold lectures on spirituality. The pair have become an internet sensation, leading to their booming business.
Herbert Chavez as Clark Kent
It’s a bird…It’s a plane….It’s a man who has spent thousands of dollars to look like Superman! Herbert Chavez, a Filipino dressmaker, has spent a decade and a half transforming himself into a Clark Kent look alike. The cleft chin surgery alone cost him thousands of dollars. Mr. Chavez has been obsessed with the superhero since he was five years old and was featured in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the world’s largest collection of Superman memorabilia.
According to Chavez, who has already had 19 surgeries, he has no plans of stopping. “When my body says it cannot endure it anymore or when my doctor says that my body can not handle it because of age, then I will stop.” He plans on continuing until his doctor says he is too old to undergo any more procedures.
Guerra as Madonna
Guerra, also known as his alter ego Venus D’Lite, is famous for appearing on the show RuPaul’s Drag Race. The drag queen frequently performs as a Madonna impersonator but was not content with wearing makeup and wigs in order to look like the international superstar and took the transformation one step further.
Guerra has spent $175,000 trying to look like Madonna. He has stated that his passion to look like the pop star now borders on an addiction. His surgeries include cheek implants, a jaw filling, and brow surgery. After 19 surgeries, he can no longer claim to have been “touched for the very first time.”
Gavin Paslow as Lucifer
This 39-year-old security guard has picked a rather strange personality to impersonate—the devil. Gavin Paslow spent thousands of dollars in his efforts to look like Satan himself. His body modifications include fangs, a forked tongue, and horns. The horns consist of two implants made from Teflon sprouting from his forehead.
Gavin even changed his name to Diablo Delenfer, which translates to “devil from the inferno.” He has 29 tattoos over his body, and frequently appears wearing green contact lenses and a long tail coat with a frilly shirt. Other procedures include one to make his ears pointed. He claims to not be a Satanist, but rather to be addicted to body modification.