Suffering for Beauty – Lip Plates

Lip plates are pieces of jewelry that are used to modify the body, specifically the lips. In my opinion, they look painful, inconvenient, and unattractive. When lip plates are worn, the lips are stretched so far out of proportion that it looks as though eating, drinking, talking, or kissing would be impossible. For me, having even a single lip plate would be a living nightmare.

Mursi lip plate, wikimedia commons

Mursi lip plate, wikimedia commons

The Mursi, Suri, Chai, and Tirma tribes in Africa disagree with me. They consider the lip plate to be very attractive. For them, the wearing one or two of them is a ritual. Young ladies have a hard time finding a husband if they don’t have a lip plate. The larger their lip plate is, the more cattle their family will receive as a price for her hand in marriage. They think lip plates are a thing of beauty, and it is also a source of income.  Tourists flock to see them and will pay money to take their pictures.

So, when is the first lip plate inserted? When a girl reaches puberty, her mother or another woman close to her, cuts her lower lip. This cut is held open by a wooden plug until it heals. Ouch. I don’t know about you, but I would not like that. Apparently it is up to the girl to decide how far she wants to stretch her lip. I would stop with the small wooden plug, but some girls stretch it up to twelve centimeters or more in diameter. If a female does not wear the plate as she is expected to, she is considered lazy. Still, some girls are refusing to allow their lips to be cut and the first wooden plug inserted to begin stretching their lips.

Warning: This video was made in Africa. There is some nudity, but please remember that their way of life is different than ours.

Not a lot is said about when the men begin wearing their lip plates, but it is my understanding that when a boy is young his lip is cut and a small, wooden peg inserted.  The size of the peg is gradually increased until he is wearing a lip plate.

When these plates are removed, the lip hangs down like a rope.

There are no major health issues that come from stretching one’s lip out so much. There is a major side effect to wearing one though. Once the lip is stretched, it will never shrink.  So as well as being considered a form of body art, it is also a way of disfiguring the body.  One would have to learn how to drink while wearing the lip plate or else get very wet.  Talking might also prove to be a bit difficult.  The lip plate also causes the teeth to start bending back.

Writing Prompts
It is thought that maybe these people began to wear lip plates to make themselves unattractive to slave traders. The tribes say this isn’t true, but it would make a good story. I’m sure you can come up with plenty of other imaginative reasons for this disfiguring form of body art.  Try writing a tale about how this practice began.

girl writing, etc.usf.edu

girl writing, etc.usf.edu

Maybe one of these tribes that wear lip plates has captured a young girl from a tribe where this is not done. She grows to love those who are raising her now but refuses to have her lip cut. Even though she would be considered lazy if she had been completely raised by them, since she is a “foreigner,” it is overlooked. But she marries one of the men of the tribe, soon becomes pregnant, and gives birth to a little girl. All is well until her child reaches the age of puberty when her lip is supposed to be cut, and she doesn’t want it done. What does the mother do? Does she listen to her daughter, or does she give in to this ritual and cut her daughter’s lip? Or does she refuse to do so? Whichever way she chooses, what is life like for her daughter?

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