We all have that one friend who is unique and has taken an interest in a hobby or activity that most find, well, rather strange. But it's the same reason why we love and appreciate them so much. Sydney Smith, otherwise known as "Giraffe Woman" spent five years stretching her neck with painful metal rings to look more like her favorite animal. Sydney is such beloved friend.
Here's Sydney's story, why she chose to alter her body in order to become more like a giraffe, and why she eventually abandoned her quest after 'logic kicked in'. You will never guess how she looks today.
Dreaming Big... Or Long
When someone asks if you're into body modification, tattoos and piercings are the first things that come to mind. After all, it has become common nowadays. From teenagers to adults, people love the way of adorning their bodies with intricate details, arts, and other forms of self-expression.
However, there are people in this world who choose to go the extra mile to defy laws just to get the look they want. Sydney is one of those special people as she had always dreamed of looking like a giraffe.
The Dream Began at a Tender Age
Sydney, a resident of Los Angeles, California is a marketer, an entrepreneur, and a part-time model. At 30, she had already gained incredible fame and recognition because of the unusual way she modified her body.
For five straight years, Sydney wore around her neck a total of 15 brass rings weighing five pounds. To her, this burden around her neck was once a symbol of beauty and elegance. It should have been a lifelong dream, a never-ending commitment—but what happened?
An Inspiration From Another Continent
Sydney’s desire for a longer neck began when she was in middle school. This unique and fulfilling dream was inspired by the tribal women of Southeast Asia, particularly from Thailand and Burma.
Because Sydney loved to read, it's not surprising that she often read National Geographic magazine. It was just a swift glance at first; however, the images of the tribal women from the Kayan Lahwi tribe seemed to beckon her. It was then that an obsession began.
She Knew It Was Possible
Aside from being fascinated by the unusual tradition and beauty of the Kayan Lahwi tribe, Sydney has this soft spot in her heart for giraffes. Since she was a kid, she had lots of possessions with giraffe prints and designs.
Oftentimes, she would go to a zoo and marvel at the beauty of her favorite animal. She loved the slender sight of their neck and she knew that it was possible to be more like them.
Sydney Really Believed
Being young who’s naturally curious and experimental, Sydney began elongating her neck by building sloppy necklaces out of coat wire hangers. She would look at herself in the mirror and would pretend like she is one of those tribal women.
She told her parents about her enthusiasm but they just shrugged their shoulders, thinking everything was just a foolish dream. But for Sydney, it was more than that. It was like discovering a treasure that made her really happy.
A Mystifying Tradition and Culture
The women of the Kayan Lahwi tribe must wear the rings around their necks from childhood. Usually, the tradition starts with having four or five rings. As the child begins to get accustomed to the increased weight on her collarbones, a ring will be added subsequently. From the first ring until the last, a Kayan woman must bear the rings and their weights, even while sleeping.
Contrary to what most people believe, the coils or rings do not lengthen the neck itself. Instead, the weight of the rings pushes the collar bones down. As a result, even the rib cages are being compressed. The illusion of a floating head on top of the golden coils is caused by the deformation of the clavicle.
The Reasons Why Kayan Women Wear Coils Around Their Neck
Anthropologists have different theories as to why members of the tribe adopted such an unusual practice. Some say that it saved the women from slavery and abuse of males from other more powerful tribes by making them less attractive.
Contrasted by other hypotheses, other historians believe that women with golden coils around their necks appear more sensual to men. The rings are believed to promote sexual dimorphism. Others say that the coils aim to make the women look like a dragon, one of the most important figures in Kayan Lahwi’s folklore.
Confusion Sets In
Using cut-up coat hangers for stretching her neck at night, Sydney soon saw results. In her school, it became evident that her neck was longer than her classmates. She remembered that some called her the Giraffe Girl during those years. However, it was not attention-grabbing enough to create headlines.
Well, just like any other kid growing up, confusion about what she wanted soon set in. After several years of using her makeshift rings, she stopped and considered whether to be a giraffe-like woman was what she really wanted or not. She came to a decision and the inspiration behind it was quite amazing.
An Unexpected Message of Empowerment
Sydney is a huge fan of Lady Gaga. At her moment of confusion, the popular singer and artist had fueled her decision indirectly. She saw the music icon in concert, wearing a dress made of meat, fighting for her missions and causes.
The message had a special effect on Sydney. She thought that if Lady Gaga can wear absurd dresses just to prove a point and to stand for what she believes in and what she wants in life, why can’t she? The signs were crystal clear. It was time to say goodbye to makeshift coils.
The Beginning of a Difficult Transformation
It was in 2011 when Sydney began her official journey. Old enough to make her own decisions, she turned to a friend who helped her make customized rings. She started with a modest amount of coils soldered by her friend around her neck.
The beginning of her transformation posed a challenge. Her skin was burned. But she didn’t care. The only important thing was that her transformation was truly underway. Her inner giraffe was on its way to coming out.
She Was in a Hurry
With a friend who was always there to make her custom brass coils, Sydney felt impatient. Even if her neck was still adapting to the new weight added, she would wear another and endure the pain and discomfort. Mind over matter—Sydney often relied on this way of thinking.
Five years later, Sydney had a total of 15 rings around her neck. It wasn’t an easy feat as she had to deal with 5lbs of weight every day. She had achieved a neck length of 10 inches, with the average being around four inches.
Fame Came Knocking at Her Door
While it’s quite common in Asian countries to see women with long necks, it's not as common in Los Angeles. Sydney quickly became famous in her hometown, Rockville, Maryland. She documented her transformation through videos and photos. She shared them with the rest of the world using her social media accounts.
As she started to get serious attention from the public, the media intervened as well. Ripley's Believe It or Not!, a franchise show famous for covering and featuring the most bizarre stories they can find, definitely found Sydney’s story worth an episode. Soon, other doors had opened.
People Had Different Reactions
As Sydney was slowly becoming more famous for her unique look, she decided that the discomfort she felt was even more worth it. Modeling opportunities came and she was an instant celebrity wherever she went—and she loved it.
But as they say, whatever you do in life, there are people who will always have something negative to say. There were public comments that she was only after fame, that she was disrespecting a cultural tradition, and that she was a lost soul. these words certainly had an effect on Sydney.
The Rings Started to Steal Her Life
In the beginning, the fame that Sydney had received was addicting. For a while, she was drowned in public attention. But very soon, it began taking its toll. People would rush to her while she was in the grocery store, she got ambushed by strangers and she met people who were more interested in her rings than in her personality.
Sydney had to say goodbye to certain activities such as swimming and hiking that require a free range of movement. She found driving too difficult as well. Like with most things in life, there are good and bad aspects. While Sydney enjoyed living her dream, it complicated her life in more ways than she could have anticipated.
The Pain of Being Isolated
Sydney had to take a job where she didn’t need to interact with people frequently. She took a kitchen job which was like torture to her neck because it was too hot. She had limited movements as well and because she couldn't function properly, she often found herself jobless.
Even her romantic life was affected. She met guys who were more interested in her rings than her. Some potential partners even requested that Sydney remove her rings before they would feel comfortable enough to introduce her to their family.
What the Experts Say
Dr. Jonathan Nissanoff, an orthopedic surgeon from Southern California, finds wearing brass coils extremely dangerous. The women of the Kayan Lahwi tribe start to wear rings from as early as five years old which means, there is still room for growth. However, it’s a different case for Sydney.
Because Sydney was already an adult when she started her quest, the surgeon said that all she was doing was merely stretching her skin. Her collarbones were being pulled down, affecting her rib cage in the process. How long could her neck and her bones support her passion?
A Long Neck or Her Entire Life — Sydney Made Her Choice
There were good times and bad times for Sydney. She had given most of her life in exchange for occasional blessings. She knew where she had started her journey and what her reasons were. However, she found herself one day unsure of where she was really going.
It was a very tough time. Sydney even decided to take them off but then changed her mind at the last minute. The rings seemed to be an integral part of her body and her identity. If she wasn't Giraffe Woman, then who was she? But, eventually, a tough decision would need to be made.
The Rings Were Finally Removed
After much time contemplating, Sydney finally decided to take back her life from the rings. Her friend helped her remove the copper rings which took fifteen minutes. A chemical had to be used to eat through the glue that held her coils together.
The experience she had when it was soldered to her neck five years ago was the same as what she felt when they were removed. Both were arduous. However, at that moment, she knew that she would have a lot more to gain. For the first time in five years, Sydney saw her neck. Was it a beautiful sight?
Sydney’s Comeback to a Normal Life
Her neck definitely looks longer than it was when she started according to Sydney. However, she felt very weak. She was bruised. And she needed help.
According to an orthopedic surgeon, Sydney’s neck will come back to its original size. Now, she’s slowly gaining control. She has to endure neck exercises with a chiropractor and she has to go for therapy as well.
No Regrets At All
Looking back at what she had been through, Sydney Smith proudly tells the world that she had no regrets. She decided to go after what she wanted in her life, experienced it, and dealt with the happiness and pain it brought. “I really enjoyed the feeling of them around my neck,” she even claimed.
Her journey taught Sydney to appreciate what she has even more. Today, Sydney plans to devote her time loving and cherishing her husband and daughter Skyler Rose, who was born in 2017. However, she plans to keep her rings locked in her closet forever.
Next up, we have a story that is in the realm of body modification but it's a more extreme case. As a baby, David Reimer was born a male. However, medical complications led to him being raised as a girl and a doctor took this as an opportunity to use David as a guinea pig and prove his theory about how society influences sexual identity.
David Reimer’s Traumatic Story: Born as a Boy and Raised as a Girl as Part of an Experiment
In 1965, David Reimer was born Bruce Peter Reimer in Canada and had an identical twin named Brian Henry Reimer. When the boys were only eight months old they started to have minor problems involving the penis. As a solution, the twins were taken to Winnipeg hospital to be circumcised. However, it didn’t go according to plan.
Normally, a surgeon will perform the delicate procedure. Instead, a general practitioner stepped in and used an inappropriate method for the job, causing such severe damage to the infant's gentiles that would eventually cause them to fall off. At the time, reconstructive surgery wasn’t as developed as it is today, and little David’s parents were stumped on how to handle the situation.
Dr. John Money Comes to the Rescue - Or So It Seemed
After a few years had passed, David’s parents learned about Dr. John Money, a sex researcher working at John Hopkins University in Baltimore. The doctor’s reputation preceded him and he was known for coining the term “gender identity”. His accolades extended further, and he played a large role in John Hopkins being the first hospital in the United States to perform sex reassignment surgery in 1965.
The Reimer parents booked a consultation with the esteemed doctor, hoping that he would be able to offer a solution - and he did. Dr. Money convinced David’s parents to let him reassign the sex of their young boy. The process involved surgery, hormonal treatment, and psychological sessions. The process would be aligned with Dr. Money’s very particular beliefs.
Dr. John Money’s Radical Philosophy for the Time
Dr. Money had a lot to prove. When he learned of David’s unique situation, he found the perfect opportunity to put his theories into practice. The psychologist believed that a combination of parental influences and society dictated the formation of sexual identity. His philosophy pivoted on the notion that being male or female is created “in the course of the various stages of growing up.”
The chance to treat David through various means would allow Dr. Money to prove that nurture determines gender identity and sexual orientation. The fact that David had an identical twin brother, Brian, was the perfect control for his invasive experiment.
David’s Parents Signed Over Their Permission
The Reimer parents were farm kids and barely adults themselves when they were referred to John Hopkins Hospital. As they weren’t educated on gender progressions, they were easily convinced by the esteemed psychologist, Dr. John Money.
When the doctor recommended a surgical sex change to turn David into a girl, they were convinced that it was the solution to their struggle. They also agreed to feed their two-year-old prescribed female hormones and to raise David as a girl. Rumors suggest that Dr. Money’s persuasion rested on the sex change being the only hope that the parents had of raising a child who could have heterosexual intercourse (even though their child would be sterile).
The Experiment and the Control
Today, most sex reassignments are conducted on individuals of legal age who have made an educated decision. However, David was an infant and the surgery would be the first-ever conducted on a child that was otherwise developmentally normal and not intersex.
The process involved fully castrating the little boy. The remaining skin was used to mold a “cosmetic vaginal cleft”. Now that the first step of the sex change was complete, David could be raised as a girl. The child's development became the experiment, and the twin, Brian, took place as the control.
David Transforms Into “Brenda”
By all accounts, Dr. Money considered the experiment to be a success. The Reimer parents changed the name of their little “girl” to “Brenda”. On the surface, the twins seemed to adapt to the roles that they had been given. Brian was a stereotypical boy who enjoyed getting dirty and playing rough and reports revealed that “Brenda” was also happy. But was she?
The truth is that “Brenda” hated her life as a girl. Dr. Money’s nature vs. nurture theory was being disproven and “Brenda” was obviously frustrated with the life presented to her, confused about why she felt the way that she did. Regardless, this didn’t stop Dr. Money from claiming credit.
Dr. Money Was Hailed as a Hero
News of Dr. Money’s experiment spread like wildfire. He was featured in several publications, highlighting the progress and development of the experiment. Several scientists respected Dr. Money for the work that he was doing, referring to his theories as a great leap forward.
In 1973, Time magazine published an article with the following description, the “dramatic case provides strong support for a major contention of women’s liberationists: that conventional patterns of masculine and feminine behavior can be altered.” Behind the scenes, “Brenda” was struggling with her identity.
“Brenda” Insisted That She Was a Boy
Keep in mind that David and Brian were born as identical twins, and raised as such for the first few months of their lives. Despite their desperate attempt to raise David as "Brenda", the Reimer parents couldn’t deny the frustration that their twins were showcasing.
David’s mother shared, “I tried really hard to rear her as a gentle lady but it didn’t work.” Daily, “Brenda” was dressed in girl’s clothing, wore long hair, and was sent to counseling. Yet despite these efforts, “Brenda” insisted that he was a boy.
An Eventual Mental Breakdown
All of the pressure became too much for the young child to handle. “Brenda” was given dolls to play with, but these toys were replaced with Brian’s trucks. The young child couldn’t figure out his place in society. While at school, he was teased for using the girl’s bathroom standing up, but he was forbidden from using the boy’s bathroom. His mother remembers the traumatic experience, sharing, “He had to go in the back alley.”
As the pressure mounted, “Brenda” suffered a mental breakdown. The confused child was only nine years old at the time.
The Complicated Reality Behind the Experiment
While Dr. Money was basking in the glow of innovative success, the reality of “Brenda’s” life was far more complicated.
Despite being enrolled into school as a girl, “Brenda’s” masculine traits were undeniable, making him the brunt of bullying. “Brenda” would constantly complain to his parents and other adults that he was a boy, but was told that he was simply going through a phase. Dr. Money had given everyone strict instructions on keeping the child’s identity a secret
In the end, it wasn’t only “Brenda” who was struggling with the situation. His mother was riddled with guilt and attempted suicide while his father developed a habit of alcoholism. With all of the attention on “Brenda”, Brian started to experiment with drug use and petty crime, developing his own depressive condition.
Sexual Rehearsal Play Was Part of the Therapy
“Brenda’s” treatment wasn’t a one-off situation, but an ongoing part of his lifestyle. Both twins would be sent to therapy and counseling to monitor the development of the experiment.
One of the treatment methods involved the twins being sent to Dr. Money’s clinic. Once behind closed doors, the psychologist would get the boys to partake in sinister and warped behavior that is difficult to validate as therapy. For example, the twins would be forced to take part in a “sexual rehearsal play”. The impact of the therapy and treatments put a strain on “Brenda’s” mental health and he would later be diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The Perverted Treatment Continued
Sexual rehearsal play was only the tip of the iceberg. Whenever the boys visited Dr. Money’s clinic, they would be exposed to ominous treatment methods. For example, the twins would be shown sexually explicit photographs that Dr. Money claims were central to his theories on gender reassignment.
Speaking back on his time at the clinic, an adult David remembers being ordered to take off his clothing. In another instance, “Brenda” was forced to climb on the office sofa and position himself on all fours. Then, Brian was instructed to come up behind his sibling and press his crotch “against her buttocks”. Over the years, reports of these perverted methods became known.
Casting a Dark Shadow on Dr. Money’s Reputation
Dr. Money had a large following of supporters who praised his theories and considered him a hero for his medical developments. As allegations of his dubious methods bubbled to the surface, his followers claimed them all to be false. Followers of Dr. Money suggested that David struggled with “false memory syndrome” as a result of his schizophrenia.
However, no amount of support could eliminate the suspicions of Dr. Money’s methods. In the past, he had made statements that some considered to be endorsing incest and pedophilia. Despite all of the skepticism, Dr. Money was trusted to run an experiment on the Reimer twins.
A Confession Changed the Game
Throughout his childhood, “Brenda” struggled with his identity, believing that he should’ve been a boy but was being raised as a girl. Eventually, when he was a young teen, his parents were advised by a local psychiatrist to let their “daughter” know the truth.
The Reimer parents came clean and told “Brenda” about the botched surgery. At that moment, David reclaimed his genetic sex and refused to take any further treatment, including a planned operation to form a vagina. Changing his name from Brenda to David, he said, “Suddenly it all made sense why I felt the way I did. I wasn’t some sort of weirdo. I wasn’t crazy.”
Armed with this new knowledge, David focused on reversing the process.
Reversing the Process
David may have grown up as “Brenda” but he always knew that he identified as a boy. When he learned the truth, he jumped into action and he chose to undergo surgery to remove his hormone-fueled breasts and to construct a penis. It was a painful process, but David was focused on converting back to his biological sex.
The process involved a double mastectomy to remove his breasts and underwent several operations, grafts and plastic prosthesis, and the construction of an artificial penis and testicle. David also reversed the hormonal treatment, swapping out the estrogen for testosterone. However, despite his focus on claiming back his identity, he developed a deep depression, attempting suicide twice in his early 20s.
David Made an Attempt at a Normal Life
Despite his struggles, David made an effort to move on. As he worked through his various challenges, he met a wonderful woman named Jane who gave him a chance at a “normal” life. Although he couldn’t have children himself, he adopted the role of a loving and supportive stepfather.
While Jane was a solid support structure in his life, David’s dark moods continued to haunt him. He was constantly bombarded by the frightful visits he endured with Dr. Money. To help him overcome the trauma, David started to see a different psychologist.
A New Psychologist Enters the Scene
When David entered his thirties, he decided to get medical help. Fate brought David together with Dr. Milton Diamond who worked as a psychologist at the University of Hawaii. The psychologist happened to be the arch-nemesis of Dr. Money and had a vested interest in what had happened to the twin.
While visiting Dr. Diamond, David unveiled the shocking revelation that Dr. Money had used the alleged success of his sex reassignment to formalize the widespread practice of infant sex change, especially in the case of hermaphroditism and genital injury. At that moment, David saw red. Fueled by his outrage, David helped Dr. Diamond coauthor a paper that denied Dr. Money’s theories. The impact was global, with the paper being published in the Archives of Paediatrics and Adolescent Medicine and featured on the front pages of media across the world.
The Threat of Harmful Scientific Ignorance
When David helped to share the truth of the experiment, the world was divided. Those that previously supported Dr. Money were torn between David’s truth and believing the psychologist’s manipulative theories on sexual identity. One journalist for Rolling Stone, John Colapinto, said, “It’s challenged a lot of the notions that I just accepted growing up in the 1970s.”
John Colapinto also wrote As Nature Made Him: The Boy Who Was Raised as a Girl. In the story, the journalist describes a disturbing lesson on the dangers of scientific ignorance, and how “John Money was going to play God.”
A Tragic Ending to David’s Story
Once he learned his truth, David focused on making the most of his life. He started his own family and even contributed to the shattering of Dr. Money’s theory. However, the struggles that he was facing became too much to bear.
When speaking about his childhood, David shared, “I’d give just about anything to go to a hypnotize to black out my whole past, because it’s torture. What they do to you in the body is sometimes not near as bad as what they did to you in the mind.”
Unfortunately, he couldn’t overcome the trauma of the past. In May of his 38th year, he got a shotgun from his home, sawed the barrel, drove to the nearby parking lot of a grocery store, and ended his pain forever.
A Dark Experiment Contributed to David’s Death
David’s suicide was a heartbreaking ordeal. What started as an experiment for sexual identity, ended up boring a hole in David’s mind. Many theorists who believe that “gender is inborn” took David’s story and used it as an argument for their case.
There’s an important lesson to be learned in David’s tragic story. For example, it reveals the potential of harm when people are lied to, or treated inhumanely. Today, people are uncertain as to whether there is a definite answer to the gender identity that someone will adopt. However, there is one truth, and that’s that children should not be treated with shame, secrecy, and lies. The risks are too much to consider.
The Various Contributors to David’s Suicide
At face value, it appears as though David’s decision to take his life was based on Dr. Money’s treatment of the young child. However, different theories have emerged and various motives have bubbled to the surface, speculating about the reasons for David’s misery and depression.
In the spring of 2002, David’s twin died from an overdose of antidepressants. The pair had been estranged, but the connection was undeniable. Some people believe that David felt immense guilt about his brother’s suicide and visited the grave regularly.
Others speculate that David was experiencing marital difficulties. His mental health resulted in explosive anger, depressive seasons, and fears of abandonment, making the 14-year-marriage challenging. Eventually, Jane suggested that the couple separate for a time. Two days later, David was found dead.
The Global Impact of the Suicide
Throughout David’s struggles, Dr. Money refused to speak publicly about the case. In 2006, he went to his own grave without a word.
David’s unconventional upbringing had already garnered a fair amount of attention. When he tragically took his own life, the story continued, taking a darker turn. The community was shocked by his death, and heartbroken by his decision.
David’s mother said, “He managed to have so much courage. I think he felt he had no options. It just kept building up and building up.”
Lessons Learned From the Case
David Reimer will forever go down in history as the boy that was raised as a girl. His tragic story has strengthened the theory that “gender is inborn”, suggesting that nature is stronger than nurture.
Behind the theories and academic research, there’s a deep emotional lesson to learn from David’s story. Being lied to and having his identity suppressed contributed to a deep-seated and inescapable depression. In the end, it became too much for David to bear and he took his own life. His story begs that people be raised with love, without agenda.