Skin Stretching

Tyler Marion, B.S., M.B.A., Kevin Cao, B.S., Jorge Roman, M.D.

Keywords: Skin stretching; Lip plates; Skin modification; lip stretching; beauty; Mursi.

Skin stretching, as a form of body modification, has been used for centuries across many different cultures. Ear lobe stretching in particular dates back roughly to 1500 BC in ancient Egypt, Central America, and South America.The stretching of earlobes has been seen in many different tribes including the Aztecs, Mayans, and Asian Hill tribes. This form of skin stretching was even used by King Tutankhamen, an ancient Egyptian pharaoh.A unique variation of skin stretching can be observed in Africa amongst the Mursi, Chai, and Tirma tribes in the form of lip plates (dhebi a tugoin).It is a normal part of culture for women in these tribes to wear wooden discs or even pottery in their lower lips. Mother’s will cut their daughter’s lower lip as soon as she turns 15 and will place a wooden plug.The girls are allowed to decide the extent of lip stretching so there is a wide variety of lip plate sizes. The lip plates amongst the women signifies adulthood as well as reproductive potential, which justifies why some women elect to have large plates.3

Our skin can serve as a reflection of our personality, beliefs, or values and in some cases as medium by which to express self-esteem, beauty, and power. Skin stretching has become immensely popular in North America as a form of self-expression. Many examples can be found throughout pop culture, for example in the recent Marvel blockbuster film Black Panther. Several cast members are portrayed with lip plates, cosmetics, tattoos, and even scarification, likely as a sign of power, resilience, and a homage to African culture and beauty. As dermatologists, we should be aware of the significance of this form of body modification as it relates to the individual.

Author: Rod Waddington

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  1. Pitts-Taylor V. Cultural Encyclopedia of the Body. A-L. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press; 2008.
  2. Hawass ZA.The Golden Age of Tutankhamun: Divine Might and Splendor in the New Kingdom. Cairo: American University in Cairo Press; 2004.
  3. Lip-plates. Mursi Online. Decoration/lip-plates. Published April 16, 2017. Accessed April 15, 2018.
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