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It is uncertain how this bizarre custom of wearing a lip plate came into being. One theory is that lip plating originated as a deliberate disfigurement designed to make women and young girls less attractive to slave traders. Some researchers claim that the size of the lip plate (the bigger the better) was a sign of social importance or wealth within the tribe. Another analysis indicated that the bigger the size of the lip plate, the bigger the dowry a bride would receive on her wedding day. For example, the larger the lip plate, the greater number of cows the bride’s father can demand in his daughter’s dowry. But some researchers dispute this theory, arguing that marriage of most tribal girls, as well as the size of their dowries, is prearranged long before their lips are cut. Others suggest that lip plating is simply an ornamentation meant to symbolize a woman’s strength and self-esteem. The practice is also described as being a sign of social maturity and reaching reproductive age, thus indicating a girl’s eligibility to become a wife.

Suri, South Ethiopia, 2017.

It is uncertain how this bizarre custom of wearing a lip plate came into being. One theory is that lip plating originated as a deliberate disfigurement designed to make women and young girls less attractive to slave traders. Some researchers claim that the size of the lip plate (the bigger the better) was a sign of social importance or wealth within the tribe. Another analysis indicated that the bigger the size of the lip plate, the bigger the dowry a bride would receive on her wedding day. For example, the larger the lip plate, the greater number of cows the bride’s father can demand in his daughter’s dowry. But some researchers dispute this theory, arguing that marriage of most tribal girls, as well as the size of their dowries, is prearranged long before their lips are cut. Others suggest that lip plating is simply an ornamentation meant to symbolize a woman’s strength and self-esteem. The practice is also described as being a sign of social maturity and reaching reproductive age, thus indicating a girl’s eligibility to become a wife.

Suri, South Ethiopia, 2017.

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