Ear Stretching: The History And Practice

Ear stretching is not new, and is as old as history itself. This is just one of many forms of body modifications that have been carried out through the ages, now more common amongst youngsters in the West rather than their elders. Others form check more of body modifications include many different forms of piercing, scarifying, tattooing, branding, implants, bindings and bodybuilding, although of all these, piercings and tattooing are likely the most common amongst the young.

Stretched ears go back before recorded history, and likely the earliest known example is that of the 5,300 year-old, 謙zi the Iceman who we shall be discussing later. For now, let’s look at the reasons for ear stretching before we discuss its history.

First, ear stretching is a slight misnomer, because it is not the ears that are stretched as much as the piercing. By a sequence of gradual enlargements, the pierced hole, generally in the lobe of the ear, is gradually enlarged until it reaches the desired diameter. Once again, we shall discuss this later, and explain how ears can be stretched in this way to accommodate specific types of ear jewellery.

Ear Stretching: Why People Do It.

Ears have been stretched for a multitude of reasons in different countries and communities around the world. Some are for religious reasons and others as part of coming of age ceremonies. In several cultures, ear stretching is practiced to protect against witchcraft or other forms of evil, while yet others look upon stretching as a form of sexual enhancement or for beauty: the major reason for ear stretching in modern Western culture – or perhaps it’s just because they want to be different, and their friends are having it done!

You can find ear piercings stretched to extreme levels among the Maasai people of East Africa and also in Thailand and the Amazon Basin amongst many other cultures, and it is now also very common in North America and Europe amongst young people seeking something different from the common ear, tragus, labial and septum piercings.

The History of Ear Stretching

We can only comment on what we know, and it is highly likely that stretching ears has been a practice carried out long before the earliest known example: the aforementioned 謙zi the Iceman, discovered high in the Alps between Austria and Italy. 謙zi had a stretching of somewhere between 7 and 11 mm, and also, incidentally, had a few tattoos that may have been for medical reasons.

The Ancient Egyptians also practiced ear stretching, and the death mask of Tutankhamen displays holes in his ears that would accommodate 10 mm bars. The giant Moai statues on Easter Island are believed to have been carved around 1100 CE, and they also show signs stretched earlobes. It is said that the original inhabitants were given the name ‘Long Ears, because of their liking for stretched ears that hung much longer than normal earlobes.

They started carving the statues and then the island was inhabited by a visiting race known as ‘Short Ears’. The latter were enslaved by the Long Ears and forced to carve the remainder of the statues. After a while, the Short Ears decided to rebel, and because there were more of them, they won. The Long Ears were then toppled along with their statues!

How to Stretch Ears Safely

There are several methods that can be used to stretch ears, and in the early days it is known that wood and bamboo insertions were employed. This is not encouraged today because these can harbour bacteria and other pathogens and easily lead to infections. It is best to use sterilised surgical steel needles and rods, and while you can do it yourself, you are not advised to do so.

You should carefully consider whether ear stretching is for you or not, because you must keep in mind that it is not reversible. You might be able to reverse a stretching of up to 10 mm, but your lobe is likely not to look right if you do. After a certain point, which might vary between different people, you will require cosmetic surgery to reverse your stretching and close up the hole.

Once you have made your mind up, you are advised to have it carried out by piercing and stretching professionals. The basic method is to use needles of increasing diameter until you have reached the diameter of hole that you want. A common method is an insertion taper that varies in diameter along its length. It will start at a gauge that enters the existing piercing, and the other end is the desired diameter. The taper is pushed through using a stud of the same diameter that is then fixed.

You must then wait for a minimum of two weeks to allow the stretching to heal before you go up to the next gauge. Most people start with their original piercing, but if your ears are not yet pierced, that will have to be done first, and then you will have a wait of 6-8 weeks before you can continue with the ear stretching.

What is Ear Gauging?

Ear gauging is another name given to stretching, because the ‘gauge’ is the measurement used to define the diameter of the needles used. An 11.11 mm (7/16 inch) hole or needle is referred to as a 000 gauge, while a 1.63 mm (0.064 inch) is 14 gauge. That’s right – the gauge size reduces with increasing diameter. After 0000 gauge (12.7 mm or 0.5 inch) gauge sizes are no longer used – only the actual measurement.

A profession ear stretcher will likely take you up one gauge at a time, unless they believe you can take more than that. Keep an eye on your ears and if you don’t like the effect, you have until roughly 10 mm before it become irreversible – the actual diameter depends on the person, but you should take 10 mm as a maximum for safety. After that, you are committed!

Jewellery for Stretched Ears

There is a wide range of beautiful jewellery you can use with ear stretching. Flesh tunnels are very popular, taking the form of a ring that fits inside the stretching, with the appearance of a window or tunnel through your ear. You can also use thick rods, and hoops or bars with other decorations hanging from them.

While the best metals to use are surgical stainless steel, titanium and niobium, others go for the more expensive platinum or gold. Silver can be used, but it must be cleaned regularly to prevent tarnishing. Teflon is good, and there are many types of plastic you can use, but be careful with wood or bone that are porous and can harbour germs. Glass is another beautiful material, particularly crystal or coloured glass.

Many find ear stretching a fabulous way to look different and express their individuality, although it may not be for everybody. Before you have it done make sure you like the look: check out others that have had it done and ask them the gauge of the stretching. You may like the look, but find yours is completely different because you didn’t know the sizes. Otherwise, you are sure to look great and be part of a community of individuals that know what they want and go for it!

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