People have been decorating and making changes to the appearance of their bodies since recorded history began. This has taken many forms over the centuries, including tattoos, piercings, lifts, scars, branding, muscle sculpting, hair styling, and many more, and for almost as many different reasons.
Historically, the three main purposes for these forms of body modification have been tribal (to show loyalty to a tribe or group of people), in war (to scare the enemy and distinguish friend from foe), and for fashion. and perceived beauty. Ear stretching has been popular for centuries, but this popularity has increased in Western culture in recent years.
For some, there’s a deep spirituality to the drawn-out process of ear-pulling, while for others it’s fun and more complicated than just ear piercing, and the fact that fewer people are doing it adds to its appeal. Others have their own reasons, but regardless, pricked ears have always been a part of human history and will continue to be.
Reasons to stretch the ears
As with other forms of body modification or enhancement, people have historically stretched out their ears for a number of reasons. For some cultures, this represented coming of age, while for others it was done to enhance beauty or sexuality. Throughout the centuries it has been used both for religious reasons and to protect the subject from witchcraft or evil. Ear stretching is still performed around the world for a variety of reasons, including those mentioned above.
If you travel to Africa, you will find that pricked ears are common among many indigenous peoples, including the Maasia in East Africa, the Mursi in Ethiopia, and it is also carried out in some Asian countries such as Thailand. In South America, pricked ears are common among the Huaorami of the Amazon Basin, but you usually don’t need to go further than your own hometown to see some excellent examples of ear pricking. Stretched piercings and flesh tunnels are now a common form of ear adornment for Western youth.
ice men and pharaohs
One of the most famous examples in history is Ötzi the Iceman, a 5,300-year-old mummified body found in the Alps between Austria and Italy. In addition to various tattoos, Ötzi had a stretched ear that was about 7mm to 11mm in diameter. The giant statues on Easter Island show stretched-out earlobes, the likely reason why they are known as “long ears”. The story goes that the statues were carved in honor of the original inhabitants of the island representing them with stretched earlobes that were part of their culture. When a different tribe came to the island they were known as ‘Short Ears’ and were forced into slavery by the Long Ears. Eventually there were more Short Ears than Long Ears, and the latter were toppled and the statues toppled.
In Egypt, the boy king Tutankhamun is depicted with ears pricked up, and his famous golden death mask features holes that can accommodate 10mm diameter rods. The processes used to stretch these famous pairs of ears are not known, as there are many techniques that can be used. Primitive stretching was likely done using wooden or bamboo blocks, and while some people like to go back to these early methods, they are not recommended today for health reasons.
Stretching the ears is not reversible
If you are interested in stretched ears, there are certain factors that you need to consider. The first is that it is usually permanent. Once stretched, your ears stay that way. The holes don’t heal like a normal ear piercing, so make sure you’re happy with stretched ears for the rest of your life. There is time at first to stop and allow your ears to recover to normal, but once the diameter reaches 10-12mm it is too late and the hole will not close. Another is that it takes time and patience. You don’t visit a piercer and walk out after an hour or two with your ears pricked!
If you have decided that you want it done, it is recommended that you have the procedure done professionally. Yes, you can do it yourself, but a professional will give you the best results and it will also be safer. It will be faster if your ears are already pierced, because otherwise you will need to get it done first and then wait up to 8 weeks for it to heal. Then you can start stretching or calibrating, as it is often called.
This is because the diameter of the needles used is known as their “gauge”. The gauge of a needle decreases as the diameter increases, so an 18-gauge needle is small; in fact, that’s the size of an average initial piercing. Once you get to a 2 gauge, the diameter is that of a pencil and so on. An 11mm hole is 000 gauge (actually 11.11mm or 7/16 inch).
Ear stretching should not be rushed
As already explained, stretching your ears is a slow process and you should never try to rush it. If you try to rush it, it will likely take longer because unless the ear has time to get used to each lower gauge, it won’t heal properly. Then you may have to start all over again. Gauged ears should not bleed and there is a separate procedure to follow. Basically, you increase the diameter of the piercing in small steps, allowing for healing between each step. A common way to achieve this is to use an insert cone, where one end of the cone is the same diameter as the existing hole and the other side is a larger diameter.
This can be in the form of a button that you wear until you are ready for the next size. The next stud will have one end at the current diameter and the other at the lower bore (larger diameter). That gets pushed and secured, and you use it until the next push, and so on. If you keep your ears and jewelry clean and sterilized between sessions with antibacterial soap or saline, they should heal just fine between sessions; wait about two weeks between sessions.
Take the advice of the professionals
It is very important to follow the advice of professionals and not try to spare no effort. Many people have ruined their ears by not being patient, so don’t let that be you. Follow the cleaning instructions to the letter, both during and after the entire stretching process. There are many different types of ear jewelry available for stretched ears, including flesh tunnels, bars, and rings.
There is also a wide variety of materials, from wood or plastic to gold and platinum. Many prefer glass, while others find Teflon better, especially if they suffer from allergies. Niobium, surgical stainless steel, and titanium are also popular materials for stretched ear jewelry.
Keep in mind that not all can be used indefinitely, particularly porous materials like wood, shell, and some plastics that can harbor bacteria, yeast, and fungus. Such jewelry should be removed regularly and thoroughly cleaned and sterilized. Ear pricking sets you apart from the usual crowd and can be a very distinctive form of ornamentation. It is something that few people regret having done.