People have been decorating and making changes to the appearance of their bodies since recorded history began. This has taken many forms through the ages, such as tattooing, piercing, stretching, scarring, branding, muscle sculpture, hair styling and many more, and for almost as many different reasons.
The three major purposes of these forms of body modification have historically been tribal (to display allegiance to one 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 is a profound spirituality in the protracted process of stretching ears, while for others it is fun and more involved than simple ear piercing, and the fact that fewer people do it adds to its appeal. Others have their own reasons, but irrespective of these, stretched ears have always been part of human history and will continue to be so.
Reasons For Stretching Ears
Just as with other forms of body modification or enhancement, people have historically stretched their ears for a number of reasons. For some cultures, this represented a coming of age, while for others it was carried out to enhance beauty or sexuality. Throughout the ages it has been used both for religious reasons and to protect the subject from witchcraft or evil. Ear stretching is still carried out all over the world for a variety of reasons, including those mentioned above.
If you travel to Africa, you will find that stretched 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, stretched ears are common amongst the Huaorami of the Amazon Basin, but you generally need go no further than your own hometown to see some excellent examples of ear stretching. Stretched piercings and flesh tunnels are now a common form of ear adornment for Western youth.
Icemen and Pharaohs
One of the more famous examples from history is Ötzi the Iceman, a 5,300 year-old mummified body found in the Alps between Austria and Italy. In addition to several tattoos, Ötzi had an ear stretched to around 7 mm – 11 mm diameter. The giant Easter Island statues display stretched ear lobes, the likely reason for them being known as ‘Long Ears’. The story goes that the statues were carved in honour of the original inhabitants of the island representing them with the earlobe stretchings that were part of their culture. When a different tribe arrived on 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 overthrown and the statues toppled over.
In Egypt, the boy king Tutankhamen is represented as having stretched ears, and his famous golden death mask features holes that can take 10 mm diameter bars. The processes used to stretch these famous sets of ears are not known, because there are many techniques that can be used. It is likely that primitive stretchings were carried out using wooden plugs or bamboo, and although a few people like to return to these early methods, they are not recommended today for health reasons.
Stretching Ears is Not Reversible
If you are interested in stretched ears, there are certain factors of which you should be aware. The first is that it is generally permanent. Once stretched, your ears stay that way. The holes do not heal over like a normal ear piercing, so make sure that you are happy with having stretched ears for the rest of your life. There is time at the beginning to stop and allow your ears to heal back to normal, but once the diameter reached 10-12 mm, it is too late and the hole will not close up. Another is that it takes time and patience. You do not visit a piercer and come out after an hour or two with stretched ears!