How to Stretch Your Ears: The Evolution of Piercing Stretching

How to Stretch Your Ears: The Evolution of Piercing Stretching

Let's take a look back at a post Lorna wrote awhile back about the Evolution of Piercing Stretching. If you see anything you like make sure to click the link here or at the bottom of the post to check out Body Candy's plug, taper, and ear weight selection. 

 A Bit of a Stretch: the Evolution of Piercing Stretching Technique

As most of us would imagine, the ear lobes are the most commonly pierced part of the human body worldwide.  They’re also the most commonly stretched piercing globally, with the stretching practices originally common to tribal cultures both continuously evolving and returning to their roots simultaneously with every new generation.  From Ice Man to modern man, the stretched lobe retains it’s standing as a cultural fixture.

Ötzi the ice man, found in the Italian Alps, is the earliest physical evidence we have of stretched ear lobe piercings.  This bronze age ice mummy had clearly visible ear piercings estimated to once hold jewelry of approximately 8 to 11 millimeters, or about a zero gauge.  Although it’s unclear exactly how Ötzi was pierced and with what his piercings were subsequently stretched, clues from tribal cultures across the globe shed light on the history of these practices.

Amidst many ancient tribes, piercings were often done as a right of passage or to denote social standing.  Following this principal, those of high standing who wore earrings of solid gold or laden with gems would often see their ears naturally stretch from the weight.  In this way inadvertently the visible stretching of piercings in itself could also become a symbol of wealth or standing in subsequent generations.  Even today small groups in Borneo, other island nations, and parts of Africa continue to stretch with weights worn in the ears.  Many Eastern deities have also been depicted with stretched lobes, including most recognizably Gautama Buddha, whose ear lobes were said to have been permanently stretched from the weight of his princely wealth prior to beginning the journey towards enlightenment.

Piercings themselves in more recent tribal history were generally performed using those things most readily at hand, such as pine needles, porcupine quills, sharp plant roots, or pieces of tusk or bone.  Equally, methods of stretching made use of naturally abundant material, most commonly wood.  Following traditional methods, many tribes carved increasingly larger wooden pins and plugs, adhering to a practice that today is called “dead stretching.”  This method isn’t generally recommended in modern stretching because of its potential to damage the skin, as larger sizes are forced through the piercing with little to no assistance save for natural oils.

Scalpelling has also been used to great effect, particularly among island dwelling tribal groups, and is still used today.  This is the careful cutting of a healed piercing to expand its size, and is generally used to enlarge piercings in which the skin has become too damaged or thin to safely stretch further.

Although modern methods like punching, tapering, and tape stretching are most often used by professional piercers to achieve larger gauge piercings, following the modern primitives movement, some proponents of spiritually based body modification have returned to older and more ritualistic tribal methods like the “pierce and taper” style.  When performed correctly, a piercing is completed and a piece of large gauge jewelry immediately inserted to stretch the piercing to a far lager gauge.  Although painful, this practice is largely discouraged because of its propensity for creating scar tissue, and not the pain it causes.

Even in our current generation, which is more pierced and modified than any before it, a return to natural material is evident, as some of the highest quality and most fashionable styles of large gauge jewelry are made out of various woods, animal horn, or bone.

These materials, as known to tribal cultures for centuries, allow the skin to breath during the stretching phases, preventing any of the odors or infections that a bacterial buildup could commonly cause via the use of less porous materials.  Many cultural groups worldwide still practice the methods of ear stretching that their people have adopted many generations earlier, and as innovation continues in the West, these two diverging branches of piercing culture have come to exist simultaneously.

Are you loving the stretched look after reading Lorna's post? Well, click below to see our selection of your favorite stretched ear style!