Some thoughts on stretched lobes:
Some friends of mine were talking about stretched earlobes. They’ve seen people wear large diameter plugs or other jewelry in their lobes and They Just Don’t Understand. They’re ugly! They’re gross! Why would people do that? Tattoos seem ubiquitous these days; piercing of multiple body parts has caught on, but what’s with these giant stretched earlobes? (“Stretched” is usually considered the proper term, over “gauged.” Not necessarily by me, but I thought I’d mention it!)
Piercees like to stretch their piercings for fun. Stretched piercings are unique, it’s pleasurable to do things to your piercings, and there’s the shock effect, which some piercees enjoy and cultivate. There’s nothing quite like a fashion or a look which requires real effort to achieve, and which few other people can wear. It’s understandable that people would want to wear and collect some of the really beautiful jewelry for stretched ears that is now on the market. I’d be the first to applaud the innovation and artistry being exhibited by the people making some of these wonderful pieces, like the folks at One Tribe.
But are these good enough reasons? In my opinion, yes. And no. There’s nothing wrong with getting a piercing because it looks cool or to identify yourself with your peers. I don’t want to be hypocritical–my earlobes are stretched moderately, and I plan to continue stretching just a bit more, in part to wear certain jewelry. But I see a couple of problems in the trend:
1) Past a certain point, this is a permanent alteration to the body. Just like visible tattoos, facial tattoos, full sleeves, etc., these types of body mods should only be undertaken by mature individuals who have a good idea of how their life will play out and how they can support themselves. Surgical reconstruction isn’t cheap, and some people with large stretched lobes may find their employment options marginalized or reduced. Not a good combination in today’s economy.
2) Too many people are stretching way too hard and fast. Not only does this result in a whole host of adverse consequences to the ear (blow out, cat butt, permanent disfigurement), but doing it this way fails to honor the journey and experience.
Stretching piercings are a way to honor those who have gone before us and to connect with a spiritual grounding in the past, and to the natural, primitive part of oneself. As a part of Modern Primitivism, and a growing desire to align with all the peoples of the world, Westerners began to stretch and wear ethnic or primitive inspired jewelry. In a similar matter to other historical trends in body piercing today, this practice has been influenced by hippie culture, punk fashion, sexual identity, and the media, but has strayed quite a bit from these ideals. Timothy Leary and the other early drug gurus explored drugs to connect with something greater, to explore the inner hidden reaches of the mind and spirit. With the availability and passage of time, the transcendent has whittled down to the mundane, and people mostly take drugs now merely to get high, without a thought to expanding the consciousness. In terms of the fashion for stretched ears, most people now just want big lobes to wear big, fancy plugs, with no thought for history or meaning.
Just like no crying in baseball, there should be no competition in body modification. It should be an individual choice and a personal experience. In competing for the largest ears or the fanciest collection of plugs, piercees have forgotten the journey. The commitment it takes to stretch slowly for healthy ears should be honored and celebrated; and the end result savored. Impatiently shoving large jewelry in to wear the bling not only destroys lobes, but diminishes the piercing, in my opinion.
Coda: In reading this over, I wanted to stress that I think people can do what they want to their bodies, and I don’t think it’s a requirement that all body modification projects have deep meaning. But I do think some thought and care into the practice, especially if you are permanently modifying your body (unlike most piercings, which are durable but usually not permanent in the same sense as a tattoo, for example) is the mark of a well informed, thoughtful piercee and appreciated and cared for body art.
First pic from Gabriele’s Photostream at Flickr.
Second pic from Gusjer’s Photostream at Flickr.