The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

More proof youth is fleeting: Some with ear gauges seek fix for stretched earlobes

Pigeons take a rest on the head of Great Buddha at Kotoku-in temple in Kamakura, near Tokyo, on June 5, 2014. (AP Photo/Koji Sasahara)
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Egyptian pharaoh Tutankhamen and the Buddha are among VIPs who sported stretched earlobes without shame. Kings and deities live without regret — but these luminaries never had to quit the band, put on a tie and go work for the Man.

Stretched earlobes, a.k.a. “gauging” — piercing the ear, then enlarging the hole to accommodate jewelry — came into fashion in the United States sometime near the end of the 20th century. Now, a few decades later, cosmetic surgery to repair the indiscreet body modifications of youth is in season.

“There’s a lot of negativity around about ear-stretching,” cosmetic surgeon Adrian Richards told the Guardian, which called the gauging look “flesh tunnels.” “We recently treated a golf professional who was joining the [Professional Golfers Association]. They wouldn’t let him join with stretched ears. I’ve treated a man who was in a punk band but then became a teacher and needed his ears repaired. We even had a soldier on Wednesday who had 2cm tunnels in each ear.”

Indeed, the Guardian interviewed a 24-year-old man who, after seven unsuccessful job interviews, concluded the 4cm holes in his ears might not inspire competing offers. The price of the repair was about $2,900.

“It is a slightly more committed body art than temporary practices or ear piercing,” Victoria Pitts-Taylor of the City University of New York told the BBC. “The more you stretch the skin, the more commitment you are expressing to a countercultural look.”

But it seems a countercultural look only stays fresh while one is counter to the culture. The skeptical crew at Philadelphia’s Fox29 profiled a young man who had to visit a cosmetic surgeon before he signed up for a hitch with Uncle Sam.

“I started probably when I was about 13,” Anthony Ravoni said of his gauging predilection. ” … It was just kind of addicting and got bigger and bigger.”

When it came time to suit up for boot camp, Ravoni found himself staring down a U.S. Army regulation put in effect earlier this year: “Soldiers are prohibited from willfully mutilating the body or any body parts in any manner, including tongue bifurcation (splitting of the tongue), or ear gauging (enlarging holes in the ear lobes greater than 1.6 mm).”

FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV

To fight for his country, he would need new ears.

“We actually have to cut out the actual hole so we can close good tissue to good tissue,” plastic surgeon Stephen Davis told Fox. Though cases can be more complicated, it took him just a few hours repair Ravoni’s ears.

Ravoni, now ready for battle, looked back wistfully.

“If I had the choice, I would keep them,” he told Fox. ” … I’m a little sad, but I’ll live.”

Still, all was not lost: At press time, Ravoni still sported a half-sleeve of murky, greenish tattoos on his left arm.