What is a stretched piercing?

Piercing Stretching (often incorrectly referred to as ‘gauging’) is the process of enlarging body piercings to fit larger sizes (or gauges) of jewellery. The most commonly stretched piercing is the earlobe, closely followed by genital (male or female), septum, tongue, nipple, labret and lip piercings. All piercings can be stretched, although some are more limited than others, such as cartilage (inner and outer Conch, Pinna, Daith, Snug, Rook, Nostril and Tragus) piercings. Cartilage tissue does not have a very good blood supply compared to other piercings, therefore stretching is a much longer process and may risk forming hypertrophic scarring and keloids.

What is the history of piercing stretching and why do people stretch their piercings?

The process of body piercing stretching is considered to be as old as body piercing itself. Body modification is certainly unique to humans and, in one form or another, has been practised for as long as 30,000 years by our species’ earliest ancestors.
The discovery of jewellery dating back to the bronze ages in Europe and the British Isles shows that the peoples of that time probably pierced and stretched their lobes with heavy bronze jewellery.

The women of Borneo (and central Africa) practised piercing and stretching of the labia in an effort to attract a suitable husband. Tribes of Mali and Ethiopia often stretched piercings to embrace religious principles. Aztec and Mayan ancients used labret piercings to signify wealth with gold serpent-shaped discs often decorated with stones, jade or obsidian. The Asmat tribe of the Jaya pierce the septum up to 25mm using leg bones from a pig or a tibia bone from a slain enemy for ornamentation and status.

The nose and septum piercings in Northern Indian nomadic tribes are the largest known nose-rings, sometimes decorated with stones and large enough to cover most of the mouth and cheek and must be lifted while eating.

Some of the most extreme examples of ritual lip piercing and stretching can be seen on the Djinja women of the Central African Republic and Chad. Tribesmen stretch the lips of their future wives as part of a marriage ritual whereby the young woman’s lip is stretched up to 24cm by adulthood.

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