Robin Dearing Column March 15, 2009

Teen fashion decisions can prove costly, painful

It’s official. My 18-year-old stepson, Sean, has joined the U.S. Coast Guard. I think I can speak for all his parents when I say that this is a good thing.

Sean is incredibly smart and very talented. He succeeds at pretty much anything he sets his mind to. Unfortunately, high school wasn’t one of those things. But he’s completed his course work and is now just waiting for graduation and for his ears to heal so he can head off to Coast Guard boot camp.

Yep, I said that Sean is waiting for his ears to heal.

About two years ago, when Sean was a tall 16-year-old, he came home with two new holes in his head. They weren’t regular ear piercings; he had had his ears gauged.

According to “Ear gauging is a practice in which ear piercings are slowly stretched to accommodate larger jewelry ... The practice appears to have originated in Asia, where evidence suggests that people have been stretching ear piercings for thousands of years, and it has also been widely practiced in African and South American tribes for centuries.”

This centuries-old practice of stretching one’s earlobes is very popular today with those seeking to be cool and edgy. I love the irony of something that has been around for hundreds of years becoming today’s trend.

We talked to Sean about being careful about how far he stretched his lobes so that he wouldn’t end up with giant floppy lobes. He assured us that he didn’t intend to go too large.

It wasn’t until about a year ago, when Sean decided to join the Coast Guard after graduation, that his ears became an issue. He’d been told that he couldn’t have gauged ears in the military.

He removed the plugs from his ears and they started to close. After a month they were considerably smaller. After three, the holes were small, but definitely still there.

As it came closer to the time for Sean to take his military physical, he stressed more and more about his gauged lobes. He consulted the Internet for home remedies on closing gauged ears.

On one lobe he applied Preparation H. On the other he tried a more extreme remedy. He sanded the interior of the hole and then glued the hole shut.

Neither of these Internet-approved remedies worked.

The Coast Guard recruiter flew Sean to Colorado Springs for his physical along with two bus loads of kids looking to join various branches of the military. Only about a dozen other kids passed. Sean passed, but only conditionally. His ears must be completely healed shut with no light shining through them before he could attend boot camp.

My husband called many doctors and plastic surgeons across the valley about getting Sean’s lobes closed surgically. It was not going to be cheap. The most inexpensive doctor in the valley that Bill contacted charged $1,500.

In an effort to save us some cash, Bill called doctors further away. He eventually found Dr. J. Gregory Kjar, a cosmetic surgeon in Bountiful, Utah who quoted us a fee of $750 for the procedure.

So Bill and Sean spent the first day of spring break driving to Bountiful in a snowstorm.

Dr. Kjar did a great job of reconstructing Sean’s earlobes. The procedure was much more involved that we had originally thought. The entire circle of gauged tissue was cut out in a pie-shaped wedge and the two edges were sewn together.

It will look nice when it’s healed, but in the meantime, the blood clots and stitches look like Sean lost a battle with hedge trimmers.

I spoke with the Dr. Kjar about the procedure. He said that his office has only in the last two months started getting calls about people looking to get gauged earlobes reconstructed.

We talked about how far an ear can be stretched and still have it close on its own. Dr. Kjar said that this is no formula. Every person’s skin is different. One person can have a pierced ear close quickly while another’s will stay open indefinitely. Just the same as one woman can be riddled with stretch marks after a pregnancy while another will have few if any. Dr. Kjar cautioned that any amount of gauging can become permanent and that kids “need to look before they leap” as gauging can easily lead to permanent disfigurement that can only be fixed by surgery.

Despite the fact that gauging ears has been around for centuries, it’s only been popular in this country for a short time. We have yet to see a generation grow into old age with giant lobes.

People, especially teens, need to consider that as they move through their lives, their tastes, goals and desires are going to change. Let my stepson serve as a warning — sometimes the pain of fashion it truly not worth the cost.

Robin Dearing is the assistant to the executive editor at The Daily Sentinel and co-author of the Haute Mamas blog on


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