China’s Obsession with Protruding ‘Elf Ears’

In many cultures, ears protruding too much from the skull are considered a physical defect, but in China, people are more than happy to go under the knife to attain this physical trait known as “elf ears”.

China’s ‘elf ears’ cosmetic craze received worldwide attention in 2021 when it was covered by some of the world’s largest news outlets after becoming a trending topic on Chinese social media. It all started with a before-and-after photo posted on Weibo, China’s version of X (Twitter), by online influencer Chen Jianan who had recently undergone a procedure to make her ears more visible from the front. Chen was of the belief that this minor change made her face look slimmer and younger, and judging by the number of Chinese cosmetic clinics offering the ‘elf ears’ procedure, she is definitely not the only one. Many people are willing to go under the knife and pay big money to get protruding ears.

There is more than one way to achieve elf ears, which technically look more like gobline ears, as they stick to the sides rather than point upwards like those of Tolkien’s fantasy race. One of the least invasive one is by injecting hyaluronic acid behind the ear lobes to make them stick sideways, but it is only temporary, as the ears tend to revert to their original position as the effect of the injections wears off. For a permanent effect, plastic surgery clinics will insert a piece of cartilage behind the ear, but this is a more invasive and costly procedure.

For those who cannot afford cosmetic procedures, there are special sticky tapes that push the ears outwards to achieve the elf ear look, although they have the disadvantage of being visible from the back and even detaching at inopportune moments.

Although China’s fascination with protruding ears has received more attention in recent years, with the advent of plastic surgery in the Asian country, it has been a coveted feature for a long time. For example, this post from 2013 by The Heart Thrills blog covered the topic and featured several examples of famous Chinese actresses and models rocking the so-called ‘elf ears’ look.

As strange as it sounds to most Westerners, the protruding ears craze is definitely not the weirdest cosmetic procedure in China. That title goes to ‘calf blocking‘, where young women have “less important” nerves in their legs surgically severed to permanently atrophy their calf muscles so that their lower legs appear slimmer and straighter.

As for the strangest cosmetic craze in all of Asia, that title should probably go to Thailand’s ‘krachap lips,’ a procedure that shapes women’s lips like buffalo horns.