The Latest Fad: Elf Ears

I am not making this up. Let me repeat: I am not making this up. The latest plastic surgery trend in China is elf ears. I am trying to decide whether or not I should get elf ears.

My entire professional career has been founded on the relatively short distance from the outermost tips of my ears to some inner place in my brain where I try to understand what I have just heard. The brain end of that signal path might be the most essential, but the outer end plays a vital role too. The shape of our outer ears (the pinna) literally shapes the sounds that we hear. May I demonstrate? Listen to the space around you. Now cup your hands behind both ears and listen some more. See what I mean?

The physical constitution of your ears is as individual as you are. When you and I listen to the exact same sound, the differences in the physical shapes of our ears means that we hear something different. The head-related transfer function (HRTF) is a way to quantify the uniqueness of our ears. In other words, the shape of our ears is a big deal. Which brings us to elf ears.

Apparently some people are not pleased with the shape of their ears, and they want to change them. This is not because of some perceived deformity (admittedly, some ears are more funny looking than others); it is because of a fad.

As with most good ideas, this one started with celebrities. After it began trending on social media last year, young people are now paying about $1,500 to get their ears done. Ears that appear larger can make the face seem slimmer. (It is my understanding that despite the catchy name, the aim is generally not to make the ears particularly pointy or elven, but rather to make them frontally more visible.) Despite the predictable pushback, this is not niche. The hashtag promoting “elf ears plastic surgery” in China has over 700 million views. And I gotta admit – based on the before/after photos I've seen, elf ears can look pretty good.

Now, elf ears appear to be about beauty. But my question is whether ear enhancement might improve my hearing acuity. I assume bigger ears will collect sound to a greater degree, so that's a positive. I don't think the potential benefit of truly gigantic ears would be worth the stares. Although that's worth debating. But how about moderately-sized elf ears? I've spent inordinate amounts of cash for barely perceptible improvements in my stereo; what if a mere $1,500 can measurably improve my hearing acuity?

Actually, why stop at elf ears? You will note that many animals have the ability to independently move their outer ears to direct them toward sound sources. Clearly, this evolutionary perk improves their survival, and hearing acuity. So how about elf ears mounted on some kind of gimbal that would let them rotate and swivel? Imagine sitting in the front row of a concert hall; as the music plays, you could move your ears to focus on different sections of the orchestra. May I demonstrate? Cup your hands behind your ears again, and now rotate your hands a bit. Nice!

Now imagine talking to a friend, and you see that his ears are pointed right at you. Clearly, he is paying attention to what you are saying. As we say, he is “all ears.” But then he suddenly swivels his ears around to the back. Hmm, is he no longer paying attention to you? Rude!

As usual, social-media influencers are onto something here, and the rest of us should consider following. Plastic surgeons, please clear your calendars for the coming boom in ear augmentation. I'll see if it's covered by my health insurance plan. I mean, seriously, I've got the bow and arrow. All I need now are the ears.