Beauty Is Pain: The Mixed Feelings Surrounding Cauliflower Ear For BJJ Women

My jiu-jitsu school is right next door to one of those 24-hour gyms, so I’m always amazed at the women who walk out with their pigtails still perfectly placed and the men who don’t have a single sweat stain. Through Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I’ve grown accustomed to some serious physical evidence of hard work. It’s hard for me to understand how they see physical change when I can usually gauge my workout based on how closely I resemble Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker. That goes for everyone at my gym though; if we walk out looking the same as when we walked in, something went terribly wrong.

We all notice more significant physical changes the longer we train jiu-jitsu, like abs we didn’t know were there and biceps and triceps that start filling out our sleeves, but there’s one change that surprises some people: cauliflower ear. Some people get it almost immediately, but for most, it comes with a lot of hard training time, and it can be one of the few outward physical signs that you train in a combat sport.

Most male BJJ practitioners I know view cauliflower ear as part of the territory, painful as it may be. Some even view it as street cred. There’s no doubt it gets attention when you’re mixed in with the general population. People always assume my husband is a fighter and try to strike up UFC commentary with him even when we’re just walking down the street. He gets some second glances and even a few questions about his ears, but that’s it. If I walked around with cauliflower ear, I bet things would go a little differently.

Women all over the world are working hard to change how we’re objectified, but the hard facts are that many of us still care about beauty. I personally would be more self-conscious of wearing a ponytail if/when I develop cauliflower ear. Would I also feel totally badass? Definitely.

I have other female training partners who are a bit paranoid about cauliflower ear, so I started wanting to know more about it and how we can combat it. Trauma to the ear causes a hematoma in the cartilage, which is why it bulges. This pocket of blood is either drained, or if left alone, will harden and form permanent scar tissue. Draining the ear is extremely painful, and if you’re going to continue training, the ear likely won’t have time to heal correctly. Most competitive athletes choose the latter option and allow the tissue to scar and harden. This process is also extremely painful, but once all the damage is done, it usually isn’t a problem anymore. There are the random cases of cauliflower ear affecting your hearing if the trauma is in or near the ear canal. In these cases, medical intervention is necessary and you may be taking a break from training.

If you haven’t already started to develop cauliflower ear, there’s an entire market for ear protection. I suggest reading lots of reviews, and don’t be afraid to ask your teammates for advice. Chances are they’ve tried a lot of the options out there. I’ve considered ear protection, but to be honest, it seems like more trouble than it’s worth. Injuries are part of BJJ after a while, so I view cauliflower ear the same way. Maybe I’ll be among the lucky few who don’t get it. Maybe I’ll learn how to do a wicked side ponytail.

While it may not match today’s beauty standards, I think cauliflower ear has its own place on the spectrum. Just like wrinkles and scars, it displays the trials I’ve overcome. It’s evidence that there was nothing that could keep me off the mats and that I will find a way to overcome every obstacle for what I love most. Of course, I don’t have cauliflower ear yet, so I may feel totally different once the pain is real.

Is cauliflower ear just a fact of training? What ear protection do you use and love?


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