Actress Octavia Spencer is obviously a brilliant woman, given her Academy Award-winning portrayal of the outspoken Minny in The Help, yet Spencer has publicly admitted to squeezing into not one, not two, but three layers of shapewear, the 21st century's version of the corset, just to look slimmer. She looked good, but she didn't feel that great with all that constriction.
Spencer is not the only victim of fashion, of course, since for thousands of years otherwise smart men and women have been putty in the hands of clothing trends, often to the physical detriment of their bodies.
During her history talks at Sams House on Merritt Island, Fla., Diana Sageser delves into the serious health problems of turn-of-the-century fashions.
"A desirable waist measurement was 13 inches," said Sageser, a former living history interpreter at Old Cowtown Museum in Wichita, Kan.
"Get out a tape measure and make a 13-inch circle and see how small that is. Too-tight lacing caused internal organs to shift, causing prolapsed uteruses, among other things. Lungs were bruised or pierced, and fashionable woman were unable to take deep breaths because of their lacing, so a lot of fainting happened. It was called "the vapors."
The vapors are no longer in vogue, but things really haven't changed that much for the legions of slaves to fashion. While the corset and the bustle may be gone, they have been replaced by ultra-skinny jeans, shapewear and stratospherically high heels, which health care professionals say can all be harmful to the body when not worn with care.
Dr. Sukanya Pachaidee, a Health First rheumatologist, has seen plenty of patients with pain that can be traced back to overzealous trendiness.
"They may have shoulder problems from carrying a large and heavy handbag, or ankle tendonitis from pressure caused by too-high heels," Pachaidee said.
"If they commonly wear shoes that are too tight and pointy, they suffer from early osteoarthritis and bunions. They get heat rashes and fungal infections from synthetic, non-breathable clothing. Even some makeup can cause dermatitis and allergic rashes."
With all those dangers lurking behind clothes and accessories, perhaps we should consider muumuus as a fashion statement, but that's probably not going to happen anytime soon. In the quest for the perfect shape, we will continue to contort and squeeze our bodies into shapes they were never meant to assume.
"Be fashionable, but do it in moderation," recommended family practice physician Dr. Stephanie Haridopolos, who admits she herself has such a weakness for high heels her patients wonder what is wrong with her when they spot her wearing flats. "Use common sense."
That's easier said than done. For what it's worth, here are some current fashion bad boys and what they can do to your body. Have a fling with them, if you must, but try not to build a long-term relationship.
Shape(wear) of things to come
Compression undergarments - and even control-top pantyhose - minimize flab, but their prolonged use can constrict the abdominal area, causing discomfort, heartburn and even ulcers, physicians warn. Ditto for the sexy bustiers.
Shapewear can be such a hassle to maneuver that wearers often decide to "hold it" instead of visiting the bathroom. Urinary tract infections could develop from this practice.
The synthetic fabric in shapewear can also trap sweat and other bodily fluids in the perfect hot-and-moist environment so beloved by yucky fungal or yeast infections. Thong underwear can cause similar problems, adds Haridopolos, plus, to boot, painful welts where the fabric touches the skin.
"If you're going to wear them, don't wear them that tight," she said.
It's in the jeans
Skinny jeans come with a hefty price tag in more ways than money. Too tight a jean cuts off blood flow and leads to nerve damage, and, worse, if you're a guy.
"The condition is called meralgia parasthetica," Haridopolos said.
Skinny jeans constrict a pelvic nerve that provides sensation to the thigh, and fashionable jean fans often complain of numbness down the leg. Men fond of skinny jeans can pay an even big price for vanity.
"A British study noted that men who constantly wear skinny jeans run the risk of testicular torsion, where one testicle gets twisted on itself," Haridopolos said.
Going the other extreme can also be dangerous. For guys who favor the oversized pants held up at the hips by a tight belt, they have little freedom to walk and could easily fall.
If the shoe fits ...
Yes, very high heels look fantastic on your feet, but you will pay through the nose later, because the ultra-high heels shift the body's center of gravity onto the ball of the foot, resulting in back pain and limited flexibility in the ankle because of shortened Achilles tendons, among other problems.
"They can cause arthritis, bunions, hammer toe and nerve damage," Haridopolos said.
There is also the risk of falling and breaking something.
Two-inch heels with a wedge sole and a backless or soft-back style are best, say the experts, but they admit these styles could be a hard sell to any self-respecting fashionista. Still, there are ways to minimize the future damage if you cannot live without the heels. For one, don't wear them all day, every day.
"You can get away with high heels if you choose a pair that distributes the weight and provides arch support," Haridopolos said. "Platforms are better than stilettos, because they offer you more stability."
The detriment to your body doesn't end with just tight jeans, shapewear and high heels. Wide waist-cinching belts can limit blood flow to the heart and brain. Oversized and heavy shoulder bags can throw the back out of whack. So can backpacks, when slung too low on the body, Haridopolos said.
Small eyeglasses can cause wearers to lose peripheral vision, so they need to crane their necks around, causing sore muscles. Tight neckties can also be bad for the neck because they can limit muscle movement and even impede circulation. Oversized earrings can tear through ear lobes. The list goes on.
The need to be appealing is too entrenched in the human psyche and fashion will continue ruling with a heavy hand. It won't hurt you to stage a revolt against uncomfortable trends, however, at least once in a while. Actually, you'll feel better.
Maria Sonnenberg, Florida Today