“Beauty is pain” is not a new concept. Suffocating corsets of the Victorian Era, precarious walks in high heels, eyebrow waxes that leave our faces red and risky plastic surgeries are proof that we tend to treat our bodies like clay that can be molded into any form we want. But with new studies revealing that shapewear, like Spanx, can actually cause internal damage to the wearer’s organs, it may be time to recognize that we’re literally shaping ourselves away from reality.
The purpose of shapewear is to squeeze oneself into an outfit, but recent research has shown it is doing much more than just smoothing out the wearer’s body.
“Wearing constricting clothing can exacerbate acid reflux, causing symptoms like heartburn, upper abdominal pain and regurgitation,” said Rebekah Gross, a gastroenterologist at NYU Langone Medical Center.
“Severe gut injury from occasional shapewear use is likely uncommon,” Gross said. “That being said, any garment that brings out symptoms when worn is probably best left on the shelf.”
Similarly, the currently trending Corset Diet requires participants to wear a corset at all times which inhibits stomach expansion and interferes with normal digestion, all in an effort to decrease appetite. Although the Corset Diet plan’s website refers to the constriction as “a pleasant hugging sensation,” there certainly is no comfort in cramping the stomach so tightly that it cannot fit normal amounts of food inside.
Even the quintessential high heels are known to disfigure our bodies. According to the American Osteopathic Association, high heels bend toes into unnatural positions, causing weight to shift forward which places more pressure on leg tendons and knees. It also affects muscles from the feet up to the lower back.
CAS sophomore Jillian Branchaud said she usually avoids painful fashion decisions.
“I’m willing to do things like not wearing a hat when it’s cold outside to preserve my hair or walking long distances in high heels, but for the most part I’m a stickler for comfort when it comes to fashion,” Branchaud said.
Research, including these discoveries, never cease to shock us. however, that doesn’t mean people are immediately willing to modify their habits. Although painful practices like wearing shapewear and corsets are unsustainable for everyday wear, when used on occasion, the negative effects are not permanent. But of course, neither are the intended positive effects, even if the items are worn long term.
Ultimately, the risks of keeping up with our society’s beauty standards are determined by the individual. “Is it worth it?” is not a question that can be answered by any amount of research, facts or figures. The real question should be who or what are we going through this pain for — ourselves, or to obtain an unrealistic ideal? It is time to start changing our own expectations because being more comfortable with who we are can transform our physical comfort as well.
(Disclaimer: Jillian Branchaud is a member of the WSN staff.)
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Jan. 29 print edition. Hannah Treasure is deputy features editor. Email her at email@example.com.