Today I came across this picture on Facebook.
A friend of mine rightly commented, “And this was before Photoshop.” Women used to aspire to have wasp waists. To heck with breathing, we wanted to be desirable! These contraptions caused deformities in ribs and internal organs, weak muscles, and respiratory problems. It also increased the rate of miscarriages and death in childbirth. How many women had to faint before this became less fashionable?
This got me thinking of other ways we women have allowed ourselves to be altered, to our detriment, all in the name of “beauty” or cultural norms. Foot binding springs to mind.
We’d like to think this particular form of mutilation was isolated, but it’s estimated that one billion Chinese women were put through this over a period of 1000 years. Yes, you read that correctly. People thought this was a good idea for 1000 years. One’s toes were bent into the soles of the feet until they broke, and then the arch was broken. Needless to say, this caused infections, especially if the nails weren’t clipped short enough and they grew into the soles. The solution for that would be to remove the toenails altogether. Sometimes the toes would drop off completely, but that, apparently, was seen as a good thing because then you could bind the feet even more tightly. And then you had the continual breaking of other bones because it’s impossible to balance on bound feet, and falls were quite common. Does reading this make you uncomfortable? Well, it sure beats the lifetime of agonizing pain that these women suffered.
The two horrendous body mutilations mentioned above are, fortunately, a thing of the past. I wish I could say that this was the end of this blog entry, and there is nothing new to report. But no.
In some Asian and African cultures, women wear neck rings to make their necks seem longer. Actually, their necks aren’t elongated. What a relief, right? No, what happens is their shoulder blades become deformed, giving the illusion of a long neck. Their collar bones and rib cages also get pushed down. This is done so they will appear more attractive.
Even more horrific, in my opinion, is female genital mutilation, which, according to the world health organization, is still practiced in 28 countries throughout the world.
About 120 million women have been subjected to this abuse. I won’t fully describe the procedure in all its grizzly variations. You can look it up yourself if you want to lose your appetite, but I will say that it is known to cause fatal hemorrhaging, cysts, recurring infections, a lifetime of pain, incontinence, fistulae, and problems during intercourse and childbirth.
Ah, but we western cultures don’t have to worry about these things, right? We honor our women! We would never cause them harm in the name of beauty, right? We’d never mutilate them, right? Well? Right?
Augmented breasts are supposed to make you more attractive and more successful. What they don’t tell you is these implants can make the breasts sore to the touch or numb and can decrease your sexual response. They also make it harder to detect breast cancer. Ruptures of the implants can cause pain and deformity. And your immune system can reject the implant and build a wall around it, causing pain, distortion and rupture.
And then there’s high heels.
According to an article in the Washington Post, wearing heels places pressure on the inside of the knee, a common location for arthritis in women. It also causes your hips and spine to go out of alignment. It increases pressure on the forefoot, and shortens the length of the calf muscles. It can cause numbness in the toes, bunions, hammer toes, and ankle injuries. But hey! It’s attractive! That’s all that matters!
Since I’ve started viewing heels in this context, I’ve stopped wearing them entirely, and when I see others wearing them, I shudder.
What frustrates me most about all these horrors I’ve mentioned above is that we women are almost always complicit in these acts. If we don’t choose it ourselves, our mothers allow it or encourage it. So why are we so surprised when this happens?
Eating disorders are more prevalent in women than men for a reason, and before we get all culturally superior, they are much more prevalent in Western cultures. We are raised to think that it’s important to be beautiful, but sadly we are often not warned that many standards of beauty are sick and twisted.
Eating disorders cause a whole host of side effects, including acne, constipation, osteoporosis, scurvy, diarrhea, electrolyte imbalance, cardiac arrest, kidney failure, tooth loss, brain atrophy, suicide and death.
Ladies, ladies, what are we doing to ourselves? I weep for my gender. And I’m also very, very pissed off.