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Body Modifications and the Effects Of Unrealistic Beauty Standards

Season 1 episode 8

Show notes

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Hi friends and welcome to Seams Fabricated. I am your host Lilli and today we a taking a walk through time to talk about some of the most unrealistic and torturous beauty standards to ever exist on this Earth.

Before I start I just want to apologise for the audio quality of the last episode, I spent a while trying to figure out why it was a bit echoey. This is so embarrassing… it turns out my mic was around the wrong way. Yep. Super genius over here thankyou.

So before I start I just want to clarify, there are a lot of really interesting body modifications and mutilations around the world. Some are harmless, most are not. But the ones I will be discussing today are not religious or tribal in any way. These body modifications are purely for beauty, fashion, and society standards.

No doubt you’ve heard the old term “beauty is pain.” I’ve even said that a few times and I cringe so hard when that comes out of my mouth. As if anyone should go through pain to be beautiful. But all throughout history and especially in today’s world of fashion, it’s difficult to be insta-worthy without going through some sort of pain. Waxing, high heels that squish your toes, hair treatments, piercings, tattoos, plastic surgery and dental procedures are all considered a normal part of being beautiful.

But before we address today’s unrealistic body standards, lets look back in time. As I was researching this episode, I found a lot of very strange trends throughout history, going as far back as ancient Egypt. But nothing so dramatic that it actually modified the human body, besides some piercings and tattoos here and there.

Then I got to 10 century China. A small foot in ancient China represented feminine refinement and was used to bargain a marriage mate. The smaller the foot the greater the prospects. Now I have small feet, to the point where people often comment “wow you have small feet.” Like yes thankyou I know haha. I’m a size 6 Australian women’s and out of curiosity I measured my foot length at just under 9 inches. Safe to say I would never be getting married in Ancient China. Feet over 5 inches in length were considered iron lotuses and were very distasteful. Feet four inches in length were considered respectable and classed as silver lotuses and of course the golden lotus was a foot at three inches in length or under.

Sadly for the young girls and women in China, to gain such unnaturally small feet, extremely painful body mutilations had to occur. When a young girl was around 5 years of age, the brutal binding process began. First her feet would be soaked in hot water and her toenails clipped as short as possible. The feet were then oiled and massaged, and here is where the pedicure stops and the brutality begins. All four small toes were broken and bound flat against the sole of the foot, leaving the foot to resemble a sort of triangle shape with the big toe creating a point. Next her foot would be folded in half as far as humanly possible and bound tight with a long silk bandage. The feet were briefly aired out every two days to prevent bad infections. Sometimes flesh was cut away or left to rot. The young girls were encouraged to walk as much as possible to speed up the process and eventually break their foot arches. After two years the process was complete, and a coin could be held between the heel and sole of the foot as it was bent completely in half.

It began as a fashion statement inspired by a court dancer, Yao Niang who shaped her feet to resemble the moon and thus entranced the emperor of the time. Over the years this turned into a cultural identity. As other nations attempted to invade China, the women’s tiny feet became a point of pride and a way to differentiate China’s pure women from the barbaric other that surrounded them. Thankfully foot binding was finally abolished after multiple attempts in 1912 but not after 1000 years. China’s feet can finally rest.

In the 18th and 19th century under European influence, women’s bodies were once again being targeted. A civilised woman was expected to dress herself appropriately in a corset that was 4 inches smaller than her natural waist. It took a long time and many hands to lace up the corset.

According to anthropologist Rebecca Gibson who published a study on the “effects of long-term corseting on the female skeleton” wearing corsets from a young age disfigured the ribcage and spine. While there is no evidence within her study that it shortened the length of life, the quality of life may be a different story.

More evidence has been found that the corsets put pressure on the internal organs such as the kidneys and liver. The back muscles became weak, and women were prone to fainting and occasionally death due to the restrictions on the lungs.

In 1827 what was known as “The Father Killer” was invented. This was a thick starched men’s collar that was detachable. While detachable collars are very convenient, the stiffness of this collar was extreme. The restriction of the collar often put strain on the arteries and lead to asphyxiation and death. Unfortunately, many men (especially those who had been drinking) fell asleep while wearing the collar and suffocated. In addition to these dangers the pointed corners were capable of piercing the skin.

A clumsy man walking the streets in St Louis tripped in the street and was left with “two ugly gashes” at the base of his neck. While this fashion piece didn’t necessarily change the outside appearance of the body on purpose, the inner restrictions of the windpipe and blood vessels are perhaps one of the most dangerous forms of body modification in the name of fashion, although it was entirely unintentional, so I’m not really sure if this one counts or not, but I felt like I should include the men in here as well.

To be completely honest with you I thought I would find a lot more historical evidence of body modifications throughout history, but in all honesty, aside from those few extreme examples, most of the time people accepted the human body for what it is and called it beautiful.

So what about the modern era? Interestingly women didn’t start removing body hair until 1915, just over 100 years ago after the first world war. This means that every woman throughout history was rock’n hairy armpits and bushy legs, and no one questioned their femininity. Our obsession for hairlessness followed the rise of the bikini as women began showing more skin in public and less hair. While removing hair isn’t nearly as horrific as changing bone structure, ripping 1000’s of tiny hair follicles from deep within the skin is extremely painful, and shavers burn is a real thing. But let’s look at some more serious modifications.

In the Mid 2010’s the Gap toothed models became wildly popular for a year or two. I remember the Rimmel London ads for “Get the London Look” featuring a gorgeous model who had gap teeth. When I was young I had wildly crooked teeth, and after a few years of dental procedures they were finally straight, and sitting where they were supposed to. Let me tell you that was not a pleasant experience, and I certainly wouldn’t want to go through that again. But come 2014 and the “London Look.” I knew girls who had had braces to straighten their teeth, wishing they had gap teeth now. And some women did get a dental procedure done to get the look. I’m not sure how they feel about it now, because the gap tooth isn’t trending anymore.

In Japan there is also a tooth trend happening at the moment where young women are getting their little vampire teeth sharpened and twisted to be crooked, because it resembles a cat and is super Kawaii.

I’m not saying that either of these trends are bad, in fact I think both are cute in their own way. But the question is whether it is worth the money and pain to be trending for a couple of years? Perhaps we should be letting those who naturally have these features, have their moment.

Forms of “plastic surgery” have been around since about the year 800 A.D. Simple forms of skin graphs were used to heal those with injuries. By the Greco-Roman era, information on how to reconstruct ears, lips and noses to repair facial defects were used when necessary. There was little progress made on plastic surgery until world war one, when many soldiers required reconstruction due to war injuries. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that plastic surgery became popular and available to anyone who could pay. Silicone breast implants were available, and by the 80’s liposuction was born. The 90’s made nose jobs a normality and by the 2000’s real life Barbie Girls were being produced.

One last trend I want to talk about is the most recently popular and also the most dangerous. Actually, it is so dangerous that plastic surgeons around the world are refusing to perform the surgery, and in many are trying to get it banned in certain places. That is the BBL or Brazilian Butt Lift.

Since 2015 BBL surgeries have increased in popularity by a huge 77%. The thin / thick trend is really peaking right now thanks to Instagram influencers and of course the Kardashian tribe. The truth is that the thin / thick body shape is wildly out of reach for many of us, if not all of us, naturally. The idea that you have to have a tiny waist and big butt to be attractive is driving many beautiful women to the surgeon’s office. And unfortunately, so many have lost their lives. Right now, it has the highest mortality rate for any plastic surgery with one in 3000 dying. And so many more ending up with painful complications. There are countless social media stars posting videos titled “Why I regret My BBL surgery” and so many more that aren’t speaking up about it.

The reality is that the slim / thick body trend, is just that, a trend. And with the rate that fashion trends moving at the moment, it’s highly unrealistic to change our bodies along with them.

While we are not forced, or literally bound into submission like some throughout history. The importance we hold on social media, influencers and self-image is like a self-inflicted binding of our own mind. In some ways we live in two different realities, the seemingly flawless online world, and the real world filled with cellulite and prickly legs.

While I respect any individual’s decision to follow trends or alter their own body. I think it is so sad that anyone would feel the need to risk their own life or health, just because they don’t think they are beautiful enough, and can’t live up to the unrealistic beauty standards we see everyday online.

Studies have shown that following such trends, and taking extreme measures to get the “perfect look” often doesn’t increase happiness or sense of self worth. In fact pining after “the Instagram life” is more likely to result in depression, eating disorders, body dysmorphia and anxiety.

Thanks to science and research we can understand more fully the effects certain procedures and clothing will have on our bodies, and make more informed decisions in which trends we will participate in.

If you are struggling with your self-image, I encourage you to listen to last week’s episode called “Cherish Your Body in 2022.” And please don’t be afraid to reach out to a friend or professional for help. Because we are starting to realise the dangers of these beauty standards both physically and mentally, it has given way to an amazing movement of women taking back control over their own bodies, and rejecting unrealistic expectations. I think we are all learning that your body does not equal self-worth, who you are as a person does. So, to all you humans out there who may be struggling, just know that you are worthy of love.

Thankyou so much for listening to today’s episode of Seams Fabricated. Please join me next week for another investigation into the fashion and beauty industry. Please like, subscribe, and share this podcast with your friends! I hope you have a beautiful week and I will see you next time. This Podcast is available on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Google Podcasts. You can also find me on Instagram @seamsfabricated



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