A peek inside any modern woman’s wardrobe will reveal the ways our bodies pay the price for looking good. And they’re not always obvious.
The days of suffocating corsets and agonising foot binding may be long gone, but there’s no denying women continue to suffer in the name of fashion. (You know you’d be lying if you said your Saturday night stilettos were comfortable.) Identifying the hidden dangers that lurk behind closed wardrobe doors isn’t always easy. Here are a few fashion faux pas damaging more than just your image.
Everything but the kitchen sink
Wallet, phone, keys, hairbrush, make-up, iPad … The list goes on. If you put your handbag on the scales, how much would it weigh, and what is this doing to your body?
Dr Clare Gordon, a member of the Australian Osteopathic Association, says headaches, muscle spasms and disc degeneration are just some of the problems associated with carrying a heavy handbag. “With the fashion these days being big designer handbags, it’s likely that many women carry handbags that are too heavy – the bigger the bag, the more stuff we’re likely to carry around in it!” she says.
“Studies in the UK have shown that half of women suffer pain as a result of carrying heavy handbags. I’ve seen some clients’ handbags weigh five kilograms or higher – this is far too heavy.”
Clare suggests keeping handbags no heavier than two kilograms, and be sure to distribute the weight evenly across your shoulders. “Choose a backpack style, or a satchel with a long strap you can wear across the body. A bag with wider straps will better distribute the weight on your shoulder itself.
“If you’re carting around text books or baby gear and must have a heavy bag, at least switch sides often so the muscles on either side get a rest. Or carry two bags, with one on each shoulder.”
Cheap and nasty
When you’re strapped for cash and in need of something glam for a big night out, costume jewellery often saves the day. But many accessories that come into contact with your skin – including cheap jewellery, belt studs and buckles – contain nickel.
According to Professor Rosemary Nixon, a dermatologist, around 15 per
cent of women are allergic to nickel. “It is not always obvious what contains nickel and what doesn’t. Nine carat gold often contains a significant amount of nickel – we often find this out when some cheapskate has tried to save money on an engagement ring!”
Legislation in Europe limits the amount of nickel jewellery can contain, but no such laws exist in Australia. Rosemary advises checking labels carefully so you know what you’re buying.
Deadly in denim
You know the culprits: jeans so fitted you have to perform yoga contortions to get them on. You love them once you’re in them, as long as you don’t have to sit down … or bend … or move.
According to physiotherapist Tristan White, CEO of The Physio Co and member of The Australian Physiotherapy Association, the pressure from skinny jeans can disrupt blood flow, cause clots and interfere with digestion – not such a great look.
In extreme cases, they can cause a condition called meraligia parasthetica. Tristan explains: “Meralgia parasthetica is caused by compressing a sensory nerve that runs from the thigh to the spinal column, and skinny jeans can cause this compression.
“Symptoms include burning, tingling or numbness on the outside of the thigh, or aching in the groin or buttocks.”
The only treatment is to remove the cause of the nerve compression (eBay those too-tight jeans!) but symptoms can still last for weeks or months after the nerve stops being compressed.
“You don’t have to avoid skinny jeans completely, but choosing jeans that are firm but not painful around your waist and not wearing them every day will lessen your risk,” says Tristan.
Open your eyes
Those Prada knock-offs may look the part but according to Jared Slater from the Optometrists Association of Australia, they’re possibly doing more harm than good.
“Ultraviolet radiation in sunlight is divided into two components: UVA and UVB. For optimal sun protection, your eyewear should reduce both types of UV radiation to safe levels,” Jared explains.
“Sunglasses sold in Australia are ranked on a scale from 0 to 4, according to the level of UV protection they provide. Categories 0 and 1 are really just fashion glasses, offering only mild UV protection. Categories 2, 3 and 4 are sunglasses and provide good protection, blocking 95 per cent of UV rays.”
All sunnies have dark lenses, which make your pupils dilate slightly to allow more light to enter your eyes. And more light equals more harmful UV rays, so if you picked up your sunnies from a street seller in Bali, you could be letting more harmful UV in than you would if you simply squinted, and relying on nothing more than tinted plastic to protect you.
How solid is your base?
You’re smart – you know high heels are no good for you, so you’ve switched to ballet flats and thongs. Right? Wrong.
“Ballet flats have been a wardrobe staple for years, and while women think they’re doing the right thing by wearing a flat shoe, many don’t realise that most of these cute little ballet flats offer little or no support,” says Anna Baird, podiatrist and owner of Bared Footwear. “Unsupportive footwear is responsible for a large number of common health problems, including bunions, foot, ankle, knee and lower back pain, shin splints and stress fractures.”
Anna says a good shoe should have a firm heel counter – the part of the shoe that wraps around your heel. This prevents the foot from rolling in too much, or pronating.
Also check that your shoe has a rigid shank by trying to bend it through the middle. A shoe with a good shank will only bend where your foot bends – across the ball of the foot – thereby encouraging the foot to function correctly. “As we walk, our weight should travel from the outside of our heel to the inside of the ball of our foot,” says Anna.
Lastly, try to wear shoes that fasten to your foot. Avoid thongs or ballet flats that force you to claw your toes to keep the shoe on as you walk; the clawing action significantly affects your gait and can cause pain in the front of your shins or your lower back, and unsightly hammertoes. “Try a ballet flat that has a strap, or flat boots, and in summer choose a gladiator or Roman sandal,” advises Anna.
Buy yourself a pair of better ballet flats. Your feet will thank you! Enjoy 20% off the rrp of Bared shoes. Enter the code FERNWOOD at bared.com.au.
Words Alexandra McNab