The Deadly Fashion Trends that Actually Killed People

Beauty is the subject of a magnificent exhibition of around 150 objects assembled in the British Museum—Defining Beauty: the Body in Ancient Greek Art. One quoted epigram from Socrates sums up the central idea of this show—”It is a disgrace to grow old through sheer carelessness before seeing what manner of man you may become by developing your bodily strength and beauty to their highest limit.” But as Ian Jenkins, a Senior Curator at the museum, argued in a talk at the preview, this exhibition is really about “the quarrel between art and philosophy”.

The definition of beauty has changed a lot with time. The feminine beauty ideal, which also includes female body shape, varies from culture to culture. The feminine beauty ideal traits include but are not limited to: female body shape, eyelid shape, skin tones, height, clothing style, modified facial features, hairstyle and body weight. From a very young age, women are raised to live up to unrealistic beauty standards put upon them by society. They are expected to be hairless all over their body, have to be slim with no tummy but big butt, smell like daisies and roses all the time, not have regular bodily fluids and gases, and be an all-around perfect Barbie. It is hard to live up to something so unobtainable especially starting at an age as low as three. Having a normalized yet extraordinary societal implication drilled into you as soon as you are out of the womb is and can be mentally and physically draining. Social media, magazines, newspapers, and even televisions tend to push high and barely achievable standards. You must look a certain way for society to at least acknowledge your “beauty” even when you have tried to mold yourself to please them. Even then there is always criticism behind it all. Women have to be slim but not too slim, thick but not too thick to where you have a tummy. Women can wear makeup but not too much because it would look like we are trying too hard. We can show skin but not too much because we would get shamed. It is considered weird or impolite for a woman to even have bodily gases. What can we do but try to love ourselves as is?

All these beauty standards are not modern things. These are going on from the past and today I am going to show you how women used to make their body beautiful by using the following “so called” beauty stuffs or hacks which were actually killing their body.


The ideal of what a woman’s body should look like has changed dramatically over time and varies by culture. One of the most well-known historical attempts at changing a woman’s body shape, corseting of the waist to make an hourglass figure left lasting effects on the skeleton, deforming the ribs and misaligning the spine. Corset-wearing was common in the 18th and 19th centuries across Europe and across different socioeconomic classes. Women wore corsets to shape their bodies away from nature and toward a more ‘civilized’ ideal form. A woman would wear her corset for almost her entire life. Very young children were placed in corsets, as advertisements from Paris at the time mention sizing “pour enfants & fillettes.” Even in pregnancy, special corsets were made to fit a woman’s growing belly and, later, her need to nurse her baby. Side gussets or special snaps over the breasts, were used to accommodate their changing form while still allowing them to follow the fashion of the time. While scholars still debate the extent to which patriarchal control over women’s bodies and women’s own clothing choices affected corseting practices, it is clear that long-term use of these garments caused changes in women’s skeletons. By looking at the variation in corsets and their physical effects on the spine, and correlating those observations with age-at-death.

The corsets crushing the organs inside


Individuals seeking to lose weight are constantly confronted with a variety of diets, supplements, and weight-loss regimens to choose from. Whether in magazines, on television or on the Internet, the consumer can be bombarded with any number of advertisements that claim to offer them the opportunity to lose weight with their products. However, individuals need to be cautious and well-informed when considering what products to use, as certain weight-loss marketing claims are not only misleading but also potentially detrimental to your health. The use of tapeworms for weight-loss purposes illustrates this risk. Sometimes the affected individual may notice a segment of the tapeworm in their feces. More serious complications can also occur in some individuals. Tapeworms rarely can cause obstruction of the intestines, requiring surgery in order to resolve the blockage. Infection with the pork tapeworm (Taenia solium) can sometimes result in a disease called cysticercosis, which occurs when the eggs of the pork tapeworm are ingested by humans. The larvae can then penetrate the intestinal wall and disseminate into the bloodstream to other parts of the body, leading to the formation of cysts throughout the body. These cysts can sometimes spread to the brain (neurocysticercosis), leading to headaches, confusion, seizures, and rarely, death.

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A hobble skirt was a skirt with a narrow enough hem to significantly impede the wearer’s stride. It was called a “hobble skirt” because it seemed to hobble any woman as she walked. Hobble skirts were a short-lived fashion trend that peaked between 1908 and 1914. Hobble skirts were directly responsible for several deaths. In 1910, a hobble-skirt-wearing woman was killed by a loose horse at a racetrack outside Paris. A year later, eighteen-year-old Ida Goyette stumbled on an Erie Canal bridge while wearing a hobble skirt, fell over the railing, and drowned.

The Hobble Skirt


Not only women but men were also the prey for this so-called fashion trends. The detachable collar sound innocuous enough, but in reality it was a deadly hidden killer. Known as the “Vatermorder” (father killer), this collar was designed to keep the necks of men straight and, er, erect (you can guess what parallels they were attempting to draw there). This meant that they were essentially corsets for the throat. The stiff, high collar could easily cut off blood circulation and air supply, leading to death by asphyxiation at the slightest pressure or swelling, and there were even reports of the torture collars literally cutting through the neck of the wearer.

Father Killer Collar


There’s nothing worse that a woman galumphing around the place with her normal-sized feet, is there? Well, something just had to be done. Foot binding was practiced by the Chinese for more than a thousand years, and is thought to have claimed the lives of more than a million women during that time. First, a girl of around four years old was treated to a nice foot spa of vinegar and botanicals. He toenails were then removed, her feet broken and bent in on themselves and wrapped in tight bandages. The broken and bound feet were highly susceptible to infection, and bits often dropped off due to lack of blood supply. If a girl’s feet were still considered too big, shards of broken tile were sometime inserted into the bindings to encourage the toes to fall off through infection. Death by septic shock was common, as was gangrene and broken bones from “falling off” bound feet.

Foot binding tradition from China