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The Voice of the Black Community

Life and Religion

When beauty becomes a hazard
Health can be at risk from overdone details
Published Thursday, September 27, 2012 10:07 am
by Michaela L. Duckett


Many women go through great lengths to be beautiful.

Looking fabulous often exacts a physical toll on muscles, skin and hair.

Some wear freakishly high heels that appear to defy the laws of gravity and are more fit for display in an art gallery than walking. Others spend thousands of dollars on hair extensions, beauty products and cosmetic procedures.

Sometimes the quest for beauty and good looks can be hazardous. After all, everything that looks good is not good for you.
Designer heels, for instance, can hurt both wallet and feet. But they can do a lot more than cause pain.

“When you are wearing high heels you are putting your foot into a position in which it is not meant to be functioning in,” says Dr. Jane Andersen, a podiatrist who practices in Chapel Hill. “There are a lot of different complications that we can see from that.”

Andersen, who also serves as a spokesperson for the American Podiatric Medical Association, says some women suffer a loss of mobility from wearing high heels. The muscles in the back of the leg can become so tight and constricted that they cannot extend properly. Andersen says this condition is most common in women who have been wearing heels that are 4 inches or higher on a daily basis for years.

“Sometimes I see women in their 20s who have been wearing heels since they were teens that cannot wear a flat shoe,” she says. “The muscles in their legs are permanently shortened. It really can have a very significant affect. It makes it hard to exercise because you can’t wear athletic shoes.”

Andersen says common issues resulting from ill-fitting shoes include corns, callouses and other skin problems. It can also precipitate the onset of bunions and hammertoe or pain on the bottom of the foot. Other conditions arise when aggravation causes the nerves on the side of the foot to become enlarged.

“We also see people who develop back pain, shoulder and neck pain,” says Andersen. “Obviously, we don’t treat (those conditions), but that is definitely something that can happen when your whole body is out of alignment.”

Andersen says she has also seen women with sprained ankles and other injuries from accidents caused by walking in heels.
When choosing a shoe, Andersen recommends selecting heels that are 2 inches or lower. She says wedges are safer and easier to walk in than stilettos.

“A shoe that has a little more surface area on the ground is better,” she says. “I know people are going to wear higher heels, but just don’t wear them everyday. Treat them like dessert. Wear them periodically [on special occasions], but then switch back.”

A crowning glory
It’s been said that a woman’s hair is her crowning glory.

So, it’s no wonder that many women are willing to invest a great deal of time and money into maintaining their manes.

“I think we all have to have an acceptable way that we want to present ourselves to the world,” says Dr. Amy McMichael, a dermatologist and professor at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine’s Department of Dermatology.

“I think that’s the case with all women,” says McMichael, who is also a hired consultant for Proctor and Gamble. “It transcends the African-American U.S. citizen to all women around the world.”

However, she says hairstyling presents a unique set of challenges for African-American women.

Typically, African hair has a tight curl pattern that resembles a spiral structure even under the skin. When the hair grows out, the shaft is more flattened than round. These characteristics can make the hair more difficult to manage and style.

“When you have a certain way that you want to look, it can become difficult to get that look without manipulating the hair,” McMichael says. “It’s difficult… There aren’t a lot of solutions available.”

She says African-American hair also has a certain unexplained fragility that makes it more prone to breakage. Because of this innate fragility, she says, practically any styling method has the potential to be damaging. McMichael adds that some people have more easily damaged hair than others.

“There are plenty of people that do very well doing pretty much anything to their hair without any problems,” she says.

McMichael says the unique structure of African-American hair also affects its appearance.

“It is less likely to reflect light and look shiny,” she says. “Shine has become sort of a stand-in for health in terms of hair. So while, your hair can be extremely healthy, it may not shine and may not appear healthy.”

Many black women have sworn off chemical relaxers, but going natural does not automatically equate to having healthy hair. There are certain hair conditions, such as traction hair loss, that can occur even with virgin hair.

“You end up with a very thin area around the frontal hairline starting from the front of the ear and moving around to the other ear,” McMichael explains. “That is something we see very commonly, even in children, from wearing tightly braided hairstyles.”

Many women that make the transition from relaxed to natural hair do so in the hopes of finding a more manageable hairstyle. But many revert back to chemical relaxers because they find wearing their hair natural actually requires more maintenance.

“No matter what kind of hairstyle you have, there is a maintenance component that goes along with it,” says McMichael. “Sometimes you spend a lot more time on hair that’s natural.”

Another issue for women for some women who transition from relaxers is that many of them use heat to straighten their hair, which can damage the hair cuticle and lead to breakage and hair loss.

McMichael describes the hair cuticle as a protective covering that resembles shingles on a roof. Using that analogy, when the cuticle is disrupted, it’s like having a hole in the roof.

“Things can get into the hair shaft, and it weakens the entire structure of the hair,” she explains.  “Things like heat and chemical relaxers can do that. Color can do that as well.”

McMichael says it takes a little knowledge, patience and experimentation to find the right hair regimen that works for you.

“I don’t think that any one thing is the answer for everybody,” she says. “I think everybody has to find their own style.”



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