• Wed, Feb 8 2012

‘Squoobs’: Body-Shaming Or Real Health Concern?

squoobs christina hendricks

Awards season always brings a flurry of  headlines about red carpet fashion, beauty, and—unfortunately—bodies. And this year, a new word has been added to the body-snark vernacular: squoobs. As in “squished boobs.” Articles about the trend (see: Huffington Post, The Daily Mail) feature actresses like Christina Hendricks and Sofia Vergara wearing corset-style dresses, with mostly critical commentary about how their constricted figures look ’more painful than playful’ and ‘more oww than ooh.’ So when I was offered a chance to speak with experts about the health risks of squoobs, I was curious: Is there really a legitimate health concern here, or is it just a new way to criticize women with large breasts?

Blisstree columnist Dr. Natasha Turner has warned against wearing underwire bras to bed (because they could restrict lymphatic drainage of the breasts), so it doesn’t seem far off to worry that wearing corseted dresses might not be great for our bodies. But most articles about “squoobs” seem far more concerned with looks than health. The Huffington Post speculates that women like Hendricks and Vergara are hiding their body flaws:

It seems our favorite starlets are trying to iron out some body issues by donning 18th century-style corset gowns (think Kirsten Dunst as Marie Antoinette) that make their waists appear smaller but leave the girls looking anything but smooth.

And The Daily Mail was even more scathing:

[Carol Vorderman]‘s bosom was not only up there, but was so pinched, squashed and squeezed it looked more ‘Oww!’ than ‘Ooh!’.

Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks and chef Nigella Lawson pour out of their Vivienne Westwood corsets, while Elizabeth Hurley and Victoria Beckham have gravity-defying cleavages that often seem to be fighting their frocks for supremacy.

But while it’s a look that’s sure to get attention, the effect is more Coronation Street barmaid than costume drama beauty. After all, it’s better to flaunt your assets than knock people around the head with them.

The writers aren’t concerned for women’s health, clearly. But according to the PR pitch I got, some people are. They said:

Underwire and corsets are doing more damage than you think.  In addition to wrinkles, too-tight bras can lead to problems with breathing, back pain, restricted circulation, muscle strain and even a bout of IBS by blocking lymph nodes.

To find out more, I sent some questions to dermatologist Debra Jaliman. She didn’t seem too worried about anyone’s breasts.

When I asked about the biggest health concerns associated with “squoobs,” she deferred to talk about bra fit:

What are the biggest health concerns associated with squeezing breasts into bras or clothing?

The biggest concern associated with bras is obtaining a good fit. I recommend women seek a professional and get measured in order to buy the appropriate bra size. Studies have shown that women often wear the wrong size.

I’ve heard that underwire bras can also increase risk of breast cancer because the decrease lymphatic drainage. Is that true?

Underwire bras do not increase the risk of breast cancer.

Does this mean that push-up bras are bad (even for women who have small breasts)?

Push-up bras are not bad. There is no scientific findings that say otherwise.

I wear sports bras all the time that compress my chest. Should I be worried about this?

You should not be worried about sports bras.

And when I got straight to the point about body-shaming, Dr. Jaliman offered some strange ideas:

Making fun of “squoobs” kind of seems like body-shaming women with large breasts. What are women of a certain cup size supposed to do with their cleavage?

I find that many small chested women are getting breast implants for a more enhanced look. If women are body conscious they should refrain from wearing body revealing clothing. But there is nothing wrong with having larger breasts.

I can’t figure out what kind of breasts I’m supposed to want, but one thing is pretty clear: “Squoobs” are not a health concern.

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  • Hooty

    Disclaimer: not a medical person.

    It can be a health concern if the wire is in the wrong place. I see photo after photo of people who probably have freakin’ stylists, wearing tiny little cups that cut into their breast tissue. Quick tip, ladies: poke your underwire. It should not feel like it’s on something squashy. It should be flat on your ribs, not your breast tissue. Everywhere.

    I love the word ‘squoobs’ and will use it daily. Hendricks has a great rack, but there’s no reason to squash it into oblongs. She’s earning enough to have someone let her outfits out around the tits. (I heard a rumor that her bra size was 38DDD, and I almost coughed up my spleen. Three of her could fit into a 38).

    Nigella is much better. I’m guessing she knows her proper size, and wears well-constructed bras that push her boobs up and forward and generally between the camera and whatever she’s cooking.

  • Sarah

    Why would you question a dermatologist about breasts? Wouldn’t a gynecologist, internist, or breast cancer specialist be a better choice for a discussion of breast tissue health?

    • Briana Rognlin

      Yeah…but the PR company who alerted me to the health concerns (quoted above) put us in touch with her… My point is mainly that concern over what actresses wear on the red carpet for a few hours is more about body-snarking than real health concern, and I think the “expert” comments prove it.

  • James

    I am a breast cancer researcher. WARNMING: The bra/cancer link is being covered-up.
    Constriction and compression of the breasts DOES lead to breast cysts, pain, and ultimately, cancer. Just because some PR person with a medical degree says tight bras are safe does not make it so. Common sense should tell you that tight garments cut off circulation and this is bad for the body. Remember the problems caused by corsets. These contraptions torture and killed women for centuries. These tight bras are the equivalent of a breast corset. The human breasts cannot function properly when constricted, causing fluid to accumulate (cysts) and preventing the necessary removal of toxins from the tissue.

    Life is an intelligence test, ladies. The fashion industry hopes you are really dumb. And the cancer treatment industry won’t tell you otherwise, since they make billions each year treating bra-caused disease.

  • Sheryl Fox

    James – you are a prevaricator (look it up). Bras do not cause breast cancer! You, however, might possibly have a brain tumor, causing you to express strange ideas….and, please, edit before you press “Post” – ie: ‘WARNMING’

  • Dragonmamma/Naomi

    I’m pretty sure those are fake. The first time I saw Hendricks is when she was in a couple episodes of Firefly, and her chest wasn’t anywhere near that size.

  • Rebecca

    All I know is, whenever I wear spanx or any kind of control top around my stomach I get horrible cramps. I take it as my body telling me it’s not a good idea:)

  • Heather

    So, James… are you advocating running around braless? If we all took your advice, and you saw every woman on the street swingin’ low, would that make you happy?
    Sometimes tight bras are a necessity. I run. I do not want those babies jerking around while I’m doing so. The pain I’d get from that is far worse than the pain I’d get from wearing a sports bra.
    Go sell crazy somewhere else.

  • Heather

    If anything James, you should be advising women to go get properly fitted for a bra. Stacy and Clinton always say that the majority of women are not wearing the correct size bra, and yes, that will cause compression and it’s darn uncomfortable. If you’re wearing a properly fitting bra, it should lift, separate, and support. Not necessarily constrict like a corset.
    I don’t tell men what kind of underwear to wear. It’s very hard to take advice from someone that doesn’t have breasts. Just saying.