FINALLY, spring has sprung . . . well sort of. And, now, everyone's looking forward to shedding those winter coats and welcoming warmer weather and flirty fashions.

One thing's for sure: This is the season when more people become concerned about their excess visceral fat, aka belly fat. While everybody probably knows that men with a 40-inch waist and women with a 35-inch waist are at increased risk of premature death from conditions such as heart disease, dementia, diabetes and some cancers, we also all know that in most cases it is vanity, and not health, behind the quest for a lean midsection.

Even so, while spring and the fashion it brings are both worthy of celebration, what's hidden underneath many of those fly fashions may not be.

I couldn't help stealing glances at this woman as she was dressing in the locker room. Is that what I think it is? What is that contraption she's squeezing her ample flesh into? That's not a . . . oh yeah, it is some type of corset, though more modern looking, I suppose.

Then on the other side, I saw another lady putting on not one, but two girdles, before putting on her clothes.

That got me thinking: Why are some women squeezing back into girdles and corsets? Surely, they know these contraptions are not actually slimming their waist, but just shifting the fat around and giving the temporary illusion of shapeliness.

But even more importantly, I wondered if these ladies, (who are obviously committed to coming to the gym) realized the health risks of wearing these garments.

For centuries, it appears that Western woman has tried seemingly every invention to make her waist appear smaller, while simultaneously making her breasts and backside appear larger. This trend principally began around the 16th century, when corsets became the fashionable thing to wear in an effort to significantly reduce the size of a woman's waist in order to achieve what became known as an hourglass figure.

While everyone may love the hourglass look, the use of the corset may pose significant health risks. Physicians have long been wary of corsets because they believed that they compressed the ribs and other organs, and led to diseases including tuberculosis and scoliosis.

While there have been improvements to the design of the initial corsets, many modern physicians continue to argue that corsets are health hazards that restrict breathing, squeeze all of your internal organs, and that squeezing could cause broken ribs, or internal bleeding,

Girdles, remarketed today as "shape wear" and "control-top panty hose," don't fare much better and may cause bladder infections, nerve compression and gastrointestinal conditions, like acid reflux.

Unfortunately, growing numbers of women today are torturing themselves with not just binding, but also with abusive and excessive exercise, extreme and painful thinness, and, lest we forget, an addiction to cosmetic surgery.

The question is why? Here we are, 50 years since the women's liberation movement, and now even professional and well-educated women are consciously doing these extreme things.

While I am still pondering the answers, I realize that the dictates of fashion and the influence of popular culture have such a stranglehold on us that it essentially trumps common sense and our regard for good health.

Kimberly Garrison is a wellness coach and owner of One on One Ultimate Fitness in Philadelphia. Her column appears Wednesdays.