Nov. 23, 2007 -- Though the Guinness World Records is full of record holders who are born into their condition, such as the world's tallest man or the person with the stretchiest skin, there are two women who have chosen to manipulate their physical appearance to comic-book proportions in pursuit of Guinness world records.
Guinness world records are about extremes, and the record holders for the tiniest waist and the longest fingernails certainly fit that category. For these women, beauty is anything but skin deep.
Cathie Jung, a 70-year-old grandmother from North Carolina, has a 15-inch waist that's narrower than a family-size jar of mayonnaise. Lee Redmond, a 66-year-old great-grandmother from Utah, has 35-inch fingernails.
The last time Redmond cut her nails was in 1979, when Jimmy Carter was in the White House and Billy Joel was winning Grammys for his song "Just the Way You Are."
Redmond still somehow manages to do all the everyday things, including driving a car and using a cell phone — she just does it all with a total of 27 feet of stiff protein dangling from her hands.
Redmond started growing her nails on a whim. By the time they had reached 3.5 inches she caught the eye of a local Utah TV producer.
"Nobody wants to be a nobody. It's like, 'What could I do? What could I do?'" she said.
A Perfect Figure?
Though Redmond wanted to stand out, Jung says it was her and her husband's fascination with all things Victorian that led her to pursue a perfect hourglass figure.
"I was sort of a teenager in the '50s when small waists were in vogue, and when I got into my 40s, the kids were gone. I realized that I was going the way of all women my age and starting to look a little dumpy and frumpy," Jung said.
So she began wearing corsets full time. This Victorian secret to a slimmer waist has appeared in films ranging from "Gone with the Wind" to "Pirates of the Caribbean." Jung wears corsets day and night, removing them only to shower, ultimately reducing her 26-inch waist down to 15 inches.
"Wearing a corset to me now is a way of life. It's something I do 24 hours a day," she said. "Of course, with the Guinness [World Records] book being as popular as it is, people do recognize me."
And with that recognition comes concern about Jung's health.
"That'd probably be really unhealthy, because you hold so many things in this part of your body, like your liver and your digestive system and stuff like that," said 10-year-old Guinness World Records fan Daniel Strauss when he saw photos of Jung.
Fortunately, Jung's husband, an orthopedic surgeon, had a different take.
"I like the corseted shape, the silhouette," he said. "I always did."
In fact, he said the corseted body is perfectly safe for most people as long as you don't have breathing problems.
"The corset will decrease the space in your stomach, so she doesn't eat large amounts at one time, which is probably better anyway," he said. "The same thing happens when a person has their stomach stapled. So you're really not shifting organs all around like some people envision."
Jung has now held the Guinness world record title for smallest waist six years running, and fame has been kind to her. Celebrity designers have created her corsets, famous photographers have snapped her picture, she has appeared in advertisements and she's made television appearances all over the world.
'It's OK to Be Different'
Jung was happy to appear in the Guinness World Records for the sixth year in a row, but when Redmond appeared in a Guinness World Records insert titled "Grossest World Records," she says she contemplated suicide.
Redmond has donated her time at local schools talking to children about self-esteem and felt the "grossest" title was not appropriate.
"When I say to the children 'It's OK to be different, as long as you are not hurting anyone,' they look up to you like, 'Wow, look what you did, breaking the world record,'" she said. "And then for them to come out with a category like that? It sends a very negative message."
Psychiatrist Gail Saltz was not surprised by how hurt Redmond was. "I would suspect that quite a few people in Guinness [World Records] don't see themselves as others necessarily do," she said. "And when someone's self-image is fragile, and it takes a real blow like that, it does make them think about killing themselves."
According to Redmond, the previous fingernail record holder was so emotionally shaken when he finally cut them that he glued his nails back on. Redmond readily admitted that she has a difficult time facing the prospect of cutting her nails off.
"Maybe it's the fear of cutting part of me?" she said.
In the meantime, she's persuaded Guinness World Records to remove her from the "Grossest World Records" page and return her to her former place of prominence — the longest fingernails record.
That deserves a toast or better yet, a manicure.