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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

COMMON KNOWLEDGE: The Corset

"Corset was a reform dress with free moveable shoulders."

Oh the woes of the women in the past, how cruel men were to them. Forced to work at home, bear children and wear horrid clothing, truly it was a hell on earth. Or, at least that's what you think if you take a Womyn's Study course at your local university - or read some postmodern historical novel which always features the one strong woman who defies her culture heroically.

Take the corset, for example. Women started wearing these things, basically a wrap formed of leather and reinforced often with metal or bone, strapped as tightly as possible to force a woman's midsection to waspish thin proportions. These especially became popular in the 19th century, although they were used before that point.

These torture devices were so cruelly tight that they actually forced internal organs out of place and some women had their lower ribs removed to get that especially narrow profile! It was inhuman, and caused permanent damage to women, often causing them to be so out of breath they fainted easily. Women who wore them regularly suffered from distorted, bent ribs and internal damage to organs which were crushed out of place. Indigestion and limited mobility resulted.

This was, naturally, the result of men keeping women under control. Men forced women to wear these hideous devices, as a method of limiting their activity and showing dominance. Like a bit in the teeth of a horse, the corset was a phallocentric torture device.

Except... the truth is, that's not how it was. Not only did women start wearing these things voluntarily, out of vanity and the hopes it would attract men's interest and women's appreciation, they weren't the body-demolishing contraptions we've been led to believe.

We now turn to Lisa Hix at Collector's Weekly:
Even though so-called “tight-lacing” was popular during the late 1800s, women rarely reduced their waists more than 1-2 inches. Generally, a corset with a 20-inch waist would be worn with a gap in the back, so the woman’s corseted waist measured between 22 and 26 inches.
...
Men, in fact, regularly protested corsets, claiming they caused hysteria and the other health problems mentioned above. Women wore the corset because it made them feel attractive and properly dressed, she says, two important indicators of status. However, they were intended to reshape the natural body to what women perceived as the most ideal figure—meaning the most youthful and sexually desirable.

There's no evidence of a single instance where a woman had a rib removed to wear anything - given how dangerous surgery was then, its insane to think anyone would have elective surgery of any cosmetic kind anyway. And there's no evidence corsets caused any organs to become disfigured. At most they'd reduce the waist size by 4 inches, and typically only 2 or so. You can tell by closing a corset down to its smallest size: it can't get any smaller than around 20". That's small but not inhumanly so.

So where did those images of 12" waists come from back then? Umm, the French. They were responsible for a lot of outrageous fetish porn and that was one of them: the teeny waist. Don't ask me, I don't get it any more than I do foot fetishes or gigantic women fetishes (yeah like 30 foot tall women and normal sized men).

Like almost all uncomfortable, absurd, or dangerous clothing worn by women, men had nothing to do with it. Men don't force women to wear high heels, skirts slit to their navel, or push-up bras. Women do it to themselves in the belief this will help attract men (and more importantly deflect mockery by women). Some men wore corsets - some even still do. It kept that big belly in, don't you know.

This is just one more example of something we've all grown up hearing and believing, and often even repeating - something that's just false in the end.

This is part of the Common Knowledge series.

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