I have heard people (mostly feminists and tiny-waisted women) equate corsetry to medieval torture, chinese foot binding, and grotesque surgical addiction, and it’s really starting to piss me off. The myths about corsetry are so vast and varied that I’m seriously considering writing a book on the subject. What’s the difference? Well, let me spell it out for you…
Myth 1: Corsets were invented by men to restrict and control women.
Truth: Corsets were invented by a woman. Catherine de Medici, the wife of french king Henry II, invented corsets in 1555 because she felt that large waists on noblewomen was unsightly and that having a tiny waist would be a mark of the high born. This was immediately adopted in other European countries, most extensively in England. For several decades, corsets were worn exclusively by nobility. It was only during the civil war era that corsets began being worn by all women, and again, the decision was not reliant on men. However, even then, people who worked hard for a living, like cleaning women or servants in middle-class homes, often wouldn’t wear a corset, or at least not tightly cinched. Men had little to do with the corset at all. In truth, men in the Victorian era began adapting corsets so that other men could wear them.
Myth 2: Corsetry is dangerous to a woman’s health and wearing them is cruel.
2) Corsetry, just like exercise or dieting, is not unhealthy if you know what your doing, and the only people who think corsetry is cruel are people who have never worn a corset. As a matter of fact, there have never been any deaths IN HISTORY linked to corset wearing. Ever. Corsets are not incompatible with vigorous activity, either. During the second half of the nineteenth century, when corset wearing was common, there were sport corsets specifically designed to wear while bicycling, playing tennis, or horseback riding, as well as for maternity wear to protect the abdomen and womb. People are forgetting that female entertainers of the Victorian and Edwardian eras danced, sang, and performed in super-tight corsets on a constant basis. Opera singers have worn corsets since their invention and still do to this day, and they are not restricted or hampered one bit by the wearing of a corset. As it happens, pregnancy displaces more organs and bone than corsets do. Corsets are less unhealthy for a woman that wearing heels are. Wearing high heels frequently over a long period of time will displace the spine, change the angle of the pelvis to an unnatural position, warp leg muscles, and cause lower/upper back and neck/shoulder pain, yet people are more than happy to wear them. Corsets don’t do anything like that.
The only time corsets were dangerous is when they were using whalebone as stays. Whalebone stays are very rigid and do not bend, as opposed to modern common steel bones, which are highly flexible. Whalebone is illegal to own for corsetry anymore due to the fact it did cause breathing problems as stays (and, obviously, whaling is illegal cause it’s wrong to hunt whales into extinction) which lead to “fainting rooms”. The only medium one can use for boning nowadays is steel, plastic, or wood (for busks).
Corsets are extremely comfortable (when worn appropriately), support the back, corrects posture, can help you lose weight, and can even help treat or correct spinal abnormalities. In fact, Doctors have even prescribed wearing corsets in an effort to help back pain without resorting to medication or surgery because of the amazing support to the back that corsets provide. People with spinal problems such as scoliosis or with internal injuries were often fitted with a form of corset in order to immobilize and protect the torso. For example, Andy Warhol was shot in 1968 and never fully recovered from the injuries. He wore a corset for the rest of his life. It decreased his pain and aided him in walking and sitting. Ask anyone who has worn a corset for any length of time and you’ll be hard pressed to find one who hates them. Most corset wearers swear by them.
Extreme tightlacing can have adverse side-effects on your health, I’ll admit that, up to and including the displacement of the ribcage and organs, the narrowing of the lungs, and in very rare cases modernly, the rupture of an organ, the fracturing of bone, and internal bleeding. However, it’s a personal choice. Corsetry in general is a personal choice and has never really been against the law to forgo wearing them. Women who tightlaced did so because they wanted to, not because they were told to, which is something most people don’t realize.
Myth 3: Corsets are just as barbaric and primitive as foot-binding, elongating the neck with brass rings, or using arsenic to make your skin pale.
Truth: That’s an out-and-out LIE. Let’s compare corsetry to foot-binding, shall we? To begin, a mother or grandmother started to bind her daughter’s or granddaughter’s feet when the child was around four to seven years old. The process was started before the arch of the foot had a chance to properly develop and usually started during the winter months so that the feet were numb and the pain would not be as extreme. First, each foot would be soaked in a warm mixture of herbs and animal blood. Then her toenails were cut back as far as possible to prevent ingrowths and infections. The girl’s feet were delicately massaged. Silk or cotton bandages, ten feet long and two inches wide, were prepared by soaking them in the same blood and herb mix as before.Sounds kind of nice, doesn’t it? Well, we haven’t gotten to the barbaric part yet.
Now, while the child is awake and fully aware of the procedure, each of the toes were then broken using a small surgical hammer and wrapped in the wet bandages, which would constrict when drying, and pulled tightly downwards toward the heel. There may have been deep cuts, again while the child was awake, made in the sole to facilitate this. They would not be able to walk during this process. The procedure would be repeated every two days, with fresh bindings. Every time the bandages were rebound they would be pulled tighter making this process continually painful. This treatment would be repeated for many months, possibly even years.
This process led to deformation of the foot and great pain to the bound woman. In addition to finding the bound foot sexually appealing, it would also mean a woman’s complete devotion as it was painful for her to walk and wander out of the house without an escort to help her. In addition to the pain, the woman’s bound feet would smell terrible thanks to the colony of fungus that would occupy the unwashable folds of the binding cloth.
Now, let’s compare this to corset-wearing. I’ll choose the Victorian era, since this is the era in which more women wore corsets more often than any other period in history. A girl would begin wearing a corset as early as the age of four, similar to that of the chinese girl about to undergo foot binding. The girl’s first corset would be very lightly boned to allow the child full movement, and would be replaced as the child aged almost without notice. Each new corset the child would receive would be slightly tighter in relation to the child’s development, but still would not be completely constrictive, and the child would barely notice the change.
Full constriction would not begin until the child began puberty. The lightly bone corsets would then gradually be replaced by more and more heavily boned corsets which would be tightened slightly every few days. By the time the child became a full grown woman, she would have been wearing corsets for at least ten-twelve years, and would be perfectly used to them. The bones and organs would have gradually and naturally shifted to compensate for the corset, rather than being broken and forced into an unnatural and agonizing position. There would have been no pain whatsoever in becoming accustomed to it.
So, in summation, corsets are not dangerous and are HUGELY misconceived by people. I recognize that corsets aren’t for everyone, but the horrible reputation they have is completely unfounded. It’s misconception like this that gets things banned or outlawed. Corsetry requires knowledge and appreciation, and it’s not something someone should do on a whim. There are “corset tops” for that. But if one knows what their doing, corsets can not only look good, but it can help them in a lot of ways. I am very sad that there is so much wrong information out there about them, because it just causes ridicule and bigotry against those of us who wear them.