Corset Not

19th century corsets
“Burn up the corsets! … No, nor do you save the whalebones, you will never need whalebones again. Make a bonfire of the cruel steels that have lorded it over your thorax and abdomens for so many years and heave a sigh of relief, for your emancipation I assure you, from this moment has begun.” 1873, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps Ward

Proportionally more sands of time have drifted into the lower chamber than I care to count but young womens’ body angst and trends make me grateful for my age. Tattoos, piercing, front and rear implants, and other corporeal contortions are cringe-making, not least because image obsession has bounced back with a vengeance, post-feminism.

As an adolescent of the late 50s I came in as it were on the tail end of the corset – or rather the girdle, which was a less restrained version of the firm control that one was supposed to apply to the body. My older sister pooh-poohed the idea of me wearing such a garment, advising that all I had to do was hold my stomach in all the time and my muscles would learn to do the rest.

By the 60s bras had also become passé so I grew into womanhood unencumbered by virtually all underwear, with a remarkably flat belly, and fortunately, since I had eschewed the fortressing of breast implacement, self-managing mammaries.

My grandmothers remained trussed and whaleboned till the end of their days and it seemed such an effort to have to tie all the sagging and bagging into place when it really all just wanted to hang loose. Now having stepped into those same shoes as it were, I find that corsets are a la mode once more…but I am not tempted.

…Well perhaps a little. As Lent continues and I count the times I have not fully abided by dietary restrictions  (especially after a week’s holiday),  a bit of waist-training could be the solution. Maybe not to as answer to my prayers but as physical restriction to a hearty appetite. In fact, a corset is not altogether different from a gastric band, or even a hair shirt, come to think of it.

But that is sheer fantasy and nonsense. It took a while to break the habit of breathing with my stomach held in and learning to make full abdominal breaths so that my lungs could fill from diaphragm to clavicle. After all a buddha belly, not an 18″ waist, is the way to enlightenment .


9 thoughts on “Corset Not

  1. I am developing a magnificent Buddha belly, and my years of going sans bra are sadly well behind me! I saw something recently about how frequently women used to die in the early days of the bicycle thanks to trying to pedal hard whilst wearing a corset. Thank goodness we are beyond that now. Though have you seen the furore over Branagh’s Cinderella?!


  2. I agree with you all the way on corsets and girdles. Although I have never been able to go without a bra since adolescence, since I am naturally on the large size. I still remember my first Berlei Teenform bra, white broderie anglaise with a tiny purple bow.
    So you remember the Playtex 18-hour girdle TV ads? Where the woman thinks she has forgotten it and then realises “oh, I have it on!” Nostalgic – but I’m so glad we aren’t forced into these things any more.
    Bring back the liberty bodice.
    All the best 🙂


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