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Thread: Did 19th Century Corsets Really Kill Women?

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    Did 19th Century Corsets Really Kill Women?

    Did 19th Century Corsets Really Kill Women?
    . By Ross Pomeroy - RCP Staff April 11, 2019


    The Victorian Era corset is a heavy duty clothing apparatus, capable of constricting a person's waist down to a dainty 17 inches. A slim midsection and an hourglass figure were all the rage in 19th century Europe, so women (and undoubtedly a few men) of all ages and social classes donned "tightlaced" corsets to keep the trend.

    As science writer Brian Switek wrote in his new book Skeleton Keys: The Secret Life of Bone, this superficial bodily molding led to some cringe-worthy anatomical re-arranging:

    "The stomach and liver are crammed down, with the ribs compressed into drooping S-loops. The neural spines of each vertebra, the little projections that stick up from the central body of each bone, are also pushed out of place. Normally they stack nicely one atop the other in a neat midline ridge, but in long-term corset wearers these spindles of bone jut to this side or that."

    The practice prompted a public uproar, with doctors penning articles and books decrying corsets as a health "plague," one on the same level as tobacco, gambling, strong drink, and illegal speculation, wrote Charles Dubois. Physicians blamed corsets for causing tuberculosis, cancer, liver disease, heart damage, and a host of other ailments.

    These more frightening claims haven't held up under modern scientific scrutiny, but a few concerns have. Tight corsets did make it slightly harder for wearers to breathe, an impediment which almost certainly led to a reduction in salubrious physical activity. Moreover, they caused muscles of the mid and lower back to atrophy, leading to chronic pain and weakness.

    Still, Corsets did not destroy the health of women, nor did they condemn longtime wearers to early deaths. In fact, as Dr. Rebecca Gibson, a Visiting Assistant Professor in anthropology at the University of Notre Dame, discovered when analyzing collections of 18th and 19th century female skeletons, anatomical signs of corset use were actually linked to a longer lifespan.

    Moreover, extreme skeletal alterations were rare. Gibson found that the average corsetted waist size was 22 inches, which is positively tiny compared to the average female waist size in England or America today – roughly 32-35 inches. But consider that just fifty years ago, the average female waist size in the U.S. was a mere 24-25 inches. For women living in the Victorian era, squeezing into a corset would have been uncomfortable, but probably not torturous, suffocating, or debilitating.

    The cultural consequences of corsets are still up for debate. Did they pigeonhole women into unrealistic body shapes? Or did they instead allow women to escape from the Victorian era stereotype that they were destined only to be straight-laced, puritan mothers? Regardless, corsets offer a fascinating case study of the human body's ability to adapt.
    Interesting. I've made a few. The are "robust".

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gingersnap View Post
    Interesting. I've made a few. The are "robust".

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    Ah, First World Problems, as a friend said today about something else entirely.

    Corsets could be extreme, and seldom does anything good come from such extremes, but it you want to talk about women's fashions that are unhealthy, let's start with bound feet.

    Talk about things that almost certainly led to a reduction in salubrious physical activity....
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    Quote Originally Posted by Newman View Post
    Ah, First World Problems, as a friend said today about something else entirely.

    Corsets could be extreme, and seldom does anything good come from such extremes, but it you want to talk about women's fashions that are unhealthy, let's start with bound feet.

    Talk about things that almost certainly led to a reduction in salubrious physical activity....
    Hey, before we go after unhealthy habits of times gone by, let's talk about these contemporary young women with their 4" heels.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Celeste Chalfonte View Post
    Hey, before we go after unhealthy habits of times gone by, let's talk about these contemporary young women with their 4" heels.
    I fell off my platform shoes in high school. Unfortunately, I was descending from the landing on the staircase.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Celeste Chalfonte View Post
    Hey, before we go after unhealthy habits of times gone by, let's talk about these contemporary young women with their 4" heels.
    Corsets and foot-binding, , forehead sloping and neck stretching, , I don't really understand the compulsion to modify what we were born with. I suspect hormones are responsible, and of course we were born with those, too.

    Among my personal least favorites among current fashions are piercings and those earlobe spacers.
    "The way I see it, there's always, c'mon, there's always money. It's there." —Elizabeth Warren, explaining socialism.

    “The interesting thing about the Green New Deal is it wasn’t originally a climate thing at all.... We really think of it as a how-do-you-change-the-entire-economy thing.” —Saikat Chakrabarti, then AOC's Chief of Staff.

    "We have to stop demonizing people and realize the biggest terror threat in this country is white men, most of them radicalized to the right, and we have to start doing something about them." —CNN's Don Lemon, showing how to stop demonizing people.

    "What is objectionable, what is dangerous about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents.” ―Robert F. Kennedy.

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    I saw a guy carry his flip phone in his earlobe. Literally saw that.

    Still kind of traumatized.
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