Effects of Body Modification
effects I intend to discuss here are caused by the use of corsets for
body modification. It is NOT necessary to "tight-lace" in
order to wear a corset for fun, theater, or Civil War or SCA recreation
activities. It is perfectly possible to wear a corset with no adverse
effects, with the possible exception of being a little tired of having
your body held in an unnatural position.
Corsetry has recently
become very popular, and for this reason I feel it is very important
that information regarding the dangers of using them for body
modification also be available. There are also people who think the very
notion of wearing a corset is barbaric, unthinkable, and symbolic of
centuries of feminine subjugation. I disagree with this assessment, but
detailed here are many of the reasons for this perception.
Myth of the Shrinking Violet
For centuries, society
firmly held the belief that women were weaker of mind and body. Treatise
upon treatise was written on womenís weaknesses: women are timid,
women faint at the first sign of danger, women are prone to disease. The
truth behind many of these assertions is that for centuries, women had
been restricting their lung capacity with heavily boned corsets.
Smelling salts became an essential household item because women whose
reduced lungs could not support the bodyís increased demand for oxygen
in stressful situations would "faint dead away" at the first
sign of excitement.
heroism, and proper immune function all require sufficient blood oxygen
levels. There are, of course, social reasons why these myths came into
being and continue to persist, but the influence of the physical effects
of corsetry on the perception of women cannot be ignored. To understand
how debilitating reduced lung capacity can be, we need only look at
asthmatics, long time smokers, and those who suffer from emphysema and
It is amazing that
women whose lungs had been unnaturally compressed by the tight-lacing
process accomplished all that they did- and they did accomplish a great
deal. The rights of women to vote, to hold property, to participate in
higher education, and to hold public office were all won by women who,
for the most part, had worn corsets their entire lives. Many of these
women also realized how hindered they were by this inability to catch
their breath, and loosened or cast off their corsets altogether to take
better advantage of their freedom.
Solid Objects Cannot Occupy the Same Space
The rib cage has a
great deal of flexibility. This fact is one of the things which makes
the "wasp waist" possible. To mold the body into the hourglass
shape, the lower sections of the rib cage are pushed inward by the
corset. The two sides of the lower rib cage, normally separated by a
space, approach each other as the waist is progressively constricted.
Eventually, of course, the twain must meet. It is erroneous to suppose
that further body modification is then not possible, however, because
the two halves of the rib cage can and will overlap with continued tight
of Internal Organs
The internal organs
are much softer than the bones in the rib cage, and can be forced to a
much greater degree. The lungs, for example, can be crushed to the point
where the miraculous little sacs that collect oxygen for the bodyís
use will not inflate. The stomach can be squeezed down to a flat little
envelope that will accept very little food, resulting in heartburn and
indigestion. The bladder can be kept to a very small size resulting, of
course, in reduced capacity. All of the major organs in the torso are
eventually affected by this phenomenon, and in every case their function
will be impaired.
The total effect of an
overlapping rib cage and compressed internal organs would be of extreme
discomfort and of uncertain health. Women who haplessly followed the
fashion trends in the heyday of the corset often found themselves
spending a great deal of time with their physicians. Many doctors tried
unsuccessfully to convince their patients to loosen their laces as a way
of relieving their aches and pains, but women were often as fondly
attached to their corsets as some modern women are to their make-up.
These women demanded pills, powders, and potions to relieve their
discomforts. The effect on women of multiple medications on top of the
existing difficulties caused by their corsets can only be imagined.
Hardiness of Infants
complications arise with pregnancy. Suffice to say that evolution has
equipped us with powerful means of continuing the species. For that
reason, womenís bodies will strip themselves of essentials to provide
for the growing life inside them. The infant receives first claim to
oxygen, nourishment, and abdominal space. Women with compressed
abdominal and chest cavities have fewer reserves in these areas.
Pregnancy in a woman who is or has been practicing body modification is
likely to result in significant complications that may endanger the
motherís life as well as potentially harming the child.
Importance of Exercise
Physical exercise has
been shown to be important in the prevention of cancer, heart disease,
diabetes, osteoporosis, hypertension, and virtually every other
non-infectious debilitating disease known to modern medical science. It
is also beneficial in boosting energy levels, controlling body weight,
and improved immune function. It is not impossible to exercise in a
corset. It is, however, nearly impossible to exercise in a corset which
is laced tightly enough to compress the waist. It is also extremely
painful to do so.
To Pump You Up
The muscles in the
upper and lower back are vital to our health and comfort. If you doubt
this, just ask anyone who has ever suffered a back injury. Continuous,
long term corset wear will cause these muscles to atrophy. Eventually,
it becomes impossible to go without the corset. The greatest danger in
this area is avoided because we no longer corset girls from infancy, but
the possibility is there. The loss of muscle strength in this area has
implications other than the inability to go without a corset, since any
weakness in the lower back opens the area to injury.
An injured lower back
is a constant source of misery. It is also a significant impairment
which makes it impossible to lift a crying child, help a fallen person
to their feet, carry a suitcase, rearrange the furniture, or go on a
hike. I have known people who were periodically confined to bed by a
lower back injury which occurred months or years before.
the Body Electric
This article is
intended as a general overview of the potential hazards of using corsets
for body modification. In the interest of specific and general health
concerns, I must strenuously advise against the use of corsets for body
Absinthe and Old Lace
is a firm advocate of health before societal ideas of beauty.
and Old Lace