Wanna Be A Liberated Woman? Wear A Corset!

Woman in corset

By Elizabeth Shore

I came across an interesting article on the web the other day that I imagine caused a fair measure of teeth gnashing among the forward-thinking female population who read it. The story was about a woman, Sarah Chrisman, who received a corset from her husband. After some initial reluctance about wearing it, she decided to give it a courteous try. It was a gift, after all. But, surprise surprise. Not only did she not hate it and not feel repressed in it, she actually loved it SO MUCH that she wears it all day, sleeps in it all night, and even wrote a book about it. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

To be clear, we’re not talking about the kind of wimpy little corset you can buy as a Halloween costume or in a lingerie shop. We’re talking about full-blown, tightly laced, steel-ribbed constructed garments that will hold you tighter than a miser holds money. I know what some of you are thinking. Is she crazy?! Why would she willingly subject herself to that kind of pain and discomfort? The simple answer, according to Ms. Chrisman, is that nothing ever did more for her confidence, self-esteem, and personal empowerment than wearing a corset.

Personal empowerment? Yes indeedy. The garment’s rigid construction naturally lends itself to giving the wearer straighter posture. Sarah Chrisman says that when she’s got her corset on (which, apparently, is all the time), she doesn’t slouch, she walks erect, and she keeps her chin held high. She feels like a strong, liberated woman. And a skinny one! Upon lacing up, her waist size immediately plummets by two. You can see this rather alarming transformation in the before and after picture here.

Hmmn. I have to confess that I’m a bit intrigued. Ms. Chrisman’s opinion is that when she puts on her corset she feels “sensual.” Honestly, that’s not a bad way to be, right? I’ll admit – at the risk of TMI – that I can relate. I spend far more than I should on panties and bras, but it’s because –  similar to what Sarah Chrisman says –  wearing them changes my whole demeanor. I feel pretty and feminine, which is soooo not the experience I’d get by slapping on a pair of granny panties and a tattered bra. Egad! And hey, if the $6.6 billion in sales last year at Victoria’s Secret is any indication, there are others who feel the same as I do.

Still, I’m not entirely sold and the corset has its detractors. There were a number of comments posted on the article I read from readers (presumably women) who were not as enamored with the idea of corset wearing as Ms. Chrisman. People expressed fears of corsets doing permanent damage to the ribs and back. One commenter posted a link to an article about x-rays showing definitive proof of corset damage to Victorian-era women’s bodies. There are also those expressing outrage over the “subversive” nature of the garment itself. To be honest, here’s where the argument gets a little wonky for me. Do women feel more subverted wearing a corset than, say, sky-high heels? Super tight pencil skirts? Are we any less restricted in those garments, especially since, nowadays, we can choose whether or not we want to wear them at all?

There are some out there who argue that corsets and other “erotic” garments don’t actually symbolize the wearer being controlled but instead puts her firmly in the dominant spot. She exudes power when donning overtly sensual garments. Art history professor David Kunzle makes the case in his book, Fetishism: Corsets, Tight-Lacing and Other Forms of Body-Sculpture, that in Victorian times many viewed the corset as a “scandalous threat to the social order.” Oh my.

Ms. Chrisman has taken her love of wearing a corset to a whole other level by adorning herself in full Victorian-era clothing, from the dresses to the shoes to the hats, with her corset always firmly intact. It’s a nice way to have the look of a tiny waist, but as for me, I think my pj’s are calling.





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  • Christine Blackthorn
    April 9, 2014 at 1:18 am

    Ok, I admit to liking a corset on occasion – even when it is closed tightly. But then I can enjoy a little pain as well, but only in the right circumstances and in moderation.

    There is a reason why life expectancy of women, even when they were not giving birth, was particularly low in the high time of the corset (17th century) and even today incautious use could break a rib – let alone the long term damage regular use can do. But as in all things, it is an issue of moderation and self-control. It makes you feel skinny and beautiful and therefore powerful – just as the use of lead and arsenic in facial lotions did.

    But in the end it is the age old question, and one we as women need to desperately face, and that is: Why do we feel that beauty is the only thing that makes us powerful?

    • Elizabeth Shore
      April 9, 2014 at 10:15 am

      Excellent point, Christine. I think women can feel powerful when placed in powerful positions, but perhaps the beauty question has to do with it being the one thing that makes men vulnerable? Men are physically stronger than we are – they can run faster, jump higher, lift heavier. They can certainly rise to powerful positions in business and in their careers. But put a powerful man in front of a beautiful woman and many of them suddenly go stupid. Maybe that’s why women view beauty as their power tool.

    • Kel
      April 9, 2014 at 11:37 am

      I think it’s fair to say that all people want to be attractive to potential mates, and as men tend to be more visually stimulated than women, heterosexual women will care more about visual appeal than not.

      Having said that, I think we (women) still care too much about our appearances and not enough about other things at times. I know I suffer from it, when I’m already feeling sort of blah, all of a sudden it matters. (Stupid societal pressure.) And it’s always about things I absolutely cannot change without extreme surgery- my height or general body type, my skin tone – i.e. the freckles I normally love, etc… Luckily, I’m blessed with friends who metaphorically smack me across the face and tell me that they adore me even when I’m acting like an idiot.

      I think part of the life expectancy was general medical care at the time. Yes, tight lacing is bad, and extreme corset use is bad for your body, but the percentage of women who are believed to have been into extreme lacing is very similar to the percentage believed to currently be anorexic. People who are obsessed with being slender to the point of harming their bodies will find a way, no matter the tools they use to do it.

      I find it more interesting that so many ideals of female power focus on physical helplessness instead of physical power. The corset is only one example (and they were actually also worn by men at the time), what about foot-binding in China?

  • Author Charmaine Gordon
    April 9, 2014 at 7:10 am

    Good point! I still have a pink satin corset with garters attached. YIKES and so my hooks, I’d have to do them in front, then squash my boobs to spin the corset around. Gorgeous. Posture perfect. It doesn’t go well with sneakers and you can’t bend down comfortably. So the corset stays retired in the drawer for years now after wearing it many happy nights.A remnant of a different time.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      April 9, 2014 at 10:23 am

      Oooh, Charmaine. Sounds like some pretty happy memories attached to the ol’ corset. 😉

    • Madeline Iva
      April 9, 2014 at 4:05 pm

      Go Charmaine!

  • Barbara Mikula
    April 9, 2014 at 7:39 am

    Well, it can’t be denied that the look is sexy (I may have to put one in my next book – LOL) but I know I have to psyche myself up to put on a pair of panty hose any more. I don’t know if I could actually do the corset thing. I do know that when women know they look good, they feel good, and are definitely sexier. There’s nothing like a bad hair day or an outfit that has suddenly gotten too tight to ruin a perfectly good day! – Skye Michaels 🙂

    • Elizabeth Shore
      April 9, 2014 at 10:23 am

      I HATE bad hair days. Honestly, it puts me in a grumpy mood and you’re right, Barbara – they ruin a perfectly good day. As for the panty hose, I pretty much have them on all the time. Day job, dontcha know.

      • Barbara Mikula
        April 9, 2014 at 11:25 am

        I’m so glad I don’t go to an EDJ (evil day job) anymore! Of course, the paycheck is missed!

      • Kel
        April 9, 2014 at 11:39 am

        Ugh, pantyhose. Hate isn’t a strong enough word for those things… Even the fun that is stockings don’t make having to wear them better. So glad the day job lets me get away with trousers.

  • Kel
    April 9, 2014 at 11:14 am

    This is the part of the program where I get to smirk, right?

    I only say that because perfect posture is a great way to feel powerful, but I sort of pity anyone who needs an external agency (corset) to 1. get perfect posture and 2. feel their own power. Corsets are lovely… worn correctly, they are comfortable, flattering, and can indeed make the wearer feel very pretty… but the same thing can be said for any article of clothing, or even for a sheet.

    Perhaps, instead of corsets, women should invest in dance lessons when they are young… and learn stage presence, which also imparts how to stand, how to tilt one’s head, how to expect a particular reaction hard enough to influence the people around you, and how to be beautiful no matter what you look like.

    And now I have Dr. Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman floating through my head.

  • Normandie Alleman
    April 9, 2014 at 12:39 pm

    Sleeping in one? Oh my. My favorite part of the day is when I can get out of all that stuff that holds me in. Lol! But I have no problem with her feeling empowered by wearing one. It’s okay for women to want to feel pretty.

  • Kelly Janicello
    April 9, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    My question is, why did her well intending husband give her the corset to begin with? I agree with Kel, a woman shouldn’t need a device to feel empowered.

    • Barbara Mikula
      April 9, 2014 at 3:45 pm

      No we shouldn’t need a device – but some of us do, and if it helps then why not take advantage?

      • Kel
        April 9, 2014 at 3:52 pm

        In this instance, because she’s sounds like she’s become dependent on it to the point of injuring herself. Extended corset use can cause damage to the core muscles by removing or reducing their usage throughout the course of the wearer’s day, eventually leading to a dependence on corsets for simply living.

        She’s potentially weakening her body in an attempt to feel pretty and powerful – in essence, damaging herself as much as a woman who painted her face with white lead or ate arsenic to be more attractive.

        • Madeline Iva
          April 9, 2014 at 4:33 pm

          I hope she doesn’t hurt herself—but is this any more deranged then women who hurt themselves with bad breast jobs or vaginoplasty? I think not. I had a friend who read some kind of book on people who for whatever reason must stand out from everyone else. I wish I had read that book too — because I think this corset wearing lady probably has the same kind of thing going on. Wearing your corset at home is one thing, wearing full Victorian dress every day out and about is quite another. ;>

      • Kelly Janicello
        April 9, 2014 at 4:11 pm

        I get that. It is really no different than botox, lipo etc.(which if I had a money tree I would my arms in a heartbeat). But its kind of like a crutch. What happens when she doesn’t wear it anymore, will she feel less empowered? I’m happy it builds her confidence and self esteem but how far to the extreme do we go?

    • Kel
      April 9, 2014 at 3:48 pm

      Seeing her response to it, that’s actually the part of the article that bothers me the least. Everyone should be blessed with a partner who understands them well, even if it’s better than they understand themselves… 🙂

  • Madeline Iva
    April 9, 2014 at 4:10 pm

    I’ll take a corset over pantyhose any day! Also wearing full make up and a blow out every day. My God we have many different ways of torturing ourselves, don’t we?

    There was a part of my life at one point where my job involved dressing up in period costume. (Don’t ask!) and I had to wear a corset. They’re not that bad, really. Of course I wasn’t in one that was really putting the hurt on–that’s a different story. It does change your posture and you do feel like a queen gliding along in one. On the other hand, if you wind up on your back, you’re like a turtle. Forget about reaching over your head as well.

    • Elizabeth Shore
      April 9, 2014 at 4:36 pm

      On your back like a turtle – how awful. I didn’t realize those corsets were that stiff!

      • Kel
        April 9, 2014 at 9:19 pm

        There’s a lot of art to moving in a corset, and a lot of normal movement that cannot be done. A full corset covers from effectively clavicle to point of hip and immobilizes your entire torso. The wearer’s movement is similarly limited to someone who is in a back brace for medical purposes.
        My current favourite is a strapless corset – it’s a bit shorter, covering from just above the tip of the breasts to the hips, and while not allowing much bending in the torso, I can dance and lie down on the floor in one, but the act of getting down and up requires both balance and strength. This particular style is slightly shorter on the sides and back, allowing a lot more movement than a full corset, but isn’t as short on the sides as a nursing corset, which stops or is scooped beneath the breasts and is often worn for RenFaires by women who are in no way nursing. (Possibly because of the “medievel miracle bra” effect?)


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