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.