I’ve been thinking a lot about corsets lately, ever since happening across modern burlesque performer and Marilyn Manson-shagger, Dita Von Teese. She’s won all sorts of Best Dressed awards, and performs in rather beautiful, elaborate outfits that she then removes. It is of course easy to find pictures of Ms von Teese without any clothes on, and I was interested to note that she doesn’t have the gym-hard, rippling body of so many modern sex kittens. In a corset, she has a tiny waist. Out of it, she looks like a normally proportioned, slender woman. Her stomach is not ironing-board flat and she has a reassuring bottom.
Heat Magazine publishes photographs in every issue of female celebrities’ wobbly bits, the printed media’s equivalent of pointing and laughing. Bear in mind that very few of the women pilloried in this way are actually medically overweight. If Von Teese didn’t parade naked on stage for a living, but instead starred in a UK soap opera, photos of her body would be plastered gleefully on the cover of Heat and its ilk as a sad excuse for a scoop.
Such treatment gives out the message that while a certain amount of flesh is OK, anything over the flat-stomached ideal is unacceptable. Slim women race to the gym and do endless crunches to try and attain an invented ideal.
Gwyneth Paltrow recently got a lot of press for admitting that her rapid regain of her pre-baby figure was in fact due to shaping knickers, the modern equivalent of the roll-on girdle. It was surprising that she was not abused for this in the press. In fact, she was rather admired for her honesty.
I wonder, therefore, if women haven’t made a mistake by casting off corsets, girdles and other figure shapers. Women have only really stopped wearing such things in the last 20 years or so and now, instead of relying on elastic and whalebone to give the impression of a trim figure, they pump iron at the gym and agonise over their bodies.
Since the 1920s, proper boned corsets gradually sunk beyond the mainstream, until they only appeared as stage costumes or as fetish gear. Once, it would have been unthinkable for a woman not to wear a corset.
The corset is now becoming mainstream again. For all the modern connotations of kinkiness, it proves invaluable in bridal dresses. Gowns with built-in corsets surreptitiously pull in imperfections and enhance the figure. Corsets are worn as outerwear for the evening, their more obvious benefits displayed for all to see.
I think it’s time women admitted that they have more than two options – letting it all hang out or spending a fortune in money and time at the gym. Corsetry and shapewear instantly give the desired effect. And, to be quite honest, the ideal figure throughout history has been an assisted one.
It’s ironic that, since casting off the corset, women have strived to achieve the figure they would have had if they’d left it on.
A caveat: if you’re actually overweight, and not just worrying about some imperfections, a corset won’t help all that much. But it will certainly compress your stomach and make you eat less.