X-rays from “Le Corset” (1908) Explained

Several articles around the internet have picked up on the old Wikipedia publication “Le Corset” written in 1908 by a doctor named Ludovic  O’Followell.

When I first saw these photos, I (like many others) immediately thought that they were tampered with or “doctored” (couldn’t resist the pun!).  But actually, there’s a good chance those photos are (somewhat) real. This is why it’s important to read the WHOLE story instead of jumping to conclusions from a set of photos.

This is two examples of the photos in question (I’d post them all, but the computer I’m working on today is ridiculously slow and takes over a minute to properly load a page):



X-ray projection of a Victorian style (“curved”) corset, from “Le Corset” (1908). Same waist reduction as that shown below.


X-ray projection of a straight-front (“line”) corset, from “Le Corset” (1908). Same waist reduction as that shown above.


If you know anything about X-rays and about how corsets are made, you will see that this doesn’t quite add up.

  • Why are the binding and laces as dark as the steel bones? They are usually made just from fabric, and like the rest of the fabric in the corset itself, should not show up on the projection.
  • Why do the bones show up clearly only on one side of the corset, and not the other? After all, when you see a saggital X-ray of a skull of a subject wearing earrings, you see BOTH earrings on either side of his or her head:

This is how an X-ray works. Incidentally, I myself have gotten an X-ray recently and could see my earrings right through my skull as well.

However, today I’ve been reading through that chapter – those photos were originally used as a comparison of how the older Victorian (“curved”) corsets compressed the 9th-12th ribs (and the doctor also admitted that the Victorian corset was also positioned too high on the subject), compared to a straight-fronted (“line”) corset of the same waist reduction and how it hardly affects the position of the ribs at all. The author explains that the curved corset not only restricts more of the ribcage by starting higher on the body, but restricts breathing much more than the Edwardian “line” corsets; and shows that with a well-made corset, the ribcage does not have to be restricted at all.

He notes that the corsets used for the X-rays had in fact been modified; they used suture in the binding to make the edges show up and had dipped (or otherwise treated) the whalebone in one side of the corset (but not the other) so it would show up more clearly (presumably because balein is cartilage, it might not show up at all in X-rays as it may not be dense enough). They had also replaced the normal laces with wire. After the radiographs were taken, the photo was then optimized (probably drawn over) to mark the details more clearly.

The doctor had to admit that the subject, although she corseted for a few hours every day, she was in good health. He mentioned that he wanted to compare this subject with another woman in good health who had *never* worn a corset, but apparently couldn’t find one at the time of this study.

He also notes that since the X-ray is a projection of a 3-dimensional subject, the image becomes distorted and must be compared with X-rays of the subject without the corset as well – otherwise the image of the corseted figure looks much more abnormal than it really is.

There is quite a lot of information in this publication that I would love to touch on in the future (for instance, the argument that the corset caused spinal deformities such as scoliosis merely from the fact that it was observed in more women than men at the time – this had been de-bunked eventually from the fact that scoliosis found in modern young females progresses at a rate 8 times that in young males).

I encourage you to read a bit of “Le Corset” out of mere interest if you’re proficient in French (or happen to have a good translator). As always, take this information with a grain of salt.

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6 comments on “X-rays from “Le Corset” (1908) Explained

  1. But what about your organs, which are not shown on x-rays? I am considering getting into corsets, but I watched the Dr. Oz clip about it, showing that the rib cage was being pressed into the liver, creating indentations along the liver fro the rib-bones. It also showed the kidneys being squeezed upward (sort of looked like if you squeeze a water balloon – skinny where squeezed and bulbous where it isn’t being compressed). Now these things look scary… But is there proof that the movement of your organs while wearing a corset actually does harm?? You seem to research pretty thoroughly and fairly (from what I’ve read so far exploring your site), so I was wondering your opinion. Thanks in advance for the cool look into historical women’s fashion! I’d love to hear your thoughts before I fall one way or the other on the idea of getting into corseting. Thanks again!

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  3. Andrea Wehr on said:

    Those pictures had to be modified extremely or not real, I believe, because x-rays of body tissues do not look like that. Bones show up white, the organs will show up more opaque, but less opaque than bones, and skin is not very defined if it even shows up in an x-ray. The corset boning should show up whiter, not darker, even though it is not metal. Where are the organs in the picture? The lungs and the heart should show up really well as well as other organs. The whole thing doesn’t make sense to me, even if certain areas were possibly “colored in.” They would have to delete the organs to leave the “skin,” skeleton, and corset. What do you guys think?

    • It was mentioned in the article (and in my post here as well) that the X-rays were indeed modified – as I said, they were likely drawn over. I invite you to read the publication for yourself and make your own conclusions – there may have been some points I personally misunderstood but there was mention of superimposition of two images to get those photos – so maybe they had the outline of the subject by taking a regular photo, and then took the X-ray, superimposed them to get the body outline, and erased the organs?
      All the X-ray images (even the more convincing ones in other sections of the book) was printed in “negative”, likely just to save on toner. In that situation, dense tissues show up darker on a light background.
      There are different types of radiographic imaging, and more dense and less dense X-ray beams which can result in more soft tissue or less soft tissue showing up in the projection, so not all organs have to show in an X-ray.
      It’s entirely possible that it is simply a realistic-looking “trace-over” of what used to be a real radiogram. I’m not trying to defend the article, I’m simply translating and simplifying what was written, because people who are not in the corset community are taking these images too literally, and people within the corset community are dismissing the images completely and as far as I have seen, very few people have actually taken the time to read what the original publication has to say.
      It’s fine if you think the photos are completely bunk, just don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. There is potentially a lot of useful information in this book, even if it is merely to gain an understanding of mentality towards corsets between 1905-1908.

  4. Nirvana Cobain on said:

    Oh how I do love when internet people jump to conclusions! Thanks for giving solid input!

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