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A Brief History of Hysteria

The history of the “medical condition” of hysteria is a long, winding, somewhat convoluted one. In its earliest definitions, hysteria was a term to describe trauma or disease of the uterus (hence the word “hysterectomy” to remove the uterus) – or even to describe a vengeful or mischievous uterus that detached itself from the pelvic region and wandered around the body.

4000 Years Ago, Ancient Egypt:

It’s said that the concept of the wandering womb came about around 4000 years ago in ancient Egypt, although the term “hysteria” wasn’t coined until around 2400 years ago by Hippocrates. Now, in general there was some stuff that Hippocrates got right – indeed he’s considered the father of western medicine. But he had some really interesting and wrong ideas about the uterus.
In old Greek, “hystera” (without the i) referred to the womb, which is where we get terms still used today like “Hysterectomy” – removal of the uterus.

2400 Years Ago, Ancient Greece:

Hippocrates lived around 400 BCE, and wrote / taught about the “wandering womb” – that the uterus was not anchored in place but was like an animal with a mind of its own, traveling around inside the body and wreaking havoc on other tissue and organ systems like a delinquent. All the symptoms caused by the womb’s antics is what they collectively described as hysteria.

The wandering womb was said to cause heart problems, liver problems, respiratory problems, it could cause a host of neurological issues, everything from headaches, to epileptic seizures (known as “Hercules’ Disease”), to unexplained paralysis (which might now be classified as conversion disorder).

Symptoms of hysteria include:

  • Sleeping too much, or too little.
  • Becoming disinterested in past hobbies, or too interested or obsessive in hobbies.
  • Showing apathy or lack of care, or having anxiety, irritability and caring too much.
  • Having high libido, or low libido.
  • Being too quiet and mute, or being too talkative and loud.

I think you get the idea. There was a very narrow range of “acceptable behavior” and if a lady swung too far out of that range on either side, she could be diagnosed with hysteria.

1500-500 Years Ago, Middle Ages in Europe:

In the middle ages, hysteria was tied to sorcery, witchcraft and demon possession and so – naturally – of the treatments was exorcism. Hysteria was a disorder of exclusion – if every other known disease had been ruled out and doctors couldn’t come up with an official diagnosis, then they believed that it was a disease brought about by something “intangible” and “not well understood” and therefore a result of the devil. And of course, since women were thought to have brought about original sin (re: Eve and the serpent), women were thought to be either naturally prone to “evil”, and/or more naïve and impressionable to evil spirits. Exorcism often involved physical and mental torture of the patient, and many women didn’t survive this “treatment”.

150 Years Ago: Victorian Era in Europe:

By the 19th century, at the height of Victorian fashion, hysteria had become a blanket term for emotional, sexual or mental disorders suffered exclusively by women. Some people blamed quintessentially “feminine” objects and garments for the disease (like corsets!) while other people thought that corsets helped prevent hysteria. But honestly, when I first started researching the history of hysteria, I was surprised by how little it was tied to the corset (the real history of corsets and stays are only close to 500 years, while hysteria is 4000 years old, so this is unsurprising).

Hysteria was a particularly popular diagnosis in the 18th and 19th centuries – in fact the 2nd most diagnosed condition after fever. According to author Laura Briggs, one doctor in the 19th century had a 75 page publication listing all the possible symptoms of Hysteria (and said that list was still not exhaustive)! It was estimated that 25% of the female population was affected by hysteria in some form or another. So Hysteria was still this vague, catch-all, umbrella diagnosis that could manifest in any different ways (it had hundreds or thousands of different “faces”) – as long as the patient possessed a uterus. If you, as a lucky owner of a uterus, disturbed the peace in any way, you could be diagnosed with hysteria and hauled away to a sanitarium or insane asylum.

We’ve discussed the many “symptoms” of hysteria, but what were the causes?

Some claimed that hysteria was due to the uterus becoming too dry and light. (Did the uterus become a helium balloon and just float off somewhere else in the body??) So doctors recommended ways to keep the uterus moist and weighted…. Except not really, because another source said that hysteria was caused by too much fluid retention in the pelvic region, specifically because the female was not purging her body of “female sperm”. (!?!!?)

In the 1700 and 1800s they also blamed “bad air” for hysteria, so when a woman “got the vapours” it meant their womb was acting up. You might have heard of smelling salts which were used to rouse fainting women (this worked by creating a sharp inhalation reflex, which was said to oxygenate the body), but the salts also were supposed to help with hysteria. Smelling salts were not pleasant in aroma; they were made with ammonia. Taking in the pungent odors through the nose at the top of the body was thought to repulse the uterus so it would be driven down through the body. Doctors also recommended applying sweet perfumes and scents to the groin to lure the uterus back to its assigned seat, so to speak.

As you can imagine, there was a lot of contradiction and nobody could really agree as to what caused hysteria, what the mechanism is, or how to cure it.

The horrific “treatments” in the name of hysteria:

Smelling salts, while not pleasant to actually smell, was probably one of the ‘preferred’ treatments for mild hysteria. Others recommended spreading dung on the upper lip or in the genitals (which is anything but hygienic).

Hippocrates said that pregnancy could keep the uterus anchored in place and prevent it from wandering – but the caveat, he says, is that the action of childbirth could cause the uterus to act up again and encourage it to wander. So, he seems to have implied that regular relations with one’s husband to keep the patient like constantly impregnated would be the answer.

Rachel Maines, author of “The Technology of the Orgasm”, has written extensively about the “treatment” for hysteria involving what we would now consider sexual abuse. Forced vigorous pelvic massages – manual stimulation administered by the doctor, or this task could be delegated to the nurse or midwife. According to this chapter in her book, when doctors complained that they were getting too tired stimulating the patient or it took too much of their time, that’s when sexual vibrators were developed as a popular substitute.

Lucy’s Added Thought: Even though hysteria is millennia older than the Victorian era, perhaps one of the reasons why it seems to be so intertwined with this era (apart from more literacy and more surviving written documents about the disease during the 1800s), is that there seems to be this connotation that compared to all other times in history, the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain seemed to be the most sexually repressed and these values were said to be spread to other cultures and countries around the world through colonialism during this era.

1885: Sigmund Freud and Male Hysteria:

Sigmund Freud was erroneously blamed for the widespread belief of the wandering womb, when really the theory had existed for millennia. When I looked more into it though, Freud started learning more about Hysteria from Jean-Martin Charcot around at the end of the 19th century, around 1885. Charcot popularized the theory that men could suffer from hysteria as well, especially soldiers. Many of the symptoms Charcot described would later be known as “shell-shock” and then post traumatic stress disorder. Freud put forward the belief that female and male hysteria was basically the same thing, related to anxiety neuroses – which was sort of laying down more framework for what we now know as anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, dissociative disorders, and PTSD although that wasn’t what they was called yet.

So in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Freud and Charcot and a few others were working to reclassify many of hysteria’s symptoms into new diagnoses, admittedly a lot of those were also wrong and often harmful and now rejected too – but they did claim that hysteria was a psychological, neurological and emotional disorder presented by survivors of trauma. It was not physical disease reserved only for those who own a uterus, and they promoted hypnotism and talk therapies. Freud even diagnosed himself with hysteria at one point, but there was so much resistance around male hysteria from the rest of the medical community that he flip-flopped and started calling hysteria a “feminine” disease again later on.

Meanwhile there was still a lot of messed up shit happening in the name of “treatment”. It seems that spreading dung on yourself and exorcism had both fallen out of favor by this time (thank goodness), but of course there was still sexual abuse and smelling salts as I had mentioned earlier, they were also injecting things into the uterus, cutting or burning away the genitals with fire or chemicals (Dr John Harvey Kellogg was said to be particularly supportive of female circumcision), using electroconvulsive therapy or shock therapy, among other stomach-churning things. And this was all happening well into the 20th century.

1920 – 1980: The Fall of Hysteria:

Hysteria as a diagnosis plummeted drastically after the 1920s in part due to women’s suffrage, but also a huuuuuge factor was because so many people, men and women, across different countries and cultures, started to present symptoms of PTSD during and after WW1 and WW2 that doctors could no longer deny its association with experience and trauma, and that it had nothing to do with gender. However, hysterical neuroses was still mentioned in the DSM-II in 1968, and was only officially deleted when they came out with the DSM-III in 1980.

 

Like I said before, Hysteria has about 4000 years of history, and it’s a convoluted history. Obviously there were multiple and contradictory hypotheses that existed at the same time about both the cause of Hysteria and the symptoms as a result of the condition, and also there’s a lot of disagreement about the timeline of it and who believed what about it prior to the 1900s. Also it’s worth noting that I am not a historian (I’m trained in modern biology) but I’ve tried to touch on events as fairly as possible in this article and clear up some misconceptions about hysteria.

I’ll post links below if you want further reading on this topic. Comment below and let me know the most absurd thing you’ve heard about hysteria!

 

Links for Hysteria (for further reading):

https://www.jstor.org/stable/30041838

http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/m/maines-technology.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25273494

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3480686/

Did Victorian era doctors use vibrators to treat hysteric female patients with orgasm therapy?

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Shapewear Squeezes your Organs? My response.

A few days ago, HuffPost released this article on how stretch shapewear and compression wear are associated with various health risks, including organ compression – and I was asked by a few followers what I thought of this. After a few days of thought, this was my response on Tumblr:

Wow, this might be opening a can of worms. I could talk for a long, long, long time on this, but I’ll try to keep it on point and try not to get too ranty about it. Going point-by-point with the original article:

When you wear shapewear, you’re compressing your organs.

  • This is also true for corsets – but to what extent is important to note. [Note, see my article on corsets and organs here]
  • Pregnancy also compresses your organs.
  • Leaning or bending in any direction compresses your organs.
  • Nauli Kriya really compresses your organs.
  • Your own organs compress your other organs. Taking a deep breath expands your lungs, lowers your diaphragm, and pushes down on your intestines. Peristalsis is the motion of your intestines moving chyme along – they’re constantly contracting and writhing.
  • Organs are not supposed to be rigid. Life as we know it would never have existed if our organs were not made to move and compress. (The one exception to this is the brain, which has conveniently evolved to be encased within a hard skull.)

That includes compressing your bowels.

  • Indeed, and this exactly why the body is so resilient and able to tolerate compression. From what I understand, corsets typically compress the organs in the peritoneal cavity, and the vast majority of what fills this cavity are hollow, membranous organs (like the stomach and intestines) that contain food/water/air/waste. When your stomach and intestines are mostly empty, they can easily be flattened down, and they take the majority of the pressure from shapewear (or a baby, or nauli), leaving other solid organs like the liver and pancreas bearing relatively little stress.
  • As for shapewear possibly causing constipation and other bathroom issues, I talk about that in detail in this video (or this related article). Fran from Contour Corsets has also talked about why it’s important to learn how to have bowel movements while corseted, in this article.
  • But some people who’ve had chronic constipation throughout their adult life have actually found that corsets have helped stimulate their bowels and help them have more regular movements. It works similarly to applying abdominal pressure and massage for relieving constipation.
  • Speaking personally, I find that cycling the pressure of my corset (looser, then tighter, then looser, etc.) actually pushes things along in my bowels. Within the first 30-60 minutes of putting on my corset, I’m pretty much guaranteed to poop (I imagine it’s a toothpaste effect) and then I find I’m able to lace down further in greater comfort, as my abdomen just effectively lost volume. If no corset were on, this space would be replaced with air.

You can develop tingling, numbness and pain in your legs.

  • This is not just true for corsets and shapewear. It’s also true for tight underwear and jeans, and some people get numbness and tingling when they sit even in loose clothing – it depends on the person, how long they’ve been sitting, how they’re sitting, whether they have ergonomic furniture, etc. So I find it a bit unfair that they would point the finger at shapewear for something SO common. That said, just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s safe or good for you.
  • Also, they mentioned something very important here – the problem usually arises when sitting, which is a serious issue in itself. Seriously, do you know how bad sitting is for you? If they wish to minimize their health risks, humans should not sit.
  • A well-fitting corset, when worn properly, should never cause numbness or tingling. This is why I’m constantly stressing the importance of finding a corset that fits you properly and doesn’t put any pressure on your iliac crest. A reducing corset should only compress the waist, not the hips or the underbust.
  • In my last giveaway (where contestants wrote in explaining how corsets had improved their quality of life), several people have written in and explained how corsets had a hand in actually relieving nerve issues like sciatica and other complications related to scoliosis and/or slipped discs – this is because a proper corset made by a trained professional can function like a therapeutic brace.
  • While we’re on the topic of nerves in general, corsets can help prevent/ relieve thoracic outlet syndrome in women with heavy breasts, and can help with sensory adaptation in those with sensory integration dysfunction and other sensory disorders. So while corsets have their risks with nerve issues (which is an indication of wearing it wrong, actually), corsets have their potential benefits as well. It’s a balance, you see.
I demonstrate a bicycle crunch, one of the staples of my daily core workout.
I demonstrate a bicycle crunch, one of the staples of my daily core workout.

Your muscles will suffer if you rely on shapewear for good posture.

  • If you don’t use it, you lose it. I don’t deny that some people can “develop a reliance on corsets” or other shapewear for good posture – but this is precisely the reason that Ann Grogan recommends a training schedule working yourself up to ~8 hours a day, 6 days a week. The 7th day is a full uncorseted day and gives you the opportunity to rely on your own core muscles so you can gauge your strength.
  • Also – I’m not sure why this idea is propagated so widely, but corsets were never intended to be a substitute for exercise and toning. In fact, when people take on a waist training regimen, it often motivates them to work out more often in order to avoid atrophy. I recommend a daily core-strengthening workout if you start corseting – this can actually help you potentially obtain faster results than corseting alone or exercising alone, and it also ensures that you don’t experience core muscle atrophy.
  • Also, when used properly, corsets may actually train you to improve your posture over time, not necessarily worsen your posture. More on that here.

Plus, shapewear can create an environment prone to infections.

  • I’ve talked about corsets and common skin issues here, so yes – if you don’t have good personal hygiene and common sense, and you’re not wise about the fabrics you choose for your corset and liners, there are risks.
  • But I would argue that the risks for skin issues with rubber shapewear is even greater than the risk associated with corsets. The greatest cause of skin issues is the lack of breathable fibers. Many types of spandex/rubber shapewear are designed to make you overheat and sweat, claiming that this is how you lose bloat. Real corsets are not designed to work that way, and they can be just as effective at shaping your figure even when made out of cool, breathable mesh.
  • Honestly, mesh corsets will change your life.

Like everything in life, it’s important to exercise moderation: Don’t wear them too often…. Lastly, choosing the right fit is key.

Hopefully this clears up my thoughts on the anti-shapewear article. I think that the article brings up some valid points, particularly the last one about moderation and proper fit. But by researching corsets properly, acquiring a high quality piece that fits you well, and using it responsibly, you can enjoy corsets (and maybe even other shapewear) and still minimize your risks. Of course, if you have pre-existing health issues, you should see a trusted doctor before corseting, and same goes if you experience any discomfort while corseting.

*This article contains my own opinion and is provided strictly for informational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of a medical physician. Please talk to your doctor if you’d like to start wearing a corset for any reason.*

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Responding to Media Sensationalism… Again.

One of my friends linked me to Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home yesterday evening, in which one reporter uncovers the dangers of living in the Victorian era. Not surprisingly, corsets were featured (the corset segment starts around the 17:50 mark).

I would like to address some of the concerns mentioned in the video. Now, I’m not going to make sweeping generalizations and say that corsets are everyone’s friend. I don’t believe that everybody should wear corsets and I don’t deny that injuries from corsets have occurred on occasion. But I’m willing to believe that corset-related injuries were more the exception than the norm – just like injuries from everyday beauty products today, like:

  • high heels (bunions, broken toes, hammer toes, corns, modification of posture/weight distribution, broken and sprained ankles)
  • hairstyling products (thermal burns, chemical burns and severe allergies to certain products)
  • pierced ears (infections, keloid scarring, tissue necrosis)

I could go on.

Anyways – onto addressing some of the concerns in the video:

 

  • Liver being pushed upwards, and grooves forming in the liver – yes, I don’t doubt that the liver moves. All organs in your peritoneal cavity are designed to move. If they weren’t designed to move, then pregnancy, exercise, stretching, or even digesting your food (peristalsis) would kill you. Once again, look up nauli kriya on Youtube – the intestines (and presumably everything above it, like the liver, pancreas and stomach) are pushed up into the ribcage using one’s own muscles. Maybe I’m insensitive, but indentations of organs don’t irk me, because I’ve seen from dissecting various organisms in biology lab that organs have indentations from other organs as it is. If you have a large amount of visceral fat, or if you a fetus inside you, you will also experience considerable organ compression.
  • The stomach moving downwards – Ann Grogan (Romantasy) and Fran Blanche (Contour Corsets) both vouch that the stomach actually moves upwards instead of down. Also, the stomach (and intestines) are not solid: they’re hollow membranous organs, often full of food/waste and air, which get pushed out when a corset is properly worn and slowly cinched down. ***Note, as of October 2014, we now have MRI evidence of the stomach and liver moving upwards.
  • Uterine prolapse – I did agree with the woman in the video as she said that the corset may exacerbate pre-existing problems; that is, the corset may not have caused uterine or vaginal prolapse per se, but if the pelvic floor had already been weakened, the extra intra-abdominal pressure may exacerbate this condition. My article on corsets and the reproductive system.
Screencap from the documentary: Lipscomb's tidal volume, uncorseted (red line) and corseted (blue line). Y axis depicts volume from 0.2L to 2L. X axis shows time: blue area = at rest, green area = during exercise, pink area = recovery
Screencap from the documentary: Lipscomb’s tidal volume, uncorseted (red line) and corseted (blue line). Y axis depicts volume from 0.2L to 2L. X axis shows time: blue area = at rest, green area = during exercise, pink area = recovery
  • The reporter’s experiment on respiration/ cardiac output during exercise – it is undeniable that the corset (especially Victorian overbust corset that is restrictive enough to fully support the breasts) is capable of reducing the lung capacity. Due to reduced capacity, the body compensates by taking higher and more frequent breaths to maintain the same amount of oxygen exchange. The conclusion of the experiment was that the reporter took in an average of 200-300 mL more air with each breath. But they’re still not telling the whole story:
    Photo from Hole’s Human Anatomy and Physiology, 8th edition (1999). This graph is actually of the average male – a female has a slightly smaller total capacity at about 4L. Click through to read more.

     

  • The total lung capacity in an average woman is about 4L (4000 mL). The vital capacity (which does not take into account residual volume) is about 3L (3000 mL).
  • The average tidal volume (uncorseted) is about 500 mL. So the tidal volume while corseted is an average of 750 mL.
  • This means that the corset has caused about a 10% increase in breathing, compared to vital capacity (not even the total capacity).
  • Also consider that it was the first day she tried lacing up (so she wasn’t adapted to wearing a corset), she was wearing the corset over a sweater (so her internal measurement was even smaller than 24 inches), and it was an overbust corset (which restricted more of her ribcage than an underbust would), and then did she did cardio exercise (which isn’t recommended while wearing corsets to begin with). Most women today wear underbust corsets which stop lower on the ribcage, they wear the corset over a very thin liner, and a well-made corset today is properly fitted to the body, rather than Victorian corsets which were sometimes made to force the body into an ideal shape to fit clothing of the day.
  • Note the spoon busk that curves around the tummy, hip gores, and expandable side ties to accommodate a growing belly. Some of these corsets also had flaps at the bust to allow for nursing post-partum.

    Women of higher class were tightlaced to reflect that they didn’t have to run around the house. The working/ industrial class and servants did wear corsets, but laced loosely to accommodate for the high amount of activity. One would also consider it insulting to “show up” the  woman of the house by having a more fashionable silhouette than she had.

  • Pregnancy corsets – I don’t doubt that women who were trying to hide their baby bump by tightlacing during pregnancy could have resulted in (possibly/probably deliberate) terminations. But pregnancy corsets were designed to accommodate a growing belly by having adjustable ties around the tummy, while providing back support for the gestating mother.
  • Pneumonia/ tuberculosis – if a corseted woman contracted a respiratory infection, then the corset may have contributed to exacerbating the condition since the woman would not be able to cough up the sputum and clear her lungs. But whether the corset actually caused women to contract the infection in the first place is unclear. Both pneumonia and TB are bacterial infections, commonly spread in a time where germ theory was non-existent or just being discovered. Whether corsets were the cause of respiratory infections is somewhat disputed. Some sources say that the corset may have prevented contraction of pulmonary TB (consumption). (Nevertheless, I do not condone wearing corsets if you have any kind of respiratory infection.) I have an article on the respiratory system here.

    Susan B Anthony ca. 1900, wearing a corset around age 80.
  • The dress reform and the women’s suffrage movement were not necessarily mutually exclusive, but they were still two distinct movements. Many female suffragists (sometimes distinct from the boorish “suffragettes”) still wore corsets, including Susan B. Anthony (often called the mother of the women’s rights movement).
  • Broken and deformed bones – I agree that corseted individuals with bone issues such as rickets may result in a higher risk of distorted ribs, but this is not a common case today. In fact, a 2015 anthropological study on the skeletons of impoverished women in the Victorian era showed that although there was some rib distortion, age markers of these women showed that they all reached and in some cases exceeded the life expectancy of the time.
  • The comment around timepoint 29:45 “There are stories of ribs breaking and piercing the lung underneath.” disappointed me – it’s difficult to tell sometimes what is a factual report or simply an urban legend. Whether or not these stories are true, Sarah Chrisman explains in her book that “ribs” also referred to the whalebone or reed that was used as boning in the corset, which can become dry and brittle over time – so broken “ribs” are said to often describe the ribs of the corset, not of the human body. If you’ve ever had a bra bone that pokes into you, you can imagine the discomfort. If a whalebone were to snap, a sharp shard could perhaps puncture the skin of the wearer – but as flexible steel is now used in corsets, this problem is almost unheard of in higher quality corsets unless the garment has been abused for years.

Well, this was a long post. Hopefully it cleared up some popular misconceptions about corsets in the Victorian era.

What were your thoughts and reactions on the segment?

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Corsets, Posture and Confidence (it’s not all about size)

In the past, I’ve discussed at length the effects that the corset can have physically on the body, but up until now haven’t discussed how it can affect your mental and emotional state. In this article, I will discuss how corsets can directly affect your confidence and your interactions with others. You may also view my video version of this article, if you prefer not to read:

*

Let me preface this by saying that a corset can affect one’s positive self-image, without feeding into society’s warped views on weight and its relation to social hierarchy. So many people chide corseters, presuming that our own confidence stems directly from changing or lying about our figures. This couldn’t be a more misinformed frame of mind.

 I will start with my own personal experience in this sense, and go on to discuss the science behind this.

Continue reading Corsets, Posture and Confidence (it’s not all about size)

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“Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself” by Sarah A. Chrisman — an Overview

I admit it. I’m terrible at book reviews. So many years of working in biology labs have conditioned me to treat every publication the same way: study, jot notes, report results relevant to my own research. Opinions are frowned upon by the Board. (At least I got to sneak in some alliteration.)

My video review, despite being 13 minutes long, feels painfully short and superficial. In reality, the raw footage of the review was over an hour long, wherein I combined Chrisman’s research and experiences with my own and discussed possible (soft) conclusions to certain questions regarding physical, psychological and societal impacts of wearing a corset. Alas, most people these days don’t have 13 minutes to spare, nevermind an hour.

This book used to be called “Waisted Curves: My Transformation into a Victorian Lady” and was self-published and hand-made – Chrisman carefully hand-folds each page, sews them together, and binds the cover in your choice of cloth, silk or leather — the way that books were made in the Victorian era. Due to the print or weave on the cover fabric, no two books are exactly the same. You kind of feel the love and the labour emanating from this. The price of this book, $40 for cloth-bound and $49 for either silk or leatherbound, is well-justified just by how much work must have gone into assembling the book itself — but the contents inside are worth much more.

Now the book has been picked up by a publisher, it has changed its name to “Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself” and is available on Amazon.

The book is essentially a memoir of Chrisman’s first year (and a few months extra) of corset training – in this time, her waist is reduced from 32” uncorseted to 22” corseted – she changes the way she carries herself, and her style of dress so that essentially she is transformed into a “Victorian lady” by the end of the book. If this book were made into a movie trailer, I have a feeling that it would look like a typical “transformation” or “make0ver” movie (e.g. Clueless, She’s All That, Teen Witch, Princess Diaries, etc). Let me tell you now that those movies are garbage compared to this book. “Waisted Curves…” is a non-fiction, first-hand account of what it’s really like to make such a transformation (not only in appearance but also in health, grace and building one’s knowledge) – it’s not an overnight change, and it’s not without its challenges.

A not-so-brief summary of events (SPOILER ALERT)

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Corset article series by Deanna Dahlsad of Kitsch-Slapped

In 2009, Deanna Dahlsad (aka Pop-Tart) of Kitsch-Slapped wrote this refreshing corset-positive (or in the very least, neutral) article series in 3-parts.

In part 1, she discusses the “so-called medical evidence” against corsets – why their studies were  restricted to subjects of lower social class. (Even though working-class corseted women were seen as more “robust”, they also had less access to healthcare and more exposure to infectious diseases due to their professions.) On top of all this, medical evidence against corsets still may well have been cherry-picked.

In part 2, the sex-appeal of corsets is discussed (and not in the way you might think). Irony: in the early 1900’s, corsets were thought to bring about sexually immoral feelings and behavior in women. Just a few decades earlier, any woman who was seen not wearing a corset was considered to have loose morals.

In part 3, she gives an overview of the suffrage movement and how many of these feminists kept their corsets on by choice. Why? Because they had more important things to think about, and appearances still matter in society. The “Shrieking Sisters” were ridiculed as being loud, masculine, obnoxious activists and many of the more peaceful suffragists were concerned that this radical behavior would hurt their stance more than help. If you saw someone dressed oddly and screaming in the streets, you’d probably think they’re crazy. Dressing well (including the use of corsets) was still a symbol of being a rational, respectable member of society.

Look at all those corseted feminists. Image courtesy of bydewey.com

All three of those articles have lots of links and citations, so you can get lost in a jolly time-warp about corset history. I suggest you read these when you have time to spare! The conclusion left me a bit unsatisfied – if one delves deeper, corsets have more uses than just leading to copulation, but the articles are still extremely well-written overall, and worth a read!

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Using Corsets as part of Scoliosis Correction

I happily stumbled across this fantastic publication today. Published quite recently (early 2012), it is a study on the use of corsets (in conjunction with wearing weighted backpacks and regular physiotherapy/ exercise) to considerably improve the scoliosis in this adult patient.

NB: these results may not be typical (especially since there’s a variation in the severity of scoliosis from the start) and the use of corsets (either standard sized or custom) may not work miracles. But as the author mentioned, corsets or “textile braces” may provide a method of reshaping the ribs (and through this offer some secondary effects such as improved breathing) to a point, which is not normally possible through surgery.

Lumbostat back brace, image from ortotika.cz

Depending on one’s personal situation, a scoliosis patient may find wearing a corset more discreet, more comfortable and more affordable than wearing a rigid brace of hard plastic or steel plates. However, effectiveness in treatment may vary. A skilled corset maker should be able to take measurements of each side of the body and create a special asymmetric corset made to stabilize (and in some cases, as you can read in the article, even possibly correct) the curvature of the spine.

You can view a gallery dedicated to asymmetric corsets here!

Edit: a number of scoliosis patients have confirmed that some medical braces are very similar in shape and form to a corset (medical corset or otherwise). Do click the picture on the right to see more examples of back braces, some of which give up to 5″ reduction in the waist in order to keep the spine immobile.

*Please note that this article is strictly for information purposes and not intended to replace the advice of a licensed medical professional. Please talk to your doctor if you’d like to start wearing a corset for any reason.*

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How Corsets Heal: 20 Benefits

Thank you for your interest in learning about the benefits a corset can bring to your life. My previous article, “How Corsets Heal” has gained so much popularity that it has earned a place as a permanent page on my site! You can see the tab above at the top of the page, or you can click below:

Click here to see the new and freshly updated “How Corsets Heal”

The original article was so long that it was getting quite difficult to read, so the new page breaks down the benefits of corset-wearing into three different components – how corsets help you physically, how they can help with mental or emotional issues, and how they can help you in social situations/ how the corset community has a larger societal impact than you think. You can jump to any of those articles below. Altogether, we have now counted over 30 benefits and counting!

Physical Benefits of Corseting

Mental/ Emotional Benefits of Corseting

Social/ Societal Benefits of Corseting