Suffering for Beauty – the Victorian Corset

A corset is an undergarment worn by some women to enhance the shape of their body. It is made stiff by whalebone or some other stiff material, and it is tightened by having the laces pulled. Remember Scarlett O’Hara’s tiny waist? She achieved such a small middle by wearing a corset and having the laces pulled extremely tight.

the Victorian corsetWould your character be willing to go to such extremes to have a tiny waist? Does your character long to be physically attractive to men so badly that she would live in discomfort and risk her health and well-being by wearing a tight Victorian corset?

Corsets were the rage among women during the Victorian era. The wealthier the woman was, the more elaborate the corset would be. Just as the feet of young Chinese females were bent, and sometimes broken, in order to be bound, young Victorian females were introduced to the corset to begin molding their future figures.

Surely cinching something so tight around the waist day after day after day couldn’t be good for you. What damage could one of these undergarments do to a woman’s body? The lungs, stomach, liver, womb, and other internal organs would be crushed and twisted out of shape in order to fit into an area forced to shrink in size. Since the lungs would be squashed, the one who wore it would be more likely to come down with tuberculosis or pneumonia. Horrible indigestion and pain would be the result of a stomach forced out of its normal place while being made to shrink. Of course, wearing one of these contraptions would be painful enough in itself. And since all of your organs would be so squashed, sitting down would prove to be a very uncomfortable endeavor.

corsets, wikimedia commons

corsets, wikimedia commons

Breathing would be difficult for a woman if the corset was tight around her chest. The unfortunate lady would become fatigued and prone to fainting.

The stomach and back muscles could possibly become weak and unable to work properly unless the woman was wearing a corset. Can you imagine having to wear something so uncomfortable just to be able to stand or sit up straight?

The womb being distorted out of shape would lead to problems with pregnancy and childbirth, not only for the mother, but also for the growing fetus. If the growing fetus managed to survive, it would not have a very good introduction to life.

Of course, those who manufactured the corsets denied that they would cause any health problems. Some even went so far as to claim their corsets were healthy. And the public, or at least most of them, believed the lies.

Writing Prompts
In order to have a character who wore a Victorian-style corset, your story would have to take place during the Victorian era. Or would it? Could your character be an eccentric who was trying to reintroduce this unhealthy and once popular fashion fad?

If she lived during the Victorian era, could she possibly have discovered just how unhealthy the corset is? Could she be fighting to have it outlawed? Or would she be one of the many women who gave into what society demanded and be a staunch advocate of wearing this unhealthy contraption?

girl writing, etc.usf.edu

girl writing, etc.usf.edu

Say your character, though a staunch advocate of these corsets, notices the physical effects that wearing one is having on her. Would she ignore these effects, or would she try to warn all of her friends? Say she does try to warn all of her friends, and one of the manufacturers of the trendy items catches wind of it and murders her. Would her murder be solved? What would be the effect of why she was murdered?

Think about this one. A murder has been committed in a small town, and the town’s wealthiest lady is accused of having carried it out. But she is proven innocent because she wears an extremely tight-laced corset, and the movements that had to be involved during the murder would have been impossible for her. Did she actually commit the murder? If so, how did she manage to do it and escape justice?

Recommended Articles:
Suffering for Beauty – Foot Binding
Suffering for Beauty – Neck Rings
Suffering for Beauty – Lip Plates
Suffering for Beauty – High Heels
Suffering for Beauty – Scarification

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