Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Corsets Do Not Work That Way (and neither do women's bodies)

I believe I've mentioned before, Gentle Reader, that I currently study fashion in literature. I don't much care for Modern Fashion; anything after Dior's New Look makes me shudder, more than a bit. But I adore the Neo-Classicism of the Napoleonic Wars, the rise of the turban in the 1830s, the fall of the crinoline in the 1870s, the height of the Bustle in the 1880s, the rise of hemlines in the 1920s, and my favorite style of the 20th century, Depression and WWII era clothes. All of it, Friends, makes me smile, more than a little bit. Give me a man in suspenders and a fedora and a woman in clunky heels and an A-Line dress, and I am as happy as a clam.

But what Bogie and Bacall fashions don't have, and indeed, what most 20th-century clothing doesn't have is this:

The Corset.

Now yes, of course, the Corset was transformed into the brassiere at some point in the early-20th century. There are many, many books on this subject, Friends, and I urge you to check out Uplift, perhaps, or even the more simply named Bra, if you'd like to read up on the history. But there are equally as many books on the Corset as there are on the Bra.

Of my personal favorites, might I recommend Valerie Steele's Corset, Beatrice Fontanel's Support and Seduction, or Leigh Summer's Bound to Please? All are wonderful works and detail the history of the corset quite well.

These three books might tell you a secret, however. A secret so, well, secret that no one seems to really know it.

Corsets aren't very comfortable. At all.

Sure, the one tailor-made for you is more comfortable than others, because all tailor-made clothing has the fortunate side effect of being rather comfortable. But when you lace a corset around the middle to create that artificial hourglass effect, you are constricting the flow of oxygen throughout your body, not to mention smooshing and destroying your internal organs. This is why 19th-century women would use tightly-laced corsets as an abortefacient, or why young girls' bodies were deformed by age 15 (as most would begin wearing corsets around 12 or 13). This is also why women did not participate in sports, or why when they did, at the turn of the century, diary accounts record how in the dressing rooms of tennis courts, corsets soaked in blood would be strewn about, because the whalebone would pop the lining with all of the movement, and stab the wearer in the side.

Corsets have now become fetish or fantasy clothing, and tend to be represented as the sexiest article of women's clothing. But very few people can afford the tailor-made corset, or even know where or how to get one, so many simply buy the pre-made corset, which fits, but not very comfortably.

And trust me, Gentle Reader. I am a firm believer in Personal Choice. You wear what you want to wear, whenever you want to wear it. I think the corseted women at the Ren Faires are quite beautiful, and many women wear corsets on their wedding days. It's a special article of clothing, and despite its long dubious history in the annals of fashion, it was the only support women had for hundreds of years.

There is the crux of it, no? Women need support, and the corset was the best, and truly only option, until the end of the 19th century. Works like Steele's and Summers' tell us that women did not, in fact, lace their corsets as tight as we think, overall. That the ones who did were fetishists in their own right, or were urging bodies to do things like abort unwanted pregnancies. But the fact of the matter remains: the corset kept women somewhat immobile.

All of this preamble to say that I found This Young Woman's Livejournal this morning through When Fangirls Attack and Ms. Sproutie82 has directed our attentions to This New Statue of The White Queen, Emma Frost.

Now, Friends, much ink, literal and figurative, has been spilled over the Woman (in comics) Question. This Humble Author has, in fact, spilled much of that ink Herself. Recently, some of that ink has been spilled regarding the new Star Sapphire costume which is, as Our Brother and Sister Feminists remind us, fairly ridiculous.

And it is. Movement has been completely discredited in Star Sapphire's outfit, and as for the statue of Emma Frost, which is already sold out, my first thought was, "Dear Heavens, I can see n*pple!"

And here's the real problem: Sideshow Collectibles, I am your market! I am an employed, middle class comic book reader in the 25-35 age range, as is Mr. Reads, who often buys statues and action figures and collectibles for me as birthday, Christmas, or anniversary presents. But he would never buy something like this for me (or, thank heavens, for himself) because its very presentation is so preposterous that I want to laugh, or cry, but am not sure which.

And even Adam Hughes' original art, pictured below the statue, while obnoxious, does not even reach the levels of outlandishness the statue can claim. Perhaps my eyes are jaded; I am used to seeing such things 2D. But seeing it 3D has turned my stomach, and caused me to avert my eyes.

To return to corsets, as a by the bye literary tactic, let me also suggest to you that *corsets do not work that way*, and for that matter, *neither do women's bodies*. With the kind of movement Emma Frost does on a daily basis--the, I don't know, walking down the hallway or eating a bowl of cereal wacky movement of fun--she would soon no longer be employed as an instructor of impressionable youth, much less allowed to walk in public.

And yes, Friends, I know that some of my Dear Readers may Cry Foul and Exclaim, "But Ms. Reads, This Is Fiction!" or, "But Amy, this has No Bearing On Real Life!" To you I ask, but doesn't it? What does this statue say about our desire to see our comic book heroines about to fall out of their tops? Or, in the case of the new Big Barda collectible, to have barely visible tops at all? And all of this not only in comic books, but in $100+ collectibles?

I am not afraid of clothing that is revealing, or of corsets. Nor am I afraid of bodies, or male artists, or sexiness in clothing, art, comic books, or real life. But I am afraid of the message that this statue of Emma Frost sends. Not just about the accepted spectacle of women's bodies in our society, but about the mythical power of bust support, as well. We have fetishized the corset because it represents the Repressed Victorians to us, and the Victorians fetishized the corset because it represented, well, was actually Undergarments, which, for the Victorians, was Quite Naughty Indeed. But there's something unnerving about seeing this translation of print to statuary, of turning 2D to 3D that sends a shudder down my spine.

To wit, it seems Bad Enough that Emma Frost must be The White Queen *in her underwear and high heels*, but to make her bust defy gravity, logic, *and* common sense? That seems almost--just almost, Gentle Reader!--a tad insulting to women.

10 Comments:

At 5:31 PM, Blogger Fanboy said...

Everything about Emma's costume defies gravity, particularly during Morrison's run. I was hoping to see someone try it at this past Comic-Con but do dice. I did see a ca. 1980 White Queen costume though.

 
At 3:39 PM, Blogger Lyle said...

Interesting summary of the history of corsets... two things I'd say in defense of the modern usage of them is that 1) (from what I'm told) technology has made them more comfortable since flexible plastic offers almost as much support as whale bone without cutting, 2) from what I've seen, modern women don't try to tie up a corset so tightly anymore... then again, I've only seen corsets worn at Ren Faires, where some level of activity is expected and leaving bloodstains on the white, poofy shirt underneath would ruin a weekend of camping.

That Emma Frost statue on the other hand... wow, I've never seen a corset do that to a woman's breasts. You really have to wonder about the sculptor, here.

 
At 7:24 PM, Blogger notintheface said...

Personally, all that those statues say to me is that Adam Hughes REALLY needs to get laid.

 
At 9:42 AM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Mr. Fanboy,
Everything about Emma's costume defies gravity, particularly during Morrison's run. I was hoping to see someone try it at this past Comic-Con but do dice. I did see a ca. 1980 White Queen costume though.

I find the costume kind of fascinating in the comic books, because honestly, I can't figure out why she wears it (I'm talking in the fictional world here, not in the "drawn and written by people" real world we live in). It seems so impractical, yet people wear impractical things every day. I just kind of want to know why that's the fashion choice that she decided on.
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 9:48 AM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Lyle,
Interesting summary of the history of corsets... two things I'd say in defense of the modern usage of them is that 1) (from what I'm told) technology has made them more comfortable since flexible plastic offers almost as much support as whale bone without cutting,

No, it's true, there is no more whalebone, but even the flexible plastic isn't that comfortable. But also, women don't wear corsets *every day* anymore, for 14-16 hours a day. The tea gown was invented *specifically* so that women could take off their corsets for an hour or so during the day and enjoy a meal sans constriction.

2) from what I've seen, modern women don't try to tie up a corset so tightly anymore... then again, I've only seen corsets worn at Ren Faires, where some level of activity is expected and leaving bloodstains on the white, poofy shirt underneath would ruin a weekend of camping.

Very true! I said earlier in the post that women didn't tie them super tight in the Victorian era, either, as evidence we have of that may have been concocted (there is suggestion that one of the major magazines that recorded instances of supertight lacing was, in fact, publishing fake letters to the editor discussing such as a fetish tactic to gain male readers--very strange stuff!).

And again, women at the Ren Faires may wear them all day, but not all day, every day, for years on end.

That Emma Frost statue on the other hand... wow, I've never seen a corset do that to a woman's breasts. You really have to wonder about the sculptor, here.

I think what's really interesting is that the statue is completely sold out. And it's actually quite beautiful; I love Adam Hughes' faces, particularly his Wonder Woman art. And the flowing cape behind Emma's just gorgeous. The breasts, however, on the statue make me shake my head. I wish the gravity in my world was as kind!
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 9:52 AM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Notintheface,
Personally, all that those statues say to me is that Adam Hughes REALLY needs to get laid.

I actually adore Adam Hughes' art, as I stated earlier, particularly his faces. I find his women to be quite beautiful, and I even like the image of the White Queen here. Also, I like Sideshow Collectibles very much, and own a lot of their merchandise.

To wit, I don't place a personal statement on this, but rather, wonder what it is about the corset that we, as a society, are so obsessed with, decades after it ceased to be a daily article of clothing. Emma Frost is not the only superhero to wear one (as women were not the only gender to wear them in the 19th century, either!). The corset as an article of crime-fighting clothing seems impractical, the same as Buffy's heeled boots or Angel's long trenchcoat did to me.
:)
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 11:23 PM, Blogger andrew said...

I can forgive a trench coat(though unpractical, they do not overtly sexualize the male body for the purposes of ogling, and are thus totally cool), but the heels and the corsets make me cringe.

Especially the heels. I've heard these are sometimes painful just to walk in, and I cannot imagine this would make for practical vampire kicking attire. Or kicking Gotham criminals, for that matter. I'm looking at you, Batwoman.

 
At 6:19 PM, Blogger the feminin said...

very interesting post - congratulations!

well, i'm a (modern) young woman that wears corsets very often. and, i wear it just because I like this most feminin cloth and, i lace it only as tight as i like. thats the difference to former times, when women were (nearly) forced to wear corset. today, women just wear corset because they like! so i think more and more woman discover the corset again - but this time not as a must.

and, believe me - it's unbelievable how men react on women wearing corsets!

if you are interested in photos of how i wear corsets - just look at my blog: http://corsetgirl.blogspot.com

 
At 10:19 PM, Blogger Thomas L. Strickland said...

Sorry. A bit late to this party. But I wanted to mention something ...

While the Hughes statue of Emma Frost is damn beyond ridiculous, not to mention impossible, his rendition of Big Barda is not too far removed from her original Jack Kirby portrayal from the early 70s of Mister Miracle.

She was introduced in #4, I believe. In action, she's wearing the armor that we all know. But when she's just hanging around the Free household with Scott and Oberon, the outfit is little more than what is seen on the statue.

Now, I guess the question becomes ... would it've been still better to make a fully-armored Barda statue?

 
At 12:55 AM, Blogger PeterAnthony said...

oh!what a great writing style..i really appreciate your blog..well done...

Fetish Clothing
,Rubber Fetish

 

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