Corsets and health
Visceroptosis and Hysteria
Breathlessness, Faintness, and Fatigue ©
from The Posture Theory here)
After ridiculing my research into the harmful effects of poor posture, & deleing all of it, and by calling it rubbish, cruft, and nonsense (e.g. here), two editors arranged for me to be banned in January 2009 here, and then. less than three months later another editor stole my research, & set up a brand new page in Wikipedia called "Corset Controversy", at 17:43 on 15th May 2009 here. Those individuals are utterly disgsting internet criminals and the public should support my by taking them to court and putting all of those involved in jail.
See the section of my webpage called "The Corset Controversies" here
The Posture Theory eBook contains a section on how corsets crush the lungs and stomach to cause horrendous health problems here
My YouTube video on corsets etc. here.
See scientific measurements of the affects of tight corsets on the pressure on the inside
of the chest and abdomen by clicking here
For another website which discusses visceroptosis, particularly in relation to posture and women's health see here.
People who argue that some types of corset are healthier than others are like those who argue that some brands of cigarettes are healthier than others. They are clever with tricks but stupid with the English language
The purpose of this page
I have been trying to revive public interest in some useful knowledge about corsets and health from the nineteenth century which has since been largely forgotten. It provides insight into the cause and prevention of health problems of today and in the future.
The hidden effects of tight corsets are revealed in this diagram. The stomach, liver and womb etc. were crushed, and twisted, and kinked, and stretched, and pushed permanently out of their normal position to cause many health problems of great diversity and severity.
The effects of poor posture are similarly hidden beneath the bodies surface of skin.
In previous centuries wealthy people have tried to distinguish themselves from ordinary men and women by the clothes they wore.
Consequently wealthy merchants would wear elaborate corsets which ordinary individuals simply could not afford.
However, in the early nineteenth century the first practical sewing machine was invented, and made it possible to mass produce the garment cheaply, so within a few decades millions of women in England, Europe, and all parts of civilised world were wearing them, and the corset industry expanded and made many manufacturers wealthy, much like the burgeoning computer industry of today.
However, it was not generally known that corsets compressed the lungs and disposed to pneumonia and tuberculosis, and compressed the stomach
and bowels to cause horrendous indigestion, pain, and disease, and of course, they compressed the womb, and were responsible for horrendous problems with pregnancy and childbirth.
Of course, the people who became extremely wealthy from the sales and profits also became the merchants of doubt about the hazards and had the motivation to do everything they could to hide, or downplay the harmful affects. For example their advertising would display the beauty, but not the damage. They even called one of their styles the "health corset", in much the same way as the tobacco industry of recent times developed the "filter tipped cigarettes", and "light cigarettes" to offset the cancer causing concerns of it's customers..
At the same time they exploited the fact that women wanted the attractiveness, and the status which came from wearing such garments, and therefore had a strong tendency to ignore or deny the harmful effects even when it was obvious. They would argue that their corset wasn't tight, or that their indigestion was due to some other factor.
However, by 1904 there were many public debates about whether corsets were harmful to health or not, and the mounting evidence, and the publication and distribution of books world wide finally settled the matter. Those books included diagrams of what could not be seen before because it was happening beneath the skin. They clearly showed the crushing effects on internal organs, and corsets started going out of fashion.
With the start of World War 1 in 1914 many men went off to war, and the women stayed at home and did manual work in munitions factories where they were easily exhausted by the effect of corsets crushing their lungs and reducing their capacity for effort, so they discarded them, and by the end of the war they were virtually out of fashion altogether, and replaced by loose clothing.
Mothers would have told their daughters about the harmful and horrendous effects of corsets, so the chances of a resurgence in the industry were gone.
I have read the medical text books which covered that era, and from 1930 onwards they were describing the ailments as relics of the nineteenth century, because the very common and typical extreme cases had become rare.
I have also read modern books which tend to trivialise the influence of corsets on health and attribute the fainting spells of that era as a general product of cultural attitudes.
There are colloquial expressions to describe the situation which include these . . .
People who don't learn from the mistakes of history, make the same mistakes . . . and . . .
history repeats itself.
Consequently I have described the actual facts in my book, and provided some information on my website below.
A quote from Shakespeare
"Oh, cut my lace in sunder, that my pent heart may have some scope to beat or else I swoon". From Richard 111,1V, i, 34 by William Shakespeare(1564-1610).
Translation to modern english . . . 'Hurry, cut the laces of my corset apart so that my compressed heart may have some room to beat, or else I will faint.' M.B.
Extracts from a book called The Agony or Fashion (1980) p.116
Corsets compressed the liver, pushing part of it
upwards against the lungs, and part of it downwards into the
abdomen, so that normal breathing was "practically impossible",
and that resulted in "the much sought after 'heaving bosom'.
To all the mysteries with which the 'fin de siècle' woman
liked to surround herself this charming puzzle was now added:
'does she heave with emotion because a gallant gentleman whispered
sweet nothings in her ear, or because she laced her corset too
Reference: The Agony of Fashion by Eline Canter Cremers-van der Does (1980) p. 116.
A quote from the Western movie call Rose of Cimarron
I recently watched the movie called "Rose of Cimarron" which was in the form of a typical Western, or "Cowboy and Indian" story. It presented the stereotypes of the cowboys being "civilised" and the indians being "savages".
In one of the scenes Rose was getting dressed to meet the marshall, and her older assistant was tightening her corset laces from behind and said . . .
"Every young lady has to learn how to do this before she knows how to dress properly"
A few moments later Rose said . . .
"I can't breath".
She then finished dressing and the movie continued.
The Indian women were depicted wearing loose garments.
That movie reflects the widespread opinion of that time in history, when it was considered "civilised" for women to wear corsets in order to improve their appearance, but it was never a sensible or healthy thing to do.
A modern woman who is not aware of the severity of health problems caused by corsets
Michele Kobke is 24 years old in 2014, and has worn corsets, sometimes all day and night for three years, to reduce her waist size from 25 inches to 16 inches.
This is a quote from a webssite called "Meet Michele Kobke and her Death Corset" . . .
"Her quest for mutant status has taken its toll: her lungs are incredibly weak for her age, she can’t eat normal-sized meals, and her muscles are getting so weak that she eventually might not be able to stand without her corset.
This delusional chick doesn’t care, though, because she thinks she has the perfect feminine figure." (end of quote)
See here http://www.everyjoe.com/2013/06/10/girls/michele-kobke-photos-germany-corset-lady-16-inch-waist/
(Note: In the nineteenth century it was known that the life-expectancy of women was related to the tightness of their corsets, with the average 14" corset wearer being 35 years, and that those women also didn't think it was causing them any harm)
Michele Kobke aged 24 wearing a 16" corset
Extreme health problems relating to corsets and the womb
Corsets deform the hips and pelvic outlet making natural childbirth difficult or impossible
1. Cross birth: Tight waisted corsets of the nineteenth century compressed the womb downwards, backwards, and sideways in such a manner that during birth the baby was laying sideways inside, and hence came out with one arm and shoulder going first instead of the head.
Consequently, as it's head was to the left, and it's legs to the right, it could not pass through and therefore died, and the painful process also often killed the mother.
It was called 'cross birth' or 'sideways presentation'.
2. Gangrene during pregnancy: Tight corsets compressed the womb and it's blood vessels to cause gangrene and death of the fetus, and often spread to the mother and kill her also.
That fact was common knowledge amongst anatomists and autopsy surgeons who would open the dead body of a pregnant woman and see that the fetus was an ugly and deformed mass of blood, bone, and pus.
3. Abortion: Many women became aware of the harmful affects which included miscarriage, and would deliberately wear corsets during pregnancy to induce an abortion.
See also a YouTube video called "In the name of beauty - Hidden health hazards of tight clothing". with comments on the reversal of blood flow in the uterus, endometriosis, persistent pain in the lower abdomen, the effect on the ovaries and infertility. here
Other facts relating to women, corset wearing, and health
4. Life expectancy: Surveys showed that the tighter the corset regularly worn by women, the lower their life expectancy. The women who wore corsets witha waist of 13" diameter died on average at the age of 35.
5. Ballet dancers:There were reports that some 19th century ballet dancers were required to feel their spines by pressing into their waist fom the front.
6. Statistics: In the nineteenth century many statistics were collected and reported about corsets. In 1886 there were 3.9 million corset wearers in England. In 1893 80% of German women were said to be ill because of their corsets.
7. Names and labels for the conditions: The most notable effect of wearing tight corsets regularly was the permanent displacement of internal organs. The general term for that problem was 'visceroptosis', but specific labels included 'gastroptosis' for displacement of the stomach, and 'nephroptosis' for displacement of the kidneys etc. Other names were 'floating liver', 'floating spleen', and 'floating kidneys', ' mobile kidneys', 'moving kidneys', or 'wandering kidneys' and 'wandering spleen' etc.
8. Modern knowledge: Nowadays the effect of corsets on health, and the main illness of 'visceroptosis' has largely been forgotten, or perhaps deliberately hidden from public knowledge, but it can still be found in the original reseach papers of 1900-1904 where there were more than 800 published and included in the indexes to those topics.
One of my objectives is to renew the knowledge of these chronic problems and how to understand, diagnose, prevent, treat, relieve, or manage them.
The Health Corset - The joke of the century
See also a modern day resurgence of the corset or waist crushing fashions of girdles etc. as reported in The New York Times (with photos). Those modern women are obviously not aware of the potential harm to their health here.
See another website about the harmful effects of tight corsets here
See also cosets and pregnancy here
Women should never have home births if they have spinal deformities, flat chests, or pelvic bone abnormalities because such factors can permanently alter the shape of the pelvic outlet and make it painful and difficult for the baby to pass through during childbirth. Such women may need a Caesarean Section. See an illustration of the normal shape of the pelvic outlet an d the babies head passing through here.
Note also that consistently wearing high heel shoes can also alter the shape of the spine and pelvic bone and outlet.
Corset history and propaganda
One of my observations about the past is that a lot of modern individuals or organisations are embarrassed by the full history of Corsets, and will try to rewrite it by deliberately omitting or deleting the information which they don't want the public to see.
For example the corset industry of today, obviously doesn't want the public to know how corsets caused a massive number of health problems in millions of women of the nineteenth century, because that will reduce the number of sales today, and the amount of profit they make. They will try to delete all information about the harmful effects, or trivialise them, or even give examples of how tight stockings or corsets can improve health.
There were also scientists in the nineteenth century who argued that the women were fainting for emotional reasons, and they managed to establish a new medical specialty called psychology, so they want to hide all evidence that the real cause was tight corsets which compressed the abdominal organs and blood vessels and reduced blood flow to the brain. The current professions of psychology and psychiatry don't want the public to know that their profession is based on a major mistake, because it will shed doubt on everything they say, even their good ideas.
I could give other examples of how vested interests of one sort of another benefit from the public not knowing the real history of this subject, but ultimately all I can do is provide the facts and evidence so that it is available, at least in my books and website, for all intelligent people to see, and judge for themselves.
The people who falsify history by omitting or deleting information, want you to be as stupid and gullible as sheep and cattle who are incapable of checking facts, and making their own assessment of the truth.
They will even steal my ideas, and rearrange and misrepresent them, and try to describe me as a fringy kook so that you don't believe me, and don't think that it is necessary for you to check the facts for yourself. They want you to trust them.
The Corset Controversies
A major nineteenth century controversy was due to the corset industry making massive profits from the sale of corsets, and not wanting women to believe that corsets were causing extreme health problems
Corsets are now relegated to the graveyard of history
Women of previous centuries wore tight waisted corsets to make themselves appear attractive, and to give themselves an image of status, and if the corset debates and other circumstances of the early twentieth century had not provided convincing evidence beyond a shadow of a doubt that such clothing was extremely harmful to health then they would still be a standard style of fashion.
Those corsets compressed the blood and lymph vessels, and the kidneys ureters and bowel to impede and block the flow of fluids, and they crushed major organs such as the stomach and liver and permanently altered their shape or split them almost in two. Those parts of anatomy were also pushed permanently out of their normal position, with the spleen, for example, being moved from it's proper position under the ribs to the lower part of the pelvic region. They became so loosely attached to their surrounding structures that surgeons would refer to them as 'floating kidneys', or 'wandering spleens', or 'movable' or 'mobile' kidneys etc. and the bowel was crushed and twisted into a variety of abnormal shapes such as being V-shaped, and a horrendous condition called muco-membranous colitis was reported where some of the lining of the bowel passed out during defecation. The womb was also crushed and pushed forwards causing horrendous problems with pregnancy and childbirth, including stillbirths and death.
While some corsets may be just tight enough to firm the figure, and might not cause such extreme changes if they were worn for short periods of time, the resurgence of corsets as a major feature of modern fashion is not likely to happen because some doctors would immediately condemn them. The health authorities would start warning of the major increase in the cost of health care, and major companies would be complaining about the loss of time from sick leave, and the governments would be taking steps to ensure that they were controlled to stop the harmful effects on the national economy resulting from the lack of productivity in the 'easily exhausted' corseted women.
If a corseted woman was to take part in any Olympic sporting event that required strength, energy, or stamina she would come last. M.B.
The opposite and wrong opinions
There are other authors who will argue that the corset debates were about a lot of reasons and that the health issue was just a central, but minor one. They will try to divert your attention away from the relevant facts by arguing that the internal organs weren't really crushed and dysfunctional, and they will try to make you think that other factors such as industrial pollution and plagues were responsible for the health problems of the ninteteenth century. They will try and divert your attention away to other changes at the time such as the introduction of public health policies for food and drinking water or the development of antibiotics and imunisation programmes, or they will try to convince you that fashions changed because loose dressess became more popular for cultural reasons etc.
While there is a grain of truth in what those authors argue there is, nevertheless, the remaining fact that the end of the corset era occurred because women of that time were convinced by public debates that corsets were the cause of all of those horrendous health problems.
The harmful effects of corsets can't be denied, but some authors will try.
Some modern authors will argue that doctors of the past were wrong about the harmful effects of corsets on health because they didn't know that the deformities or diseases of the internal organs also existed in non-corseted women or men, and therefore couldn't be due to corsets.
However here are a few of many facts to consider . . .
Just as a dinosaur can leave the imprint of it's foot in mud, to be seen millions of years later, so tight corsets compressed the ribs, and sometimes left the shape of the ribs in the side of the liver, which could be seen in women at autopsy after they died at an early age.
If you think that the pressure of a tight corset won't slow the flow of blood through vessels, then try pressing your foot on a hose, and see if it slows the flow of water.
If you don't think that air pressure in your lungs can slow the blood flow to your brain then try inflating a blood pressure cuff on your arm until it slows the flow of blood and causes your fingers to become numb.
Normal anatomy mapped out with a sketch on the outside of the body to show the normal shape and position of internal organs.
A characature of
the extremes to which women would go to create an hour glass
figure. 13 inch waists were relatively common, and there were some reports of smaller waisted corsets.
If you put the thumbs and long fingers of your left and right hands together they span 13 inches, and the space between them is how much room was available for the spine, internal organs, blood and lymph vessels, and nerves to go through.
Displaced anatomy drawn on the outside of the body to show how the internal organs were pushed permanently out of their normal position
The affect of pinching the waist to half it's size
"The waist is
naturally larger than the upper part of the chest. Its size is
due to the contents of the abdominal cavity. If it is pinched
and squeezed into one-half its natural size at one point, some
other portion must be enlarged in order to give room for the
internal viscera of the abdomen. This enlargement naturally occurs
below the waist, giving that portion of the body an unnatural,
ungraceful, and distorted appearance. Indeed, the practice distorts
the whole body, giving it an hour-glass shape when there should
be a graceful taper from the armpits to the hips.
If we should consider the
remote effects of lacing the waist, we would find that nearly every internal malady may be either induced or greatly aggravated in virulence by this perniciouis pracctice".
From: Ladies Guide In
Health and Disease (1904) p. 250-251.
Guinness Book of Records
Between 1929 and 1939 Ethel Granger reduced her waist size from 22 inches to 13 inches (33cm) by wearing corsets, and was reported in the 1976 Guinness Book of Records as having the world's smallest waist.
However in the nineteenth century 14 inch corsets were available as a standard size in London shops. Many women wore 13 inch corsets, and some had them tailor made to be narrower, with reports of a woman who wore a ten inch corset.
The modern world record holder, Ethel Granger, appeared to have a large and broad chest which would provide room for the organs of the abdomen to be pushed upwards, which may explain why she claimed to be reasonably healthy. See here
However, many women have small and narrow chests. Such women were either born with narrow chests, or acquired them from poor nutrition or disease, and also, many corsets compressed the waist and chest, and the rib cage became V-shaped instead of broad at the base, and others compressed the hips.
In such cases there simply wasn't anywhere for the stomach and liver to go, so they were crushed, which eventually caused horrendous indigestion, and a much lower life-expectancy than loosely clothed women.
See the diagram to the right where the chest and hips much smaller than a normal uncorseted shape.
Long term corset use permanently altered the shape of the spine, chest, ribs, and hips, as well as the shape of all internal organs such as the lungs and stomach.
The moral of the history
The average nineteenth century woman who wore tight-waisted corsets had a much lower life-expectancy than women who didn't, but history has examples of some famous corseted women who lived to old-age.
The lesson to be learned is that it is better to consider averages than to rely on exceptions to the rule.
It has been argued that the womens health problems were due to the psychological and cultural aspects of emotions in the nineteenth century, but if those women stopped wearing corsets their health problems would stop getting worse, and yet if they continued to wear corsets and had medical or psychiatric treatment they would still have the ailments because the cause had not been removed.
Some historians have reported that the people of ancient Crete riveted metal belts around the waist of their children. Their life expectancy was 27 years. See here and here
Claims about smoking and health are comparable to those about corsets and health
I can recall the 1980's when there were reports that the incidence of lung cancer was higher among smokers than non-smokers.
There were also reports that the tobacco company executives didn't smoke, and yet offered millions of dollars in advertising revenue to newspapers and television shows, and paid enormous sums of money to sporting organisations and movie stars to endorse their products. They also funded their own research to give the predictable favourable findings.
It was somewhat surprising that some smokers would ignore the risks and defend their rights to smoke, and use arguments to refer to their friend who died of lung caner at the age of 30 and yet never smoked, and their elderly distant uncle who reached the age of 90 despite smoking.
The most unusual thing was to find research data which actually studied the incidence, or found reasons for those very unusual exceptions to the rule.
However, since then many of the sportsman and movie stars who smoked are known to have died at an early age because of smoking , and nowadays tobacco advertising is severely restricted in civilised countries, and health authorities recognise the cost of tobacco related illnesses to the community and officially warn the public of the dangers.
Similarly there are glowing claims of the harmlessness of corsets, and yet no-one seems to report the fact that the life expectancy of corset wearers was directly related to the tightness, where for example, 13 inch corset wearers of the nineteenth century were likely to die at and average age of 35 years, which was much younger than the average non-corseted women.
There are exceptions to every rule so it is not surprising that some modern women would achieve that waist size, and appear to be healthy, but no-one seems to be checking how many of them couldn't achieve that level because they were stopped by severe health problems, or what percentage of the tightly corseted women lived to be healthy in old age.
Statistics of averages from the nineteteeth century showed that the tighter the corset worn by women, the lower their life-expectancy.
The research on the harmful effects of corsets has already been done, more than 100 years ago, and it shouldn't be necessary to do it again, because there is no reason to think that the results would be any different.
Corsets, congestion of the lungs, and tuberculosis
Previous centuries of authors have reported on a link between corsets and tuberculosis, so some modern authors have dismissed those claims by arguing that the cause of bacteria has been discovered, so the old ideas were wrong. However, those reports are either ignorant of the facts, or deliberately misleading because the claims of the past recognised that compressing the chest and lungs caused stagnation of the air in the lungs which produced an unhealthy environment inside the chest that disposed to the breeding of any bacteria, making corseted women more prone to breathlessness, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and many other chest and lung disorders.
Corsets, Breathing and Fatigue
When a woman wore a corset that was tight around the chest, then she could not breath properly because when she inhaled the lungs could not expand outwards, so she could not take a full breath. Therefore her breathing was inefficient and she would tend to become breathless. If she went for a walk she would need more oxygen, so she would tend to get breathless easily, and the more strenuous the exercise the more breathless she became. By contrast the women who wore loose garments could get a full breath, and as the level of exercise increased the more her flexible ribs could expand, so she could exercise more efficiently and at higher levels, for longer periods. i.e. she had more energy and stamina.
Similarly when a loosely clad woman inhales, the lower lobes of her lungs fill with air, and when they exhale, that air is expelled. The spaces in the lungs are therefore regularly replaced with fresh air. However, if the woman wears a tight waisted corset, the downward expansion of the lungs is restricted so the air in the lower lobes is not refreshed. A lung with stagnant air is somewhat comparable to a pond with stagnant water.
Corsets and Shallow Breathing
Some women wore tight V-shaped corsets so the lungs could not expand outwards or downwards. Therefore those women had to put more energy and force into their breathing to push out their ribs, and also to push out the metal or whalebone straps of the corsets. However, they simply couldn't expand their chest as much as they could if their clothing was loose so they also had an abnormal pattern of breathing that has been called such things as 'shallow breathing', or 'chest breathing', or 'suspiratory breathing'. Consequently instead of normal, effortless, or natural breathing, they tended to be portrayed for their 'heaving bosoms'.
Corsets and pregnancy
Some nineteenth century women would be sacked if they were found to be pregnant so they wore corsets to conceal their pregnancy or to deliberately induce an abortion. Some autopsy studies showed that the crushing of the womb deprived the fetus of blood supply so it became a gangrenous mess of blood and puss which spread to the woman who also died. If the woman and fetus lived, the baby was more likely to be unhealthy than the child of an un-corseted woman.
One of the problems attributed to all styles of corset was alterations in the shape and position of the womb. It was either pushed forward, or sideways, or crushed from above into a smaller or abnormally confined space. Consequently where the normal baby was able to move about in the womb and change position to come out head first during childbirth, the babies of corseted women would often come out one arm first, with the head to the left above the pelvic bone, and the legs to the right. It was called 'transverse presentation' and was regarded as being a very dangerous form of complication during childbirth. i.e. the baby was often born dead, and sometimes the mother died as well.
Illustrations of the pregnancy corset can be seen here
The health corset - an offensive joke in the name
The harmful affects on health would have been quite obvious to any thinking person, and as such there were many doctors advising against their use, but of course there was the invention of a different style of corset which was aimed at evading criticism by taking pressure away from the stomach. It was called the Health corset, and was also known as the S-bend corset because it made the breasts and abdomen protrude forward, and pushed the hips backwards so that the woman's silhouette looked S-shaped when viewed from the side. However, all it achieved was to alter the focus of pressures and affect different parts of the internal anatomy.
The pressure on the bowel caused the most horrendous form of abdominal disease called muco-membranous colitis, where the inner lining of the colon would slough off like the skin of a snake and pass out with the feces when the woman emptied her bowels. It would look somewhat like the skin of a snake among the feces in the toilet bowl.
An illustration of the S-bend corset can be seen here Also called the S-bend corset here
Comparing Corset advertising with Tobacco advertising tactics
The tobacco industry were brazen enough to promote low nicotine, or 'light' cigarettes as a way of avoiding health problems in smoking, but they were not so ridiculous as to brand any of their products as the 'Children's Smoke' or the 'Health Smoke'.
For a more diplomatic way of describing the harmful effects of corsets you can view the YouTube video talk here
The unpopular truth about corsets and health
The greatest risk to gaining objective knowledge of this subject is to read the misinterpretations, or opinions of people who profit from the corset industries. They will dismiss or attempt to discredit the obvious harm to health, which includes their attempt to misrepresent the facts of history.
As was said and clearly understood in the nineteenth century, corsets made women look attractive and feel good about themselves, so they wanted to believe that they were harmless to health.
The corset industry exploited that by telling them that they were harmless.
It is similar to the tactics used by the tobacco industry. They know that people who smoke may feel good about it, or even enjoy it, so they don't want to believe that it will cause them great harm later in life. The tobacco industry tells them that it won't, and naturally, that is what smokers want to believe, so they do. When they reach the age of forty, unfortunately some of them will say, with a raspy throat damaged voice . . . "'cough', and I defend, cough, cough, my right to cough, smoke, cough, cough."
Somebody who tells people that corsets or smoking will cause them harm is going to be unpopular to those industries and their customers.
Furthermore, my statement of the facts from the nineteenth century are not going to make me popular with people who have other views, or who want the public to believe their 'opinions' about the past.
I don't wish to offend anyone, and am not expecting to win any popularity contests, but I do know the facts, and I can only recommend that people read the real history documents and judge for themselves.
I can't force people to do anything, but I can describe the situation.
I could say, with constructive optimism - Use your eyes, and your brains, try to be as objective as possible, check the facts, and think and decide for yourself.
A brief history of Corsets and health
The first effective sewing machine available
for general use was patented by Elias Howe in the U.S.A.
in 1846. It enabled the development of a cottage industry to produce corsets for ordinary women which
were previously only affordable to wealthy families and royalty, and had hence represented "status".
By the late 19th century extreme corsetry was very common, as evident from more than
20 retail shops in London where
14" corsets were available off the rack as a standard mass
produced size. In the twentieth century The Guinness Book of
Records published that as the world record, presumably thinking
it was a one off rarity.
Like most things in life, when something is possible, people will go to extremes and hence there were women who would see it as a status symbol to have the tightest corset, and the narrowest waist, and hence health problems, caused by the compression of the chest and abdomen, such as breathlessness, faintness, indigestion and fatigue, became so common as to be regarded as a 'normal' feature of 'femininity' or a normal trait of women. However, it was also known that the loosely clad country girls were sturdy, energetic, and stong, compared to the frail, easily exhausted city damsels. Similarly such symptoms were never seen in primitive, loosely clad tribal women of such places as Africa.
In fact the city women
suffered from a multitude of health problems highlighted by the
tendency to faint with heat, exertion, or emotion, where fainting
rooms were established in public venues, with chaise lounges
that they could lay on to rest and recover after unlacing their
However, many of them refused to believe that corsets were harmful to their health, largely because they could see their outward 'attractive, and 'healthy' narrow waisted 'appearance', but could not see the crushing affect on their internal organs because they were covered by layers of skin and muscle. As stated, they simply thought that breathlessness and fatigue was 'normal' for 'all ' women.
Corset debates about health surfaced occasionally, especially between doctors and the corset industry, and peaked at the turn of the
century, when the critics of corset usage won, and corset wearing took a steep decline.
war 1 started men went off to fight, and women were required
to do heavy manual work in munitions factories. The corsets impaired their breathing
and made it difficult or impossible to perform the heavy work so they discarded
them in favor of loose clothing. After the war the loose
garments of the Charleston era became fashionable and corsets
have not since retuned to popularity, probably because health
authorities would soon stop it.
Hence the period of mass produced corsetry
which spread throughout the Western world, the U.S.A., the U.K.
and Europe lasted between the 1850's through to 1914.
800 research papers in 1903
In 1903 there were about 800 research articles on the health effects of corsets, in particular, those due to the crushing and displacement of internal organs which was called visceroptosis. Soon thereafter
the interest in that subject declined rapidly. In fact there were so few women wearing corsets, that the new medical books of the 1930's referred to them and the health problems as relics of the nineteenth century, and some people have since argued wrongly that it was for various other 'cultural' ' psychological,' 'sociological' or industrial reasons etc., and that the true cause would 'never' be known for sure. Very few articles about visceroptosis, or none appeared in the research journals by
the mid 1970's. The condition still exists but the link to health
is not so obvious as it was in the extreme examples of the nineteenth
There is perhaps a classic example of the saying . . . "If you don't learn from the mistakes of history, You will repeat the same mistakes".
A public policy recommendation
If I was recommending public policy I would suggest that all corsets come with a warning. "Occasional use may not result in problems, but prologned use may cause extreme harm to health, and extremely tight corsets should never be used". The warning should come with an illustration of the effect on internal anatomy.
Public policy makers should also consider the effect on national economies if corsets came back into fashion, and all women became easily exhausted again. M.B.
Corsets, posture, and blood pressure
The cause of low and high blood pressure is generally regarded as a mystery, and hence the most common form of high blood pressure has been called "essential hypertension"
However, according to the posture theory which was first published in 1980, I suggested that poor posture, and leaning forward compresses the air in the chest to cause weaknesses in the blood vessels below the waist, and affect blood flow, and blood pressure, and disposes to chronic faintness and fatigue.
The following two items of interest from 1887 and 2010, present an interesting study and report regarding those ideas.
In 1887 Robert L. Dickinson scientifically measured the amount of pressure exerted by tight corsets on the internal cavities of the chest and abdomen, with comments on the adverse effects which such pressure would obviously have on health. He also commented on similar increases in pressure occurring in individuals who worked in occupations which required leaning toward such things as sewing machines etc. His study was published in the New York Medical Journal on November 5, 1887.See here
More recently and 18 year old woman has produced a YouTube video in which she measured her blood pressure before and after wearing a corset, and noted that it was significantly higher when wearing the corset.
She then explained that she was prompted to make the measurements after noticing that when she was wearing a corset her heart pumped harder.
She goes on the explain that when the corset is worn about the waist it impairs the blood flow from the heart to the legs, so the heart has to pump harder to overcome the pressure.
However, she adds that the flow of blood after the corset produces a weaker flow of blood to the legs, and hence a weaker flow of blood returning to the brain which results in faintness.
If the woman actually faints, she falls to the floor, and then the flow of blood is no longer affected by gravity, so it reaches the brain more easily, and the woman regains consciousness.
She also commented on the general belief that corseted women felt faint because the corset affected breathing and the intake of oxygen, but the real cause is the impairment to blood flow.
She also notes that the veins of the legs have one way valves, so any resistance to the upward flow of blood which is also caused by the corset, is likely to damage them and cause varicose veins. The video posted on 23-12 2010 can be seen here
See my explanation and theory about the effect of poor posture and corsets on blood flow and blood pressure, in relation to Valsalva's maneuver, orthostatic intolerance, faintness, and chronic fatigue here
obvious Corsets experiment, and results.
While I was reading
about nineteenth century corsets I found that the compression
of the womens chests caused a tendency to breathlessness and
palpitations, and faintness etc, but those symptoms were also
being interpreted as a response to psychological problems, such
as bad news. The modern psychological theories have evolved from
that mistaken interpretation of cause.
I also noticed that
when corsets went out of fashion at the start of the twentieth
century the women stopped fainting regularly, but, at the same
time some psychiatrists were arguing that the incidence of such
symptoms that were typical of the Victorian women of the nineteenth
century declined because of advances in psychotherapy.
The corsets caused health
problems by compressing the waist on the outside, but pushing
the stomach etc, up into the chest and crushing the heart and
lungs, or downward compressing the kidneys and bowels etc, and
the change in the position of the stomach etc was called gastroptosis,
or, when multiple organs were displaced the condition was more
generally called visceroptosis.
At the start of the
twentieth century there were hundreds of articles about visceroptosis
in research journals, but as corsets went out of fashion the
severity and of symptoms, and the frequency of them being seen
by doctors declined. There were virtually no articles in research
journals by the 1980's, and the word visceroptosis disappeared
from many medical dictionaries, and tended to be referred to
as an obsolete and irrelevant label.
However, nowadays many
men wear tight belts, and many women wear tight girdles etc,
and the diseases are still common, but milder and the cause is
undoubtedly the same, but patients are rarely told, even though
x-ray evidence often shows severe displacement of the stomach
etc, in which case they are often told that there is no evidence
of physical cause ant that the symptoms are caused by emotional
or psychological problems or stress, etc.
There is also the general
attitude that the cause can never be confirmed but that is false.
It would be very easy
to get 300 dogs, rats, or monkeys, and put 200 of them in corsets
shortly after birth, and remove the corsets from 100 when they
The obvious outcome
would be that the animals that did not wear corsets would be
the healthiest and live the longest. Those that wore corsets
until adulthood would be permanently deformed internally and
would have many obscure and obvious health problems and die young.
Those who had the corsets left on them permanently would be the
sickest, and have the most obvious and severest symptoms and
die the youngest.
Presumably every sensible
person would know that for certain, so the experiment isn't necessary,
but it would probably be blocked on the grounds of cruelty to
Unfortunately, if that
experiment is not done, some doctors will continue to argue that
the health problems are psychological, and that would be a much
a much greater crime against humanity.
For more information
on visceroptosis see here
Posture produces similar anatomical pressure to corsets
which produces the symptoms of hypochondria and hysteria
While I was in the process
of developing "The Posture Theory" between 1975 and 1980 I became aware that
the symptoms involved were also generally regarded as the features
of hypochondria and attributed to psychological factors.
Many years later I found
evidence that women of the nineteenth century suffered from a
similar set of symptoms, where the symptoms were not the result
of compressing the chest and abdomen because of poor posture,
but because of the compressing effects of tight waisted corsets.
These corsets had a more severe effect than poor posture, and
produced a very significant effect on blood flow which produced
a tendency to faint. The combination of symptoms were generally
regarded as the features of hysteria and were also attributed
to psychological factors.
I therefore became interested
in that subject and some of my findings which are extracted from
"The Posture Theory" are presented on this webpage.
Theory And Corsets
About fourteen years after writing the original Posture Theory
I went into an antique shop and noticed a book on a desk opened
to a page which contained an illustration of the internal anatomy
of a woman who had worn corsets.
The internal organs were all compressed into a smaller space,
therefore I immediately assumed that women who wore corsets would
have suffered from similar health problems to those which I had
attributed to poor posture, so I decided to investigate the literature
on that subject to confirm my conclusion, and also to find any
other ideas about the mechanisms which caused the symptoms.
A month later I went to the State Library Of South Australia
and obtained two books. One was the same as the book in the antique
shop, but had a different publication date, and was called "Ladies'
Guide in Health and Disease" which was published in England
in 1895, and reprinted in Australia in 1904. The other one was
called "Madre Natura Versus The Moloch Of Fashion",
and it contained a four page list of health problems which eminent
medical men of the nineteenth century attributed to corsets,
so I had confirmed my assumption.
I also found that many of those medical authorities had attributed
the health problems to the fact that the corsets compressed and
displaced internal organs. The displacement of internal organs
and the associated health problems were called visceroptosis.
I later found evidence that the shape of the corset could influence
the shape of the spine, and that the high waisted corsets compressed
the lungs to cause respiratory diseases, and that low waisted
corsets compressed the womb to cause problems with menstruation,
pregnancy, and childbirth, and that corsets generally caused
problems for most of the women who wore them, to such an extent
that they gave women the reputation for being the weaker sex.
This was despite the fact that some men wore corsets and were
also sickly, and that some country girls continued to wear loose
garments and remained healthy and robust.
Corsets also trapped blood below the waist and reduced blood
flow to the brain, so virtually all women who wore them tended
to faint, and many of women had severe fainting fits which were
generally referred to as hysterical fits because of the popular
belief that they were caused by psychological factors.
Public debates about the health affects finally convinced women
to start discarding their corsets in 1900, and by 1914 the corset
era was virtually over and the classical hysterical fainting
fits which had been very common in the nineteenth century became
extremely rare. Although the other ailments which were caused
by tight waisted garments still occurred because of the fashion
for tight belts and girdles, they were only experienced in their
milder form, so medical research into this link began to decline
until it virtually ceased.
Therefore, in order to investigate the subject and find the clues
that I needed to strengthen The Posture Theory, I had to use
evidence from nineteenth and early twentieth century literature.
Reference: The Posture
Theory 11th edition (October 2000) p.172.
See a website about postural cause and treatment of prolapse of the womb (uterine prolapse), cystocele, and rectocele here.
Compression Of The Waist
Nineteenth century women wore corsets to create an hour glass
figure which was designed to improve her attractiveness but the
chest, rib cage, and abdomen, were permanently deformed.
The normal broad and open base of the rib cage allows for free
and deep breathing, but the V-shaped deformity caused by corsets
interfered with the full movement of the respiratory muscles
which was compensated for by a shallower and more rapid breathing.
The normal flexible rib cartilages consequentially became rigid
from lack of use and that added to the problem. Pressure in the
chest interfered with the flow of blood from the heart to the
lungs. The heart was affected causing hurried circulation with
a net result of imperfectly aerated blood chemistry that led
to other obscure ailments. The heart was prone to flutterings
and palpitations which probably occurred with or without heart
disease, and resulted in panicky apprehensions about the prospect
of collapse or death.
The liver was greatly mis-shaped and displaced downwards and
indented by the ribs. The diaphragm and all the abdominal organs
were mis-shaped, displaced and disturbed in their function. The
ligaments which held the abdominal organs in place were stretched,
or weakened or gave way. Constipation was common because of the
affect on the bowel, where intestines were dropped, folded upon
themselves, kinked and dilated and had impaired circulation and
The nervous system was affected so the women suffered from"nerves"
In novels written at the time, women were portrayed as fainting
if they were approached by a bandit, or if their house caught
fire, or if they merely received bad news from abroad, or if
the weather was to hot, or if they slightly exerted themselves.
Some women were derogatorily described as being able to faint
at will. The faint was relieved by unlacing the corset (which
improved breathing and circulation). Obviously a woman who was
not wearing a corset could experience the same degree of trauma,
emotion, heat or exertion without fainting.
Reference: The Posture
Theory 11th edition (October 2000) p.173.
Click here to see a further
article on breathing disorders in hypochondria for comparison here.
Theories about hysteria from earlier centuries
The word hysteria comes from the ancient Greek language where . . .
"hystera" meant the "uterus" or "womb", and
"ia" means the "state" or "condition" of something.
Hence the word hysteria referred to any set of symptoms which were thought to be caused by the condition or disease of the womb.
Of course, nobody knew the actual cause so it was just a theory.
One of the theories from earlier centuries was that the womb was like a small rabbit which lived in the pelvic region inside the woman's abdomen. Sometimes it broke free and wandered up to have a nibble on the stomach where it caused bellyache, and then moved upwards to nibble on the lungs where it caused chest pains, and then up to the throat to cause sore throat, and then up to the brain to cause headaches, or delirium, or insanity.
In order to treat the ailment the earlier doctors mixed a potion of foul smelling ingredients and placed them under the woman's nose to drive the "womb" back to it's normal place in the pelvis.
Nowadays doctors still don't know the real cause of those multiple symptoms occurring in the same person so the say that they are caused by the strange and mysterious activities of the 'sub-conscious' mind.
Such modern ideas do not have any scientific proof to support them and are no more reliable than the earlier ones, but until the real cause is found people will be inclined to believe them.
The Posture Theory is a much more logical and reliable explanation for many of those symptoms.
One of the lessons from history is that intelligent and highly educated people of the past have developed many strange, but plausible ideas, and have managed to convince the public that they actually knew what they were talking about when, in fact, they didn't. Each time they call those ideas "official", "modern", "mainstream", "widely accepted","opinion".
Anyone who questioned the merit of those ideas in "Ye Olde Fangled Wikipedia" would have been banned for "Disruptive Editing" (WP:DE), and the better ideas would have been removed.
The theory that the symptoms were caused by a small, rabbit like animal, would still be "dominating" the public mind in the 21st century.
Opinions about the cause of hysteria in the 20th century
a list of symptoms of all known diseases . . . It occurs most
frequently among ladies who have been reared in luxury . . .
It is a notable fact that hysteria rarely or never occurs among the women of uncivilised nations." Ladies Guide in Health
and Disease, 1904
(My comment. The main reason that the massive number of symptoms occurred in civilised women of 1904 was because most of them wore tight waist compressing corsets. The reason they "never" occurred among "uncivilised" tribes people, in such countries as Africa, was because they wore loose clothing, or no clothing, so they did not have anything compressing their chests or abdomens).
Hysteria is "the conversion
neurosis in which a psychological conflict is converted into
a physical disturbance." Reference: The Colombia Encyclopedia,
2nd Edition, 1960
"There was a time
when high-born ladies acquired the habit of fainting at will.
It was probably a form of hysteria. Modern girls are too sensible
for this." From: Modern Ways to Health (1966) Vol.2
"It has been said that hysteria can imitate practically
all the diseases to which mankind is subject"
Reference: Encyclopedia Americana (1968) Vol. 14 p. 611
"HYSTERIA - [fr. Gk hysterikos, fr. hystera womb; fr. the
former notion that hysteric women were suffering from disturbances
of the womb] . . . a psychoneurosis marked by emotional excitability
and disturbances of the psychic, sensory, vasomotor, and visceral
functions." Reference: Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary (1972)
A definition of hysteria from the 5th edition of The Posture Theory
HYSTERIA - A condition
which was most common and most severe in the nineteenth century
amongst women who wore whalebone corsets in combination with
bustles and heavy frocking suspended by strapping from the shoulders,
waist and hips. The tight waisted corsets compressed the heart
and lungs and displaced internal organs, including the womb and
ovaries and the kidneys and adrenals, and altered the pattern
of blood flow throughout the whole body, and affected the nervous
system resulting in over-reactions to all types of stimuli and
a tendency to fainting and convulsions. The heavy frocking and
straps disposed to varieties of spasm and paralysis. The combined
effect produced the numerous aches and pains, symptoms, functional
disorders and sensory disturbances which are the features of
hysteria, and which may occur to some degree, as a result of
any factor which compresses or displaces internal anatomy.The
Posture Theory 5th edition (1996) p.6. See also here.
How to treat faintness © Max Banfield 19-5-11
Based on methods I have been developing for the past thirty years.
This description dispenses with all of the 'mystique' and 'jargon' of science and medicine, and provides the information in plain English, with practical suggestions for real life situations.
If you write about any of these details please recognise my copyright and acknowledge the source . .
In order to treat the symptom of faintness effectively I had to read a lot of information from all sources so it is relevant to start on this webpage which involves studies from the ninteteenth century and earlier.
First of all the problem can be understood by comparing the blood and brain with a wine bottle. If you lay the bottle on it's side the wine will flow toward the cork, and if you stand it up the wine will move downwards and leave a gap of about 1cm. In other words the wine is no longer reaching the cork. Similarly the blood of the human body flows toward the brain if they are laying down, but when the person stands up the blood rushes to the feet. The blood would drain away from the brain if it was not for the fact that there are reflexes which keep the blood flowing normally regardless of the effects of gravity. However, in some people with weak circulation the sudden movement from laying to standing can reduce the flow of blood to the brain sufficiently to cause faintness.
Now for some more relevant facts. There are other things that can interfere with the natural and effortless flow of blood to the brain. For example a tight collar can reduce the flow of blood from the chest to the brain. Also in the nineteenth century it was well known that a tight waisted corset could slow the flow of blood from the feet to the brain. Another factor is large varicose veins in the legs which can hold more blood than normal narrow veins, and hence reduce the volume available to circulation, and they can produce a minor tendency to faintness.
The blood contains oxygen which the brain needs so there are other factors which influence faintness, such as the amount of oxygen getting into the blood. Hence any factor which compresses the lungs, or reduces the expansion of the lungs, can cause such problems, and include tight chest straps, corsets which are tightly strapped around the chest, or corsets which are tight around the waist which resrict the downward expansion of the lungs, and poor posture.
Many factors can induce a faint but I am now able to discuss how to control the most common experience which occurs when a person wakes up in the morning and stands up to get out of bed. In a healthy person with normal circulation that happens without any problems at all. However, in some types of chronic fatigue syndrome, which involves a weakness in circulation, there is a tendency to feel faint when moving from the laying to the standing position. The reason is comparable to the way wine flows when the bottle is moved from the laying to the standing position. The wine doesn't reach the cork, and in humans the flow of blood to the brain is weaker than it should be, so less blood reaches the brain.
Consequently, on those days when the person gets out of bed, and suddenly feels faint the sensation may be mysterious or distressing, and they may feel as if they are going to collapse or die, but there is a logical explanation for it, and they need to have a way of stopping the faint or they may injure themselves if they fall against furniture etc.
If they fall flat on the floor, the effect of gravity is gone and the blood flows immediately to the brain, and they soon regain consciousness. Nevertheless, in the vast majority of cases fainting never occurs so I can give some information on how to understand and prevent that process.
The idea is to get blood to your brain, so if you get out of bed and feel faint . . .
1. Simply place your hand on the wall to support your body and prevent yourself from falling.
2. If you still feel faint or slightly dizzy, bend at the hips to lower your upper body, and support your weight by placing your hands on your knees.
3. If you still feel faint. bend at the neck so that your head is parallel to the ground, or slightly inclined downwards.
4. If you are still feeling faint, then shake your head, but not too roughly.
In most cases you will find that one or more of those methods will enable you to feel less faint and then proceed to the next step . . .
5. Slowly raise your head, and then slowly straighten your body, and then slowly walk forward until you are confident that your are not faint any more and can go about your daily tasks without any further problems.
On rarer occasions you may get out of bed and feel so faint that you are going to fall, so simply move back and sit on the side of your bed with your hands placed on your knees for support, and if necessary lower your head for a few moments. When you feel that the faintness has gone then slowly raise your head, and stand up slowly, and walk away slowly, until the sensation of faintness has passed.
On even rarer occasions you may feel faint when you wake up and raise your head. In such situations, the fact that you are awake will get your circulation going, so you may need to wait a few moments to get out of bed. You can also do so gradually by placing an extra pillow under your head for a few minutes, and then lifting your shoulders up to the pillow, and then moving from the laying to the sitting position, and then slowly from the sitting to the standing position, and walking away slowly etc.
Those methods can be applied routinely with practice if and when they become necessary.
I will provide methods for treating other symtpoms if their is sufficient response to this information.
How to treat faintness when it occurs at other times
How to manage the problem of breathlessness
How to manage the problem of fatigue - tiredness
How to manage the problem of a different type of fatigue - the abnormal response to exertion
How to exercise without problems
How to manage other symptoms
For my YouTube video on the cause and treatment of faintness see here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xs770_nwq6I
Correspondence on corsets
I congratulate you on a wonderful site.
I would like to offer some comments however on the "corsets"
section in which a rather negative view of these garments is
As you probably know, corsets have returned to women's wardrobes,
including my own. I think they are a wonderful asset and moderate
lacing appears to support a healthier lifestyle. Overeating is
prevented and any form of back ache is permanently resolved.
Of course there is some compression, but it is nothing more than
support. I admit to rarely reduce more than 4", so perhaps
I do not qualify for the "hazards" of tight lacing,
but I assure you that it is one of the more effective items of
modern clothing. Body weight is maintained or reduced without
much effort and without dangerous diets.
The boost in self esteem from being sure about the figure is
significant as well.
I would urge you to review some of the modern day tight lacers'
commentary, as they clearly show excellent health and very impressive
shapes. One such example is "Lacie" a nurse who has
dramatically improved her figure significantly by permanent corseting
and does so in excellent health. See her figure at http://www.korsett.org/Lacie/BilderTK1/index.htm
for example: http://www.korsett.org/Lacie/BilderTK1/Lacie_09-15.jpg
an inch lost is an inch gained
| Reply to
I agree with your comments but the problem is that when corsets
were fashionable in the nineteenth century women wore corsets
to improve their appearance and their self esteem without knowing
the hazardous effects on their health, and of course the lucrative
corset industry did not tell them.
Moreover, women competed to have the smallest waist (as narrow
as 10 inches diameter), and the narrower the waist the more horrendous
the womans health problems and the lower the life expectancy
(35 years for a 14 inch corset which was available off the rack
- mass produced). Also I have suggested that corsets have a far
worse effect on the health of narrow and flat chested women because
their is much less chest space for the abdominal organs to be
displaced upwards, so they are horrendously compressed.
As you are aware corsets can reduce appetite but this is because
they compress the stomach, and too much compression can cause
serious digestive disorders. You also referred to the relief
of back pain which can be obtained by the support of the spine
provided by a corset.
Properly used corsets have some benefits but the risks of over
compressing the waist are quite extreme. I am making women aware
of the hazards so that the modern attempts of profiting from
their manufacture do not return the world to the global epidemic
of womens ailments which were a feature of the nineteenth century
where breathless women were all regarded as hysterical neurotics.
I will consider publishing your comments with my reply on my
website temporarily (or permanently) to make this matter more
comprehensive (and will change your name) if you wish.
| Dear Author
thank you for the response. And feel free to post
It appears we almost meet halfway on the subject. I appreciate
the intent of your thesis: However, with so little reliable historic
information available (discounting EDM and "the Family Doctor"),
it is difficult to determine if these incidents really occurred.
Most (90%) of the historic pictures I have indicate rather modest
forms of tight lacing.
Have you read Valerie Steele's published books on the subject?
Modern and historic corseting in general appears limited to 4"
reductions, which is modest. A tight belt easily cinches the
waist by 2-3". Tight jeans can do the same. I can comfortably
move about without impediment. A greater reduction produces constraint
and strained breathing, so I avoid that level of constriction.
Judging from my own 19th c. family photographs I can see that
the women were probably tight laced more than 4", yet these
women produced healthy offspring and outlived the men by many
years. I would suggest that the tight lacing itself certainly
did not reduce their life expectancy. Austrian Empress Sissi,
Lilly Langtry, Polaire, Jenny Churchill, Anna Freud, Princess
Weida, etc etc all were healthy tight lacers, clearly indicating
that tight lacing in itself is probably not unhealthy. Of course
it can be if discomfort is ignored.
Modern women, such as Spook, Lacie, Cathy Jung, Sylphide, Dita
to name a few, all maintain waists of 17" or less. (see
the L.I.S.A website)
Spook's slow progress towards the world record in reducing below
13" seems to indicate that the anatomy is self limiting,
preventing injury. I have on occasion laced tighter than I should
have, and experienced some discomfort, upon which I'd relax the
lacing. I would suggest that problems probably only occur when
these warning signals are ignored.
| Reply to
Thank you for your enquiry
Members of Royal families wore 13 inch corsets in the seventeenth
centuries because they were the only ones who could afford them
prior to the invention of the sewing machine which enabled mass
production and brought about the epidemic of serious and fatal
womens diseases of the late nineteenth century where women fainted
with the slightest heat, exertion or emotion. Women would think
that because they could feel no pain the corset was not the cause
of their health problems so it was not until a series of public
debates that the effects of corsets were eventually acknowledged
and had them banned in 1900 which then brought about their decline
in usage more or less completely by 1914. The problem with tight
belts and corsets is not that they compress the waist but that
they restrict the normal expansion and contraction of the waist
which accompanies breathing and this causes respiratory and digestive
inefficiencies which result in disease. The debates were similar
in some ways to the tobacco debates where people provided examples
of men who smoked a packet of cigarettes per every day and were
still alive at ninety, but of course smokers generally were more
sickly and died much younger than non smokers which was the real
issue. The other similarity was that women wanted to look more
attractive so it was easy for the corset industry to play on
this knowing that women wanted to disbelieve the adverse effects
on their health, in much the same way as smokers want to believe
that smoking is not the cause of lung cancer, or that it will
effect other people but not themselves. The fact that brought
the corset era to its final end was indicated by women who had
to discard their garments to work in farms and factories while
all the men were away fighting in world war 1, where they were
not healthy enough to work while wearing a corset, and as you
are aware, the end of the war was followed by the loose waisted
Charleston fashions. There is too much information on corsets
and health for me to discuss by correspondence but much more
is readily available with supporting references in The Posture
Theory and if you are interested the ordering information is
available at the end of The Posture Theory homepage.
Thank you again for your response. It would appear that we are
engaged in a traditional "corset controversy" exchange!
I appreciate your correspondence on this matter as it is a very
important question in my opinion, especially as corseting clearly
is making a very strong come-back as indicated by long waiting
lists for the corset makers, who are rapidly increasing in numbers.
Still I believe you are focused on the extreme cases, not the
ordinary wearer. I would agree that 13" would be a rather
brutal constriction, but so very few women would have been laced
to that extreme. Even "Spook" who is rather slight
is taking a long time to get to 14". For myself, I only
lace to 22" (from 25-26"), hardly anything extreme,
and I'm very comfortable in it. No breathing or digestive issues
> Women would think that because they could feel no pain the
> not the cause of their health problems so it was not until
a series of
> public debates that the effects of corsets were eventually
> and had them banned in 1900.
That is one view - proponents of corsets indicated and Valerie
Steele shares this view, is that the limited understanding of
medicine in those early years caused corsets to be blamed for
everything. For example tuberculosis was equally prevalent amongst
men and women, in fact tight laced women ironically appeared
to be less affected! Even the anti-corset Robin and John Haller
(The Physician and Sexuality in Victorian America - '74/Norton
ISBN 0-393-00845-1) admit that many of these diseases could not
be correlated to corset wear. I agree that breathing and eating
ability are reduced as a function of tight lacing, but it is
very progressive. Meaning, anything less than a 4" reduction
has little or no effect, whereas 5" is constrictive, 6"
or more is inhibiting. Also the corset style is a major factor.
e.g. hourglass styles, leave the ribcage unaffected (Spook),
whereas wasp waist styles (e.g. Lacie) focus on compressing the
ribcage to create the tapered figure.
> The problem with tight belts and corsets is not that they
waist but that they restrict the normal expansion and contraction
of the waist
> which accompanies breathing and this causes respiratory
> inefficiencies which result in disease.
Women generally breath with their upper chest, as they have to
during pregnancy as well, so I do not see this as an issue.
> The debates were similar in some ways to the tobacco debates
> people provided examples of men who smoked a packet of cigarettes
> every day and were still alive at ninety, but of course
> generally were more sickly and died much younger than non
> was the real issue.
I agree that the smokers argument is false as correlation with
lung disease has been clearly confirmed many times. However,
there is no such confirmation or correlation of tight lacing
and women's health issues, certainly not for moderate lacing.
Even the present day extreme lacers are free of issues. I have
searched in earnest to find reliable documentation of confirmed
corset induced health issues, and all I can find are skin issues
(chaffing, irritation) and temporarily reshaped ribcages, some
reduction in breathing and eating capacity, nothing life threatening.
e.g. Anna Freud, excessively tight laced for decades (1880-1900),
showed no figure enhancements during the 1920's after she had
stopped tight lacing. I just compare corseting and pregnancy
and the conclusion would be that nature during pregnancy puts
considerable more stress on the organs and body than corseting.
Here is where the smokers analogy does not fit well.
It would appear rather that nature has provided sufficient flexibility
to allow for either pregnancy or tight-lacing without ill-effect.
> The other similarity was that women wanted to look more
attractive so it
> was easy for the corset industry to play on this knowing
> wanted to disbelieve the adverse effects on their health,
in much the
> same way as smokers want to believe that smoking is not
the cause of
> lung cancer, or that it will effect other people but not
I agree with the commercial point of your argument as the corset
garment industry was large enough to have economic significance.
However, the adverse health effects are immediate and clear for
the smoker, not so for the tight lacer. Simply look at modern
day lacers, where we can follow and monitor any ill effects,
without reinterpretation, and there simply is no evidence of
any issues. Cathy Jung's husband Dr. Jung MD is certainly cautious
regarding his wife's well being, yet he feels confident that
no harm is done. A precautionary CT scan that was done on her
while corseted showed some repositioning of the internal organs,
but much less so than during pregnancy.
> ...and as you are aware, the end of
> the war was followed by the loose waisted Charleston fashions.
True, but I don't think they were very flattering.. The post
world war II fashion, the "New Look" returned to corseting
indicating women's interest in more flattering and feminine fashions.
> The Posture theory ordering information is
> available at the end of The Posture Theory homepage.
I will order a copy!
an inch lost is an inch gained
| Reply to
Thank you again for your response
My final comments on this issue are that the reason, in my view,
that the link between the effects of corsets on health is so
difficult to identify is because compressing the very flexible
human torso does not immediately cause pain or disease, as occurs
when someone hits their thumb with a hammer and knows exactly
what caused the pain. The effect occurs gradually and subtly
over many years so that the wearer does not notice it. This is
the same reason why the link between posture and health has been
and continues to be a subject of dispute despite the fact that,
in my view, their is a massive overwhelming amount of evidence
of the long term impairment that poor posture has on health.
Regarding evidence of corsets causing health problems, my book
includes photos of corset deformed pelvic bones where the smaller
and deformed pelvic outlet does not provide babies with enough
room to exit the womb resulting in extreme birthing problems.
The stomach is pushed from the horizontal position to the vertical
position, the bowel is zigzagged instead of being festooned,
the spleen is sometimes completely dislocated from the upper
abdomen and descends into the pelvic area, and the liver is sometimes
virtually split in two by long term tight lacing, with the nineteenth
century German doctors calling the condition schnurleber.
Your other comment about the human body being flexible enough
to make room for pregnancy is considered on The
Pregnancy Webpage which is part of The Posture Theory website.
This shows how the enlarging womb of pregnancy does compress
internal anatomy, and for a large percentage of women is a major,
if not the sole cause of the common symptoms and complications
of pregnancy which become more common with larger wombs, which
is why women bearing twins and triplets are proportionally more
liable to complications. However this is again a matter of much
dispute because of the obscurity of the link between cause and
effect, but there is of course the common factor that anything
which compresses the internal anatomy, posture, pregnancy, or
corsets, is likely to cause the same sort of symptoms and diseases.
The reason these matters form part of The Posture Theory is because
they bring all the evidence together and make something obscure
Of course some women appear to be unaffected by corsets, but
in these cases I suggest that it is because they are naturally
small waisted, or only use slightly tightened garments, and because
they naturally have large chests which allow room for the internal
anatomy to move upwards, and because they only wore them for
short periods of time.
My book provides evidence for people to think about and decide
|Dear Mr. Banfield,
perhaps you remember me as the corset wearer with an counter
I have to admit that I always appreciated your posting of our
correspondence on the corset subject, but I was dissappointed
to see that it is no longer there.
Although I obviously respect your opinion, you must miss not
having the personal experience of long term corset wear. As you
may recall, I have voluntarily tightlaced, four to six inch reductions,
for over 30 years since my teenage years, and I have always enjoyed
And I agree with you that proper posture is important to health,
but then this would seem to suggest that your theory should support
corseting as a healthy means of supporting the spine and the
inner organs. No excercise program or diet can possibly create
the level of shaping and support that can be provided by wearing
I am concerned when I see a population which has become chronically
overweight and with backproblems. It is a well recorded fact
that waist size is a health indicator, and the general population
has been growing without control. Where an average uncorseted
waist should be 24" to 30", people now have waists
Another benefit from long term corseting is that it constricts
the stomach and effectively acts as an appetite control by providing
a "full" sensation with only minimal food intake. This
is certainly more effective and safer than diet drugs or stomach
I feel condfident in stating that the proper corseting has been
demonstrated to be beneficial to health from many aspects, support
for the spine and inner organs and maintenance of healthy body
proportions. Perhaps the Victorians had limited medical knowledge,
but intuitively they knew that corseting was beneficial. Today's
research into the subject confirms that they were correct.
Although I personally never submitted to extreme tight-lacing,
I do again have some smaller (twenty inch) corsets in my wardrobe
which I truly enjoy wearing, they certainly do not make me feel
ill. Again, this is providing clear evidence that long term corseting
is beneficial and not detrimental to health.
kind regards Rena
Thankyou for your email.
Although I have not had any personal experience wearing corsets,
I have had experience with chronic abdominal pain which has definitely
been aggravated quite severely by wearing a tight belt, and relieved
by wearing loose clothing.
Corsets do support the spine but unfortunately this results in
the lack of use and deterioration of spinal muscles which means
that a person is unable to support their own posture and so they
become dependent on the corset for artificial support.
Similarly the corset provides an artificial or imitation of the
normal body shape which is produced by good diet and exercise.
Most nineteenth century women did not have any knowledge of health
or anatomy which is why they frustrated some anatomists who knew
of the damaging effects that tight corsets had on the shape and
function of internal organs. This resulted in severe chest and
abdominal disorders, and death rates were related to the size
of the corset. The tighter the corset the higher the death rate
at a younger age. In England in 1893 the life expectancy of 13"
corset wearers was 35 years, and the annual mortality due to
corsets was 15,000. In Germany in 1893 80% of women were said
to be ill because of their corsets.
Finally, it is my conclusion that corset have a much more damaging
effect on women who have flat chests because when they compress
their abdominal organs they get severely crushed because they
cannot move up or down. In your case I suspect that you may have
a deep chest so that your stomach etc can be moved upwards. However
I do not believe it is a healthy thing to do.
I hope this information is useful to you.
best regards M.B.
The Countess of Leicester and
her children (1596)
depicting late 16th and early 17th Century WomensCoun Fashion, and
showing that the corsets which were worn since childhood produced
permanent changes in external (and internal) body shape.
Comparative skeletal deformity caused
by corsets: The diagram on the
left depicts a normal womans skeleton, and the diagram on the
right shows skeletal deformities caused by corsets: note the
change in the shape of the ribs, pelvic bone, and pelvic outlet
in the corseted physique on the right.
Poor posture, tight waisted clothing and Da Costa's syndrome
In 1975 started reading medical literature to determine the cause of my own symptoms because my own doctor, and specialists didn't know.
I soon found that the condition I had as called Da Costa's syndrome which was the only ailment which included my combination of symptoms which were left-sided chest pains, palpitations, breathlessness, faintness and fatigue
Within five years of detailed observations of my own symtoms I was able to determine that poor posture was the cause, and another ten years went by when I saw a book in an antique shop with a page opened to an illustration of the internal organs of 19th century women who wore tight waisted corsets, and assumed that they would have the same problems with their health, When I read that book I found it to be true.
Another fifteen years went by when I joined Wikipedia and added that information but two editors continued to argue about it and deleted all of my suggestions and all links to the evidence which included a nineteenth century research study which measured the pressure on the internal cavities of the chest and abdomen caused by corsets.They argued that all of my ideas were nonsense.
However, more recently I found a reference which described a prize that was offered by the Alexander Memorial Fund to the person who produced the best essay on the cause and prevention of heart related ailments amongst soldiers as compared to civilians. The prize was won by Assistant-Surgeon Arthur Myers who criticised commanding officers who made their soldiers look smart at the expense of their health and recommended that they should be allowed to open their jackets.
Other authorities of that time had suggested that carrying 60lb knapsacks on their backs with straps tightly compressing their chest was the cause of a variety of chest and heart related problems which included palpitations, and recommended that all impediments to the full expansion to the chest should be avoided. They all made the similar suggestion that the cause was mechanical obstruction to the hearts blood flow, with the only question being whether it was due to the tight uniforms, or compression of the chest by drills or by altered work habits, in particular in the way they stood.
Reference: Howell, Joel (1985). ""Soldier's heart": the redefinition of heart disease and speciality formation in early twentieth-century Great Britain.". Medical History: Supplement No. 5:34-52.
Consequently, regardless of whether or not other people have since disputed those ideas, the fact is that the conclusions that I drew about my own health, based on my own observations of my own symptoms was not nonsense, and my two critics are just defamatory fools.
Note also that I came to many similar conclusions but in particular that the compression of the waist by poor posture or corsets impaired the blood flow between the feet and brain and weakened the blood vessels below the waist to produce a weaker than normal blood flow.
View more information
For other realted interpretations of corset history see here and here
For another website which discusses visceroptosis, particularly in relation to posture and women's health see here.
To order The Posture
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