Corset Myth #3: Corsets Are Bad For Your Health
This is a really difficult myth to escape. Corset wearers are used to receiving comments online whenever they post pictures of themselves in corsets about how bad the corset is for their body. These comments are generally based on nothing in particular, except for the fact that everyone knows corsets are bad for you.
So first let's consider how much we should trust anything a Victorian era doctor says about anything. No, really, think about that. Now consider that corsets were blamed for a lot of conditions when they affected women and the doctors didn't understand what was happening. Never mind that these same conditions also affected men. The problems which doctors of the time would attribute to corsets we now understand to be symptoms with other causes. (See this excellent article for specifics. )
So why would corset manufacturers talk about negative health effects of corsets? Why, to tell you that THEIR brand of corset didn't cause those problems, of course. So called "health corsets" were big business at the time, though looking at the patent drawings, there is rarely any significant difference from other corsets. They are still corsets meant to tightly cinch the waist, which is what people would assume causes the health problems.
But what health problems are corsets supposed to cause? You know, I'm not entirely sure, because anonymous internet commenting is so rarely specific. People will mention skeletal deformation and moving organs around. So let's talk about those.
While I'm on the subject of ribs, can we please put to rest for once and for all the idea that women have EVER, especially in the Victorian period, had ribs surgically removed? I had someone bring this up to me just a couple of weeks ago. There was no such thing as elective cosmetic surgery in the Victorian period. Mostly due to the extreme chance of death that ALL surgery carried in the time before the discovery of antibiotics. Moreover, Victorian women had no need to have ribs removed, because lifelong waist training meant their ribs were already trained to a stylish shape.
But for the most part, modern corsets do not compress the ribs, and instead focus on the fleshy waist area between ribs and hips. You will see, even with serious tightlacers, that their ribs tend to be much larger than their waist. As I mentioned, it takes daily wearing, sometimes up to 23 hours a day to reshape the floating ribs. So the typical way in which we wear corsets today (for special occasions, for costuming, on the weekend) has really no chance of making any permanent changes to the skeleton.
What about the organs? Does corseting sometimes shift and restrict the organs of the body? The answer is yes, but it doesn't follow that it is harmful. The biggest effect corseting has on the body is that it restricts the space that the hollow organs such as the stomach and intestines have to expand. Which means that you can't eat as much while wearing a corset, and should avoid all carbonated beverages, since there isn't room for expansion. Trust me on this one, you will become very uncomfortable if you are tightly laced and you drink a bunch of carbonation.
But the extent to which corseting shifts your organs is extremely minor compared to how much they shift during pregnancy. This is one reason why women can achieve much greater reduction with corsets (at least initially) than men, because our organs are meant to easily shift around.
The final negative health effect of corseting that will sometimes be mentioned is that corseting weakens the muscles of the back and abdomen. You will often hear that Victorian women couldn't even stand up without their corsets because their muscles were so weak. That claim brings out my skeptical face, because certainly women spent time out of their corsets and were able to move around. I will allow that possibly some women had difficulty standing for lengthy periods of time without a corset. But you have to remember, again, that these are women who wore corsets their entire lives and therefore never developed the musculature all of us have as a matter of course.
Can habitually or constantly wearing corsets weaken the muscles of the back and abdomen? Yes. By taking the strain off those muscles, they get less use. Corset wearing does not result in six-pack abs. Is it possible that weakening these muscles by daily corset wear over a long period of time could result in back problems when not corseted? Yes.
Personally, I have very severe back problems, that started at the age of 17 and involve deterioration of my spine. I started wearing corsets as an aid to my back problems, because I couldn't stand for longer than 10 minutes and couldn't sit upright longer than 30 minutes. With a corset, I can stand for up to 30 minutes and sit for up to 4 hours. So it's a significant aid for me to have the support of the corset and the light traction it provides my spine. So I certainly believe that corsets can be extremely beneficial for back problems. But I will also always recommend that anyone who wears corsets daily also commit to doing some back strengthening exercises. Yoga is fantastic for this, but you can also find simple routines and exercises online to make sure your back and ab muscles don't deteriorate.
So as I hope you see, there simply isn't evidence of serious health problems arising from corset wearing. Even with the most severe reductions of tightlacing waist trainers, corsets can be worn safely. Naturally if you have any discomfort or problems that arise, you should loosen or remove your corset. Trying to tighten a corset too severely or too quickly can lead to temporary problems. Also some things such as overeating, consuming carbonated beverages, not hydrating, etc, can lead to problems while wearing a corset and you should educate yourself about corseting "best practices." But wearing a corset is certainly not dangerous and does not damage the body.
Do you have any stories about corseting and health? Are there other myths you want to see me tackle? Share in the comments.
Corset Myth Series:
Myth #1: Corsets Are Painful
Myth #2: You Can't Breathe In A Corset
Myth #3: Corsets Are Bad For Your Health