November 25, 2012

Medicine in the Nineteenth Century: Dorset, Take off that Corset!

Tightlacing of corsets was widely believed to be injurious to the health. Here are two quotes from  1871 and 1873:

Lacing. – If all the women insane on this subject were in the asylums, the accommodations would have to be largely increased.  The habit is a general one, and very injurious.  A good authority says:  “It has been found that the liver, the lungs, and the powers of the stomach have been brought into a diseased state by this most pernicious habit.  Loss of bloom, fixed redness of the nose, and eruptions on the skin are among the sad effects."  If prolonged, there is no knowing to what malady tight lacing might lead. Its most apparent effect is an injured digestion, and consequent loss of appetite.  Of this, however, it is often difficult to convince the practiced tightlacer, for vanity is generally obstinate.  But, looking at tight lacing without consideration of its effect on health, and merely as its tendency to improve or to injure the appearance, nothing can be more absurd than to believe that it is advantageous to the figure.  A small waist is rather a deformity than a beauty.  To see the shoulders cramped and squeezed together is anything but agreeable.  The figure should be easy, well developed, supple.  If nature has not made the waist small, compression cannot mend her work.  Good Morals and Gentle Manners for Schools and Families. Alex M. Gow, A.M. American Book Company, 1873. pg. 183-184.

The disturbance of the functions of the diaphragm is by no means the only evil of tight lacing.  The circulation of the blood and the electrical radiations are impeded thereby, in addition to which there is a still greater and more alarming evil.  I allude to the pressure which is thrown on the bowels, and from the bowels upon the womb.  The peculiar organization of woman renders the practice tenfold more injurious to her than it would be to a male.  The shocking prevalence of prolapses uteri, commonly termed falling of the womb, is greatly owing to the pernicious practice of tight lacing.
The fact is, it is a mistaken notion that wasp waists are pretty.  They look perfectly horrible! I would rather see a woman’s waist as big round as a bushel basket than to see it contracted to a size a trifle larger than the neck.  Plain Home Talk and Medical Common Sense.  E.B. Foote, M.D., A.L. Bancroft & Co., New York [etc.] 1871. pg.15.

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