Tight squeeze

Skeletons reveal corsets altered women’s bodies but not their life expectancies

From “Physiology for Young People” p. 84. Fig. 11. A purports to show the natural position of internal organs. B, when deformed by tight lacing of a corset. (Public domain image via wikimedia commons.)

While many women in the modern era rightly deplore society’s unrealistic ideals for body shape, in the 18th and 19th Centuries, expectations were so unrealistic that women wore devices that permanently modified their skeletons, deformed their ribs, and altered the positions of their internal organs. The corset, an iconic European garment, was intended to create an ideal “hourglass figure” in women, and would be worn beginning from childhood for almost the entirety of a woman’s life. Skeletons of women from the time reveal that this prolonged pinching of the waist resulted in deformed, ‘S’-shaped ribs and misaligned spines. The average waist size of these corseted women was only 22 inches, more than 10 inches smaller than the average modern British woman. Despite this impact of corsets on the body, new research by an anthropologist at American University finds that corseted women reached or exceeded typical life expectancy for the time, contradicting longstanding medical belief that corseting caused early death. Still, it’s safe to say women can be glad that era is behind them.

Read the full story at Forbes.

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