The exercise class I attend is specifically designed for people with arthritis and is mostly attended by women of a certain age. Our competent and knowledgeable instructor occasionally allows us to talk briefly about other things. Recently we talked about, of all things, corsets, which women once wore.
My oldest sister wore a corset. At that time, we believed such a garment would make
us look slimmer. Since the two of us shared a bedroom, I saw the red welts on her skin when she removed the darn thing — the stays must have hurt. I never got to use one, but I did wear a Playtex girdle — another torturous invention.
Made of something like rubber, the horribly uncomfortable girdles had holes punched in them, and when it was humid, as it often was in Montreal where I grew up, we had to put powder on before it was possible to pull them up — they stuck to your skin. The holes didn’t help any and the girdle stuck to your body especially when I wanted to remove it — powdered or not. Then, you were forced to throw it in the trash because catching a finger nail in one of those little holes tore it, rendering it useless, no matter how new it may have been.
My daughters were spared the wearing of such awful contraptions. I’d like to think they lived in their bodies the way we were all meant to. Still, if you think the things my generation wore were silly, think about the time women’s waists had to measure as little as 18 inches. Fashion-conscious females had ribs surgically removed so they could sport those tiny, stylish waists. They fainted often and needed smelling salts — how could the poor things breathe?
Men have often displayed their bank accounts on the backs of
their women. In polite society, a man can’t flash his wealth by passing his bank book around the dinner table, it’s considered somewhat impolite to brag about such things. However, if his woman is dressed in furs and jewels and expensive garments, it’s a clear indication of his wealth.
In the past, there had to be wealth if a woman’s dress required assistance to button up, or if her corset needed to be laced up from the rear to pull in that tiny waist. Dressed in such a manner, it would be clear to the world her man’s bank account was solid. After all, she required servants to help, right? And, a woman who could not lift her arms while wearing a stylish dress which often prevented it couldn’t very well do housework, could she? All of this, by the way, helped keep women in their place.
Today’s women are still willing to wear high-heeled shoes to totter about in, which puts us at a physical disadvantage. (I fell often when required to wear them to work.) High heels damage our feet and bodies. Why do we still put up with them? I don’t despair. One of these days we will smarten up and rise as one to declare ‘I won’t buy or wear those stupid shoes anymore.’ Then high heels may go the way of the 18” waist, the corset, AND the Playtex girdle.