CHASTITY belts aside, when it comes to female body image there are few more potent symbols than that of the corset.
The peaks and troughs of its popularity can be charted from the stuffy Victorian era, through the roaring 1920s to 1950s pin-up girls and beyond, a barometer of both oppression and vanity.
When our sisters of the 1960s cast aside their girdles amid a period of burgeoning female empowerment, that should have sounded the final death knell for the garment. But, curiously, once again sales are booming.
Ebay has reported a 185% rise in the number of corsets being sold over the last three months, with 1900 listed over this period. M&S claims it sells one item from its new corset-inspired Waist Sculpt lingerie line every three minutes, while Rigby & Peller, the Queen's brassiere-maker, has noted a 45% rise in sales.
Granted, corsets never really went away, having been perennial stage favourites of everyone from Liza Minnelli to Madonna, but leaving aside the appeal of shock value and fetish element, it raises a simple question: why?
For me, the corset makes me think not of women embracing their sexuality – or even hiding unsightly bulges – but of graphic autopsy drawings of Victorian ladies cut open to reveal misshapen organs and bones displaced by a lifetime of being shoehorned into an artificial state.
I've always found the proportions created by a corset to be unnatural and cartoonish. That's not to say it's unattractive, but we women come in all shapes and sizes: some with hips, tummies and bums; others not – and isn't that a good thing?
To my eye, wearing a corset is no more appealing than starving myself to achieve a waifish size zero figure.
Essentially, both are about adhering to someone else's perfect ideal which, when you think about it, is an uneasy image to see staring back in the mirror.
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