Fillers One hundred years ago

The evil effects of the corset

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.326.7397.1014/a (Published 10 May 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:1014

Generations of medical men and some few enthusiastic reformers have repeatedly protested against the use of corsets, and have ascribed to them many of the ailments which are relatively common amongst women who wear them, but no more comprehensive accusation has been brought against the use of these articles of female attire than that contained in a paper by Dr. W. Williams of Liverpool, published in the Reports of the Royal Southern Hospital. Dr. Williams asserts that the injurious pressure of the corset on the lower ribs and the abdominal viscera interferes with digestion and assimilation, and produces dilatation of the stomach and gastric ulceration with subsequent anaemia, whilst at the same time by compressing the base of the thorax corsets throw the diaphragm out of action, and thus are responsible for the thoracic respiration of females which is described as both abnormal and insufficient. In addition, however, to these injurious results, lateral curvatures of the spine are also said to be due to the injurious pressure of the corset upon the spinal muscles, and Dr. Williams concludes his heavy indictment with the statement that by the use of corsets the majority of women are permanently deformed as to their skeletons at 24 years of age, and permanently crippled at 30. Most observers will admit that numerous evils result from the abuse of corsets, nevertheless it is a fact that many women live to old age in good health, in spite of the compression to which they subject themselves, and it is difficult to see how the use of corsets is to be dispensed with so long as it is the custom to wear skirts and petticoats, which are most conveniently suspended from a structure which has a basis of support upon the hips … Until some series of garments is devised for female wear as becoming and comfortable as those which are at present customary but capable of being worn without corsets, there is little hope that the latter article will be dispensed with. (BMJ 1903;i:388)

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