For some, the word ‘corset’ conjures up images of Victorian women wincing while being strapped into their brutally restrictive whalebone undergarments.
Although corsets are still available in various forms, including the ‘waist trainers’ beloved by the Kardashian sisters, they’re not always viewed in a positive light.
Many are quick to dismiss them as a relic of outdated, rigid, even damaging beauty standards.
Yet for Australian author and journalist Tara Moss, the appeal of corsets is not purely aesthetic.
Moss has worn corsets for two decades — even branching into making her own recently — and has loved the look of them for as long as she can remember.
Now, as she explains in the anthology Solaced: 101 Uplifting Narratives About Corsets, Well-Being, and Hope, her love of them is two-fold.
Last October, the self-described “midcentury vintage nerd” realised the garments provided effective relief for the health condition she’d been living with since her teenage years.
Moss has curvature of the spine, or scoliosis, and has explored various avenues — including yoga, pain killers and seeing osteopaths — to manage the resulting chronic pain.
When she developed pain during a writing session one afternoon, the Speaking Out author instinctively reached for an old underbust.
“Perhaps I had medical corsets in mind that day (they are often structurally similar) and I unconsciously craved the stiff posture support,” Moss muses in her piece, also published on Daily Life.
“Whatever the reason, by the end of that day, I discovered something curious — my neck and upper back felt ‘lighter’.”
The writer worked for hours that afternoon without developing a headache or neck tension, and experienced the same result the following day. It was a revelation.
“Finally the penny dropped: the corsets I had loved the look of for as long as I can remember could do far more for me than I’d given them credit for,” she writes.
30 hours of work, 2 broken needles and some brain strain, and I have made my first corset. She fits beautifully, thanks to all that work with a toile and pattern adjustments, and is totally comfortable already, with a high back for support and a little gap of a couple of inches at the back to tighten further, if I like, as she seasons and moulds to my body. (And my scoliosis.) Thank you so much, @vanyanis, for your expertise, marvelous teaching skills and patience. This is only the fourth garment I have ever sewn, and now I have my own custom made corset, made by my own hands. #corsetcourse #corset #newbie #sewing #learningtosew #newbie #taramoss #vanyanis #corsetry I’ll be blogging about this excellent corset making course soon. – Photograph by my beautiful husband Berndt Sellheim.
Moss argues the reason it took her so long to make this connection stems from the historical narrative that corsets only cause women physical pain, rather than ameliorate it — a belief she describes as unfounded “hysteria”.
“[The root] seems to be the idea that women, as an entire sex, cannot be trusted to know their own minds and bodies. There could apparently be no comfortable or moderate corset wear for women, only masochism and dangerous vanity,” she writes.
“What we find again and again is the idea of the corset itself—or the woman who wears one—as a corruptor. A woman with a corset is a threat or a victim.”
Dr Jodie Silleri of Surrey Hills Medical Centre says that there are some proven benefits of wearing a corset for back pain.
“Studies appear to support long-term corset treatment for chronic back pain with results demonstrating improved low back pain and increased muscle endurance for a short period of time,” Dr Silleri told Mamamia.
However Dr Silleri is quick to point out it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ solution – you would need a custom-made corset from a medical professional to accommodate your specific measurements.
“Furthermore, it is important to recognise that a corset brace cannot replace the need for physiotherapy or regular exercise to help strengthen the muscles that normally support the spine.”
I’m delighted to be helping to judge the best steampunk, Victoriana and cosplay at next month’s Goulburn Waterworks Steampunk Victoriana fair, as my steamsona The Tight-laced Time Traveller. I’m just a time-travelling lady, waiting for her train… Photograph by @brigittegrantphotography Hair by Erin at The Hairloom Hair & Beauty Hat by Christines Millinery Styling, model and makeup: Tara Moss, AKA The Tight-laced Time Traveller #repost #victoriana #tightlacedtimetraveller #taramoss #steampunk #cosplay #corset #corsetry #millinery
While there isn’t a huge amount of research on the topic, there are plenty of women like Tara who swear by personalised corsetry to ease the symptoms of their curvature.
These days Moss uses corsets to aid her curved spine and exercises to build what back strength she can, and her doctor is aware of this approach. (Post continues after gallery.)
Ultimately, the undergarments have served as a “miraculous” and inexpensive method of pain management that allows Moss to live comfortably and happily.
“When my leggy five-year-old daughter runs into my arms, and I pick her up without hesitation … I am grateful for the special moments these steel-boned creations afford me,” she concludes.
You can read the piece in full here. If you’re suffering from back pain or scoliosis, be sure to seek medical advice before donning a corset.
Do you wear corsets? What do you enjoy about them?
Featured image: Getty.