Image of the Week: Crimes of the Corset
The title of this image, Les crimes du corset or The crimes of the corset, aptly describes the damage done to countless women by this fashion item. It shows the shocking impact of wearing a corset as the vital organs are squashed and squeezed, as people desperately try to achieve an hour-glass figure. Corsets have been worn for centuries but were most popular during the Victorian era when they were worn regularly to compress the body and make the waist smaller. Take a look at this image of a brass corset actually used to minimise the waist in the 19th century – looks more like an instrument of torture than a fashion item!
You can engage in a gruesome version of the spot the difference, by matching Figure A who wears a corset with Figure B who does not. The way the arrows slant downwards when labelling the organs in Figure A is particularly sinister, highlighting how far the organs have been force down by the corset.
We know this image appeared as an engraving in La Culture Physique in 1908. The engraving has been photographed and it can be accessed online at Wellcome Images. Beyond this detail little is known about this warning image or its creator.
Given that this image was created over 100 years ago, it is interesting how modern it feels. People are still concerned about the impact of certain fashions and the media on women. For me, The crimes of the corset image is very similar to Jason Freeny’s artwork inspired by Barbie. Jason created a model of the beloved Barbie, with her organs displayed showing how impossible her proportions are.
The corset is still popular with contemporary celebrities and fashion icons, like Madonna and more recently Beyoncé. But thankfully corsets are no longer worn daily, or made from metal!
This week’s image reminds us how much our culture can influence to change our bodies, and impact our health and wellbeing.
Image credits: Wellcome Library, London
Wellcome Images is one of the world’s richest and most unusual collections, with themes ranging from medical and social history to contemporary healthcare and biomedical science. All our images are available in digital form and many are free to use non-commercially under the terms of a Creative Commons licence.