Personal Trainers: The 21st-Century Corset

Half.corset Inspired by Nicole Kidman in period costumes and contemporary clothes, Raquel Laneri at The Southwing considers at length the relative tyrannies of corsets versus hardbodies, writing, "The modern woman who diets and the woman who puts on a corset both chase an ideal, and suffer considerably for that ideal."

Her post reminded me of an astute passage from Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. The novel is set in a near-future whose many clans include neo-Victorians, who've adapted historical customs and aesthetics to a culturally fragmented world shaped by nanotechnology. (The references to "genuine" materials mean they weren't produced by nanotech replicating machines.)

...he glanced through to door to Gwendolyn's closet and out the other side into her boudoir. Against that room's far windows was the desk she used for social correspondence, really just a table with a top of genuine marble, strewn with bits of stationery, her own and others', dimly identifiable even at this distance as business cards, visiting cards, note cards, invitations from various people still going through triage. Most of the boudoir floor was covered with a tatty carpet, worn through in places all the way down to its underlying matrix of jute, but handwoven and sculpted by genuine Chinese slave labor during the Mao Dynasty. Its only real function was to protect the floor from Gwendolyn's exercise equipment, which gleamed in the dim light scattering off the clouds from Shanghai: a step unit done up in Beaux-Arts ironmongery, a rowing machine cleverly fashioned of writhing sea serpents and hard bodied nereids, a rack of free weights supported by four cillipygious caryatids -- not chunky Greeks but modern women, one of each major racial group, each tricep, gluteus, latissimus, sartorius and rectus abdominus casting its own highlight. Classical architecture indeed.

The caryatids were supposed to be role models, and despite subtle racial differences, each body fit the current ideal: twenty-two-inch waist, no more than 17% body fat. That kind of body couldn't be faked with undergarments, never mind what the ads in the women's magazines claimed; the long, tight bodices of the current mode, and modern fabrics thinner than soap bubbles, made everything obvious. Most women who didn't have superhuman willpower couldn't manage it without the help of a lady's maid who would run them through two or even three vigorous workouts a day.

So after Fiona had stopped breast-feeding, and the time had loomed when Gwen would have to knacker her maternity clothes, they had hired Tiffany Sue--just another of the child-related expenses Hackworth had never imagined until the bills had started to come in. Gwen accused him, half seriously, of having eyes for Tiffany Sue. The accusation was almost a standard formality of modern marriage, as lady's maids were all young, pretty, and flawlessly buff. But Tiffany Sue was a typical thete, loud and classless and heavily made up, and Hackworth couldn't abide her. If he had eyes for anyone, it was those caryatids holding up the weight rack; at least they had impeccable taste going for them.

Glamour conceals the effort, making the resulting body seem natural when it is, in fact, a carefully crafted artifact.

Photo is from the Museum at FIT's Seduction exhibit, reviewed (with a slide show) here.