Effects of tight lacing on the body
Tight lacing is the practice of wearing a corset that has been tightly laced to shape the body to a desired figure. This practice has been in effect since the early years of corsetry, often deplored by moralists and the subject of urban legends and cautionary tales in many centuries. For the same amount of time, doctors spoke against the practice, citing dramatic risks to the wearer's health; however, many claims were based on the incomplete medical knowledge of the day, as well as incorrect assumptions and beliefs about the female body.
There is no actual evidence from specific, cited autopsies supporting the notion that the heart is damaged by corsetry. If a person shrinks the size of his/her rib-cage significantly, it is speculated that it can leave little space for the heart, thus leading to inevitable palpitations.
The constriction of the corset, if too tight, prevents the lower lobes of the lungs from fully expanding when taking a breath. This puts extra strain on and causes additional work for the lower lobes of the lungs. David Kunzle, an art historian, argues that because the lower lobes have been strained, they are unable to adequately fight off pneumonia or bacillus tuberculosis which go to the lower lobes of the lungs first. However, Valerie Steele notes that the corset's association with tuberculosis originated before the bacillus was discovered, and that the corset may have only aggravated the condition. Corsets are only typically dangerous if a person practices tight-lacing unsafely, sizes down too quickly, and/or is in poor health.
In the nineteenth century, corseting was thought to lead to cardiac palpitations in the heart and spanaemia, or the lack of oxygen in the blood. This was successfully debunked, as there is no evidence to support corset-caused circulatory damage.
The pressure placed on the breasts results in many injuries and complications. Corset-wearing cannot cause breast cancer. Occurring more frequently is a reduction of the size of the nipples. Victorians believed the corset caused mammary abscesses, a common inflammation of the connective tissue in the breast; however, mastitis is caused by bacteria, and thus there is no evidence supporting that clothing of any type alone could have led to the condition. These effects are only consistent with that of over-bust corsetts and not relevant to those using under-bust only.
Victorian doctors believed that, in a tightly-laced corset, the stomach would be unable to churn correctly, making it difficult to digest food completely. This condition is called dyspepsia, more commonly known as indigestion. However, there is no evidence linking corsetry to dyspepsia, although it may cause constipation and make it difficult for the wearer to eat a sizable meal.
Victorian doctors believed that the liver experienced many complications while the body is tight laced, becoming severed due to the location of the ribs as a result of the tight lacing, and that the liver would become enlarged or displaced. Another possibility was mechanical congestion, the result of the pressure placed on the inferior vena cava, thus obstructing the flow of blood. According to Dr. Tse-Ling Fong, liver cancer is often the result of this vein being blocked. The blocked vein is not able to filter out the bad blood in the liver resulting in a cancerous infection. However, corsets would not have had a drastic effect on the liver, merely squeezing and elongating it, and modern research shows that much of the liver function can be lost without causing health problems. Steele also notes that there is a great deal of variation in liver appearance, which may have confused anatomists performing autopsies.
The uterus was believed by Victorian doctors to suffer the most from tight lacing, failing to develop properly due to the inactivity of the abdominal muscles or becoming prolapsed. Others believed that every time the bladder or rectum emptied, the uterus was unable to be lifted back into place due to weak ligaments, causing head and back pain, and inability to stand or walk, and improper menstruation. However, this line of thought rested on very little evidence and the assumption that the uterus was one of the most important organs in a woman's body, and it is unlikely that the uterus actually suffered from corsetry.
Victorian doctors believed there was a relationship between gallstones and tight lacing, the corset causing extreme weight loss. (Gallstones are the result of the body metabolizing fat to compensate for rapid weight loss.) However, the most common sufferers from gallstones are female even today, and it is unlikely that the corset had much to do with the condition.
Wearing a corset for a very extended period of time can result in muscle atrophy and lower-back pain. The pectoral muscles also become weak after extensive tight lacing. These weakened muscles cause a greater reliance on the corset.
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