August 28, 2012

Underneath it All: thoughts on the history of women's skivvies

Oh hi there gender blenders,

Over the weekend I went to an exhibit at the Missouri History Museum called, Underneath it All, about the history of women's underclothes. Now, before your eyes bug out too far with excitement--it was not all that sexy. Sure there were lots of frills and lace, but it was all underwritten by heavy echoes of pain. Women's underclothes have been used to force or disguise women's bodies into ever-shifting idealizations. From wasp-waists to bustle-butts to pointy breasts--we have squeezed flattened, crushed, and caged ourselves because society has told us our bodies aren't good enough, our bodies are wildness that must be tamed and punished. We are still doing it, and not just with our underwear.

Canvas stays stiffened with paste, ca. 1775

One of the most unsettling artifacts was a long piece of carved whale bone that was inserted into the front of a corset to flatten the abdomen, and were often given to women as a lover's gift. "Here darling, something to keep your stomach flat." Wouldn't you like your special someone to give you a girdle as a love token--sort of a keep me close but keep your stomach closer? Romantic isn't it?

By no means am I arguing lingerie (and all that jazz) is bad. Why shouldn't we have pretty skivvies?  I'm just saying we shouldn't hurt ourselves and instead work to love our bodies as they are.

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