“TO MOLD THE WAX OF THE WOMAN”: AN EXAMINATION OF CHANGES IN SKELETAL MORPHOLOGY DUE TO CORSETING
In this dissertation, I will examine two skeletal collections and one collection of corsets—all pertaining to the time period of AD 1700-1900 and located in England and France. The three research sites are the corset collection held in Blythe House by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the St. Bride’s Lower Churchyard collection held at the Museum of London; and the skeletal collection held at the Musée de l’Homme, Paris. These collections were chosen due to their ability to assist in addressing the central research question: How did women during this time period relate both physically and culturally to these life-altering garments and to the conflicting societal attitudes around them? This dissertation has the potential to change how we think of women both in history and today. By examining something that popular discourse leaves unexamined—the way women’s clothing choices change their bodies, and how they relate to those choices—the focus becomes removed from the corset and placed onto larger conversations such as how we see women in society, and what clothing choices can signify. Over a hundred years after the last woman in my time period died, we are still debating such things as a woman’s right to control her own body and her fitness for high public office. Finally, this dissertation challenges ideas about the corset’s role in truncating the life and livelihood of women in this time period, ideas which remain prevalent in the scholarly literature on corset culture and history. As women corseted at very early ages and continued to do so throughout their lives, challenging the exoticization and looking at women’s own words about their corsets results in the ability to have nuanced discussions of female sexuality which do not rely on medical narratives or discourses that put the importance on the male gaze.
NotesDegree Awarded: Ph.D. Anthropology. American University
Degree grantorAmerican University. Department of Anthropology