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Posts Tagged ‘corsetry’

As my frequent readers know, this past semester I took three independent studies which focused on the adornment and modification of the human body. One independent study was a psychology class, one was a makeup and wigcraft class, and the other was an art studio course. In this studio course I could work with the subject of body modification in any way that I wanted. One weekend in September while I was still sketching and looking for inspiration for my first big project of the semester for this studio, I attended my first steampunk convention, The Great New England Steampunk Exhibition. Steampunk conventions are when Victorian era enthusiasts and craftspeople get together to celebrate the literature, science, and fashion of the day, and to recreate that old-fashion feeling of adventure and discovery with a touch of science fiction. Everyone at this convention was adorning their bodies in the Victorian style, but also modifying the style to reflect the modern cultural ideal of equality for all.

During the steam punk con, there was a side show in the hallway. The performers included an escape artist, a knife juggler, and a contortionist! I was so struck by the contortionist, and the way that she had trained her body to move in ways that appeared to be so unnatural, that I decided to do a piece on her. One trick of hers that was particularly disturbing and dazzling to see in person was the contortionist walking around her own head. It was absolutely insect-like! I interviewed her after her haunting performance, and she said that she had all of her bones, and didn’t have any sort of special adaptation that made her more capable of these contortions than anyone else. She was naturally flexible, but had to train for hours every day to do what she does.

This got me thinking about the other ways that people, specifically at this convention, also modify their bodies. Most of the women, myself included, were wearing corsets. Corsets are a well-known form of body modification. Worn to an extreme, corsets can cause quite a shocking transformation to the human torso, but generally speaking, they do not cause out-bursts of shock and horror like the contortionist’s performance did. I knew I needed to make a piece comparing the two.

The animations in this post are my finished products: a comparison and comment on what we as a culture view as extreme body alteration. Corsetry, which is popular and accepted (I practice it myself) is totally unnatural. It involves tying whale-bone or steel bands to the skin, and tightening them gradually to reconfigure a person’s waste line. Corsetry provides the benefit of good posture, a pleasing silhouette, increased internal pressure, and relief from back pain and hernias, but it can also cause shortness of breath, immediate muscle atrophy, and in extreme cases it can restrict blood flow to the internal organs (because they’re being rearranged). Corsetry is a very unnatural practice, and does very little to improve your overall physical health, yet it is one of the hottest search terms on the internet, and a symbol of femininity and beauty.

Contortionist, on the other hand, is a totally natural art, but it is met with repulsion by those unaccustomed to it. These gymnasts train hard to be both flexible and strong. Many onlookers are shocked mostly because they imagine that the contortionists might hurt themselves, but in reality, being very flexible is the best way not to injure yourself during physical activity. Contortionism does not cause muscle atrophy, it strengthens the body, and it improves posture and coordination.

Contortionism pushes the body to its natural physical limits, while corsetry pushes the body to its garment-assisted physical limits. My animations are simply meant to make you more aware of your own reaction to these two types of body modification.

The animations themselves were hand-drawn using tracing paper and markers. They were then scanned into photoshop where I put them all together and added the tinted background.

These animations, along with my other videos can always be viewed on my website, here. http://shaunart.net/pages/video

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This latest illustration was done using both transparent and opaque acrylic inks. Our assignment was to do an illustration of a “fade-away” figure, where an aspect of the figure blends into the background to create flat areas that contrast with rendered, round areas. At the beginning of the semester, I made a list of the things that I want to try and include more in my illustrations to keep me focused on making work that I was interested in. Corsetry, and pattern were two items on the list that could be worked into this illustration.

The background pattern was painted completely by hand. Some people used air-brush techniques to get a smooth background color, but my design was too intricate to airbrush. I chose to keep the composition simple, central, and symmetrical, because those adjectives capture the feeling of wearing a corset. There was no way to bend the figure, because a corset keeps the spine perfectly straight and central.

By Shauna Leva

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etzy listing

Some of you have been waiting a long time for these to be put online! Well, here they are; a handmade deck of corset themed playing cards. Reproductions now available for sale! See the bottom of the post for details on purchasing a deck.

A set of playing cards is the ultimate way for me to work in series and still keep my work functional. In case you all didn’t know, I love work that is function or made with a purpose in mind.

This piece is about the body. The corset invokes the female body even when no body fills the garment. These playing cards talk about a woman’s quest for beauty and the ways that we modify our bodies in order to achieve a higher standard of perfection.

Corsets were originally used to hold the breast in place, not to reduce the waist line. The first corsets were boxy breast plates that pushed the breast in and up and made the torso look very square. Obviously, the garment developed into a curvier contraption of steel and brocade which was was used to restrict the waists of women for centuries. A tiny waist and a larger hip and bust-line, as well as the shallow breath that corsetry caused, was seen as extremely charming during the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Todays corsets are built to be safer and contort the body in less extreme ways. There are still many tight-lacers out there who choose to restrict their waists down to 16 inches, but most corsets worn today are more for show than for body modification.

Corsets are a very feminine fashion. The corset is feminine in all of its forms, no matter how bizarre. And some modern corsets are truly bizarre. In these playing cards, I censored nothing. I tried to equally represent every ‘genre,’ as I call it, of corsetry.

The spades are historical corsets and those making reference to history. Their shapes range from early, boxy, bustiers, to dramatically proportioned torture devices. I even included a corset made for a pregnant woman. As outrageous as that sounds, women did wear specially designed corsets during pregnancy. But those maternity corsets were probably not meant to restrict the waist, but rather give back support to the expecting mother. You see, women back in the day who wore corsets everyday, would suffer from severe atrophy of the abdominal and back muscles. This condition actually made it near impossible for women to stand up without a corset on. So imagine if a women has been wearing a corset every day since she was five-years old, her body would not be strong enough to carry the weight of a baby without the help of a corset.

Corsets are not all about scary side effects. They have some real medical benefits. Today, corsets are used to treat scoliosis, hernias, and aid in weight loss. Corsets also make the wearer temporarily stronger by increasing internal pressure in the abdomen, just like a weight belt! However, it is not recommended that extended strenuous activity be attempted in a corset because of the reduction in lung capacity. It is easy to faint in a corset if one were to over do it.

The diamonds represent the modern corsets. Those used for medical purposes, and mostly those used for fashion. Fashion corsets are cheap alternatives to corsets made for waist reduction. Fashion corsets to not generally reduce the waist, and if they do, it is not by more than an inch. They are meant to be worn out, with jeans or over a dress. These are not undergarments like the corsets of old. These corsets are modern fashion statements which require no training or research to wear safely.

The pin up, vintage, and lingerie corsets represented by the hearts do require some training and research to wear safely. But the amount of training depends on how much the wearer wants to reduce her (or his) waist. Waist reduction corsets today are vastly safer than those of the past, but acclimating the body to these corsets is necessary before attempting to tight-lace or wear the corset for an extended period of time.  Frequent short term use, and gradual tightening is the best way to train the body and break the corset in. Waist reduction corsets are made of sturdy fabrics like silk, and brocade, and have steel bones on the inside which make it possible to reduce the waist evenly and without puckers and dangerous rolls. Waist reduction corsets are popular in burlesque, pin up and vintage fashions, as lingerie, or as a costume piece.

The last suite, the clubs represent alternative corsetry. This includes corsets made from alternative materials like leather, pcv, and latex. Corsets in this group are generally erotic, exotic, or down-right weird. One corset is made from only a steel cage. No fabric involved. It can be done. Because leather, pvc, and latex stretch over time, they are not suitable materials to reduce the waistline with unless they are used only as a finishing element on the surface of the corset, and the meat and bones are made out of steel and sturdier fabrics. But they still look hot regardless. Have fun trying to figure out how people get into these sort of corsets.

This would be a good place to mention that all of these cards were designed from memory. I did not look directly at any photographic reference in order to create these corsets, but instead, drew from my memory and prior knowledge of corsetry. I certainly did have to do a little bit of research into the uses and construction of early and odd corsets, but again, there was no photos used in the final execution of the piece.

If you would like to own a reproduction of this playing card deck, please see my etzy listing for the item or email me. Decks are printed overseas and on demand, so manufacturing and delivery may take several weeks. I thank you for your patience.

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