Thursday, February 25, 2016

GRAND HABIT


“For Christ’s sake, I can’t breathe” I try to scream but can’t inhale enough to do so, as Nicole mercilessly yanks on the strings of my under-bust steel boned corset. I’m tempted to let go as a ferocious tug cinches my waist so hard that my stomach descends into my bowels and my lungs skyrocket toward my tonsils, but If I lose my grip we will catapult into the tiled wall behind us and have to be dug out. Suddenly though, in that unexpected gap, where my internal organs were last residing, the corset closes like a vice, and I can feel my waistline shrinking and my boobs ballooning out like the sails of a schooner caught in a gale.

Nicole seizes the opportune moment and breaks out into a lather as she yanks and secures the lacings and strings, with the skilled and desperate hands of a girl who knows what it’s like when a great dress is feeling tight, and like a real bestie came running over when I was reduced to admitting that I couldn’t do it myself.



My clothes speak before I do, and at the moment they are screaming “binge-eater” …so today, I’m all for wearing a Burqa. I’m standing at the edge of a life altering, self -induced crisis; soon I really will have nothing to wear, because nothing will fit me. And with the brands I’ve got stashed in my wardrobe(s) I could probably have bought an apartment during the crash. Having missed out on that opportunity however, the other crash I can immediately benefit from is a diet. I dread the word- it makes me want to eat.


Now though, thanks to the miracle of metal stays, and the ministrations of Nicole, my rolls –no Darlings, sadly not the car-are staying right where they are, beaten back into submission, behind metal girders, like jail birds who are just waiting for the opportunity to break free. If this is waist-training I need a whip and a chair, because I’m struggling with a Lioness-and she’s very hungry.




For centuries women endured the body modifications that fashion imposed upon them, from the glittering court of Versailles- where the extremely restrictive and torturous whale boned Grand Habit (pronounced habeet…who knew?) was compulsive daily wear for the glamourous denizens of the Chateaux, to the alarmingly compressed silhouette of the Victorian woman, who was squeezed into stays by ladies maids. These days fashion wouldn’t get away with imposing such unhealthy standards by bringing back such garments of restriction into popular fashion consciousness. But am I not restricted in other ways? Has fashion not had the last say about…what stays?

In the world of fashion I’m not really free. There’s a size cut off point with many designers, and while my figure might have delighted Reubens, these days it can feel a Designers silent wagging finger, and fashions disapproving pinch. I’m savvy enough to know where to buy , that’s my profession, but I can’t help but wonder, am I surreptitiously being encouraged to downsize? Has compressing the female form to a pre-set standard, gone from courtly de-rigueur to an instinctual unwritten clause in collections- that being- if I’m over a certain size…then my choices are restricted? And among the world’s designing elite has this become a grand habit? And…are they still pulling the strings?


The answer of course is yes, as the evidence is staggering, but is torturing myself to achieve a smaller waistline more attractive, and is it worth it?




I notice that evening, as I stand in a local club with some girlfriends, that as I walk toward the counter I’m receiving a certain type of attention from males, attention that’s sexually charged, and it has decidedly something to do with my new shape. I can’t slouch in this corset; my spine is ramrod straight; my décolleté is dramatic. When I walk it’s like a roiling gait, my hips move enticingly and my legs feel further away and longer. When I sit, there are no bulges, and I recline automatically in a way that’s undeniably poised. It’s potently feminine. And while restrictive corsets were considered to be an expression of male dominance over the female form, my new shape feels quite liberating. I haven’t however mentioned the pain. It was bearable- though sitting into a sofa was torture. I sort of shot bolt upright, eyes watering, with a smile plastered to my face insisting that nothing was wrong, feeling incredibly irritable.




On the real downside, it’s hard to breathe, and even harder trying to hold a conversation or suck in enough oxygen to form a sentence. No wonder Victorian women weren’t opinionated. But as I look at the glances I’m getting I’m beginning to feel a tad uncomfortable. This culminates at the bar with some knuckle dragging Neanderthal making a rather seedy comment.

“Well, anyone ever mistake you for Dita Von Teese?” he slurs.

“No” I replied, “anyone ever mistake you for a man?”

I walk away head held high. I might have shrunk my waist, but I’m no shrinking violet. Of course there has always been a close association with corsets and sex, I can’t blame the guy, but had my corset clad torso suddenly turned the night club into a sexual savannah land for demented prowlers?




Later that night as I stand in front of the bedroom mirror I think about always wanting to look my best, which comes at a price, very often a price tag, but my flirtation with the corset brought things to new levels of discomfort, and I wasn’t entirely happy. Somehow I lost my own personal power when I started obsessing about my waist size, and when my gorgeous dress was feeling tight. I squeezed down my proportions to conform to a standard, but it’s not where I want to find myself.


As the strings unloosen, my lungs inhale gratefully and that slight dizziness I’ve had since donning the corset disappears. And of course out come the tummy rolls in their naked truth, I’m almost pleased to see them.


I hang up my corset on the edge of the mirror, and look at it with mixed emotions. It may well make an appearance again, when there’s an unavoidable emergency, but for now I’m free of restrictions, and that’s probably how it’s going to stay, it’s more me. Designers can dally with teensy sample sizes to squeeze out the larger Gal, but I’ll just adjust my favourite dresses a little…and that’s my new grand habit. 


Edited by Roland Thackaberry 


Photography by Matthew Reilly www.matthew.ie



















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Saturday, February 06, 2016

SELF-HELPLESS

My “self-help” read of the week is about raising consciousness. Apparently I have been doing it all wrong. I can reach a higher plane ...
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