The Female Perspective: Extreme Corseting: Dangerous or a Show of Individuality?

Welcome! This blog is written by author J.L. Metcalf and will chat about comics, movies, garden gnomes, ghosts or even books and daily life. It is a place where I offer my ladylike perspective on anything and everything my brain can think of. 


I was recently made aware of a woman named Kelly Lee Dekay, she has managed to corset herself into a 16 inch waist. Yeah, you’re reading that correctly, a SIXTEEN INCH WAIST. In looking at her I can’t help but be slightly repulsed. I don’t say this to put her down or make her seem like anything other than what she is, a woman searching for her path to stardom.

Kelly Lee Dekay as Jessica Rabbit
Kelly Lee Dekay as Jessica Rabbit

I have to admit to liking her attitude about it all, she states (on her website),

“I know for sure I’m going to get a lot of heat for [saying I’m a feminist] given corsets’ dark history,” she told cosmopolitan.com. “I started tight-lacing for me. I enjoy it. I wear my personality on the outside. But is it for everyone? No, absolutely not. But it’s my body and my decision. Telling someone to conform to your idea of feminism is still oppression. People have this sense of entitlement over a woman’s body. I reject that entitlement and choose to do the things that make me happy. That’s feminist. My body, my choice.”

~KLD, cosmopolitan.com

She is 100% correct, it’s her body and it’s her choice. I also like where she says it’s not for everyone to follow her path. My problem comes down to the fact that teenage girls will see her and miss that part. Because, let’s face it, a lot of teenage girls aren’t paying attention to reason. They’re thinking about what will make them stand out, be sexy and get all the attention. I may be in my thirties but I still remember what it was like to be a teenage girl. It was horrible. I was the nerdy, chubby girl with braces. On top of that, I was shy as hell and only had a few (equally nerdy) friends. I was never very outgoing, even well into my teens. I was uncomfortable in my body and in who I was.  It took me long into my twenties to get comfortable.

The reason I tell you all this is because I can imagine a young girl seeing this woman and thinking, ‘Hmmm…I could totally do that!’ Corsets are easy to procure in these days of internet shopping and voila! We have a young girl trying to do something that could potentially injure her permanently and that alters her body in an extremely dramatic fashion.

Part of what turns me off from Kelly Lee’s corseting is the reason she did it, she wanted to look more like some of her favorite comic book characters (and, of course, like Jessica Rabbit) and that only frustrates me. How are we, as women, going to be able to make men understand that women are not to be looked at as comic book damsels, but as real-life women with people like Kelly Lee walking around, epitomizing the classic comic book lady shape? What I mean is that, there are battles being fought at Comic Conventions and Online by women trying to be treated as human beings and not simply as sexual objects. Someone like Kelly Lee (and others like her) potentially sets that back because she becomes a real-life fantasy for young men. She raises expectations that woman could look like the comic book women, if they wanted to. It’s frustrating and it’s not entirely Kelly Lee’s fault, she is simply doing what she wants to do with her body. The thing is, being a celebrity means that you are automatically being looked at, appraised, judged and treated as a role model (whether they want to be one or not). What kind of role model is she?

Corsets have a long and sordid history. They have been used in the past to determine what class you belong to (the higher classes of course wearing the best corsets) along with being a tool for enhancing posture and slimming the waist to a culturally dictated size that was deemed “appropriate”. Nowadays, they are primarily used as fashion accessories. I even have one myself that I was fitted for. Let me tell you, it is NOT easy wearing a fully laced up corset. You can’t sit comfortably, you certainly can’t eat as much as you normally do and you have to be careful about any strenuous activities because a corset does hamper your ability to breathe full breaths.

An old Corset advertisement. A child wearing a corset? Crazy!
An old Corset advertisement. A child wearing a corset? Crazy!

Health Concerns that Arise from Wearing a Corset

  • Although doctors advised women to abandon corsets in favor of their health, most women continued wearing them while taking prescriptions and concoctions to cure their ailments.
  • The ideal size was 16-17 inches so women would attain this measurement through tight-lacing to the point where their rib cage became deformed.
  • Lung capacity was reduced (only the top of the lungs could be filled with air) which was the primary reason for fainting (shallow salts were invented).
  • Reduced lung capacity: led to persistent coughing because shallow breathing allowed the bottom of the lungs to fill up with mucus. Doctors believed this was the cause of tuberculosis.
  • Organ deformation: severely compressed several organs such as the liver, stomach, bladder, and intestines which caused indigestion, heartburn, and constipation.
  • Women who wore corsets as children developed atrophy in their back muscles. Consequently, they couldn’t pick up heavy objects

Basically, what I’m saying is that corsets = female repression. That may sound ridiculous to some but it isn’t as ridiculous as you may think. Corsets were a way for women to look “more feminine”, not to mention they are painful and rather uncomfortable. I’ll never understand the mindset of someone like Kelly Lee DeKay, I have some respect for her for making a point of saying that she is proud of her body, proud of who she is and she does not recommend that everyone should do this. At the same time, isn’t there some degree of self-doubt involved when you want to modify your body so severely? I mean, I love comic books too but I have never looked at the women and thought, “Gee Whiz, I want to look like her!”, I have always been aware that those women are drawn to in-human specifications and should not be emulated.

My biggest worry is that other young girls will try to emulate her with disastrous results. Not to mention, it is a frustrating display of feminism. It is a slippery slope saying you are feminist, DeKay says all the right things, that’s she is proud of herself and does not expect others to duplicate what she has done, but at the same time, by doing it and by making money off of it, she is showing young girls who are hungry for fame and fortune, an “easy” way to make a name for themselves.

The dangers to the internal organs when corseting can be extremely unhealthy.
The dangers to the internal organs when corseting can be extremely unhealthy.

No matter what you think of corseting, my point here is that this type of extreme body modification doesn’t necessarily forward the female cause in the comic book world. I don’t think it drags it backwards, but it causes the cause to simply stand still. To me, standing still is pretty futile. We want to be seen as equals in the comic book world and to stop being seen as sexual objects or angry feminists.

What do YOU think about corseting? Good or Bad? Tell me in your comments!

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