Monday, August 23, 2010

Thoughts on Stays ~ 1856

From The Lady's Guide to Perfect Gentility By Emily Thornwell (Pages 132-137)


Lacing the chest.—When the breathing is deep and full, the chest is expanded and rises, and the stomach is protruded during inspiration, while the chest falls and contracts, and the stomach recedes during expiration. Now what must be the effect of preventing these movements of the chest and stomach by means of a tight bandage? Why, the lungs can be distended no longer with air, the breathing becomes hurried by the least exertion, the natural functions of the organs occupying the interior of the body are hindered, and the free circulation of the blood impeded, constituting, altogether, ample causes of disease.

When the chest is scientifically laced as tight as can be borne, it often causes the blood to rush to the face, neck, and arms, on taking exercise or remaining in a heated room. Young ladies at parties frequently become so suffused from this cause, that they present the appearance of a washerwoman actively engaged over a tub of hot suds. Tight lacing also causes an extreme heaving of the bosom, resembling the panting of a dying bird.

Effect of tight lacing on the face, neck, arms, shape, and motion of the body, etc.—Those who wear very tight stays complain that they cannot sit upright without them ; nay, are sometimes compelled to wear them in bed, and this strikingly proves to what an extent artificial braces of any sort weaken the muscles of the trunk. It is this which disposes to lateral curvature of the spine. From these facts, as well as many others, it is evident that tight stays, far from preventing the deformities which an experienced eye might remark among ninety out of every hundred young girls, are, on the contrary, the cause of these deviations. Stays, therefore, should never be worn, under any circumstances, till the organs have acquired a certain development ; and they should never at any period be tight. A well-known effect of the use of stays is, that the right shoulder frequently becomes larger than the left, because the former, being stronger and more frequently in motion, somewhat frees itself, and acquires by this means an increase of which the left side is deprived, by being feebler and subjected to continued compression.

The injury does not fall merely on the internal structure of the body, but also on its beauty, and on the temper and feelings with which that beauty is associated. Beauty is in reality but another name for that expression of countenance, which is the index of sound health, intelligence, good feelings, and peace of mind. All are aware that uneasy feelings, existing habitually in the breast, speedily exhibit their signature on the countenance, and that bitter thoughts, or a bad temper, spoil the human face divine of its grace. But it is not so generally known that irksome or painful sensations, though merely of a physical nature, by a law equally certain, rob the temper of its sweetness, and, as a consequence, the countenance of the more ethereal and better part of its beauty.

In many persons, tight stays displace the breast, and produce an ineffaceable and frightful wrinkle between it. and the shoulder; and in others, whom nature has not gifted with the plumpness requisite to beauty, such stays make the breasts still natter and smaller. Generally speaking, tight stays also destroy the firmness of the breast, sometimes prevent the full development of the nipples, and give rise to those indurations of the mammary glands, the cause of which is seldom understood, and which are followed by such dreadful consequences.

They also cause a reddish tinge of the skin, swelling of the neck, etc. A delicate and slender figure is full of beauty in a young person; but suppleness and ease confer an additional charm. Tet most women, eager to be in the extreme of fashion, lace themselves in their stays as tight as possible, and, undergoing innumerable tortures, appear stiff, ungraceful, and illtempered. Elegance of shape, dignity of movement, grace of manner, and softness of demeanor, are all sacrificed to foolish caprice.

Stays tend to transform into a point the base of the cone which the osseous frame of the chest represents, and to maintain in a state of immobility two cavities, whose dimensions should vary without ceasing. By this compression, stays are prejudicial to the free execution of several important functions, muscular motion, circulation, respiration, digestion.

The muscles, or organs of motion, are enlarged by free exercise, and are destroyed by compression; every degree of this, as exercised by stiff stays, diminishes and enfeebles the muscles of the chest; a great degree of it absolutely annihilates them. Long before that is accomplished, the stays become necessary for support instead of the muscles; but as their support is remote from the spine, as well as inadequate, it yields, and lateral curvature, or crooked back ensues. Ketreat to natural habits is now difficult or impossible; if the muscles retain any power, they increase the curvature, and the wretched being is reduced to the necessity of obtaining support, and maintaining existence, by stays still stiffer during the day, and at night by stays when in bed.

By impeding the circulation of blood through the lungs, the use of stays not only prevents their proper development, and renders respiration difficult, but becomes a predisposing cause of convulsive coughs, consumption, palpitation of the heart, and aneurism.

From the same cause, obstinate and dangerous obstructions in the abdominal organs, which are displaced by the pressure of the busk, are of frequent occurence. In females, the liver has frequently been found pushed several inches beyond the last ribs, and its superior surface perceptibly marked with them; and this has been produced solely by the pressure of the stays upon the organs contained in the chest.

Some additional reasons why tight-laced dresses should be avoided.—Any unnatural compression of the chest produces a narrowness of the parts, and permanently deforms it by doubling the cartilages of the ribs inward, near their junction with the breast bone.

In some persons who practice tight lacing with the indispensable accompaniment of the busk, a constant feeling of aching and soreness of the breast-bone is induced, and so severe does this become, that the removal of the* busk is attended with excruciating pain, and has to be effected gradually.

All the lower organs of the body, such as the liver, the diaphragm, the stomach and spleen, are prevented from performing each its important function; and who can wonder that cold extremities, pale visages, troubled sleep, excessive nervousness of the system, etc., are among some of the frightful consequences of this universal practice ?

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