Monday, November 24, 2008
Musings on the Mutter
This past weekend I was in Philadelphia, and visited one of the oddest places in my recent memory: The Mutter Museum. It is part of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, and is a collection of medical artifacts both historical and strange. There is an ovarian cyst that weighed in at 74 pounds, there is a piece of John Wilkes Booth's brain, a colon that contained forty pounds of feces and the twins joined at the head which are pictured here. Believe me when I say that these examples are just scratching the surface of strangeness in this fascinating place.
However, I keep thinking about one piece in particular, which is a turn-of-the-century skeleton of a tightlacer. Her ribcage has been brought in so small that her floating ribs nearly meet in front, and the museum estimates that at the time of her death, her waist measured in the 13-14 inch range. Listening to the audio tour, I learned that one thing scientists can discern from the skeleton is that she was wealthy enough to have a servant that could lace her that tightly, and that her corsets probably used grommets, which also helped her to lace tighter. I never would have thought about grommets as an innovation, but it makes perfect sense.
The audio piece also gives a shout-out to Cathie Jung as a modern tightlacer, notes that tightlacers are rare, and that tightlacing can cause serious damage to your body. This last part annoyed me. It's true that tightlacing can create significant health problems, however, it also worth noting that there are variations to the degree of lacing. I can sustain being laced to 22.5 inches for a day, which is a reduction of 5 or 6 inches. I've been lacing for years, and my doctors have never once expressed concern for my health. People wonder how I can breathe, my father in particular wonders about my organs being displaced, and others are amazed that I can eat in a corset.
The answer? Practice. I didn't always lace so tightly. I started out gradually in the early days of my training, and worked my way down to this size which is both flattering and realistic for me. I could lace tighter, but I wouldn't be able to stay laced so tightly for an extended period of time. Without taking the appropriate amount of time to work down to a smaller size, I would do damage to myself. There is a right way and a wrong way to do anything. A thirteen inch waist is not visually appealing to me, but Cathie seems to be doing just fine, so good for her. And, as for the skeleton, no cause of death was mentioned--not even from tightlacing.