1/6/2017 6 Comments
Harry Potter actress and noted feminist Emma Watson forgot to do her research after accepting the role of Belle in Disney's upcoming live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast. The media was awash in praise after Watson announced she wouldn't wear a corset in the movie... indicating that they didn't do their research, either.
See, many feminists (and fauxminists) demonize the corset as a symbol of female subjugation... which may have been true toward the end of the Edwardian era. But it's far from the whole story. Corsets have provided different shapes (from inverted cone to... insect) throughout the centuries, and it wasn't always about tightlacing and oppression.
For example, here's a video of Lucy Worsley, author of At Home with Jane Austen and If Walls Could Talk: An Intimate History of the Home, donning an Armada style dress. This replica outfit was worn by Elizabeth I for a portrait celebrating her victory over the Spanish Armada in 1588. Worsley is wearing a corset, which, in her own words, “isn’t at all like Victorian stays that give you a lovely waist.”
The end result is hardly a lung-restricting, organ-crushing hourglass. The purpose, here, was to be "queenly," taking up as much space as possible, projecting worth and confidence. The fact that the inside of the dress, which no one will see except the maids who dress the queen, is made of fine silk, kind of suggests that inner beauty is just as important as outer beauty.
Other versions of the corset were often focused on much more practical things than queenliness and confidence. For example, warmth and safety. Wearing several layers of big, heavy skirts helped women stay warm in drafty castles — and these big, heavy skirts needed a sturdy base to anchor to. Moreover, the shape this base provided wasn't just pretty -- it also kept skirts from getting wrapped around women's legs, tripping them and causing injury, and even drowning.
Throughout many eras, the corset also increased the comfort of the skirts -- those skirts were heavy. Think about how sore your shoulders would be if you wore a heavy backpack without a waist strap:
(believe me: that waist strap makes all the difference!)
... But having a sturdy base also allowed dresses to be beautiful and elegant. I mean, here’s Lily James in Cinderella:
And here, again, is the sad, deflated, and disappointing yellow gown from Beauty and the Beast:
Without a corset, all the weight just kind of hangs. With a corset, it could have had gorgeous, airy sleeves and a skirt with shape and volume:
Kind of like the Lily James/Cinderella dress -- which was stunning, magical and fantastical.
But maybe it will look better on film.
Going back to the history, rather than the functionality, of the corset. The male characters wear waistcoats and Gaston has a blunderbuss, which was fashionable for men of the 18th century. (Moreover, Gaston storming the castle calls to mind the French Revolution, 1978-1799.) At that point in time, French women's fashion was all about abundance. Hoop skirts, panniers, petticoats, and, yes, corsets. Court dress was restrictive and forced a proper standing posture -- but outside the court, dress had shifted to be more comfortable.
The waist, at that time, was not particularly small, and stays were laced snugly, but comfortably. They offered back support for heavy lifting, and poor and middle class women were able to work comfortably in them. In fact, by the Empire and Regency periods (Jane Austen era), corsets fell out of fashion for a while.
So historically, yes, she would have worn a corset. Yes, it would have been stiff, but it wouldn't have been unhealthy tight -- though the high-cut stays at the armpit would have forced her to stand up straight, with her shoulders back. Yes, it would have helped keep her warm in the winter (which is when much of the movie takes place). Yes, it would have allowed her to have "abuncance" in her dress.
Court dress, C. 1760, with wide panniers. From 1750-1775 in Western Fashion.
Meanwhile, in England, clothing was becoming more inexpensive and durable, in response to an increasingly leisurely and outdoorsy lifestyle.)
Honestly, though, this doesn't just bother me because the dress is so meh, and so many people with strong, positive memories will be disappointed by its poor construction. And I'm willing to forgive historical blunders, because it's a fairy tale. What bothers me is that this is yet another example of the "helping culture" that Christina Hoff Sommers, PhD, and Sally Satel, MD, described in their book, One Nation Under Therapy: How the Helping Culture is Eroding Self-Reliance.
Undoubtedly, Watson has good intentions, here. (Or, maybe, she was afraid of being crucified by the body police if she looked too beautiful in the film.) But sometimes, good intentions have very negative consequences. As per Dear Well-Meaning Parents and Educators: Stop Giving Girls Self-Esteem Problems, most eight-year-olds don’t look at Disney princesses and start feeling inadequate. Children are experts at imaginary play — and they only learn that they “should” feel self-conscious around pretty and/or skinny women when adults teach them to.
Kids are excellent social modelers. They are experts on picking up on your fears, attitudes and behaviors. Even when they're babies, they can read your emotions to decide what is "safe," and what is dangerous. A baby will literally crawl off a (perceived) cliff is the mother's face indicates that it is safe to do so.
You’re much more likely to give a girl self-esteem problems by constantly telling her she’s not as pretty as Lily James (via unsolicited pep talks)… than by just letting her use her imagination and be a kid.
And, honestly, do you really think this is the way to boost your daughter’s self-esteem?
"Realistic" Lammily doll (because imaginary play is so realistic), with "acne":
Lammily, with cellulite (because all the 8-year-olds are worried about their cellulite) -- kind of makes you wonder if this pisses off the "fat activists," because they think "smaller fat bodies" crowd the conversation and don't change the dynamic enough:
If so... sorry, but there’s a chance your daughter is a nasty little bully, who has no inner self-worth, and instead thrives on the imperfections of others.
Which, honestly, wouldn’t be that surprising, considering the research on the dangers of the so-called "self-esteem movement." Sccording to There is No Benefit to Having Self-Esteem. Here's What Children Should Be Learning, Instead:
Psychologist Roy F. Baumeister et al.'s 2003 meta-analysis, Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness or Healthier Lifestyles, found that,
Does that remind you of anyone? Perhaps... a certain president-elect? Someone who brushes aside trivial matters like national security, so he can spend his time obsessing over what people are saying about him and writing nasty response tweets? Someone who claims to hate political correctness, but can't, himself, take a joke? Someone who had no problem attacking not just political opponents... but also random teenagers with an opinion online?
Happy New Year to all, including to my many enemies and those who have fought me and lost so badly they just don't know what to do. Love! Donald J. Trump on Twitter
In his case, it's not because of the self-esteem movement. It's because he's rich, and people have been sucking up to him and trying to win his favor his whole life. (Not because of anything he did, but because of who his father was.) It's an unfortunate, but not unavoidable, side effect of being rich.
(I'd love to be proven wrong on this. Maybe he's secretly reading up and attending briefings, and he'll totally know his stuff by the time he takes office. It's encouraging that he's spoken out against John Kerry, and wants to stand by our ally, Israel, instead of supporting terrorism, corruption, homophobia and human rights violations in the name of "political correctness.")
But I digress.
The point is, Emma Watson and all the body acceptance, fat activist, "feminist" activists need to stop concern trolling young girls. Just because you have no imagination, doesn't mean they don't. And when you medicalize their innocent childhood play, you're probably doing more harm than good.