previous
next

Spurious Women

The Dawn Volume 2, Number 3. Sydney, July 1, 1889

WE take it that anything which is diverted by artificial means from its natural shape and from the natural exercise of its functions is a spurious representative of its kind, and we could not therefore select any of the dainty women figures you may see “on the block” as a fair specimen of a woman of the human race, because they are really spurious women. Bound, padded, compressed and laced, the modern woman is a highly artificial product, made, not after God's image but as near as possible to a fashion plate; and if any inhabitant of another planet were curious to see what a real natural woman was like, we should have to take him to some of the few women not afraid to use dress for purposes of health and comfort only, and beg him to overlook those who, by corsets, high heels, and a score of other inventions, have succeeded in constructing in themselves, a new variety of woman. It is enough to make any reflecting creature stand aghast to think that the most beautiful creature in the world is not content to stand, like any other living being, on her inherent merits. As if they had no reason of their own, some women follow like a flock of sheep, the lead of a milliner-built beauty, and offer up their health and comfort to secure an artificial outline. It is true that these things are done with the ultimate hope of pleasing the men, for if there were no men, it is not to be supposed that women would squeeze themselves into artificial shapes for pure pleasure. Yet the men are not to be altogether charged with the crime of inciting to these shams by their admiration. Taking men in the lump, there is sense in them if you wake it, and surely if they don't like a natural woman let them leave her alone. It has come to be believed that corsets are really necessary to the due support and bracing together of a woman; is the race then grown so limp and invertebrate? Can we not then stand upright without collapsing at the waist? If anyone is unable to remain perpendicular without a steel waistcoat it is clear that the muscles responsible for her natural support have had no opportunity to develop. Corsets are just as unnecessary as they are injurious, at any rate to the woman of average stamina, and of average symmetry. To those who are invalided or deformed, another rule may apply, and we would not for the world, restrict the liberty of individual opinion. On the contrary, if any honest reasoning woman sincerely believes that it is better to reduce the breathing capacity of her lungs, to crowd her internal organs into unnatural and often dangerous positions, and to crease her skin into folds by continual pressure, let her do so; the law of the survival of the fittest may perhaps weed out her and her offspring in time. Perhaps we shall be giving away secrets too much, if we talk of the indented garter-rings, about the knee, killing the flesh and cutting off the circulation, the injuries of high, stiff collars, high-heeled boots, and heavy skirts, a drag upon the hips; but it is well known enough, how many carry a heavy load of hair strained up and balanced at fashion's dictum on the top of weary heads, and it is often enough charged upon us that when dressed for walking we cannot raise our arms above our heads, nor stoop to pick up anything from the floor, nor throw a ball with any certainty that it will fall before us. The outdoor gait of a large proportion of women is certainly spoilt by lack of freedom, and the arms of the majority hang cylindrical and stiff like a bent stove-pipe. All these things make us sigh for a race of clear thinking women who are not afraid, whose own judgment is guidance enough and reason enough, and who will dress for health, decency, and comfort only. It would seem merely reasonable to wear garments which will leave our arms at least as much freedom as a doll's arm on a wire hinge, and to refrain from tying our ribs together, in a way which prevents respiration, and disturbs our anatomy, particularly as the only gain we achieve, is a counterfeit beauty of an unnatural model. We laugh at the Chinese women with their poor useless bandaged feet, and all the while we are tying up ourselves and laming much more important organs than feet, viz. lungs. For experiments prove that the average lung capacity, without corsets, is 167 cubic inches, but with the armour plating on, it is 134 inches only. Now, the first necessity of life is to breathe freely, for the blood collects poisons in its course, which can only be cleansed from the system by exposure to air in the lungs, and if anyone desires to feed her body on entirely pure and well-cleansed blood, it is essential that the action of the lungs should be untramelled. When we remember that every minute, a quantity of blood equal to the entire amount in the body is passed through the lungs for purification, and that it is from the blood that every part of the system from head to foot, draws its material of life, and replenishment and renewal, it is apparent that the least aid we can give to the capacity of inhaling pure air, is an aid to the health of every organ and tissue in the body, brain included. It is generally admitted, that, on the average, women are much weaker and much more subject to small ailments than men are, in spite of the fact that the anatomy of each is so alike as to require an expert to distinguish between them, and it is reasonable to suppose that part of this weakness is due to habitual constriction of the lungs through many generations, and habitual compression of the organs which lie below the diaphragm. Few people are aware that women who wear tight waist-bands breathe in a manner that is unnatural, and unlike all other human creatures. All natural men and women, whether civilised or savage, do, in the act of inspiration, expand both the upper and lower part of the chest, but the maximum expansion in all men, and in natural women, is abdominal. You inhale a full breath, the ribs rise slightly, the upper part of the chest dilates, the diaphragm contracts, and at the waist there should be, in healthy people, an expansion of from one to three inches, but there are few women whose habiliments allow an expansion of more than one-quarter or one half-an-inch. Thus the modern woman with a diminished lung-action, breathes mainly with the upper part of her chest, while all men, and all women who breathe freely, breathe almost entirely with the lower part. Even if this change were not injurious and we could afford to dispense with a full lung-action, the compression of the waist is necessarily hurtful, since it squeezes internal organs, and prevents the due contraction of the diaphragm, a contraction which materially assists the liver in the discharge of blood and bile. Tie a tight bandage round the waist of a man and the functions of the organs affected are impaired, he is unable to make more than two thirds of the mental and physical exertion of which he is capable. Is it not probable that women lose nearly the same proportion of their natural ability? But the idea of corsets on a man is ridiculed everywhere. Does it not strike you as possible, that the air of amused toleration with which men often regard women, is due to her pervading artificiality — this padding and strapping? If one man sees another using the smallest device to improve his features or figure, does he not instantly despise the intentional sham? And while men are expected to alter their standard of opinion for woman's benefit, and to concede to women the liberty to ingeniously alter and add to their natural figures, without the penalty of contempt — “because you know she is a woman” — how can we expect men to place women in their regard and respect on a real equality with any agreeable and wholly natural fellow-man? A writer in Scribner's magazine says regarding the physical development of women:

When we reflect that woman has constricted her body for centuries we believe that to this fashion alone is due much of her failure to realize her best opportunities for development, and, through natural heritage, to advance the mental and physical progress of the race.

Whether women may by acting on rules of sense instead of fashion or habit, really advance in the future the physical standard of their children, is a thing to be tested, but this thing is sure and indubitable, that but little progress is possible until we have all learned to reject and expel with abhorrence every species of artifice and the whole brood of shams.

previous
next