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There was a time not too long ago when the corset was a crucial piece of a woman”s wardrobe. It cinched the waist, sometimes to extremes, and created the coveted hourglass silhouette that was so fashionable at the time. Women regularly tightlaced, pulling the stings of their corsets so tight that they sometimes passed out. Some scholars think that the tradition of women swooning all the time is also related to corsets, which would restrict breathing and blood flow and cause lightheadedness. Still, corsets were popular and often expected pieces of female wardrobe. But what was really going on under there?

Ouch!

In 1908, Dr. Ludovic O”Followell published Le Corset, a book dedicated to the impact on women”s health made by corsets. Throughout history, both men and women have worn corsets, but the majority of the wearers–particularly the extreme tightlacers–were female.

These X-rays show the effects of long-term corset wearing and tightlacing on the body. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, corsets weren”t simply worn to sculpt the figure for one evening. Instead, they were intended to permanently change the shape of the body so that it would retain the hourglass shape, even if a corset wasn”t being worn. Women would start wearing them at a young age, and their bones and organs would adjust accordingly. Check out the shape of the ribs in the X-rays seen here.

There”s one thing about the X-rays to take into consideration: it”s unclear if they were taken while the women wore the corsets, or if the boning of the corsets was painted in later. Either way, the strange formation of the ribs is quite real.

The bones weren”t the only things that corsets compressed, just the only things visible via X-ray. Organs like the lungs, liver, and stomach were also affected by tightlacing. Some extreme tightlacers could, as a result, only breathe using the top portions of their lungs, causing the lower portions to fill with mucus.

The x-rays of a non-corseted woman (left), and a woman who wore a corset regularly (right). The purpose of the corset was to shrink the waist to make the hips and bust look more accentuated.

A tightly-laced corset would affect the positioning of the liver, lungs, and stomach inside the body. Not all corsets were laced extremely tightly, though. Many of them provided support of the bust as well, like a modern-day bra.

(via Dangerous Minds)

Corsets had fallen out of favor for everyday wear by the 1920s. People still wear corsets today, but usually only for special events or costuming. We now have a better understanding of the health risks associated with squeezing your insides together, causing most of today”s corsets to be made with comfort, safety, and mobility in mind.

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