When I went to my first corset booth at a Steampunk convention, I was very embarrassed. I had only seen corsets in the media on very thin models, so I was sure that no one would make a corset big enough to fit me. The artistry of these handmade, steel-boned garments was amazing, though, and I had to inquire about them. At the booth were men and women, of all shapes, assisting customers with trying on corsets. The corsetier had many plus sizes available and was happy to make a corset in any size you needed. This was the first shopping experience I had had where I did not feel out of place and as though everyone were wondering why I was there.
Last month, I was able to stop at Dark Garden Corsetry & Couture, where I was also pretty nervous because they make corsets for Dita Von Teese. I felt like I did not belong in a shop that creates garments for beautiful people. The woman who helped me never batted an eye, never questioned my size, and never treated me as though I were not good enough to belong in a place that clothed models and performers. She treated me with such respect that I felt safe and accepted, which is rare in my life.
I have come to find that the corseting community is extremely body positive. Most tightlacing groups and blogs all have a “body/corset snark free zone” label on their pages. They do not allow body shaming or shaming of how you choose to wear your corset. I had never really been in a community like that. People of every gender, ability, shape, size, ethnicity, culture, and country all come together around this one topic where we all support each other in being body positive and practicing radical self love. Being part of this community has taught me to be snark free when talking about my own body and the bodies of others. It has also allowed me to learn to not care what other people think about what I look like.
At first, I was scared to wear a corset in public, especially since I like to wear them over my clothes because it is easier to adjust them if I need more pressure when I am anxious.
The first few times I wore a corset in public, I did have people comment on it: “Can you breathe?” “Is that safe?” “That’s inappropriate.” As I spent more time in the corset community and saw so many people supporting each other and the concept that no one gets to tell you how to look or judge your character based on how you dress, I started not listening to other people and their beliefs on how I should dress. I am learning to say “Eff Your Beauty Standards.”
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Plus-sized model Tess Munster started the “Eff Your Beauty Standards” campaign. She says, “For everyone that says we can’t show our tummies, wear a pencil/form fitting skirt, wear a bikini, wear sleeveless tops… YOU can! I want YOU to join me in wearing “daring” fashions & stop hiding your body because society tells you to.” (Tess looks great in her corsets.) As I have learned to feel less ashamed of myself and follow my own beauty standards, I notice that people don’t really comment on my corset anymore. At least, not negatively.
If I go into a room with my head down and my arms crossed to cover the corset, people feel the need to say negative things to me. When I go into a room confident and I don’t focus on my corset, I get no negative comments. In fact, my confidence seems to make other people more comfortable in telling me that they like the corset, especially older women who tell me all the time how pretty the corset is.
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I still wear the corset under my clothes or under a jacket when I am in places that I know are unsafe. Usually, those are places where people want to try and exert their power and seek to shame me.
One day, I will not hide it in these places, but emotionally, I am still building up to being ready to handle a verbal attack. I don’t think I would have ever gotten to the point where I was actually confident in what I wear – not the “fake it ‘till you make it” confident I had been practicing my whole life – had I not started wearing a corset and participating in such a supportive community. Blessings, Rev. Katie
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[Image Caption: graphic is a photo of a red and gold corset with white lace pipping across the top of it. The corset is hung on a wooden mannequin.]