At lot of space has been wasted on the waspish waist of a Disney Princess. The waist of Lily James in the live-action “Cinderella” movie has caused more talk than I think it merits.  The controversy has people claiming CGI although this is denied by Lily James and the filmmakers.

AutumnInGreenI’ve long since said goodbye to my 21-inch waist. My husband blames belly dancing for building up my stomach muscles. I blame the three extra pounds I’ve gained and my battle to stay at 93 lbs. as well as my time away from ice skating. My mother tells me that when she was younger she had a 19-inch waist, not unlike Scarlet O’Hara in the movie “Gone with the Wind.”

I’m not sure if that is with or without a girdle although I recall in the 1959 Jimmy Stewart movie “Anatomy of  Murder,” much was made of the rape victim’s preference to be girdle-free because loose and jiggly flesh represented a loose woman. My mother is so conservative, I wasn’t allowed to wear boots and shorts were a controversial topic.

Lily James’ character Cinderella is decidedly not loose. She is sweet and determined. She’s brave under the unjust treatment of her stepmother. If she hadn’t met her prince, she might have become Mother Teresa or Sister Bernadette. She also is under the confines of the period, a period that rather loosely defined, sometime before the 1960s since her stepmother’s wardrobe seems to say 1940s, but the ballroom gowns seem to say Victorian-ish.   Let’s just call it a pre-girdle era. Cinderella’s stepsisters wear corsets and not girdles. Why wouldn’t we expect Cinderella to wear one as well?

I’ve seen the actual dress that Lily James wore. It was on display at the El Capitan. Perhaps with the current rate of obesity in America, that waistline may seem obscene, but it didn’t to me.

For the sake of full disclosure, I do own three corsets. Two have spandex content. One does not. I am not, however, a corset expert so I turned to someone who was: Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden Unique Corsetry. Adamme participates in the Edwardian Balls in both San Francisco (where she is based) and Los Angeles.

Q: What was your initial reaction to the images of Lily James’ Cinderella in her blue ballroom gown?

A: The first image I saw was a billboard, and I thought “Wow, that is a very slender girl in a very large dress. I wonder what the rest of the costumes are like.”
Q: How do you feel about the reaction some people are having to Lily James’ Cinderella in a corset (e.g. http://www.vox.com/2015/3/14/8213087/cinderella-review-disney-remake)?
A: I think there are far more important things in the world to be up at arms about than a fairytale brought to life on the big screen. I wasn’t paying attention to how people reacted to the facial prosthetics on Angelina Jolie in Maleficent, but one of the things about movies in general is that they’re not real life. Cinderella is a fairytale Princess, wearing a gown whipped up by her Godmother’s ingenuity and magic – why ever shouldn’t her waist be exceptionally small??
Q: What are common misperception you feel people have about corsets?
A: A lot of people believe you can’t breathe in a corset, or that you need to have ribs removed to achieve a small waist. It’s true that poorly fitted corsets can be quite uncomfortable, but corsets that have been made by someone experienced and knowledgeable are incredibly supportive and even comforting.
The myth that 19th Century women had  ribs removed is absurd, especially considering how rudimentary medicine was at the time. The basis of this myth probably has something to do with the fact that the vertical stays in corsets are also referred to as bones, which did break from time to time, and needed to be removed.
Q: What have you heard about the waist issue for this Cinderella.
A: Very little, other than some people are concerned about it
Q: If you have seen the movie, what’s your reaction to the fashion, to the themes and to the movie in general.
A: I haven’t seen it yet, but am looking forward to doing so, though mostly for the aesthetic aspect of it. Cinderella has never been inspiring for me, being one of the least substantial fairytale princesses. In addition, Kenneth Branagh isn’t well known for his depiction of strong female characters.
Q: How did you become interested in corsets?
A: As a child I read a lot of 19th century novels and biographies. While I don’t recall any specific passages about corset wearing, I certainly found the fashions to be compelling. I also think that Lynda Carter’s Wonder Woman was inspiring on several levels – she was fierce and still feminine, *and* she had that little waist.
Q: What’s the narrowest your waist has been?
A: 23″
Q: What’s a reasonable expectation for size of a corseted waist?
A: Easily 2″ smaller than one’s natural waist, and as much as 5″ smaller, depending on the natural space between ribs and hips, and compressibility. Of course, there are extreme cases, but 2″-5″ smaller is safe, comfortable, and achievable the first time you put on a well-made corset.
Q: Can you be a feminist and love corsets?
A: You absolutely can be a feminist and love corsets. I don’t define feminism as a woman being masculine, but as a woman being equal to and having the same rights as privileges as men, while also being feminine. I don’t wear corsets to please anyone but myself.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: One of the things that most people don’t realize about corsets is that they create an optical illusion. Our bodies are generally ovals, wider from the front, thinner from the side. A corset redistributes the waistline, making it appear narrower and therefore smaller from the front than the eye expects it to be. When you then add an incredibly full skirt below the redistributed waist, the illusion is compounded.
I could go on for days about the joys and wonders of corsets, or compare them to any number of fads, but I’ll leave it with this: Corsets have a bad reputation because there are a lot of poorly made corsets in the world, and anything done to an extreme can be bad – but a lovingly and knowledgeably made corset is like a pretty back-brace, and can do wonders for your self-confidence.
You can see Autumn Adamme’s creations at Dark Garden.
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