Are you human shaped? Then you should probably read this book.
“If fit is subtle and subjective then size is abstract and impersonal. Fit is cultural; size is industrial. It’s completely out of our control, yet it’s the part of clothes shopping that depresses people the most.”
“Much of our angst about size and fit springs from the notion that to be socially successful, we need to constantly tend to and revise our appearance. I call this philosophy ‘orthovestia’, after the Latin words for ‘correct’ and ‘clothing’.”
“Orthovestia doesn’t solve the practical problem of finding well-fitting clothes. Instead, it fools us into believing that if our clothes don’t fit it’s our fault for not understanding, training or disguising our bodies properly. It works by making us feel like failures who need experts to guide and correct us. But I want to show that what seems like helpful advice is really social control and moral shaping.”
“Underwear aims to control and contain the naked human body so that it becomes inconspicuous and docile, and doesn’t call attention to itself through the textures of its hair and skin, its quiverings and bulgings as we breathe and move.”One of the most striking revelations for me was the discussion about corsets. We look back on them as oppressive and wonder what that physical pressure would have felt like on an hourly basis with fabric taming your shape into the figure of desirability. Once the discussion turned to modern clothing she revealed that while we no longer have corsets physically restricting and shaping our bodies, we now have this internalised “corset of flesh” where we mould our bodies through diet and exercise to tame our shape into the very same figure of desirability.
“Our feelings of frustration and inadequacy about our bodies come down to this basic conceptual shift from an externally moulded silhouette to an internally moulded one. We’ve come to understand corsets of flesh as badges of freedom, modernity and self respect, and the fabric corsets they replaced as cruel, painful devices of primitivism, oppression and submission. And where once there were moral panics about young girls tight-lacing their corsets, now we fret about teenagers with eating disorders”Never before have I come across a concept so startling and true. And it all came from underwear. While I kid myself about my shape and how clothes fit me I know that had I lived in the days of corset wearing I would have tightly laced it up to fit the ideal. And while I kid myself that I’m free to wear whatever I want and I have a good understanding of what works for my shape, I am most certainly trying to shape my own body through diet and exercise. My corset is different from those that lived in the past but here I am faced with the same oppression. This author has eyes that see through the layers of angst, frustration and confusion around clothing one’s self. She has a way of giving power to her ideas by stating them so simply and thoroughly. Her tone throughout the book is of someone well read and best of all curious about the workings of the world. She will lift the lid on so many details about clothing old and new and reveal them to you for what they really are.
“But just when we think we’ve figured out all the crazy-sounding body types and fashion rules, we learn we’re not even the best people to judge our appearance - other people are. As TV makeover shows and uncanny comic-book heroes tell us, we’ll grow either repulsively unfit or monstrously overtrained if left to our own devices.”
“Yet we don’t think of this orthovestic gaze as cruel or oppressive, even though it’s precisely that. Instead it’s framed as helpful, as protective, as healthy, as sensible and as virtuous. And when we criticise other people, we choose to focus on our own helpfulness rather than how bad this might make them feel. After all, we only have their best interests at heart.”Perhaps this book resonated with me because I’m currently shaping my flesh corset whilst making my real corset (aka wedding dress) to be worn on the day of most significance in my life. Perhaps it resonated because like the author I too have found myself stuck in a piece of clothing in a change room writhing around hoping on hope that no one will have to cut me out of the bloody thing. And perhaps it resonated with me because she’s just a really great writer.
Try here, here, here or here.
So, has anyone else read anything like this that resonated with them? Any books I'm missing out on?