Form and Content

Wasp waists 4


by Cynthia Wands


This image haunts me:  the coveted “wasp waist” of a thankfully bygone era, when some women had their lower ribs surgically removed to obtain this body shape.

I look at these women and wonder – what are they thinking?  What were they saying just before this photograph was taken? I study their faces to see if I can catch what they’re feeling. Some of them look detached or numb, as if they’re just held in place by the shape of their costume. Some of them look proud, or flirty, or amused.

A couple of them seem sad to me, but maybe it’s their huge hats. (Yes, their hats. I wonder if their huge hats with the (egret? heron?) feathers, and the lace and the frippery, and all the hat pins holding them in place in their upswept hair – I wonder if the hats aren’t given them all a good sized headache.) From what I can tell of the photograph, the women are show girls, or actresses, or models – paid to wear this type of costume.

I’m researching women from this particular point in history just now, and I’m curious about this form of dress up. This is the kind of culture you live in when you agree to have your ribs removed so you can have a 15 inch waist. And then – I know women in this day and age who have had botox treatments, and liposuction and nose jobs. And these present day women aren’t actresses or models, they’re women who work in offices and attend meetings, and wear expensive watches. They get to mold and change their body shape so they feel like a more desirable part of the culture. So I have a lot to think about. Especially how our dress informs us of who we are. And were.

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