The Health Reformer


December 1, 1871

Words to Christian Mothers


On the Subject of Life, Health, and Happiness—No. 4

I have conversed with many young ladies upon the sin of wearing corsets and tight dresses, and I have never found one ready to acknowledge that she laced. But I often hear young ladies exclaim, “Why, my dress is not tight; if I should wear it looser, I should feel that I was dropping to pieces.” We want no better evidence that the dress is worn very much too tight than that as soon as the dress is loosened, the wearer feels as though dropping to pieces. The compressed muscles have suspended action in a great measure, and have become enfeebled, and partially paralyzed, so that when the pressure is removed, they cannot act their part in sustaining the system until they have time to recover from the abusive compression. And, again, the blood has been hindered in its flow through the veins, by the tight corsets. Remove the pressure, and nature makes an effort to force the blood into the contracted veins, which causes pain. The muscles and veins require time to recover from the abuse that has enfeebled them, and that nature may perform her work as she would have done had she been left to herself. HR December 1, 1871, par. 1

Tight lacing forces the ribs out of their natural position, and crowds them upon the lungs. When the pressure is removed for any length of time, and the lungs are allowed to have room to be filled with air, the ribs are thrown out more to their natural position. This change, for the time being, causes pain. But if loose dresses are worn constantly, all these disagreeable sensations will disappear, and a wonderful sense of freedom and relief will be experienced. HR December 1, 1871, par. 2

A writer in the Household says: “I was talking, some time since, with a lady in rather delicate health, who has had three children, and lost them all early, at different ages. She ought to have been intelligent on such topics, but so far from having any shade of self-reproach, she began to talk about how small her waist was ‘naturally.’ She was a tall, broad-shouldered woman, but the belt of her wedding dress measured only one half a yard! She had kept it for the admiration, if not for the emulation, of other girls. ‘And my Susan was just like me; she could lap her ribs, too. She often did it for the amusement of the other girls, till she really looked as if she would drop in two.’ It is not wonderful that ‘Susan’ did not survive the birth of her first child. HR December 1, 1871, par. 3

We have not much reason to suppose that dressmakers pay any attention to physiology, but I got the following item from one some years ago. It was when they wore those cruel long waists and no corsets: ‘I always give plenty of room about the lungs’ (meaning the upper part of the chest, which she could not have compressed much if she had tried), ‘that is important, you know; but I do not suppose it makes much difference how tight you have your dresses here,’ and she placed her hands upon the lower, floating ribs, which yield to any pressure. The less of such physiology the better for anybody.” HR December 1, 1871, par. 4

In my early life, I was intimate with a near friend who persisted in lacing. There was not much said in those days condemning this health-destroying practice. I knew but little of the evils resulting from tight lacing. I was solicited, at one time, to lace the corset of this friend. I drew the strings as firmly as I possibly could, which started the blood from the ends of my fingers. But this did not satisfy her, and she declared that I did not know how to lace one. She called for a stronger person, who also worked to the best of her ability to get her form squeezed to the desired dimension. But she scolded, and declared that we did not half try. She even shed tears. HR December 1, 1871, par. 5

She then thought of a plan that might bring more strength to bear. She fastened the strings of her corset to the bed-post, and then wrenched from side to side, gaining a little at each effort, while two of us held fast what she had gained, that the strings should not loosen when removed from the bed-post. She seemed satisfied that she had done all she could to lessen her size. Next came her shoes. They were a size and a half too small for her feet. And for the life of her, she could not bend her compressed form to put on her shoes, which we succeeded in doing, after repeated trials. HR December 1, 1871, par. 6

This young lady was naturally a rare specimen of health. Her skin was clear, and her cheeks red as a rose. Her chest and shoulders were broad, and her form was well-proportioned, her waist corresponding with the healthy proportions of her body. She was a slave to the tyrant, fashion. She was literally deformed by lacing. Her broad shoulders and large hips, with her girded, wasp-like waist, were so disproportionate that her form was anything but beautiful. And the most of her time was devoted to the arrangement of her dress in keeping with fashion, and laboring to deform her God-given, healthful, and naturally beautiful, form. HR December 1, 1871, par. 7

And this friend was naturally devotional. We attended meetings together, and she was several times deeply moved, and more than half persuaded to leave her false life, and become true to herself and to God. But the decision was finally made to live for this world. She thought she could not bear the cross of Christ; yet she daily imposed upon herself a ten-fold heavier cross than Christ ever requires his followers to bear for him. HR December 1, 1871, par. 8

Jesus invites the restless, the murmuring, the oppressed and sorrowing, to come to him. He even invites this class of fashionable martyrs, who are heavily laden under their self-imposed burdens, to come to him, that they may find rest. He invites them to take his yoke upon them, which imposes no such sufferings as they subject themselves to endure in being the slaves of fashion. He presents his yoke in contrast to the galling one they have placed upon their own necks. He says: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Lowliness and meekness of mind, which ever characterized the life of the divine Son of God, possessed by his true followers, bring contentment, peace, and happiness, that elevate them above the slavery of artificial life. HR December 1, 1871, par. 9

The result of my friend's self-imposed martyrdom was, the loss of health, peace of mind, and natural beauty. She suffered the penalty of her folly in shattered nerves, swollen joints, and deformed feet. The nails grew into her flesh and caused the most excruciating suffering. When I told her that this was in consequence of wearing small shoes, she would not admit it. She said that many of her acquaintance wore shoes closer than hers. She suffered a painful surgical operation in having the nails cut from the flesh of her toes. But this gave her no permanent relief. She finally married. Previous to the birth of her first child she was hardly a sane woman. Her imagination was diseased. In short, she was a marked case of fashionable ruin, with shattered nerves, and impaired mind. She is now the mother of children. What can be expected of her offspring? HR December 1, 1871, par. 10

The Christian mother, in order to mold her children for usefulness in this life, and for God and Heaven, must have health, calm nerves, rational and sound reflective and reasoning powers. These will give her gentleness and sweetness of character to reflect upon the minds and hearts of her children, and also give her that becoming dignity and independence necessary to her holy life-mission in training her children, and conducting her household. HR December 1, 1871, par. 11

The heathen devotees sacrifice their lives to their gods. The car of Juggernaut crushes out the lives of many, and missionaries are sent to enlighten this benighted race. But why are not Christians aroused in our land of boasted light and Christianity, as they witness the daily sacrifice of health and life among women to follow slavish customs that actually destroy a greater number of lives than are sacrificed among the heathen, and this in a land where Christ is preached? And what is worse, professing Christians take the lead, and set the example. How many who minister in the sacred desk, in Christ's stead, and are beseeching men to be reconciled to God, and are exalting the free gospel, who are themselves slaves to appetite, and are defiled with tobacco. They are daily weakening their nerve-brain power by the use of a filthy narcotic. And these men profess to be ambassadors for the holy Jesus. And thousands of Christians are destroying their vitality by becoming fashionable slaves in point of dress. Fashion will not give them room to breathe, or freedom of motion, and they submit to the torture. They lay aside reason and noble independence, and submit to the martyrdom of fashion, sacrificing health, beauty, and even life itself. HR December 1, 1871, par. 12

Home and Healthwell says that “The free and easy expansion of the chest is obviously indispensable to the full play and dilatation of the lungs; whatever impedes it, either in dress or in position, is prejudicial to health; and on the other hand, whatever favors the free expansion of the chest, equally promotes the healthy fulfillment of the respiratory functions. HR December 1, 1871, par. 13

“Stays, corsets, and tight waistbands, operate most injuriously, by compressing the thoracic cavity, and impeding the due dilatation of the lungs, and in many instances they give rise to consumption. I have seen one case in which the liver was actually indented by the excessive pressure, and long-continued bad health, and ultimate death was the result. Alluding to this subject, Mr. Thackeray mentions that men can exhale at one effort from six to ten pints of air, whereas in women, the average is only from two to four pints. In ten females, free from disease, whom he examined, about the age of eighteen, the quantity of air thrown out averaged three and a half pints, while in young men of the same age he found it to amount to six pints. Some allowance is to be made for natural differences in the two sexes; but enough remains to show a great diminution of capacity in the female, which can be ascribed to no other cause than the use of stays.” HR December 1, 1871, par. 14

“Dr. Herbst says that a middle sized man, twenty years old, after a natural expiration, or emission, of air, inspired, or took in, eighty cubic inches when dressed, and one hundred and sixty when his tight dress was loosened. After a full dilatation of the chest, he inhaled one hundred and twenty-six inches when dressed, and one hundred and eighty-six when undressed. HR December 1, 1871, par. 15

“Another young man, aged twenty-one, after a natural expiration, took in fifty when dressed, and ninety-six when undressed. Had Dr. Herbst made his observations on some of the ladies who carry the use of corsets to extremes, we apprehend he would have obtained results of a nature really alarming. HR December 1, 1871, par. 16

“At the hotel ‘dieu,’ the great hospital at paris, a young girl of eighteen lately presented herself to breschet for his advice. On the right side of her throat, she had a tumor of variable size, but never larger than one's fist. It reached from the collar-bone as high as the thyroid cartilage. When pressed downward, it wholly disappeared; but as soon as the pressure was removed, it was indolent, soft, and elastic. It was observed to be largest when the chest was tightly laced with corsets. In short, by placing the ear on it, the murmur of respiration could be heard in the tumor, which proves that a protrusion of the lungs had taken place, or, in other words, that the poor girl had been laced so tightly that her lungs, having no longer sufficient space in their natural position, were squeezed out of it, and were forcing their way up along the neck.” HR December 1, 1871, par. 17

Judging by their actions, women reflect upon their Creator in regard to their formation. They virtually say that God did not look far enough into the future to make provision for this age. They therefore seek to remedy the oversight of the Creator by artificial aids. The form the Creator has given woman is not after the present approved style of fashionable milliner's and mantuamaker's idea of graceful beauty; therefore, corsets are invented and recommended to be used, that the waist may be compressed into the least possible dimensions, for the form nature had given them was altogether too old-fashioned for this progressive age. HR December 1, 1871, par. 18

The panniers worn by fashionable ladies, are a monstrosity, deforming instead of beautifying. These articles are composed of almost any material, according to the taste and circumstances of the wearer. Some are made of cotton, some of hair, others of newspapers, or cotton rags. Those who are wealthy purchase the beautifying adornment at the stores. Thus nature is deformed because fashion wills it, and the delicate organs, located near the small of the back, are injured by pressure and too great heat. These panniers are very inconvenient. They are made stiff, to retain their form of plumpness, and bound over the kidneys, and press upon the nerves and spine, retarding the free circulation of the blood, and inducing it to those parts which should be kept cool, and free from inflammation. In addition to this injurious arrangement, fashion binds upon women sashes and overskirts, with any amount of puffs, tucks, and ruffles. These all tend to burden the body, and create unnatural heat. The kidneys become irritated and do not perform their proper function, and the entire system becomes diseased by impurities being retained in the system. Nature cannot do her work while suffering such abuse. HR December 1, 1871, par. 19

A dressmaker, while engaged in sewing at the Health Reform Institute at Battle Creek, was observed to sit without supporting her back against the chair. She showed signs of great weariness, and was asked to make her position more comfortable. She answered that she could not lean back against the chair, for the pannier that she wore would press upon her back and cause her great pain. The pads were examined and found to be hard and unyielding. They were made very stiff that they might not lose their form and bulk. This instrument of torture this lady wore over the kidneys and spine, and the pressure upon the nerves was so severe that it was almost beyond endurance. HR December 1, 1871, par. 20

She also wore corsets, laced so tightly that she could not breathe freely, or have freedom of motion. She was reasoned with in regard to the sin of so injurious a practice which was destroying, according to her own admission, the healthy tone of the nerves. She answered that she must dress as the world dressed, although it exhausted her means to do so, and was robbing her of health. “What can I do?” was her inquiry. “If I did not keep up with the present styles I should not get employment. I live by my trade.” Said she, “I would not adopt the reform dress if I knew my life would be lengthened several years by so doing.” HR December 1, 1871, par. 21

She also stated that the artificial arrangements upon her head were most uncomfortable, and that she had heat and pain in her head nearly all the time, yet she said that she would not be singular in her dress if it would save her life. Here was a woman sacrificing comfort, happiness, and life, to the customs of society. Her lungs were so pressed that she could not take a full inspiration of air. Because of imperfect breathing and unbalanced circulation, caused by pads over the brain and the small of the back, her blood was being poisoned, and her vitality was being diminished, every day. Yet she unblushingly stated that she preferred to sacrifice years of her life rather than be out of the fashion. Here she exalted fashion above health and life. This is not a solitary case. The world is full of just such devotees to health-and life-destroying fashions. And we cannot expect a better state of things until Christian mothers have courage to dress comfortably and healthfully, independent of the tyrant fashion. HR December 1, 1871, par. 22

The Herald of Health, under the caption of Tight Lacing and Torpidity of the Liver, asks: “Has tight lacing anything to do with torpidity of the liver and constipation of the bowels, except in an indirect manner by contracting the lungs, diminishing respiration, and thus weakening the entire system? HR December 1, 1871, par. 23

“Tight lacing has a great deal to answer for in the production of these, as well as other diseases. Its injurious effects are produced in two ways: first, by the direct pressure upon the liver, confining it to a smaller space, compressing it, and thus directly preventing its proper action. Lace up an arm or a leg in the same way, and notice how soon the circulation will diminish, the limb decrease in size, and its strength waste away. The effect of continued pressure upon any organ or part of the body is the same. HR December 1, 1871, par. 24

“The second way in which it produces injury is, by preventing the right mode of breathing. In natural respiration, the diaphragm contracts at every inspiration and forces the liver, stomach and bowels, downward and outward, while at each expiration the diaphragm relaxes and the abdominal muscles contract, forcing these organs to back to their former position, thus keeping them in constant motion. This motion of respiration is necessary to good digestion, and the healthful action of the liver and bowels. With tight lacing this natural mode of breathing is impossible, and the stomach, liver, and bowels, being deprived of the needed motion, become torpid and inactive. From inactivity of these organs many of our most dangerous diseases arise.” HR December 1, 1871, par. 25

It is no marvel that women are suffering invalids. The lower part of the lungs are compelled to suspend action for want of room. Enormous appendages are placed upon the back of the head and the small of the back. The spinal nerves, centering in the brain, are excited by the extras placed upon the head. The kidneys and spinal nerves are inflamed by the extras upon the back. The panniers upon the back incline the form forward. This, with compression of the waist, make it impossible for women to walk naturally and gracefully. They virtually say that God did not understand the philosophy of real symmetry when he formed Eve in the perfection of beauty. HR December 1, 1871, par. 26

Christian mothers, shall we accept the plan of God and the sample he has given us of healthful beauty in the natural form? Or shall we go in for modern improvement upon his plan? Shall fashion, however injurious to health, natural beauty, and true modesty, be our standard? The masses of professed Christians hold themselves under obligations to follow changing fashion; as though they had no right to reason for themselves, and call in question its monstrosities, any more than they would the truth of the Bible or the existence of a God. HR December 1, 1871, par. 27

Would God that Christian mothers would become intelligent in relation to the influence that fashionable styles of dress have upon their health and life. Before any permanent improvement can be expected, they must become intelligent in relation to the best manner of dressing so as to secure the healthy, well-balanced circulation of the blood in every part of the system and also the free and natural action of the lungs. HR December 1, 1871, par. 28

Christian mothers, I close my appeal to you for this number, with the words of the apostle: “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.” HR December 1, 1871, par. 29

E. G. W.