Sunday, September 11, 2011

White Fang and Other Monsters



“A woman in a corset is a lie, a falsehood, a fiction, but for us, this fiction is better than the reality”

~~~Eugene Chapus 1800~1877~~~

My mother called hers ‘White Fang’. It was made of some kind of industrial-strength woven polyester with a diamond-shaped white satin panel appliqu├ęd on the front of it. It had a zipper in the side, ‘bones’ all the way around, and garter clips along the bottom. When she unfastened her nylon stockings and shelled herself out of it at the end of a long work day, she looked like she’d been attacked by something with blunt claws and an iron grip. Then she put on a robe that didn’t touch her anywhere but the shoulders.

Now and then, Mom would buy a new, different White Fang. I remember one that had laces in it that she pulled up tight and tied. They meant that in addition to the deep red grooves in her flesh from the stays, she also had round dots, from the grommets.

None of these torture garments stopped at her waist, but rather extended to just an inch or two from the bottom of her brassiere. So when she sat, or bent or breathed she got stabbed, pinched and squeezed. The fact that she could even put the thing on amazed me. It looked like it would maybe fit the cat. But every morning she’d roll it up, force it up her legs and unroll it over her torso. Then, if it had a zipper, she’d zip it, careful to tuck in whatever was lopping out through the placket so as not to do herself some serious harm. She’d sit on the edge of the bed and roll up her stockings, one at a time, and roll them on her legs, fastening them to the garters. They were ‘support hose’, thus squeezing her legs to the extent that they bubbled out of the tops—between the stockings and the bottom of the girdle.

Mommy wasn’t fat. In fact, she was sometimes painfully thin. But White Fang and all of its many incarnations were part of her business attire. She wore them every workday, always under a dress or a suit. She had the posture of a Marine Corps DI, without a bulge or a wrinkle, her form undisturbed by even the suggestion of breathing.

For years, I followed in Mom’s tortured footsteps: from the age of fourteen, dragging on my own White Fang and nylons. Fishnet stockings were popular, and I even tried wearing those, but immediately named them ‘cheese graters’ for what they did to my inner thighs. I distinctly remember tearing one pair off in the girls’ bathroom at school, and throwing them disgustedly in the trash.

Today there are new and improved support garments. But don't be fooled: They're still designed to help us fit a mold, make us look the way we're supposed to look. It doesn't matter that they roll up, twist, shrink, stretch, fray, don't wash well, and make us, besides uncomfortable, only too aware of how we don't quite measure up. It doesn't matter that perhaps simply looking the way we do might be just fine.

Where am I going with this? Nowhere, actually. But I’m doing it in unstructured bliss, my fatness uncompressed, my lungs unfettered. Oh, once in a while, when I want a somewhat smoother silhouette (kind of like Buddha), I drag on one of those one-piece bra/girdle/underwear thingees. They are always too short for me, so Bill has to stand behind me and pull them up so my arms don’t drop off in the street from the straps cutting through my shoulders. That, of course, causes my chest to be hoisted up to the vicinity of my chin.

For the few hours I wear one of these things, I am reminded of Mommy and her perfect posture, her smoothly-fitting Butte Knit suits and I want to rip the damn thing off in her behalf and run outside to burn it in the road.

It wouldn’t be the strangest thing I’ve ever done.