Corset controversy: ‘Bridgerton,’ historical accuracy and health concerns

Credit: AJC

In recent years, the Netflix series “Bridgerton” has reignited interest in corsets, with many fashion enthusiasts eager to embrace the show’s aesthetics. However, this trend has also raised concerns about the potential health risks and discomfort associated with wearing corsets.

Actresses Simone Ashley, Emma Stone and Cara Delevingne have spoken out about their uncomfortable experiences with the waist-cinching devices during their careers.

In a 2022 interview with Glamour, Ashley revealed the pain and discomfort she endured while wearing a corset on the set of “Bridgerton,” even suffering a shoulder injury. “Bridgerton” producers have since told cast members they will no longer have to wear the garments, and the BBC and other major platforms are expected to follow suit, according to the Sun.

While their pain is valid, it is important to note the corsets worn in “Bridgerton” are not the same as the traditional ones worn in the 19th century, according to Smithsonian magazine.

Historical corsets were often made with rigid materials and designed to dramatically cinch the waist. During the Regency era of the early 1800s, women had options: stays, jumps or corsets, each offering varying levels of support and comfort.

These undergarments were considered “normal pieces of clothing,” with women having a range of options depending on the occasion. Hilary Davidson, a fashion historian, emphasized to Smithsonian the idea of women constantly wearing uncomfortable corsets because of the patriarchy is a myth. “And they put up with it for 400 years? Women are not that stupid,” she said.

Actress and historical costumer Lauren McGann suggested to the magazine the association between corsets and pain may stem from actresses wearing ill-fitting corsets for expediency on set.

“In many cases, the corsets are not made for the actress but rather a corset in her general size is used for expediency,” McGann explained. “This means they are wearing corsets that don’t fit them properly, and when laced tightly, that can hurt!”

Aside from discomfort, these garments pose some pretty serious health risks. The continuous pressure exerted by waist trainers can cause a shift in the position of the abdominal organs and a narrowing of the lower ribcage, according to Newsweek.

“For example, after you eat, your stomach expands in size. If this cannot happen, you are likely to feel nausea after eating and likely vomit,” Dr. Matthew R. Schulman, a plastic surgeon, told the publication. “It can also cause acidic digestive fluids to go in reverse, causing indigestion, reflux, and inflammation of your esophagus.”

To minimize this risk, Dr. Colin Natali, an orthopedic surgeon, told Newsweek it’s important to choose a well-fitting corset made from breathable materials and to avoid wearing it for prolonged periods.