Nowadays, women who want a trimmer waist in a pinch typically turn to Spanx or some other body-slimming underwear. But when it's less about practicality and more about looking sexy in nothing but your skivvies (like for your Valentine's Day date night, for instance), you may choose to don a corset. While modern women are free to wear these fitted underpinnings whenever we want to spice things up in the bedroom, corsets and the idealized tiny waists they create have a long and controversial history that doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon.
A couple years back, Vogue Italia controversially featured Ethel Granger and her 13-inch waist, which she achieved by wearing a corset 24/7. Ethel, who holds the record for the smallest waist in recorded history, went through the painful process for her husband. Her motivation brings up one of the main issues with corsets: are they for the men or the women? Then you have "the human hourglass," Romanian-born model Ioana Spangenberg, who was criticized for setting a bad example with her 20-inch waist, even though she claims she can't help her shape and didn't use corsets to achieve it.
To find out more about what made corsets so controversial back in their heyday (including info from Valerie Steele's book The Corset: A Cultural History), let's look back at some of the vintage ads and photos of these constrictive undergarments and the nonhuman-like shapes they created on women.