To most observers, and for most standard American body sizes from dress size 8 to 14, corseting elicits certain interest if not commentary, when the natural waist is reduced by five or more inches. If the drama of that reduction is noteworthy, then six to ten inches surely elicits neck-craning and gasps of disbelief.

But are these gasps of admiration, or horror? Is such extreme reduction considered by most people to be beautiful, or ugly? Examining the paradoxes inherent in extreme waists seems most appropriately to begin at home, with my own ambivalence and confusion over the issue.

And what the heck is "tight lacing" anyway?

Tight Lacing

Don't let anyone tell you they have "the" definitive definition, because truly there isn't one. David Kunzle, Ph.D., Professor of Art History at UCLA and author of the seminal book on corsetry, /Fashion and Fetishism: Corsets, Tight-lacing and Other Forms of Body-Sculpture/, Sutton Publishing Ltd., 2004, says: “The only workable definition of tight-lacing as opposed to ‘normal’ lacing, is as the conscious and visible process of artificial constriction of the waist, whereby the very artifice becomes an attraction (or repellent).” After some thought on the matter, I came up with our definition at ROMANTASY:

Tight-lacing is the process of wearing a corset that is considerably smaller than the natural waist size, typically a corset that constricts the waist at least four inches or more, where the corset is of such quality, comfort, and seasoning that it can be worn every day for six or more continuous hours, and where the ultimate restriction coupled with the period of wear is perceived as very challenging to the wearer, rather than easy.

On a more practical matter, you will most likely be able to declare that you know it when you see it! Do send us your definition if you have one. So now let's examine what we feel about "tight lacing."

Eight responses sum up my feelings about it, and I hope my readers will send in their responses as well. I offer them with the certain knowledge that my opinions may be controversial, but controversy has never been something that this legally-trained corset aficionado has avoided!

First, extreme waists are not normal. Hardly anyone could argue that they are. Extreme waists are not only out of the range of experience of 99% of the populace who are unaccustomed to seeing a two inch, much less five or more inch waist reduction, and certainly out of the norm of regular corseting practice and reduction achievement, as well.

Second, I personally admire to the max, those who accomplish such restriction, especially my personal acquaintances, colleagues and famous friends, Cathie J. and M. Lourdes, the latter featured on the cover of the last True Grace Corset Catalog.

I compare extreme waist reduction to running the marathon: those who accomplish it are in my opinion, slightly or possibly, completely daft, but nonetheless admirable for their tenacity, commitment, obvious pain in the doing, and actual success of their dedicated efforts!

Those who accomplish it deserve even more applause when they accomplish it from internal motivation and drive, without the benefit of a partner to provide dedicated, daily encouragement.

Third, I think extreme waists are not particularly aesthetic or attractive. I think that most people, when they reduce their waists by 10 or more inches more or less, looks deformed, transformed into a caricature, somewhat in the way drag queens characterizes women. True, the simile is not a totally apt one, since drag queens can remove makeup and easily re-enter their male role in society, while tight-lacers cannot. Their commitment is total and entire, even if the result takes them to the outer edges of their art.

Fourth, what is considered aesthetic or ugly is not only personal to the viewer, but is a matter of degree. Where do I draw the line about what turns from enhancing the female figure in a pleasing way, into a displeasing way? Probably a maximum reduction of seven inches will do it for me.

Why? Because the body looks like it will break in two pieces, and that psychically hurts! I imagine at a deep level that MY body will break in two pieces. Since I have struggled for over 30 years with occasionally excruciatingly painful back problems, the thought agonizes me more than perhaps for other people.

Fifth, I also admit the possibility that at a subconscious level, I am jealous.

And sixth, I get discouraged when I spend too much time thinking about or viewing such waists; I know I will never get there, whether I want to or not. Or, at least, I know I will likely not make the personal commitment it takes.

When others focus intently on such extreme waists and lavish praise on them, it makes me feel like chopped meat.

Seventh, extreme waists unfortunately often contribute to, rather than dissuade from, the popular opinion that corseting is painful. Nothing could be further from the truth when a custom corset is constructed to follow individual body contours and is moderately laced. Countless hours are spent by those of us who love corseting, in convincing doubting Tomases and Tomasinas that corsets can be comfortable!

Eighth, I believe extreme waists run contrary to my personal and professional goal of spreading the good word about modern-day custom corsetry. I want to increase the desire of both women and men to wear corsets, yet extremism sometimes frightens those new to their own desires to lace. It fetishizes the corset, and without any further action on the part of the wearer, may send an unintended message or tap subconscious feelings that extreme waists must be the goal of anyone who wears corsets.

Why this is true has always been a curiosity to me. At least to Americans, I have observed that to see an extreme thing, is to automatically imagine oneself in that extreme position. I will leave it to psychologists to tell me why.

As a purveyor of corsetry, I want to remove barriers to a love affair with the corset. Perhaps for some, extreme waists promote corsetry. But for the majority of our customers at ROMANTASY Exquisite Corsetry, we encourage moderation and realistic expectations in terms of either temporary or permanent waist reduction.

Please click here to read about ROMANTASY's waist training coaching program to enhance your own tight-lacing progress.