Fetishism, Corsets and Femininity

Corsets are often associated to femininity

Corsets are often associated to femininity

In the following research I will explore the items and clothing which are strongly linked to femininity. As stated throughout my research I want to fully understand the visual aesthetics and items which constitute both femininity and masculinity. This will ensure that when constructing my own images I know what items, styles and tools to include/exclude in order to create some deeply intriguing and interesting images for my audience to unravel. I want to blur gay symbols with straight, a face full of make up with a manly body, I want to force people to re-think what is feminine and masculine anymore? And who can even tell? And who gives a damn anyway?

In relation to other images of those belonging to the L.G.B.T communities I feel the reason they seem shocking or taboo is often due to the conception that these individuals are “kinky”. With images like Jamel Shabbaz’s from “The Last Sunday In June” the general pre-conception is that these individuals are sexually aggressive, their way of life “outside the norm” where leather and whips are depicted as the everyday. It screams: “We’re not weird, you’re just repressed”. For me I feel the L.G.B.T reinforce their overt sexuality and fearlessness often through wearing certain garments and items: leather, a corset, a whip, a Police uniform and so on, which I discussed earlier. As discussed previously fashion items have long been connected to sexuality and sexual pleasure. However, items which were initially seen as the epitome of masculinity and femininity our now considered a fetish or highly erotic. So what were said items which have been turned into somewhat “taboo”? I began with the controversial corset.

The corset is a garment that is often associated with femininity, beauty and sexuality in both past and present culture. Initially corsets were tied to the Victorian standard of beauty as well as to achieve a thin waistline it now has links to sadomasochism in pornographic iconography and has enjoyed some popularity as a fashion item. The corset, more than any other female piece of attire, has had considerable controversy. For some like Kunzle (1982) it has been an instrument of physical oppression and sexual objectification. For others, the corset is viewed as asserting sexual power even a stimulant to sexual pleasure. The conflict with corset as a garment is the fact it’s appearance is two-fold. On the one hand, it covers the body, leaving certain attributes to the imagination and on the other hand, it enhances, sculpts and displays it. In other words the corset both empowers and objectifies as it hides the female form whilst also enhancing it. Thus, Kunzle notes that, “the socio-sexual symbolism of tight lacing and its ritual components reveal its essentially ambivilant purpose to enforce the sexual taboo by objectively oppressing the body, and simultaneously to break the taboo by subjectively enhancing the body” (1982:2-3)

However, wearing a corset which is tight-laced could be seen as sexually empowering due to the arousal it can cause. Thus, tight lacing becomes a fetish and corsets are elevated to an item of sexual exploration and fulfilment. Kunzle than goes as far to state that the corset could play an elaborate role in sexual foreplay: “…the state of being tightly corseted in a form of erotic tension and constitutes ipso facto a demand or erotic release, which may be deliberately controlled, prolonged and postponed. To the male the corset represents an intricate erotic obstacle, the deft removal of which permitted the development of all kinds of erotic foreplay, the betokened amorous expertise. To the woman, unlacing meant (promise of) sexual release.” (1982:31)

To repeat my aim is to create an element of ambiguity in my images. I could take this as far as to asking the question am I empowering my subjects or objectifying them? Through this analysis of corsets, including such a controversial garment in my images could evoke mixed feelings and different perceptions, thus becoming the ideal item to evoke ambiguity. A 6ft2 male cross dresser, dressed in lingerie, corset and heels could speak volumes. On the one hand, his genitals are being restricted by “tucking”, his waist and ribcage constructed and somewhat immobile, his feet aching under the pressue of six inch heels; an image of sexualisation, objectification and perhaps even suffering. I’m sure we’re all aware of the term “no pain no gain” right? But on the other hand, he could be finding pleasure in his suffering, enjoying the breath taking (physically) tight lacing; the “illusion” of feminine physique created by the corset or perhaps the silky knickers against his flesh. After learning more about conflicting views of corsets in relation to femininity, objectification and empowerment, it holds many meanings, often conflicting which could prove very interesting to explore when creating my own images. Objectifying or empowering may be extreme, borderline offensive so I must be careful, but it is my subjects comfort level that will remain my main priority, although, I must also be aware of my audience’s feelings.


Entwistle, J (2000) The Fashioned Body. USA Blackwell Publishing Ltd (p.195-200)

Craik, J (2003) The Face of Fashion: Cultural Studies in Fashion.

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