Much time has passed since the Exodus from Egypt, a path that included both mental and physical agony, as well as cage-shaped corsets. Yael Rosenwald Yaniv goes on a journey through the transformation of the corset by going to Herut, founded by Kim Kardashian and The Body Positive. And when all the newspapers are full of articles, she offers an original question, “What are you going to wear for the Passover Seder?”
As in every interview with Bar Rafaeli, she succeeds in articulating fire-fighting statements. Those who clearly would have developed a life of their own would turn to follow-up articles, Facebook statuses, discussions on feminism and empowerment groups. We are lucky that Bar Rafaeli, the national swan, has lived through her 31 years of existence, developing herself as a brand, business woman, and persona, understanding that basic existential truth as seen in this interview: “What does it matter to me? I am good! If I start thinking about what people have to say, I will not get anything out of it.” (From the magazine “The”, 2.4.17). Bar Rafaeli can always turn to support and reinforce someone who specializes in explosive statements, specifically Kim Kardashian. “I am honored that Kanye (West, Kim’s partner) calls me” my perfect dog. “I love that, I know he does not mean it in a negative way.” Kim Kardashian is also responsible for reducing current stigma and bringing modern life to one of the most controversial items known to the female population – the corset (Lady Gaga, Beyonce — you have done great work in this category too!)
Early evidence of the corset as a part of fashion is pictured in a portrait of Eleonora Di Toledo (Medici House), painted somewhere in the first half of the 16th century. Eleonora, who was considered the first “First Lady,” was not only responsible for restoring the image of the noble Medici in Italy, but also for emphasizing art, patronizing some of the hottest names of her time, launching churches, and investing in agriculture. She was also a witty business woman, and mother to 11 children! And all this when wearing a rather violent corset herself.
Almost throughout all of the 16th to 19th centuries, women were wearing a choking cage that shaped their bodies according to changing fashion rules. Having small breasts is the “in” thing? Pick up a board at the front. Is an excessive hourglass cut and attention to the chest the new fad? Take in the diaphragm and the ribs, you can breathe, attract the glances to your rapidly moving chest. On the one hand, the corset was designed to emphasize the sexuality of the woman, on the other hand, to maintain her fairness, with all the awkwardness of her removal and the spatial limitation that comes with the weariness of wearing it. A corset was also a status symbol that told the world, “Yes, I do not have to go and do things, I have people who do it for me.” Constantly fainting and a lack of mobility appropriately called for an arsenal of smelling salts only settled with the desired feminine image of weakness, tenderness, and fragility.
“Enough!” the sufferers shouted at the end of the 19th century, “Let us breathe!” And then they offered to the world free trousers and cut-out suits. The shapeless sack gowns they offered did not catch the attention of the high-class fashionistas like they expected. Meanwhile, some of these European women packed their belongings, their best clothing, and traveled to the Middle East! When they arrived, they discovered the hot weather, the sands, and local fashion, which included mainly galabiyas. In an act of protest, they chose to stay in a corset and in heavy cloth dresses which literally swept sand from the floor. “The Parisian fashion will not be built in this country,” cried Baron de Rothschild in 1888.
Then Paul Poira arrived.
In the first two decades of the last century, Poira offered a narrow, loose shape to be worn on the body without a corset. Being a marketing genius who held ostentatious parties to show his collections, he and his fashion house became a huge success. He was so successful that he often launched perfumes and other items to the house under his name. Unfortunately, while he enlisted in the army to fight in the First World War with all his might, Coco Chanel got up and created better dresses. Paul Poira’s fashion house then closed. Before his death, in 1944, he had seen the corset making an iconic comeback, with especially tormented Hornets that Christian Dior designed.
When Madonna chose to wear the famous cone corset designed by Jean Paul Gaultier during her in her early ’90s “Blonde Ambitions Tour,” one cannot state that she felt objectified in the corset, for she chose to wear the corset coming from a place of strength. It is hard to say that she felt patriarchal oppression.
The corset had been transformed. This shook the status of the undergarment from a historical undergarment and sexual fetish to a symbol of extroverted sexual, non-apologetic, femininity. Today, we seem to have finished apologizing, and the Body Positive movement is gaining momentum. Bar Rafaeli, in the same interview, concludes by saying: “We would all like to look perfect, the thing is that the definition of perfection is problematic.”
When all the newspapers are full of articles, “What are you wearing for the Seder?,” I’ll give you a tip as to what your answer should be: whatever you want. Freedom and whatever you want.
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