The patent-leather corset cinched tightly about Midori's midsection forbids any lunch more substantial than a wafer-thin sandwich. Her 18-inch waist also excludes her from the catwalk in today's "Dangerous Curves," a glamour parade of women size 14 and above designed to expose the fallacy that only slender women can wear and look good in corsets.
"It has become an addiction," she says, referring to the garment that was fashioned especially for her by Paul C. "I own eight or nine of them by now."
Midori, who will be featured in the next issue of Body Play, is just one of several hundred corset fanciers who have come out for a fun-filled week of related entertainment sponsored by the Corseting Union of Romantic Vivacious Elegants -- C.U.R.V.E.S. -- a collection of several local businesses and publications that share an interest in binding.
Although some people have come for fantasy fulfillment, show attendees for the most part are here with high fashion in mind.
"In my house, women are encouraged to be feminine," says Olivia Barnard-Faith, an elegantly dressed Londoner who has been involved in corsetry since she was a teen. "The outfits I make and wear cannot be worn without one." Olivia has traveled from England not to display her clothing (she designs only for "very special people and specializes in parasols, hats, and other things frivolous and feminine"), but because she heard that this corset gathering was to be held in San Francisco and "that slayed it."
Pandora Gorey, also a Londoner, traveled to San Francisco with five companions to attend the 10th annual Bal de Gracieuse, an international corsetieres' convention held Saturday night at the Clift Hotel.
"This is the first occasion ever held in the United States," she explains politely as I interrupt her lipstick application. Dressed tastefully in a green-and-black ensemble complete with hat and gloves, Pandora is a picture of grace.
"So, did you have to waist train?" I ask with all the tact of a ton of bricks.
"No. I have a naturally small waist," Pandora replies unruffled, sitting on the edge of her chair with impeccable posture. "Some bodies are ideally shaped for a corset."
Most are not. Fakir Musafar, sage to body-manipulators worldwide, and his assistant, Sharon X., she of an 18-inch middle, make that clear at "Corseting for the Novice," a lecture held at Dark Garden Unique Corsetry the previous afternoon.
"A waist-trained body's organs move very easily," Fakir says, corseted in a glittery black jumpsuit himself. "If you are properly corseted, your internal organs should be evenly displaced." Sharon demonstrates that by bending over while lacing up, you can "feel the bulk of your intestines roll up over your waist."
"If you overlace or waist train too quickly, you can run into problems such as aching kidneys, digestive trouble (including frequent vomiting), shooting pains, and numb thighs and toes," Fakir continues jovially. The mostly middle-aged male crowd nods in agreement.
"To properly waist train, you must be consistent. You must wear your corset every day," says Fakir. (Sharon says she wore hers up to 20 hours per day, taking her measurement down 11 inches in nine months; this is not recommended for the average person.) "But once trained you can easily go down to your desired waist size with very little effort."
Notes to prospective corset aficionados: Reducing the waist 3 to 4 inches is a good goal for a novice; in training, it's not how tight you wear the corset, but how long you wear it each day; don't lace right after eating; don't let someone bind you unless that person is experienced (an overzealous helper can do physical damage); if attending a corset-wearing event, start lacing several hours beforehand, tightening a bit more each hour; avoid beer and beans (or anything that could give you the airs). But above all, grin and bear it: Beauty can be such a pain.
By Silke Tudor