Hip-hip-away; Girdles stifled all attempts at moving or living normally

Published 10:31 am Friday, June 10, 2016

I am sitting in the very cramped seat (think fetal position) of a reconfigured C-54 military aircraft on my way to Tokyo. The year is 1962. Our trip has a short refueling stopover in Hawaii and another on Midway Island making a combined total of 24 hours travel time.

In my hopeless and impossible-to-escape circumstances, I feel as though I am about to explode. The truth is that I am. About to explode! You see, over the last 24 hours, I have consumed four boxes of C-rations — military issue packaged meals. These meals were designed for soldiers. Soldiers on the move! Fast and energetic movements that require twisting, jumping and stretching, absolutely none of which I have performed during the last two dozen hours.

During this duration of time, I have adjusted only my upper torso as I’ve ministered to my two toddlers’ needs. The folded over lower half of my body has been immovable. Thus, remaining in the concrete constraints of this inescapable confinement has been my abdomen. My abdomen with the four masticated C-rations in it.

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Why am I telling you this? Because right this minute there are Austin women reading these words who know exactly what I’m talking about. Women of the ‘40s, ‘50s, and ‘60s — innocents all — who have lived through similar harrowing entrapments like the one I’ve just described. Why? Because they were all wearing girdles!

Ladies! What were we thinking? I know, I know. It wasn’t really by choice that we wore those damnable instruments of torture, but rather that our mothers encouraged us to do so because they, themselves, had been coerced into this heinous entrapment by their own moms who were coerced by their own moms who were coerced by their own moms … world without end.

Compare those days 60 years ago with the reality of now when we could seriously use some powerful elastic threads to contain our jiggles. Let’s face it, in the ‘50s and ‘60s — although we had giggles — we didn’t have jiggles — and certainly none in comparison to the jiggles of today. Think about it. Those bygone days were the slim and trim days. And yet we heaved and tugged our svelte-like selves into those stretchy harnesses with the hope we might more resemble Hollywood starlets. Doris Day was a good example. Another was Esther Williams. (Actually, Esther would have done herself a favor if she had NOT worn a girdle because she didn’t have a bottom to begin with!)

Why did we put ourselves through this? I believe it’s because God invented not only men to judge us, but also mirrors. If we’d been left to our old prehistoric devices, we would have been searching out our reflections in the opaqueness of the East Side Lake. And in this murkiness, we would have been content with our figures, thereby saving ourselves years of misery.

Here’s a scary thought. Do you remember the day that you finally decided to cast out your girdle? How it felt to walk down the street with your freed flesh rippling? It was as if Dumbo had been let loose under your skirt. As if your tush and thighs were doing the merengue right there on Main Street!

The girls of today shake their heads in wonder at our inane unswerving support of our supports. And who can blame them when you consider that it was at one time acceptable for a laced-up, whalebone-stiffened, corseted woman to strive for a waist measurement no larger in inches than her age. For her to regularly collapse in dead faints from lungs depleted of oxygen! (“Oh, no, there’s Mable again splayed out on the sidewalk. What a shame. She doesn’t look very ladylike sprawled out like that, but, my, doesn’t she have a lovely tiny waist?”)

On the other hand, that age/waist standard would free me up now. Imagine this. Today it’d be okay for me to have a 78-inch waist.

Admittedly even the extreme dyspepsia of that eternally long plane ride to Tokyo wasn’t enough to jolt me into trashing my girdle. I continued to wear it for years. At times it proved entertaining … even thwarting. You see, a jam-packed Tokyo train was an invitation to any pervert who wanted to nudge up close to a woman. In my case I was a young foreign lady alone, which was an unheard of golden opportunity for these erotomaniacs to see if caucasian women felt any differently than Asian women.

Of course this test was always carried out by men. Their method of testing was a simple pinch on the derriere of the foreign woman. In this case mine. You cannot imagine the looks of alarm that suddenly appeared on their faces when the fingers of these opportunists attempted to pinch my bottom. Zip! Their eager fingers slid right off the slippery surface of my skirt because underneath it was my bottom-encased Warners armor!

How often I have thought about these men. They have no doubt gone to their graves believing (because they felt it with their own fingers!) that we pale-faced girls are built like petrified wood.

Many years ago a matronly woman I knew was at a Queen of Angels luncheon when one of the waitresses accidentally spilled piping hot coffee on her. Because my friend was sheathed in an extremely tight laced-up girdle, it could not be removed before the rubberized threads became molten and badly burned her. Think of the law suit that such an accident could have provoked had we had girdle law suits in those days.

For we, the foolishly shackled, there were several choices in foundation garments: the open-bottom crotchless girdle (much like being wound in the thick layers of a wide inflexible Ace Bandage), the long line panty girdle that encased us from rib cage to mid-thigh (akin to a pair of concrete-encrusted yoga pants), and the front-lacing corset which was a miniature construction site. Its scaffolding had a side zip, a hook and eye underlay, six garters, four partial front baleen-like bones and four full back baleen-like bones. All of these contraptions came with free-hanging, clackety garters that were used for holding up our nylons.

Garters made thigh bumps that were as obvious under a tight skirt as combat boots on Nancy Reagan. Moreover, in an attempt to make us literally stomach our stretchy contrivances, girdles came in a gorgeous peach hue with an overall floral motif. Sexy stuff! Can you imagine how they put the kibosh on romantic opportunities? Just one step away from the chastity belt!

Girdles stifled all attempts at moving or living normally. I figure I spent about fifteen years of my life cemented in one. I finally threw it away just before another trans-Pacific flight. I happened to look out the window at the very moment I saw the garbage man retrieve it from the can and surreptitiously slip it down the bib of his overalls. It was my first ever encounter with a cross dresser.

Peggy Keener of Austin is the author of two books: “Potato In A Rice Bowl” and “Wondahful Mammaries.” Peggy Keener invites readers to share their memories with her by emailing maggiemamm16@gmail.com. Memories shared with Keener may be shared or referenced in subsequent editions of “Full Circle.”