A KILLER corset struck in Bendigo 140 years ago, rupturing a woman's internal organs and sending her to an untimely death.
Mary Scott "suddenly stooped" over in February 1882 and one of the points in her corset dug into the pit of her stomach, according to a Bendigo Advertiser story from the period.
"The injury was so severe that she had to be taken to the Bendigo Hospital and, yesterday, an operation was performed on her," it said.
"For a time she appeared to get better, but soon afterwards expired. The cause of death was rupture."
And that was that. The Addy devoted few other column inches to the extraordinary killer corset.
Still, even in the 1880s people were warning about the dangers of tight-lace clothing.
Infections from crushed ribs and damaged organs were just some of the risks wearers ran. One servant girl in England had an epileptic fit in one grim case a coroner investigated in 1889.
The tight clothing around the girl's neck and waist had effectively strangled her to death as she convulsed.
"Minor degrees of asphyxiation, we fear, are still submitted by a good many of the self-torturing children of vanity," the editor of the Addy wrote in one dirge against tight-fitting clothing.
"Still, the evil maintains itself."
In fact, corsets stalked people well into the modern age of fashion, La Trobe University historian Liz Conor found during research for her book The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in the 1920s.
"I wasn't specifically looking for corsets but they kept coming up as I was researching flappers and modern girls of the 1920s," professor Liz Conor said.
The associate professor was surprised to discover that Australia actually recorded higher imports of the garment during the decade, despite styles of the time placing less emphasis on women's waists.
"This is all very counter to the idea that the '20s were about liberation for women. In a way, it argues against that because there was still a lot of pressure on women to live up to certain physical ideals," professor Conor said.
For some women, corsets were a way to replicate the late-adolescent body shapes of their idols.
For others, the gament kept certain parts of their body from jiggling provocatively, or exposing any bumps deemed too sexual for the public domain.
That said, trailblazing women were challenging assumptions about fashion, including Australian swimming champion and movie star Annette Kellerman.
She would pull off famous stunts wearing clothing some contemporaries considered scandalous.
"Kellerman advocated for what she called the 'muscular corset' - an idea that women should be fit, strong and 'tailor underneath' by exercising," professor Conor said.
"So she very explicitly rejected women lacing themselves up."
Old habits can die hard, though.
People are still compromising their health for beauty today, even if they are not quite following in the footsteps of the unfortunate Mary Scott and her deadly undergarment.
"I guess the contemporary version of that is shoddy plastic surgeons disfiguring some women. It's an intervention to embody the ideal of the time that is quite violent, really," professor Conor said.
And mass media still idealises certain body shapes, professor Conor said.
A new popular idol might revolutionise thinking on certain parts of the body every decade, but they rarely challenge the core problem.
Someone trying to emulate the 2010s Kim Kardashian small waist, large bottom and big breasts could easily face the same challenges as someone trying to copy a 1920s woman.
"Those things are quite physiologically difficult to achieve without an intervention," she said.
Professor Conor does not see sweeping changes coming any time soon.
"As long as there is mass culture fashion and a lot of money to be made, there's going to be an ideal of the feminine body ... the way that it is when we are in our late teens, or a figurehead like Audrey Hepburn or Kim Kardashian," she said.
Still, professor Conor has some hope for her daughter's generation and body positive movements.
"I do think there is a much more robust movement against things like fat shaming. I don't remember that term from when I was young," she said.
"And there is more pride among girls about having diverse bodies than we were permitted to have."
This is the latest story in the Bendigo Weekly's regular history series, entitled 'WHAT HAPPENED?'
Liz Conor is the author of 2004's The Spectacular Modern Woman: Feminine Visibility in the 1920s and 2016's Skin Deep: Settler Impressions of Aboriginal Women.
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