When handed this book, I felt like I was intruding—the hand crafted spine creaked with hours of the author’s labor, and the muted green fabric frayed at the corners. I felt as though I had been handed a diary, and as it turns out, I sort of had been. Waisted Curves: My Transformation Into A Victorian Lady chronicles Sarah Chrisman’s journey from corset loather to Victorian garment educator and advocate in 250 hand-bound pages. We see Chrisman’s disdain for corsets melt away as she laces herself into the garment daily, and witness her transformation of thought and body, all brought about by an article of clothing.
Chrisman begins the narrative on her birthday, when her husband Gabriel gives her a corset as a gift. This spurs an extensive personal change, both physically and mentally. The narrow conception of corsets with which she begins the memoir quickly changes as she learns more about the history and practices of corsetry. Eventually, she dismisses the idea of the corset as oppressive as she records her changes in self-perception and self-esteem.
I first read about Ben Barry when Teen People named him “one of twenty teens who will change the world.” I felt proud because Barry was a Canadian high school student, just a year older than me. He was on a mission to transform the fashion industry’s narrow standard of beauty by running a modeling agency that represented models of all ages, sizes, and ethnicities.
Reading Barry’s memoir Fashioning Reality, I felt like it had been written for my teenaged self. As he outlines his successes and struggles, Barry offers advice for young would-be entrepreneurs on how they too can use business to create social change. Barry started his agency when he was 14 to represent a friend who had been told by a magazine editor that she was “too big” to model. At first he was motivated by a concern that images of unhealthy models were detrimental to the health and self-worth of his friends, but he soon realized that using “real” models was also a successful business model, since companies that used his models almost always saw increased profits as a result.
Like we do at WORN, Barry believes that consumers want and deserve to see a diversity of ages, sizes, and ethnic backgrounds represented in the media. I’m a firm believer that we should never put people down to elevate others, and so I admire that he never criticizes thin women as not being “real,” instead stressing that thin, white, and tall is overdone, and argues that there’s a desperate need for greater diversity.