Regulating healthy bodies: Health, medicine, and dress reform in Victorian Canada.

Title: Regulating healthy bodies: Health, medicine, and dress reform in Victorian Canada.
Authors: O'Connor, Eileen.
Date: 2002
Abstract: In the complex process of constructing, regulating and negotiating gender identities, the language of dress communicates messages of power and control. During the Victorian period, acceptable dress for middle-class women included wearing a long dress, corset, crinoline, petticoat, and heeled shoes. This was not a constant or fixed dress code however, and through various campaigns, attempts were made to reform women's dress. A study on change in dress, in particular, dress reform, reveals how boundaries of acceptable dress were constantly negotiated by various groups who employed clothing as a means to regulate gender, race and class. Yet, what were dress reform discourses? Who articulated them? What does dress reform reveal about gender and power relations in the nineteenth century? In this dissertation, I explore the process of problematizing dress in Victorian Canada through an analysis of discourses articulated by members of the medical community; reformers and WCTU women active in moral reform and social purity campaigns; as well as commercial retailers. Overall, this dissertation strives to enhance our understanding of the ways in which the dress reform campaign reveals attitudes towards women's bodies, behaviour and their roles in society. This dissertation argues that in Victorian Canada, it was the medical community who assumed the principle role in educating the public on healthy dress. The medical discussion on clothing covered many topics, but centered on three main themes: the need to maintain warm body temperatures through dress; the effects of tight clothing on organs; and the 'unnaturalness' of fashionable dress. The professionalization of Gynaecology and Obstetrics resulted in more physicians trained as experts on women's bodies, and by extension, on all matters related to women's lifestyle and behaviour. Thus, discourses on women's dress often constructed and reinforced a paradigm in which "fashion" was construed as a danger to women's bodies. Hence, medical discourses on women's dress went beyond placing clothing within a localized disease etiology, and addressed broader issues related to Victorian women's lifestyle, marriage and motherhood.
CollectionTh├Ęses, 1910 - 2010 // Theses, 1910 - 2010
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