All that is composed will decay...

Beyond elegance

Dec 28, 2011

The model Stella Tennant imaging Ethel Granger (1905-1982), the woman with the smallest waist of thirty-three centimeters.

Ethel Granger, the woman with the smallest waist in the history of mankind, was a product of fashion and sexual fetish. It was a choice, but especially one of love (her husband liked her that way) that inspired Ethel Granger (1905-1982) to tighten herself into corsets that modified her waist up to the point of reaching a record measure of thirty-three centimeters, a limit that has not been surpassed to this day.

Her husband, astronomer William Arnold Granger, believed that fashion influenced the structure of our most intimate thoughts: women that he found “flat chested results" of 1920s fashion were the byproduct of a perversion far more grave, according to him, than his obsession with small-waists.

Before their marriage Ethel was a plain, unsophisticated twenty-three year old girl who wore the shapeless 1920s dresses that William despised. William told Ethel about his appreciation for corsets, and expressed his wish to feel one around the waist of his wife. One epochal day, when William put his arm around Ethel's waist she asked “darling, can you feel any difference?". He could: a pair of corsets that tied Ethel into 24 inches, more or less her natural waist line.
The process of Ethel's waist modification began. Initially Ethel was satisfied with wearing a corset only during the day, but William convinced her to keep it on while sleeping.

After several years the result was Ethel's legendary 13 inch waist, the smallest waist ever recorded on that 50s institution The Guinness Book of Records. One cannot deny that William Arnold Granger was one of the harshest taskmasters in the history of fashion, on woman's efforts for style he wrote: “if she can outshine other members of her sex in some way, this is a victory worth any amount of suffering".

William referred not only to the efforts necessary to shrink one's waist, but also to the hardships of high heels and piercings, both equally fundamental in his symbolist vision of fashion and femininity. On clip-on earrings William wrote “nothing is more repulsive to the faddist than to see a feminine ear squashed flat with a clip or screw. How can this compete with the dainty piercing from which jewels swing free?"

It would be inaccurate to see Ethel and William Granger's story simply as the sadistic wishes of a demanding sexually perverse husband who wished to cripple his wife: they were a couple that expressed themselves and embraced a subculture that in that period, the late 20s, 30s and 40s, had magazines such as London Life as a point of reference.