Old Wives' Tales
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Toxin du jour
Claim: Cher had her lowest pair of ribs surgically removed to achieve an ultra-small waist.
The truth is complicated because many of the famous ladies we admire have had a bit of work done to improve what God gave them. The difference here is one of degree. As invasive as breast implants and nose jobs are, they're still surgery on a vastly different level than deboning. That a particular famous actress had her nosed bobbed shouldn't lead anyone to believe she also had her rib cage rifled.
This rumor has been leveled at a succession of famous ladies envied for their hard bodies and/or small waists. Passing along the rumor becomes a way of dismissing these women as Frankensteinian creations rather than acknowledging that even members of the charmed circle
Though the list of shapely beauties this rumor has been tacked onto is always growing, no one has been victimized by the slander the way Cher has. In her case, the combination of an especially buff body, other surgeries she's made no secret of, and her 1991 book Cher/Forever Fit: The Lifetime Plan for Health, Fitness and Beauty have worked to keep the slander in action.
The media hasn't always been a great help either. In 1988 the chic magazine Paris Match announced Cher had extensive cosmetic surgery performed on her body, including the removal of two ribs to ensure she kept a "boyish" figure. Cher sued the magazine, but the rumor gained even wider acceptance after being picked up from the Paris Match piece and run in other papers. That these stories were later corrected didn't do much to mitigate the impact of the rumor's first finding its way into those pages as revealed fact.
Cher attempted to combat the story with common sense: "If that [rumor] were true," she said, "how could I do those health club commercials, in which I wear next to nothing? I'd be scarred all over. And could I wear the kind of clothes I do if I'd had all those many operations? Wouldn't there be visible scars everywhere?
"I've been up front about saying that I had my nose done, my breasts done, and had braces on my teeth. The rest is nonsense."
Her public denials didn't make the rumors go away, though. In 1990 she hired British physician F.V. Nicolle to examine her and report on what he found. Nicolle guaranteed that Cher was no mere miracle of plastic surgery, proclaiming: "This patient has consulted me because the media are repeatedly [misreporting] information regarding any surgery which she may have had done to her body. She has never had any surgery to her upper and lower eyelids [or] her cheekbones [or
Still, the rumor continues to follow Cher: "I've killed myself in the gym to have this body. It isn't like I have some amazing secret that nobody else has."
If it's any comfort, at least the rumor is an old one. Numerous articles decrying cosmetic surgery and the narcissism that drives women to commit folly in their quest for the unattainable ideal body casually include the bald-faced statement that in Victorian times women would have their lowest set of ribs surgically removed to give them fashionable wasp waists. Such a detail is used to prove that there's nothing new under the sun, that women have been vain to the point of risking serious harm in generations long past as well. The current interest in implants and tucks seems almost reasonable in light of such earlier practices.
Trouble is, there wasn't any such practice.
Wasp waists were considered the height of feminine glory, and many a Victorian gal measured her attractiveness by how small she could render this part of her anatomy. (Those wondering if they'd fit in should know the Victorian waistline is thought to have ranged from
To believe the Victorian rib removal canard is to believe that in an age when even the most uncomplicated of surgeries often proved fatal, women were lining up to take the risk and surgeons were happily sawing away. Never mind that anesthesia was still an iffy proposition and that post-surgical death due to infection claimed a horrifying number, according to this falsehood the fair sex was willing to take "suffer to be beautiful" down to new lows.
A statistical report from the mid-1800s listed these fatality rates from amputations; expected fatality rates from rib removal should be similar:
Forearm . . . . . . . 13 percentValerie Steele, chief curator of The Museum at The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City and an expert on corsets, says, "No Victorians had ribs removed." The size of a number of corsets from that era that are on display in "The Corset: Fashioning the Body" exhibit leads some to conclude there might have been something to that rib removal whisper after all, but the tiniest of the shapely
Arm . . . . . . . 52 percent
Leg . . . . . . . 50 percent
Thigh . . . . . . . 85 percent
Corsets have come back into fashion again, with their rise in popularity spawning a growing industry to satisfy this fashion need. However, it's not only the ladies who wear this particular form of undergarment. One of the most famous corset-wearers of our time is male:
It's possible the rumor about women having ribs removed to make their waists smaller was deliberately started in the late 1890s by impresario Florenz
Under that hypothesis, a false story deliberately generated to excite the public's interest in Anna Held later attached to other small-waisted actresses and singers, as the legend updated itself to stay current with the times.
Yet however the story began, it is and always has been a false one. While vanity has at times driven both sexes to commit horrendous excesses, having a few ribs taken out wasn't any of them. And the truth value of that statement does not alter when the name of a celebrity is tossed into the mix.
Barbara "cher cropper" Mikkelson
Last updated: 8 July 2006
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