“Cinch me up, Scotty!” The Victorian corset is alive and well in Bali.

Vanity, thy name is woman. The quote is attributed to Shakespeare, but he actually said, “Frailty, thy name is woman.” I take exception to that! But vanity, in my case, is sadly appropriate. I stooped low. But given the circumstances I trust you will be gentle with your judgements.

Living among the warmth and generosity of the Balinese people, I frequently have invitations to important ceremonies. In ignorance I first attended in my regular Western clothing and quickly felt like the poor orphan in the midst of splendor. The statuesque grace of the female Balinese form takes on goddess-like qualities when outfitted in full ceremonial regalia. I quietly observed from the sidelines and resolved to clean up my act.

I bought a sarong at the market. Rushing home I spent the next few hours struggling to assemble myself and look like those ethereal creatures I was trying to emulate. What in the name of the goddess did they do with all those yards of fabric? The next ceremony was imminent so I put on a t-shirt with a little sleeve, wrapped myself several times around with the sarong fabric, tied it, tucked it, and hoped it would remain secure. I was lumpy but less conspicuous than before.

This time I noticed that all the women wore a blouse of a similar style, and many of them were made of colorful lace. The next day I returned to the market and left with a stunning golden lace kebaya and a matching satin sash.  

Back at home I tried on my ensemble. When I donned the lacey kebaya dismaying amounts of naked flesh were visible between my bra and my sash. The Balinese women had no flesh showing. What was I missing? For the next ceremony I added a tank-top under the lace for modesty and set out determined to get this figured out once and for all! Discreetly I peered more closely at what was going on under the beautiful, Balinese kebayas. What gave them that sculpted elegance I had failed to achieve? Where were their lumps? I was horrified to discover that these amazing women who, less than 50 years ago roamed bare-breasted and free, had succumbed to being sausaged into that chamber of torture, the Victorian CORSET! Just then I felt my sarong begin to unwind and slide down my hips.

The following day I stepped into the shop of a tailor whose exquisite kebayas hung on display in the window. I asked her if she sold corsets. She was not familiar with the term but employing a few gestures we came to an understanding. “Mona Lisa,” she stated, as if that ended the conversation. “Mona Lisa?” I echoed. “This,” and I gestured again wrapping my hands around my ribs and squeezing, ” is Mona Lisa?” She assured me it was and that she did not sell the exotic undergarment.

So my search began. With each failed attempt to locate what I wanted I grew more determined to own one. Finally, in a remote shop in Ubud, I found a woman who sold corsets. I knew I was going to be spending far more than the kebaya, sarong and sash put together, but this was THE piece de resistance! The corset vendor explained that there were three qualities: economy quality, better quality, and THE Mona Lisa. I tried the economy model first. The itchy lace ripped as she was securing it around me. We moved up to better quality. The zipper broke half way up my ribcage. Then with reverence she removed Mona Lisa from its tissue wrapper. I felt the smooth silkiness of it caressing my body. She hooked it and zipped it. The stays lifted me out of my dumpiness. I was pushed upward, outward and transformed. At that point I would have paid anything. I felt gorgeous. But I regained presence of mind enough to make a slight negotiation of the price and left with my prize.

Yesterday I wore my very own Mona Lisa for the first time. Even though vanity would normally deter me from posting the ‘before’ version, I feel it is essential to illustrate the absolute necessity of THE undergarment.

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BEFORE…t-shirt with sarong…lumps and bumps.

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AFTER…Mona Lisa…need I say more!

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15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Barb Garland
    Jan 14, 2013 @ 09:16:57

    WOW

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  2. Lottie Nevin
    Jan 14, 2013 @ 17:38:30

    Mona Lisa, this must be the Balinese version of Mae West surely? you look absolutely stunning, very chic, very Sherry. Now you’ll have Balinese princes chasing you round the temple and knocking on your door at all hours of the day and night.

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  3. healingpilgrim
    Jan 15, 2013 @ 06:01:34

    That is so exquisite Sherry, I cannot believe you didn’t welcome me to your new place this morning showing it off! You simply MUST wear it to orientation 😉 Thanks for the tip about the name, do you have any idea where they came up with that? How hilarious!!

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    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Jan 15, 2013 @ 07:26:30

      You’re right. I should probably hop out of bed and harness up first thing…maintain appearances…proper decorum! All I know about the name is that it is on the label inside the corset. Must be a brand name. Fitting!

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  4. healingpilgrim
    Jan 15, 2013 @ 06:21:44

    Well, I did it: unfollowed you! (just so I could try to click and ‘follow’ you again..) hope it works this time!!

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  5. Diane Struble
    Jan 30, 2013 @ 02:39:48

    Amazing what a little support can do.

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  6. Maddie
    Jan 11, 2015 @ 03:44:13

    Do you remember where this shop was? I am in Ubud and hoping to buy a corset.

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    • writingforselfdiscovery
      Jan 11, 2015 @ 05:34:13

      At the time there was a new market being built on the outskirts of Ubud. It’s still there surrounded by immense, empty parking lots. There were only a handful of shops that were occupied, and one of them was the stall with the corsets. I haven’t been back so I don’t know if she’s still there. There are other places in Ubud to buy them. Delta Supermarket has a clothing section with corsets. Massa’s has corsets on their back shelf behind the clothing. Otherwise just ask a Balinese woman! Good luck!

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