I suppose that when they say nothing ever truly goes out of style, they’re not wrong. The dramatic hourglass figure came into fashion in the 1890s with the popularity of tightlacing, which gave women a dramatically smaller waist with an emphasized bust and hips—think of a pre-2000s Barbie silhouette. This trend was not particularly practical and fell out of favor after the Victorian era. It is still seen on occasion, but most corset connoisseurs do not recommend the practice’s regular use. While tightlacing may have fallen out of favor, there has been another similar trend in corsetry: waist training.
Waist training requires the woman (the trend is usually seen among women, but men have tried it as well) wearing the corset to wear it daily over a long period of time—think months to years—with a general waist reduction of 2-3 inches (anything over a 4 inch reduction is considered tightlacing). The goal is to slowly change the shape of the natural, uncorseted waist whether through weight loss or directly altering the natural layout of muscle, bone, and fat around the waist. Eventually, smaller corsets may need to be used, and the waist trainer might even train enough to achieve tightlacing.
But this was all in the Victorian era, right? Not really. Corsets have never really gone away, they’ve been seen in popular lingerie for years—though this type of corset generally doesn’t lend itself to any kind of waist training. But, about 100 years after the trend first became popular, it’s back with a vengeance. People like Kim Kardashian don’t have such an exaggerated bust and hips naturally, a waist trainer of some kind is needed to form a dramatic hourglass shape.
Of course, Kim doesn’t hide that she uses waist training, proudly wearing a device called a faja in her selfies. A faja, technically called a girdle, is popular in South America and really just looks like a modern version of an under-bust corset. She’s not the only celebrity to use them, either. The other Kardashian sisters, Kourtney and Khloe, as well as Lindsay Lohan and Jessica Alba have all reportedly used them to not only shape their waists, but to lose weight.
Wait a minute—can lacing yourself in your bra’s hundred year old, way more uncomfortable cousin actually make you lose weight? Yeah, no. It can’t. Wearing a corset to lose weight is essentially the same as wearing Spanx to lose weight—it doesn’t make sense and sounds kind of ridiculous, right?
Waist trainers aren’t forcing your body to lose any fat, you’re just compressing all of it in. It will make you look like you have a thinner waist—but it’s just that, an illusion, as one expert said:
“Spot reducing doesn’t exist. You can’t reduce the collection of fat in any one particular area of your body. if you push your stomach in, all the fat will go right back to where it was no matter how long [you wear the corset for].”
Not to mention, waist training doesn’t take any of the work out of losing weight, it just makes the whole process that much more uncomfortable.
As this Elle writer’s experience shows, you absolutely need to work out before you begin waist training as well as while you’re doing it. Think of it this way: your abs should act like a natural girdle, working to keep your stomach in shape and your internal organs in place. If you put a corset on, particularly for a long period of time without working out, your abs won’t have any work to do, and they’ll atrophy. So your end result is a flabby, weak belly with a slightly more curved waist. Any weight you’ve lost isn’t fat, it’s probably muscle. Another reason you might lose weight while waist training? They don’t let you eat.
Tight corsets give, obviously, no room for the stomach to expand. And while this may look good, it’s not good for you. Your stomach needs to expand when you eat to accommodate food, but the corset won’t let it. Lily James, who wore a tight corset for her role in ‘Cinderella’ was forced to go on an essentially liquid diet because her corset was so tightly laced. And the Elle reporter who tried waist training ended up skipping meals because the corset made eating so uncomfortable. It’s obvious that this isn’t a healthy habit to get into. There are also other risks involved for the more avid waist trainers, who continually drop to smaller and smaller corsets.
Dr. Holly Phillips, an internist from New York, states that while wearing a corset once in a while isn’t going to hurt you, wearing them form months on end might. Potential problems include poor digestion that causes acid reflux, bruised bones, shallow breathing that can cause fainting, or even fluid in the lungs that can cause pulmonary edema or pneumonia. Poor blood flow caused by the compression can even lead to potentially deadly complications such as:
“decrease[d] blood flow in your veins…problems with blood clots, and…more pressure on your heart…There have been some cases recorded of harming the spleen or causing trouble to kidneys.”
So, you want a body like Kim K? Don’t waste your money on a waist trainer. It’s not worth the pain and potential organ damage. Just keep to the tried and true method of weight loss: healthy eating and regular exercise. Leave the corset in the Victorian era where it belongs.