A warning about the new fad known as waist trainers: these modern-day corsets may cause long-term damage.
The truth behind the waist-training fad
Agroup of girls in cold-weather clothes huddle closely together at a bus stop. Their colourful puffer jackets and coats conceal the latest phenomenon to hit high schools across the world. “It’s easier to hide my waist trainer in the winter,” explains Christina, 17, as she lifts up her layers to show off her Coke-bottle shape, bound by a black latex corset decorated with skulls. “My last one had cartoon-character heads, but I like this better.” The front clasps and flexible fabric are a stretch from the first corsets, worn almost 500 years ago, but these bright, playful patterns seem to mark an alarming recent marketing effort targeting teenagers.
How it all started
The waist-training craze is nothing new, reveals Valerie Steele, director of The Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology and author of The Corset: A Cultural History ( Yale University Press, R680). “Dating from 1559, middle- and upper-class women wore a stiffened undergarment, usually reinforced with
whalebone or metal, and then laced up. They acted as waist cinchers and breast support, but ladies wore them to be considered attractive and respectable as well,” Valerie explains. “It was also seen as a way to create an optical illusion of a curvier figure by pushing fat around to make it look like you had a smaller waist, bigger hips and larger breasts.”
By the 19th century, all classes wore corsets, but in the early 20th century, women moved on to rubberised girdles and other shapewear. Eventually there was a shift away from such constricting garments, and many women began prioritising diet and exercise to improve their physical appearance.
Fast forward to the age of Instagram. Christina started sporting a waist trainer in 2014 after Kim Kardashian West snapped a selfie wearing one and shared it. “I’ve always thought that her body was amazing, and when I saw that photograph I was like, ‘Oh, that’s how she does it!’” Christina recalls.
The belly-cinching bandwagon quickly picked up steam with Insta- endorsements from all three Kardashian sisters, as well as from Kylie Jenner and other stars.
Although many waisttrainer manufacturers insist that the product is safe when the proper size is worn, some doctors paint an entirely different picture about the trend.
Paediatrician and medical director Dr Dyan Hes breaks down the dangers of what she calls a “bodymodifying lie”. She says that MRI scans of women wearing a waist trainer clearly show the liver and kidneys being crushed, and the ribs pressing into essential digestive organs.
Dr Hes explains that “The constant compression can cause a lot of serious problems.” When internal
organs are displaced, the results are uncomfortable symptoms, like gas or heartburn, and, over time, more threatening ailments, like stomach ulcers and oesophagitis, which is the irritation or inflammation of the oesophagus.
“There are stories about waist trainers fracturing ribs, but the force of this device isn’t powerful enough to fracture bones,” Dr Hes reveals. “However, the compression on the lungs makes it harder to breathe.” This type of air deprivation over eight hours a day – the average recommended wear time – can result in lightheadedness, dizziness, nausea and fainting.
Do they work?
All of this risk for what Dr Hes and other medical professionals insist is a temporary reward.
“There are no lasting benefits. Putting this on will not make you thinner; it will only make you appear thinner until you take it off. When you stop using it, everything goes back to where it was before,” Dr Hes points out.
The most serious repercussion of this fad might not be physical, but mental, suggests Dr Alexis Conason, a psychologist specialising in body image.
“When you wear this uncomfortable contraption all day long, it’s a constant reminder that there’s something wrong with your body – that your body isn’t good enough as it currently is,” Dr Conason warns. “That thought is incredibly dangerous and destructive for young women who already have higher chances of developing eating disorders.”
The most commonly discussed eating disorders are bulimia and anorexia, but waist training raises a different kind of eatingrelated concern. When worn tightly, trainers squeeze the abdomen, making the wearer physically unable to eat enough food. This is why some people who waisttrain report losing weight. Essentially, Dr Hes notes, women begin starving themselves, whether intentionally or not.
Why young women are getting hooked
“We buy into this myth that we need to punish ourselves to inspire ourselves to change,” Dr Conason explains. “But recent research shows that when we develop a compassionate relationship with our bodies, we start to be active in ways that are fun, and we begin to eat in ways that are healthy. That’s where long-term changes and improvements come from.”
What are safe alternatives?
Healthy diet and regular exercise deliver more positive lasting results than waist training ever will – and without the potential hazards.
“Do something that you enjoy, that leaves you motivated to come back again,” recommends fitness expert Tracy Anderson.
Just say no
With over 795 269 photos tagged # waisttraining currently on Instagram and numerous celebrity endorsements flooding your feed, it might seem like everyone is sold on this risky trend – but there are plenty of young women and teens who’ve decided to pass on getting “waisted”.
Madisyn, 13, a Grade 7 student and avid soccer player, has heard about the fad, but doesn’t know anyone who uses a waist trainer. “I just don’t understand it,” she admits. “I would never want to do that to my body.”
The only upside to closing the clasps on a waist trainer is a few hours of a body that’s borrowed. Bottom line: squeezing yourself into someone else’s shape is an extremely dangerous waste of time.
“putting [a waist trainer] on will not make you thinner; it will only make you appear thinner until you take it off.”