on tight lacing and waist training

Back of purple satin ribbon corset with black lace trimmings.

I recently received this email asking me for advice on corset-wearing. I’m fairly certain it’s spam, but I wanted to address some of the issues it touches on.

Hi I really have never worn a real corset before. Meaning I have only been annoyed several times to flimsy costume corsets with plastic boning. Well I recently had a baby and tried on a waist trainer but how I love and adore how women of the past seemed so delicate and strong enough to endure a real corset. Well long story short, I would like to know if it’s ok to start a corset regime so soon after child birth?

first, some things about me that you should know:

1.  I do not waist train.

I know a tiny little bit about it, but I do not have the self-discipline and mental fortitude to engage in any consistent body regime such as waist training. As a result my knowledge is secondhand at best.

2.  I am not a doctor.

This one seems obvious, but yes, apparently it still bears mentioning. There are some corsetieres out there who claim to have such extensive knowledge of human anatomy that they’re basically surgeons, but I don’t believe that for a second. At least not from most of them. 

3. I have never given birth.

So not only do I have no experience with waist-training or medicine, I also have no experience with pregnancy. I am therefore the worst possible person to answer the real question above.

BUT….the internet is a blank canvas conveniently left within my reach with all these blogging tools labeled “post me!” So I will go ahead and give you my opinions anyway.

1. most garments being marketed as ‘corsets’ these days are not corsets

I have ranted about this before and created a handy chart for those who are still in doubt. So yes, dear writer and the internet in general, I am also terribly annoyed by the flimsy corsets with plastic boning.

Are you wearing an authentic corset chart

2. nobody should ever have to ‘endure’ a corset

One has to endure many things in the course of a long, full life, but uncomfortable underwear should not have to be one of those things. And yes, while there are always some rogue fashionistas who take things a tad too far, most women didn’t ‘endure’ corsets. For a large portion of its more than 500 year history, corsets were custom-made for specific wearers. On extant examples one can often see how some of these garments really were quite asymmetrical, as they have been shaped to fit the body in question.

And a properly fitted corset is not uncomfortable. Not something you throw on for the first time without batting an eyelash, to be sure, but certainly not a device for torture either. Corsets are probably better off being compared to a good pair of shoes. They will chafe at first, but soon your foot and the shoe will come to an understanding about who goes where, and you will find yourself forgetting about the shoes altogether. Similarly, a new corset may feel a bit stiff or pinch-y, but eventually it will become worn-in and feel more like a second skin. In the end, wearing a corset can actually be a pleasurable experience.

So wether you buy a corset or get one made by a professional (and I REALLY do urge you to spend the money on getting a proper garment) make sure that you buy one that is going to be comfortable. Obviously there are levels of comfort – some people see nudity as the only true form of comfort – but if you feel like you can’t breath or can’t move, then that particular corset isn’t right for you.

Other things to look out for is nerve pain VS muscle pain. When wearing a corset for the first time it will change the shape of your body, and therefore the way it moves. You will use muscles you’ve never used before, and similarly, other muscles  will go completely unused (more on that later). This will obviously cause some level of discomfort as your body adjusts. For this reason it is usually suggested that you start wearing a corset for only a few hours a day until you get used to it.

The other pain that you can experience is nerve pain. We are all different, and a corset, unlike most other garments, are designed to not only hug tightly against the body, but to also push and pull it in new directions. So sometimes a particular seam or boning channel will sit at just the wrong spot on our bodies, causing a nerve to get compressed (or some other thing that I don’t have the medical terminology for). When this happens, take the corset off and never put it back on again. Find another one that doesn’t cause you pain.

This is, incidentally, also really good dating advice.

But I digress.

Actually, while I’m digressing:

3. women of the past weren’t all that delicate

I just don’t even have the energy to go into this now, but maybe I’ll just dip my toes a bit. Throughout history, even at their most delicate and protected, women ran entire households, birthed as many as 10 children during their child-bearing years (who may or may not make it through infancy) and raised all said children (often without the help of the father, as men weren’t ‘temperamentally suited’ to child-rearing), all while keeping everyone fed and seeing to all the housework. Now put a tightly laced corset on top of THAT and I dare you not to faint dead.

Back to the real issue at hand…

4. waist training is not a way of getting into shape

To get to the crux of the question: I think the fact that there is recent childbirth involved may mean that the desire for a corset stems from a need to get back into shape. So let me say this plainly: I think (see? these are personal opinions all) that waist training is a very bad idea for getting into shape or losing weight. So bad it verges on irresponsible.

Here’s why:

Waist training is not permanent. Even Cathie Jung, who wears her corset constantly and has a waist that is threatening to disappear entirely, admits that her body goes back to its original shape almost as soon as she takes the corset off. She once said that if she takes it off for only 30 minutes she starts losing ground. This is how squishy our bodies really are. It has a memory, and it will stubbornly go back the way it came every single time. Waist training is cool if you like that corseted look, or the feel of wearing a corset, but it isn’t weight loss, and it certainly isn’t toning.

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You actually risk losing muscle tone. A well-made, properly fitted corset is designed to do the very thing that your core muscles are supposed to do: they keep you upright, in place and neatly together. Once you start wearing a corset for long stretches of time, your core muscles will be let off the hook and they will quickly begin to atrophy. So if you were hoping to get back into shape by wearing a corset, and not working your core, think again. In fact, it is even MORE important to work out your core if you waist train.

It interferes with your eating habits. This can actually be a good or a bad thing. A corset compresses your stomach, among other things, and will mean that you can only eat small amounts at a time. Some waist trainers say that they spend the day eating frequent, small (HEALTHY) snacks. This is indicated as good diet advice by many…let’s call them “people who claim to be professionals”. But the flip side is that I think it can also mess with otherwise healthy eating routines. Just be aware of it, and know that, just because the corset causes you to not feel hungry, it doesn’t mean that your body isn’t desperately in need of food.

5. also, let’s talk about those plastic things the Kardashians work out in

They don’t work. Seriously. How could they? Wearing an elastic band around your waist while working out will at best restrict your movement a bit, which defeats the purpose of exercise in the first place. Mostly it causes you to sweat more and so lose some water weight. It also seems to work because most people don’t hit the gym at all. Then, once they have the ‘corset’ on it’s sit-ups and boot camp like crazy. Believe me, it’s the sudden bout of exercise that’s causing the improvement, not the ‘corset’.

kim kardashian and khloe kardashian wearing corset

Wearing the thing to add an extra bit of waist to that killer party outfit is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and I won’t mind getting one for myself. But the promises it makes to slim your waistline and ‘remove toxins’ sound like rubbish.

Where it may become relevant is in the postpartum area. I can imagine (again, I have to imagine these things, because I do not have the requisite degrees or experience) that wearing a tight elasticated garment around a baby-stretched midsection may help the skin to return to it’s natural shape. I don’t know if this is scientific, but I have a notion that battered and stretched skin will fare better at recovery if it was kept neatly together without constantly being pulled at by gravity.

6. to answer the question once and for all:

I don’t know. Ask your doctor. Listen to your body. Eat healthy foods. Get regular exercise. Love and respect your body. Whatever that may mean to you.

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