Getting Waisted: The Dangers of Corset Training

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From curvaceous celebs such as Beyoncé and Kim Kardashian to buxom urban models we see on social media sites and reality TV, an hourglass figure, equipped with ample breasts, a flat stomach and a voluptuous butt, is a hot commodity in today’s society. Some women who are pining for those curves are "getting waisted" with the help of a new school version of a Victorian Era undergarment: the corset.  

Through the practice of waist-training, women aim to reshape their bodies and trim inches off their waists by wearing 21st century steel-boned corsets for a certain amount of time per day. These corsets are said to put any extra-strength body shaper to shame, and according to New Jersey retailer GlamourBoutique.com, when waist training is paired with diet and exercise, it can "radically reduce the waist" and "help reduce food volume intake by constricting the internal organs thus helping promote the healthier practice of smaller meals, rather than three large meals a day." The company recommends beginning with wearing the corset three to six hours a day, gradually upping the time to several hours a day for maximum results. 

Recently, there has been a plethora of photos on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest of women proudly donning their corsets, some even while exercising. But is corset training all that it's laced up to be?

Self-proclaimed fitness enthusiast, Morgan "Monroe" McGee, believes that it is.

McGee began her corset journey in March 2013. As she was planning a trip to Las Vegas, she wanted to make sure her body was "snatched" and at its best. McGee explains that when losing weight she tends to lose it in her legs quicker than her midsection.

"I started waist training to combat this issue, hoping to achieve a more hourglass figure," she tells EBONY.com.

Her first corset was a "sport" corset, which helped promote sweating and losing excess water around her midsection. As she began wearing it daily, questions from others started to roll in.

"I was telling everyone about it because I love it," says McGee.

McGee soon needed to purchase a new corset because her body had conformed to her current one, meaning that she would have to get a tighter fit in order to continue cinching her waist. Not knowing anyone who sold them personally, she decided to start her own business, an online store called Curves By Monroe. She sells a variety of shape wear, from men's and women's corsets, to "butt shapers" and skin firming cream.

"Waist trainers work. Period," she says. "It's proven; this is nothing new. Corsets have been worn for centuries and women have achieved their desired shape."

While corsets may help some women avoid cosmetic surgery or unhealthy diet pills, some experts warn against this reborn trend. While they have indeed been around since the 1800s, many women have suffered from deformed organs and fainting spells, giving corsets a bad rep.

“There’s misinformation that body shape and body weight can be easily changeable to society’s standards,” says Leslie Heinberg, MD, Director of Behavioral Sciences for the Bariatric (weight loss) and Metabolic Institute at Cleveland Clinic. “But we come in all different shapes and sizes and some of us aren’t meant to have a tiny waist.”

“If a woman wants to wear Spanx to get a smoother look, that’s understandable, but wearing a corset isn’t a good choice for weight loss intervention or even physiologically,” she adds.

Director of Bariatric Surgery at the University of Florida Health Jacksonville, Sunil Sharma, MD, demonstrates that wearing a corset is somewhat similar to wearing an orthopedic brace that’s used to change the shape of the spine. However, there's one colossal difference.

“The brace is used to shape bones and not soft tissue like the corset,” he states.

Dr. Sharma explains that a corset is worn to give a more cosmetic appeal and to see an immediate change in the figure.

“All you’re doing is compressing your stomach and pushing the fat around instead of getting rid of it. It’s a very temporary thing,” he says. “Would you be able to obtain fat loss after taking it off? I doubt it.”

Dr. Sharma reveals that there are other ways to get a barely-there waist through aesthetic surgery, such as abdominoplasty (also known as tummy tuck surgery), laser surgery or liposuction.

“If you really want to achieve that look permanently then you're best bet would be to do it surgically," he concludes. "The corset won’t allow you to breathe properly and will only deteriorate your health instead of helping it.”

Nicole Florence, MD, Co-Director of Memorial Weight Loss and Wellness Center at Memorial Medical Center, expands on the extremities of the new diet fad.

“Some people who want a quick fix fall prey to diet trends,” she says. “And it can absolutely impact your health in a negative way.”

“Corset training can restrict any type of movement in your midsection,” she describes. “It can restrict your lungs, which can cause lung infections and other lung problems, as well as restrict your bowels, which can cause constipation. It can also cause bruising and rib pain.”

On top of that, Dr. Florence explains, there is no medical research that supports corset training as being a healthy way to lose weight.

“Some people might compare it to a non-surgical lap band, thinking that the band, along with eating smaller meals, will help lose the weight, but it’s not the same,” she clarifies. “Women who go through bariatric treatment have medical support, are taught how to eat the right foods and how to be healthy.”

“I think it’s okay if you want to wear a corset on a Friday night out,” she laughs. “But even then it should only be worn for a couple of hours.”

Instead, Dr. Florence gives tips on how lose weight the healthy way.

“If you want to change your body naturally, you should look at your diet and make sure to watch your fat and carbohydrate intake,” she suggests. “You could also do certain exercises that focus on core strength, in order to give you that lean stomach.”

While a quick fix to a flat tummy may be tempting, all three of these doctors suggest exercise, a healthy diet (and) or  cosmetic surgery under the guidance of a trained weight loss surgeon in order to perfect your silhouette. They also recommend leaving corsets where they belong: in the 19th century.