How to Avoid Gas & Bloating when Wearing a Corset

1 May

Trapped gas in the body can be an uncomfortable or even painful experience (my cousin was once hospitalized for what everyone thought was appendicitis and it turned out to just be gas). But when you put a corset overtop of a gassy tummy, it can be even more uncomfortable. Your stomach and intestines are the hollow, membranous organs that take up arguably most of the space in your peritoneal cavity. According to Dr. Bob Jung (an orthopedic surgeon and Cathie Jung‘s husband), when these organs are relatively empty and not bloated with gas (or waste), they can flatten easily to accommodate the compression from a corset. However, when these organs are filled, there is a competition for space in the body which results in discomfort when corseted.

Therefore it’s in our best interest to minimize the amount of bloating when corset training. Unfortunately, many people try to change their diets simultaneously when they start corset training, opting for a high-fiber and ‘clean’ diet, and while this may indeed be better for you in the long run, your digestive system might be shocked by the abrupt change – unable to deal with the sudden increase in fiber, your bowels may protest and you may experience more gas, bloating, diarrhea, etc. Hopefully this post will help you pinpoint what is creating your gas, and what you can do about it.

What causes gas?

Foods: beans, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, asparagus, cauliflower, etc.), dairy if you’re lactose intolerant.

Drinks: carbonated beverages, milk (see above), hidden artificial sweeteners (especially the sugar alcohols: sorbitol, maltitol, xylitol etc.)

Your gut health: whether your intestinal flora is balanced and you are creating the necessary digestive enzymes.

Eating/ drinking habits: How quickly are you consuming your meals? Are you taking small bites and chewing slowly and thoroughly? Are you drinking enough water every day? Do you habitually chew gum or suck on candies throughout the day?

Other behaviours: Do you breathe more through your nose or your mouth? Do you tend to suck air through your teeth when you’re tense?

I wouldn’t necessarily say to swear off all the food and drinks above – that may be too much of a diet/ lifestyle change for some, and there are many benefits to eating beans and vegetables (as long as you don’t have an allergy or lectin sensitivity). But choosing your foods wisely, preparing them in a different way, or moderating how much you consume at a time can go a long way.

Tips on minimizing gas production when wearing a corset (or anytime):

Carbonated drinks:

There is no biological need for fizzy drinks, so avoid them if they’re not offering anything to your quality of life. If you must have a carbonated drink, let it bubble on your tongue and go flat before swallowing. My guilty pleasure is sparkling mineral water – no sugar, no phosphoric or citric acid to erode the enamel of my teeth if I let it sit in my mouth, no food colouring to stain my teeth, and no artificial sweeteners/ sugar alcohols to cause bloating.

Beans and pulses:

When I was in university I lived off a lot of dry beans, because they were even cheaper than canned beans but they did require more preparation when cooking. Some people say to soak the beans overnight and toss the water in the morning to avoid excess gas, then add the rinsed beans to your cooking. I often opted for lentils because they create less gas – and they’re small so they don’t need to be pre-soaked and they cook up relatively quickly.

Cruciferous vegetables:

Cooking your cruciferous vegetables can destroy some of the saccharides that cause bloating – this goes for beans as well – but overcooking your vegetables can denature some of the other nutrients as well, which leads to the next tip…

Take an enzyme supplement if you need it:

“Beano”  supplements the enzyme alpha-galactosidase which your body doesn’t normally produce – it helps to break down those undigestible sugars (essentially what our body sees as another form of fiber) so it doesn’t create gas and bloating in our gut. In the case of dairy, you can use lactase (“Lactaid”) which helps to digest and break down the lactose sugar if you are lactose intolerant. Of course, if you don’t need these enzymes, it’s not necessary to take them – and I hope it goes without saying that if you have food sensitivities or allergies unrelated to digestive enzymes, it’s better to avoid those foods completely.

Chew slowly:

Digestion starts in the mouth – your teeth grind up food and the amylase and other enzymes in your saliva start the breakdown process. The more time you spend chewing and the finer your chyme, the easier digestion will be for the remainder of the journey. As Ann Grogan also states, choosing smaller portions and eating slowly will help you recognize that full signal before you get to the point of feeling overfull, as overeating is discouraged when wearing a corset. On the topic of chewing, I personally had to give up my daily habit of chewing gum. Gum helped me with stress relief in some ways, but it eventually led to TMD symptoms and consistently upset stomach – so now I sip water instead of chewing gum, and manage my stress in other ways.

Stay hydrated:

Fran Blanche mentions several times in her own posts that it’s so very important to stay hydrated when wearing your corset – drinking enough water makes sure that your blood pressure and blood volume is regulated, which prevents wooziness or circulation issues, and to regular body temperature through sweating. Enough (not excess) water will also keep your digestive and urinary tract functioning properly, as well as keeping the other fluids in your body in the proper dilution – including your saliva and mucous. Gross to think about? Maybe. But having thick saliva or phlegm (or not enough at all) may contribute to swallowing more air or causing digestive upset.

Go slow when introducing new foods (or a new lifestyle):

I know that it’s easy to get swept up in a whole new lifestyle when you start waist training, and you might want to toss your old ways, cut out your old foods cold turkey, eat 100% clean, start a new exercise regime, etc. And for some people, that “all or nothing” approach might work for them – but for many others, this may cause them to feel sick and they may need to slowly change their habits over time. If you’re looking to introduce more fiber-rich foods, perhaps add them in a little bit at a time over the course of a few weeks so your digestive system has the time to adjust to the change. If you’re giving your diet and fitness regime a complete overhaul, maybe start with one or the other (either your meals or your exercise habits) and then phase in the other over time – that way, if you feel ill or have tummy troubles, you’ll better be able to pinpoint the culprit. Talking to a nutritionist or trainer can help you create a system or schedule.

See a doctor if your consistently bloated or have digestive issues:

Your natural gut flora may affect gas too, or what enzymes your body can naturally produce. If you are always having stomach or bowel issues, you might want to see a doctor, dietician or other trusted professional to investigate the issue. A solution may be as simple as cutting out foods to which you’re sensitive or supplementing probiotics, or it might be something bigger like undiagnosed IBS or diverticulosis which might go on for years without people really doing anything about it – so if you have digestive issues to begin with, definitely talk to your doctor before even trying a corset.

Let it out:

If social situations allow for it, and you feel that you’re going to burp or pass wind, just go for it. Your body has this function for a reason, and trust me, you’ll physically feel better for it.

*Please note that this article is provided for information purposes, and is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. Please contact your trusted physician if you plan to wear a corset for any reason.*

Wearing Corsets with a Stoma – Interview with Kitty

25 Apr

Crikey Aphrodite Corset gives access to client's Ileostomy bag

Crikey Aphrodite is one of just a few corsetieres who makes corsets for ileostomates. The side-front lacing panel gives access to client’s bag

Kitty is a writer based in Canada, who runs the site Girly-Girl’s Ileostomy Blog – a no-nonsense explanation of life with an Ileostomy, as told by a foul-mouthed individual with no shame

Last year I received several questions from viewers wondering if it’s safe to wear a corset if one has an ileostomy. Having no personal experience, I asked around. One helpful follower then introduced me to Kitty’s blog, and to my surprise I also found that there were a few different corsetieres who specialize in making corsets for ileostomates.

I love Kitty’s candor, and found it fascinating that she is not only able to wear corsets with her ostomy, but also that her corset is used for stabilizing her hepaptosis (floating liver) and scoliosis. Her posts on corsetry can be found here and here. I asked if she would be willing to share a bit more of her personal experience on my blog, and she graciously agreed.

(Please note that this is in context of an ileostomy only, and may not work the exact same way for other types of stomas. If you have a stoma and would like to wear a corset, please speak with your doctor!)


 

When did you take an interest in corsets? Was it merely aesthetic, or was there something else to it as well?

Kitty: I first became interested in corsets as a young girl. They resembled my TLSO backbrace I wore for ten years to stop my spine from curving any more with scoliosis, except they were beautiful–a celebration of the female shape instead of the hard plastic ugly shape I had been fitted for at the Children’s Hospital.

Are your doctors okay with you wearing a corset? Did any of them have objections due to negative myths?

Kitty: One of the doctors I had in British Columbia actually signed papers saying I needed a corset for my back, but stupid me, I never got around to fighting that out with the insurance company.

You had experience with back bracing when you were younger – many of my viewers/ readers have scoliosis, and some have said that they worry that wearing a corset might trigger unpleasant memories of being braced. In your experience, how does a corset differ from the back brace (comfort-wise, aesthetically or otherwise)?

Kitty: Ah, silly me,  I already answered about the back-brace. It was a very unpleasant time being braced and physically and emotionally bullied by both teachers and my peers, but it really has no bearing on me now. I have gotten the perspective of years behind me, and to take that thick plastic foot-ball players’ uniform compared to my delicate corset–well, there really is no comparison.

How did you go about finding a corsetiere who was comfortable making the proper accommodations for your medical needs (e.g. asymmetric construction for scoliosis, access to your ileostomy, ensuring that your organs were properly positioned with the right silhouette and reduction)?

Kitty: I was fortunate enough to live near the same corsetiere as Dita Von Teese goes to–it is called Lace Embrace in Vancouver, British Columbia, and I found it quite by accident while searching for such on the internet.

How is your corset made differently to standard corsets? Are you able to access and change your ostomy bag easily? Does the corset prevent your bag from filling properly and create discomfort or bloating?

Kitty in her custom peach underbust Corset from Lace Embrace Atelier, which offers back support, lifts the stomach and liver, and features a concealed flap to access her bag.

Kitty in her custom peach underbust Corset from Lace Embrace Atelier, which offers back support, lifts the stomach and liver, and features a concealed flap to access her bag.

Kitty: My corset has a side panel that flows smoothly over my ileostomy bag, that I can simply unhook whenever I need to dump my bag. The bones were also removed from that section, though you couldn’t tell if you looked at it, which was the point.

I have suffered no ill-effects of my corset, I have even slept in my corset. I just have my normal bag on, and fit the corset over it easily, tie it up, and I am ready to go.

You mentioned in your blog that you have issues with your ligaments, and the corset helps keep your liver from dropping. How does that condition affect your daily quality of life (is it painful or nauseating), and how does the corset help?

Kitty: With the corset, it lifts up both my stomach and liver which otherwise float a bit inside of my abdominal cavity.

One of the concerns I’ve heard regarding stomas is the risk of hernias. Was the extra pressure from a corset a concern for you in this situation – or do you think that the specific application of pressure on your abdomen by the corset would help to prevent such a hernia from occurring?

Kitty: Because I tie it correctly, my organs are not being pushed down to the bottom of the corset, but lifted, and I have never felt like my stomach was bulging or that I might be getting a hernia. The corset lifts pressure from that area and transfers it up to my rib-cage.

Were there any drawbacks you found to wearing a corset?

Kitty: The only drawback is you will need someone to help you tie it up until you get a hang of it yourself! I still have yet to do it alone!

Were there any other unexpected benefits that you discovered from wearing the corset – either physically or emotionally?

Kitty: Of course the benefit is a sexy silhouette, you always have grand posture, and you feel pretty darn good doing so :)

What advice can you give to others who have an ostomy and are looking into corsets (either for fashion or for therapeutic purposes)?

Kitty: For ileostomates: dont be afraid to try on or wear corsets. if you buy one already made, have the seller make a snap-panel over your bag area so you can let that bugger breathe and do what it does best. Eat as you normally would, but more grazing during the day and avoiding dumping one big meal all at once into your stomach.
I chose a corset in a pale peach so it would go under all of my clothing, but that is a personal choice–it’s up to you!
<3 Kitty

Huge thanks to Kitty for sharing her experience with us! If you’d like to read more about Kitty’s custom corset from Lace Embrace, here’s her post on her fitting appointment, and here’s her post on her finished corset.

 

Immersing Corsets in Water – some considerations

3 Apr

Corset with exposed steel bones

 

If you plan to immerse your corset under water (in order to wash it, dye it a different color, or you plan to wear it to the beach, pool or water park), there are a few things to consider. I have received a surprising number of emails (in the past month especially) from various people wanting to know if it’s okay to swim in their corset.

Although I know of at least two people who have occasionally taken a dip while wearing a corset, and a handful of other models who have worn corsets in water-themed photo shoots (see below), I know that I would not personally swim in a corset. I am not a very strong swimmer, and I need to have full lung capacity and full mobility when I swim – so I know that I’d prefer not to cinch my waist or restrict my ribcage when swimming laps. If I were frolicking in the shallow end and just wearing a corset under my swimsuit for a bit of shape without intending to swim, this might be a different story.

Katelizabeth Waisted Creations Corset betta fish

Creative “Betta Fish” themed photo shoot, featuring a tightlacer in water. Corset and outfit by Waisted Creations. Model/MUA/photo by Katelizabeth Photography. Click through the photo to read more about this photo shoot!

Why do so many corsetieres not recommend washing their corsets?

If your corsetiere creates a custom piece for you and they mention in their wear & care information that the corset should not be washed, please follow their directions. The biggest concern regarding consistently wetting your corset is that the steel bones may rust over time. Also, fabrics like silk and even polyester satin can water stain, and fabrics that are not colorfast will have the dye bleed and fade. JoAnn Peterson (owner of Laughing Moon Mercantile) also taught me that if multiple-layer corsets are made with different fibers (for instance are strength fabric of cotton and a fashion layer of wool suiting) they will have different shrink rates – especially if the fabric isn’t pre-washed – so your corset may end up warped, wrinkly or bubbly if it ends up shrinking.

 

Why were so many antique corsets advertised as fine for washing?

Antique corsets that were designed to be worn every day (especially for the working class) were often made from a single layer of hardy cotton and not made in vibrant colours – so there was little worry about different shrink rates or dyes bleeding. Back when corsets were made with reed and whalebone, these come from plants and animals that live in the water, so wetting them occasionally actually helped to condition them, and keep them supple and flexible. Old, dry baleen was brittle and prone to snapping or splintering (which is where the rumors of corsets causing “broken bones” likely came from – it was broken baleen, not broken human bones!).

(Above is a silent film advertisement from the 1910s for Warners corsets, which were guaranteed not to rust, break or tear. By the 20th century, the vast majority of corsets did contain steel bones, though.)

 

When baleen was first replaced with steel, it was initially a type of ‘mild steel’ ribbon. While in England last year during a visit to the Symington collection, I had the opportunity to see how thin, flexible, and badly rusted these older steel bones were. A few styles of corsets back then had little deliberate slits or gaps in the boning channels, which allowed you to remove the bones before you washed the corset and easily replace them afterward!

Corset with exposed steel bones

Antique corset with exposed steel bones. This particular style was likely to display the (then) newfangled spirals, but several other corsets had similar slots to remove the bones from the corset prior to washing. From the Symington collection in Leicestershire, England.

Today, modern technology has greatly helped prevent rusting and corrosion of steel. Flat (spring) steels are covered with a white coating and tipped with a tipping fluid, silicone or teflon. Wide busks are made of stainless steel (similar to modern silverware or your kitchen sink) so it’s more resistant to rust.  Spiral steels are galvanized – they’re given a thin coating of zinc to help make them more resistant to rust, but even zinc can corrode over time, so nothing truly makes steel bones rust-proof forever (especially in the case of poor-quality steels sometimes found in budget corsets, which are not coated or galvanized properly).

What should you do if you get your corset wet?

If your corset does end up being immersed water, either for dying reasons, washing, for a photo shoot, or just by accident, it’s best to air-dry it as fast as possible, perhaps in an area with a warm breeze, out of direct sunlight if you’re worried about color fading. If the corset is white, then the UV rays in sunlight have a bleaching effect, and can also naturally deodorize and disinfect – but do be aware that UV rays can also break down the fibers of a corset faster. Absolutely never throw your corset in a tumble dryer!

Still want / need to dunk your corset in water?

Cathie Jung beach corset

Cathie Jung in one of her swimsuit-style corsets

If you do plan to wet your corset on a regular basis, here are some tips to keep your corset functional and beautiful for as long as possible:

  1. Don’t be incredibly attached to your corset. There is a possibility that it’ll get ruined, even when it’s made to specifications below. Perhaps have an OTR corset set aside for those soggy situations, instead of wetting a custom/ couture corset.
  2. If your corset has multiple layers, be sure that those layers are the same fiber (e.g. cotton inner and cotton outer layers). These fabrics should preferably be pre-washed and pre-shrunk before the corset was constructed.
  3. Your steel bones need to be properly coated, galvanized, tipped or otherwise made rust-resistant.
  4. Your grommets should preferably be iron free (and also nickel free if you’re sensitive to that). The most common is brass (an alloy of copper and zinc). Some grommets are made with aluminum as well.
  5. If you are a really hardcore trainer and you’re invested in having a corset for all types of situations, and you’re also not allergic to latex or rubber, consider a rubber corset. Bizarre Design and Fantastic Rubber are both well-known for their rubber corsets. Cathie Jung and Michele Köbke both have been seen wearing ‘swimming corsets’ (although it’s not known whether Cathie has really been in the water with hers!). But know that rubber does not breathe and wouldn’t be best for your skin or your internal body temperature if you were to wear it for long hours in the hot sun.

Do you swim in your corsets, wash them, or otherwise wet them regularly? Leave a comment below and let us know what steps you take to keep your corset in tip-top shape.

NYC weekend and Grand Corset Ball 2015

31 Mar

Lucy with Cathie Jung and Melanie Talkington

To start, I want to say that I did bring my camcorder to New York last weekend, but got very little footage – so a video recap would have been bit boring with just my face waffling for 10 minutes as per usual.

 

I suppose I’ll start from the beginning: back in October 2014, I was delighted to receive an email from Melanie of Lace Embrace Atelier, with news of her Kickstarter campaign. The Grand Corset Ball was to be in the style of La Gracieuses Modernes balls from the past, and would help fund Melanie’s antique corset exhibit, “Fashioning the Body”.

 

Lucy tying sari

Practicing wrapping my sari prior to the event. Although I initially learned from my aunt how to wear them, I required a refresher from Zessinna. Here I’m wearing my overbust from Electra Designs.

I asked both my sister and my boyfriend if either of them would be interested in attending, and both expressed mild interest at the time but made no commitments. My plans, my health and my finances had a wrench thrown into them in late November due to the car accident, and I truly didn’t know how long I would need to go without a corset in order to fully heal from the ordeal. I felt horrible about not being able to contribute to the Kickstarter at the time, and thus made the announcement that I wouldn’t be able to attend the ball (which is why a few people were a bit surprised to see me there after all!).

 

After a few months of recuperation, I finally got the green light to start wearing corsets again from my doctor at the end of January – by which time, neither of my prospective dates were able to go to New York that weekend with me. The ball was approaching fast, so I asked Mina LaFleur of L’Atelier de LaFleur if she was going since I knew she lived relatively close-by in Toronto; we could fly down together and share accommodations. She graciously agreed, and only about 3 weeks before the event, we bought our tickets. We also made some loose plans to visit Body Worlds, the Met Museum, the Museum of Natural History, the Frick Collection, Central Park, and FAO Schwarz while we were there. (Perhaps a teeny bit ambitious for less than 48 hours in NYC!)

 

Fast forward to the day before the ball: Mina and I arranged to meet at the airport on Friday morning, and after a brief period of Marco Polo via cellphone, finally found one another in the terminal. Our first flight had been bumped, so we had a 90-minute wait in front of us. I purchased an obscenely large choux bun for the novelty (not a wise choice in retrospect, as I was to be fitted for a corset later). Mina and I boarded our flight, and then we sat on the runway for another hour or so. Thankfully, we had plenty to talk about!

 

Dark Garden Mockup Fitting

Being a complete dork and unable to contain my excitement at a Dark Garden mockup fitting.

We finally checked into our hotel about 2 hours later than anticipated. I had made plans to have a mockup fitting with Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden, so we dropped our bags off at the hotel and took a cab over to Tricia’s Millinery shop, House of Nines Design. I have only had a couple in-person fittings with corsetieres (as opposed to remote fittings) so it was educational to see what Autumn looked for and how she tweaked the toile. The pic on the left shows my excitement:

 

Best. Salad. Ever.

Best. Salad. Ever.

After excitedly discussing the ball and Mr. Pearl, we said our goodbyes and decided to walk back to our hotel, during which time we sufficiently checked off “get lost in NYC” from our Bucket Lists. I made amends for the choux bun at dinner that night with an amazing feta, avocado and butternut squash salad at the Stone Street Tavern.

 

The next day, Mina and I only got to see Body Worlds Pulse and a tiny portion of the Met Museum, but I found it incredibly interesting. At Body Worlds they have a liver which shows natural hepatic grooves from the ribcage – and not caused by corsets – which somewhat confirms the findings of the article I referenced in my Dr. Oz response last month. I would have taken a picture of the liver, but they have a strict no-cameras rule in the exhibit.

 

At the Met, we mostly focused on the Chinese tapestries, Fragonard paintings and the armor exhibitions. We also indulged in a selfie on the balcony before quickly rushing back to the hotel to get ready for the ball. Mina created everything in her own ensemble, from the dove-grey overbust with asymmetric lace, to the matching palest-blue taffeta bustle, to her reticule and tiara. I wore a lace-smothered gold overbust made by Sparklewren (originally made for Immodesty Blaize) which complemented the vintage cream lace sari purchased from Zessinna last year. (My great-aunt, who lived in Pakistan, was the first to teach me to tie a sari when I was a child, but Laysa kindly gave me a refresher as it had been awhile.)

 

Mina and myself at the Met

Mina and myself at the Met

Evidently there was some miscommunication about the starting time for the ball as Mina and I (as well as a few others) arrived a bit early, so we passed the time by chatting and of course taking pictures in the powder room until they were ready to accept us in the ballroom.

Lucy in the mirror

Fixing my sari for the 135894017th time in the ladies’ powder room.

 

Shien Lee (creator of Dances of Vice) helped coordinate the event, and also gave out one of her lipstick shades (Red Lantern) to attendees who donated $100 or more!

 

I saw many familiar faces at the ball – Kirk Whitmer (deux lunes) and his wife Kerstin, Ian Frazer Wallace (The Whitechapel Workhouse), and Autumn Adamme of course (Dark Garden), all of whom I had met last summer in England at the Oxford Conference of Corsetry.

 

When the Royal Court had arrived, I was too shy to introduce myself to Bob and Cathie Jung, so Melanie led me over to them and formally introduced us. It was a dream come true to tell them how much I appreciated their immense contribution to the corsetry community, including their willingness to be in the spotlight of mainstream media to educate others about modern waist training (even though Cathie insists that they are just normal, everyday people), their modern medical tests that demonstrate real-time physical effects of corsetry (including cross-section CAT scans of Cathie while wearing a corset, years before the more recent MRI scans), and Cathie’s slow training over close to 40 years being a responsible influence for those who also aspire to train; teaching others that slow and steady wins the race. Cathie is a living testament that a corseted lifestyle, while not for everyone, is very possible and can be done comfortably while maintaining good health.

Autumn Adamme and Lucy at the Grand Corset Ball in NYC

Autumn Adamme and Lucy at the Grand Corset Ball in NYC

Lucy with Cathie Jung and Melanie Talkington

Cathie Jung (center) with Melanie Talkington (left) and Lucy (right) at the Grand Corset Ball.

Mina, Cathie and Lucy

Cathie Jung (center) with Mina LaFleur (left) and Lucy (right) at the Grand Corset Ball.

KLD and Lucy

Kelly Lee Dekay (left) with Lucy at the Grand Corset Ball.

Other people that I was too happy to finally meet and chat with included designer and model Kelly Lee Dekay (seen above); Jasmine Ines, corsetiere behind Sin & Satin; designer Rachael Reichert; model and illustrator Flora Jasper, and many many others – thanks to Vilma, Debbie, Cassie, Raquel, Samantha, Ellie, and everyone else who came up to me that night, as I’m naturally a painfully shy person and if it weren’t for you I probably would have sat in a corner all evening. :p

 

Later in the night, there was a Q&A session with Cathie and Bob where we could all approach them with our questions, as well as a dance lesson (which I sadly missed), a non-competitive fashion show where people showed off their hand-made and commissioned outfits, and at midnight, two burlesque performances by Perle Noire and Aseult.

 

Sterling Silver Corset Cover

Sterling Silver Corset Cover made by Anthony Pacesa in 1997, designed to fit Cathie Jung. One of the pieces on display at the ball.

After the ball, Mina and I spent the night packing and indulging in some New York pizza (another thing to check off our list!), and with less than 3 hours sleep, we finally said goodbye to NYC and headed home. Since we didn’t get everything finished on our itinerary, we agreed that we definitely have to return to NY again in the future, and for a longer stay next time! ;)

 

As mentioned on Facebook, this ball was an amazing opportunity for many of us in the corsetry community in North America to come together for the first time. It’s a beautiful thing when we can all stand in solidarity and support one another’s work, approaching one mutual interest from completely different directions and knowing that coming together only strengthens our community. The night of the ball, there was no sense of competition for waist size, sewing skills, historical knowledge, or dancing ability. I was nervous going in, but honestly it was so worth it for the networking alone (and the music, performances and countless pretties were a bonus too!). I sincerely hope that there are more events like this in the future. 

 

Thanks to the friendly people of New York for the lovely weekend, thanks to Mina for being an awesome travel companion, and huge thanks to Melanie for organizing the ball! I’m sure this will not be the last of such events.

Dr. Oz Investigates Waist Training: My Response

26 Feb

On February 12, celebrity doctor Mehmet Oz took on the topic of waist training for a second time in his show titled “Dr. Oz Investigates Waist Training – Is It Safe?”. I suspected this would happen, as in October you may remember that Dr. Hirschhausen (another celebrity doctor in Germany) performed the first known MRI scan on a tightlaced subject.

A month later in November, Oz’s producers contacted me about doing a second segment about waist training on the show (in which I declined to participate since I had seen his angle on it the first time).

Ann Grogan (Romantasy Exquisite Corsetry) has already responded to Dr. Oz in an open letter on her own blog, but I have also been asked by a dozen or so people to write my own response – make no mistake that I am not a medical expert, but I do believe that the results are worth talking about and sharing. I’d like this to become a conversation between the corsetry and medical industries, and for us to come to a mutual understanding that not all shapewear is the same and not all of them are suitable for all applications (including and especially waist training).

Oz’s segment can be viewed here, and I will address each concern in order.

 

First video: theoretical discussion and MRI results  

Corsets can theoretically squeeze your lungs, compress the ribs and reduce oxygen intake

This is true if the corset is not made to fit your body and deliberately tightened to reduce the size of the ribcage. It’s also more likely to be true with an overbust corset rather than an underbust, as it encases more of the ribcage. In my article about corsets, lungs and breathing, I address some common concerns and myths regarding corsets and respiratory infections. My response article to the “Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home” episode on corsets also showed that the maximum loss to the reporter’s vital capacity was about 10%, even after strapping on an overbust corset for the first time, lacing down several inches immediately (and over a bulky sweater) and then proceeding to sprint up and down a staircase repeatedly for several minutes – altogether a scenario that would have never happened in the Victorian era.

There are corsetieres who are dedicated to patterning their corsets to deliberately curve around the ribcage and accommodate the ribs instead of affecting their position, for those who find it more comfortable and prefer this silhouette. Now, it is possible to reduce the lung capacity slightly simply by the nature of pushing up the stomach and diaphragm slightly, but again this depends on the reduction held – and in many cases the temporary reduction in capacity is small enough that it would only be noticeable in situations of hard exertion, not tidal breathing (a normal breath while at rest only uses about 15% of the vital lung capacity, and many sedentary people very rarely use their full capacity).

Myself (Lucy) wearing a cupped-rib hourglass corset made by Sugarkitty, designed to compress only the waistline and not the rib cage.

Myself (Lucy) wearing a cupped-rib hourglass corset made by Sugarkitty, designed to compress only the waistline and not the rib cage.

 

Corsets can cause acid reflux

If the stomach is pushed up, heartburn is possible – especially if you eat a semi-large meal prior to lacing up (but who does that?). Corsets can exacerbate reflux in those people who already suffer from GERD (a condition caused by a loosened lower esophageal sphincter, production of too much stomach acid, hiatal hernia, abdominal obesity, etc).

Pregnancy can often cause heartburn, not only because the baby is competing for space and pushing up on the stomach, but also because the elevated hormones can cause the sphincter of the stomach to relax. Common tips given to pregnant women include eating small meals (and eating slowly), avoiding foods that are commonly known to bring on heartburn (like spicy food and caffeine), and keeping hydrated and drinking fluids throughout the day – all healthy tips that can be done anyway, and all tips that have helped corset wearers to avoid reflux as well. I eat small, regular meals by choice and I cannot remember one incident of heartburn I’ve experienced while wearing a corset.

Some may be interested to read Sarah Chrisman’s experience in how wearing a corset had helped to stop her GERD (which she previously believed was a chronic, hereditary condition that she’d have to deal with for life).

That said, if you know that you experience GERD, if you have a hernia or any other health condition, it’s always a good idea to speak with your trusted medical professional before trying a corset.

 

MRI results of a waist trainer

For contrast, I want to compare Dr. Oz’s methodology and subsequent results with the MRI results of a tightlacer on Dr. Hirschhausen’s show. On Hirschhausen’s show, Eden Berlin (the tightlacer and willing subject) wore a custom fit corset made by Tonia of Korsett Manufaktur Tomto, specially constructed with plastic synthetic whalebone instead of steel, and also nonferrous grommets so as not to react in the MRI machine. The results demonstrated how a well-fit corset does not seem to drastically affect the morphology or position of kidneys or lungs. Even her liver looked similar in shape and simply shifted upwards slightly. The only organ that got ‘trapped’ was her transverse colon, and Eden mentioned that she had been rushed in putting on the corset and lacing down 5 inches within mere minutes – she said that if she had more time to lace down slowly and properly, she may have been able to shift that colon down appropriately, as Fran Blanche describes in her tightlacing articles “The Cycle Method” and Divide and Conquer”.

 

Why corsets are not the same as stretch shapewear

I have several criticisms with the way Dr. Oz performed his version of the experiment, namely the fact that he used a rubber cincher instead of a corset. It’s understandable that they would opt for this, as 1) the rubber faja is gaining popularity as exercise gear these days, and 2) since it tends to contain no metal, it is a quick and easy ‘substitute’ for steel boned corsets.

I have been over the superficial differences between rubber cinchers and corsets before, as well as given my response regarding other types of shapewear, but this MRI experiment revealed something else to me: rubber cinchers create an even pressure over the whole torso instead of focusing the majority of the restriction at the waistline, meaning that the wearer has little control over what’s “squished” and what’s not.

Elastic latex/rubber waist cincher or faja

Lucy wearing a rubber waist cincher or faja. Although there is not as much compression as my usual corsets, what pressure IS there cannot be controlled or concentrated.

The way a stretchy rubber or neoprene faja is constructed, it is not custom-fit to the individual’s anatomy, and it’s designed to compress everywhere that it touches – from the ribcage to the hips. It will compress whatever gives the least resistance, whether that is the sides of the waistline or the front and back; whether that includes the floating ribs or not (Marianne has an article on The Lingerie Addict about different the compression feels between corsets and shapewear). Because each individual has a different amount of muscle tone or body fat percentage, because each person has very slight differences in position and size of their internal organs, because the exact amount of compression on the body is difficult to control because it fastens with hooks and not laces, it’s very difficult to predict how the outcome would look in each person. Only two days ago someone commented on my site asking if it’s normal to experience uncomfortable pressure on the back from rubber cinchers (to answer this quickly: pain is never normal; if you ever experience discomfort, the responsible thing to do is to loosen or remove the garment).

By contrast, a corset can be drafted to accommodate each person’s individual anatomy and we can control exactly where the compression is occurring and how much (0 inches, 2 inches, 4 inches) due to the adjustability of the laces.

In a custom-fit corset, there is a gradient of pressure that is maximized at the skeletal waistline (the squishy area below the ribs and above the pelvis), dissipating to zero compression up over the ribcage and down over the hips. The compression is also focused primarily laterally (on either side of the body, and not from front and back). In most cases, a strong front busk will prevent dishing or collapsing of the waistline in the front of the body, and a proper corset is also specially drafted to ensure no compression of the back, as it should support a healthy posture and maintain a proper lumbar curve. A well-fitting corset should be drafted in such a way that if the organs come into play, then the hollow membranous organs like the intestines flatten in response to the compression, and the corset should not affect the retroperitoneal organs such as the kidneys, as shown in Hirschhausen’s results.

 

Stand-up MRI imaging vs traditional reclining patient

Dr. Oz used a stand-up MRI facility to do the test, which may show a slightly different view of the organs compared to the conventional MRI scans where the patient is lying down. I believe that stand-up and positional diagnostic imaging is a fantastic tool, especially considering that most corset-wearers are standing or sitting for most of their day and not reclining – but this also means that Oz’s results cannot truly be accurately compared with Hirschhausen’s, since the position of the organs may shift slightly depending on the body’s position, with or without a corset.

My friend and fellow tightlacer Michael informed me that when internal diagnostic imaging was first discovered (e.g. X-rays where you could see the positions of solid organs like the heart and liver against less dense organs like the lungs), there were several unnecessary surgeries performed to “correct” the position of the organs. Before stand-up imaging, physicians’ only knowledge of organ positions in the human body came from examining corpses (who were obviously reclining) and from performing surgeries (where patients were also reclining), and they didn’t realize that the organs can and do slightly shift from standing to lying down.

I’m currently investigating this history further to verify the details – but it’s easy to imagine how, for instance, breasts can look incredibly different from standing to reclining even with the presence of Cooper’s ligaments keeping them relatively in place, so it’s not hard to believe that the position of the organs can also slightly shift from standing to reclining as well, despite ligaments and the visceral membrane keeping them relatively in place.

It’s not known whether Oz’s subject was scanned while standing up or lying down, as the brief video clip merely showed her “spinning” somewhat in the machine. Perhaps she wasn’t standing nor completely reclining but was at a slight incline. It is also unknown whether the angle of imaging with and without her rubber cincher had been performed at the same angle. If they had by chance been performed at different angles, this change in position may have skewed the results from the cincher.

 

Should we be scared by a grooved liver?

Dr. Oz expressed some shock upon discovering indentations in the woman’s liver caused by the ribcage – I was hoping that he would explain how such indentations would prove deleterious but unfortunately it was not mentioned (or the clip was cut short). However, indentations of the liver are not all that uncommon. Although the liver is one of the more solid organs, it is still described as pliable, and the shape and size naturally varies.

In a 1986 publication in the JPMA, the liver shapes of 500 live humans were studied via radio-colloid imaging. Over 15% of the subjects showed indentations of some kind on the liver, and these are from healthy individuals who were not wearing corsets. This is consistent with the indented livers I’ve seen in rat dissections in school. These slight variances in liver morphology are not necessarily tied with the health of the individual.

Another issue to bring to light is that organ crowding and indentations may also occur in those who are pregnant, those who have a high percentage of visceral (intra-abdominal) fat, and those who have skeletal issues like scoliosis, which shortens the torso and the amount of space for the organs within it – yet particularly in the last case, bracing a scoliosis patient often involves torso compression of a couple of inches, in the interest of stabilizing and correcting the spine – would this not further compress the organs of a person who is already experiencing compromised organ space? The history of the modern brace lies in corsetry, and research in the physiological effects of corsetry is not a vain apologist activity. More research into the functional effects of organ crowding may lead to new innovations in the medical field as well.

 

The Sforzesco brace for scoliosis

The Sforzesco brace for a scoliosis patient creates an hourglass silhouette similar to that of a corset. Click through to read more about this brace.

 

Video 2: Interview with Dr. Nicole Florence, bariatrician

Can Waist Training lead to Weight Loss?

Dr. Florence states that there is no clinical evidence that waist training can result in weight loss. That’s not for want of trying though, as a 2010 study by Wikstrand et al attempted a trial of wearing “soft corsets” for a period of 9 months to maintain weight loss – however, the results could not be properly evaluated due to low compliance (the subjects didn’t wear their corsets). I was as disappointed as the next person.

I tend to agree that weight loss is not necessarily guaranteed with the use of a corset, and the corset should not be treated as a substitute for diet or exercise (I’ve spoken at length about this before) – however, it can be seen as a non-surgical aid in many individuals. As mentioned above, I would personally be delighted to perform long-term studies on corset wearers, and rely on real data instead of anecdotes, given the funds and the opportunity. Universities and research centers may feel free to contact me if you’d like me to lead a proper trial in your facility. (I’m not kidding.)

Since Dr. Florence is a bariatrician, I would also like to study real quantifiable health risks associated with moderate corset wear as compared with gastric band surgery, where 10-20% of patients require a second procedure to correct complications, up to 30% of patients develop nutritional deficiencies / absorption disorders, and up to 33% of patients develop gallstones according to the Cleveland Clinic’s Bariatric and Metabolic Institute, with a 53% chance of gaining the weight back within 15 years according to this 2013 study. If I were in the position to opt for either bariatric surgery or corsets, I’d personally try the corsets first, but that’s just my subjective stance.

 

Do corsets lead to eating disorders?

I have always tried to tread lightly on this subject as it is a sensitive topic for many. Dr. Florence believes that wearing corsets can create body dysmorphic disorder or distorted body image, and there was implication that the corset may become a gateway to eating disorders or more drastic body modification.

It’s my personal belief that body dysmorphia starts in the mind and then the body follows, not the other way around. Extreme weight loss associated with conditions like anorexia are the later symptoms – the physical manifestations of the psychological/ emotional struggle that has already existed in the person for months or years prior. Is it possible that some people who already have body dysmorphic disorder or eating disorders use corsets as a tool? Yes, I would say that it’s probable that some individuals use corsets for this reason, but it’s insulting to imply that all people who wear corsets are at risk of developing an eating disorder or are already there, especially as I have personally seen corsets used to help some of my friends overcome their personal body image issues and fall in love with their own body. I don’t believe that corsets cause body image issues any more than bra cutlets would contribute to delusions about one’s own natural breast size, or high heel shoes would create insecurity in one’s natural height.

 

Other health concerns mentioned

Dr. Florence says that corsets can cause pneumonia (again, I’ve written about pneumonia in this article), and that they can cause constipation (I’ve addressed this in my Corsets and Toilet Issues article, although more and more I’m hearing from viewers how abdominal compression has helped keep them regular, interestingly). She also wrote that corsets can cause chronic pain and bruising, to which I respond that if it hurts, you’re doing it wrong. Pain or bruising when wearing a corset is never ever ever ever normal – and if this is happening, then you are using a corset that is not the right shape for you, or you’re cinching too tight, too fast, or for too long a duration than your body is ready for.

She also mentioned that corsets can cause fainting – she erroneously stated that the origin of “fainting couches” had their origin in the Victorian era to catch women fainting from their corsets, which is known to be untrue. The Chaise Longue has existed for well over 2000 years. Corsets may have caused fainting in Victorian women if overtightened (which was not unheard of during balls and other special events), and yes corsets can affect blood pressure, but women also fainted from exhaustion, dehydration, low blood sugar, overheating and overexertion, just as many people faint today without a corset. Victorian ladies also faked fainting because it was the cool thing to do.

 

In summary, I don’t believe that Dr. Oz gave the last word or drove the nail in the coffin for waist training, but I do think it’s important to take all information into account. Recall that after Hirschhausen’s episode on corsets, I said, “I would love to repeat this MRI study with different tightlacers to see how the positions of organs change slightly depending on the individual, the silhouette of corset worn, the reduction of the corset, and how long they’ve been training.” My position hasn’t changed; on the contrary, Dr. Oz’s contribution has only strengthened my resolve.

If we’re to truly understand the physiological effects of corsetry, we need a sample size of more than 1, we need some consistency in the type of corset used (not simply *any* compression garment) and we need a consistent method of imaging.

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