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Age limits to corseting?

How old is too old to start corseting? How young is too young to start corseting?

This is a tricky subject. Since corseting is not an incredibly mainstream activity, no laws in any country (to my knowledge) has put down laws concerning a ‘safe’ age for someone to wear a corset. Further, there are so many levels to “corseting” – are we talking about waist training every day? Only a few hours every day, or 23/7? Are we dealing with light reductions or extreme tightlacing with much higher reductions? Are you compressing the ribcage, or just the waistline? There are as many ways to wear a corset as there are to consume alcohol. Does this mean that a ‘blanket law’ should apply to all corsets of all sizes for all people, the way that such laws exist for alcohol consumption?

For simplicity’s sake, I’m talking specifically about waist training and tight lacing in this article – that being waist reductions of 3-4 inches or more, and corsets being worn on a regular basis, a few times a week or everyday, with moderate pressure on the floating ribs. Furthermore, these are my opinions and my opinions only. I know some corsetieres and other ‘corset authorities’ who have similar views to mine, and some that have differing views. Just know that this is my side of things, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone has the same answer – nor does it replace the medical advice of a doctor.

If you’d prefer to watch my video on the subject instead of read about it, you may do so here:

How young is too young to start waist training/ tight lacing?

I’ve had viewers as young as 12 ask me if it’s alright to start corseting. They promise me that they’ll go slowly and they’ll be very patient about it, etc. Every time, I will tell them the same thing:

Waist training is a form of body modification. Therefore it should more or less follow the same rules and guidelines as other forms of body modification. In North America, most legal tattoo and piercing parlors require you to be at least 18 years old – that is the age at which you’re considered an adult and you’re responsible for your own actions and what you do with your body. Before that age, you’re not considered 100% responsible for your own body. Furthermore, depending on the country you live in, you have to be older than 18 to engage in risky activity like smoking or drinking – for instance, 21 years old in America, or 25 years reportedly in India. It’s my belief that corseting should be treated the same way.

Whenever somebody asks me permission to waist train, I feel a bit awkward. Firstly, I’m essentially “just a woman on the internet”. You and I are total strangers and I can’t give you “permission” to do or not do anything. If you’re under the age of 18, you’d have to go to your legal guardians for permission. On a general level, I tell these youth the same thing most tattoo parlors will say: You should be at least 18 years of age – OR 16 years of age if you have your parent or guardian’s consent. This is to protect all parties involved:

  • It’s to protect your body from anything going awry during corseting, whether through the poor choice of going too far/too fast with your reduction, OR from accidental injury that was not the cause of poor choices.
  • It’s to protect your parents from being blamed for neglecting your well-being, should anything happen to you.
  • And it’s to protect my ass from being called a “bad role model to children”, because I have never claimed to be a role model to children. I’m as much as a role model as Joe having a cigarette outside on his lunch break, or Linda having a glass of wine with dinner. I’m an adult engaging in an adult activity, trying to mind her own business.

A lot of teens might want to say at this point, “Well I think it’s B.S. that I should have to wait until I’m 18, because I’m so mature for my age and I’ve stopped growing in height and I went through puberty really young, etc. etc. etc.” It doesn’t matter. It has nothing to do with maturity level. It has nothing to do with how old you were when you started your period. It has to do with your skeleton, and how ALL people’s skeletons as children are comprised largely of cartilage – this much softer and weaker than bone, and your bones don’t fully mature until about age 25.

Is it true that two hundred years ago, girls wore bodices? Yes – actually both girls and boys wore bodices. At the time, it was thought that this promoted good posture and reduced the risk of skeletal deformity as the child grows.

Is it true that you can see 12 year olds wearing back braces as a mode of therapy for scoliosis or other congenital skeletal issues, even today? Yes, and these braces can reduce the waist several inches, and also put pressure on the ribcage much like a corset does – and this is all done under medical supervision! But it doesn’t mean that any old off-the-rack corset is designed to be as safe and as effective (if you’d like a medical corset, you’d have to go to a corsetiere who specializes in such). It’s true that the younger you start reducing and training your waist, the more malleable your ribs are, and the easier it is for them to move out of the way. But cartilage is much easier to bend and/or break compared to bone – and if there’s even the tiniest risk of that happening, I don’t want you to take that risk.

If you’ve been tightlacing since you were 13 years old and you’re fine today, I’m happy for you. I hope that would be the norm and not the exception, if other young teens/tweens decide to go against what I say and begin corseting at a young age. But I don’t condone wearing corsets under the age of 18 years, and I’m highly unlikely to change my mind on this. Foot down.

Now, if you’re younger than 18 and you just like the look of corsets, then there are cheaper options (cheaper both in quality and in price). These won’t pull you in more than 1-2 inches, which is about the same reduction that one might expect from their belt or their skinny jeans. There are decorative ‘corset-like’ bustiers and tops available so you can get the look without getting the reduction. (The Pragmatic Costumier showed the difference a corset can make on a person’s silhouette even with zero waist reduction.)

Am I too old to start waist training / tight lacing?

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

I’m hesitant to set an upper limit in this scenario, because whether or not a person can corset train depends on the individual’s health, lifestyle and family history. Cathie Jung started tightlacing ’round the clock when she was about 45 years old and now in 2012 she is 75 years old, still wearing her corsets tight as ever. However, this took 3 decades of persistent work, and 3 decades of her body acclimatizing to this pressure. For someone who is just starting to wear corsets at 75 years old, the amount of reduction plausible and the health concerns would be much different.

For mature women just starting waist training, I would say that the biggest health concerns would be osteoporosis or any osteolytic auto-immune conditions, because having brittle bones means your ribs are more likely to give under pressure. Also if you have any vaginal or uterine prolapse, the increased intra-abdominal pressure from a corset may exacerbate the condition. You also have to watch out for hypertension, circulation problems and – depending on certain medications – your activity level and whether or not you smoke cigarettes, you need to watch out for thrombosis.

Now, this may sound scary, and a lot of people might be reading this and say, “Oh, a corset can cause all that?!”
Not necessarily cause these. But exacerbate, quite possibly. In many cases, the body can already have had a pre-existing condition and the corset can merely amplify its symptoms. But it would be unfair to blame a corset for bringing out whatever problems you had in the first place. Wearing a corset has actually brought attention to certain aspects of my own body (such as dairy and gluten sensitivities, and my asymmetric hips) and drove me to seek assistance to correct these issues. Had I not noticed these through the use of corsets, these may have remained underlying issues that could have taken years to detect and correct.

But you see, there are so many different factors that go into the health of a person it really goes much farther beyond age. A person can be healthier at 65 years than they were at 20 years. But whatever your age is, make sure that your body is healthy and prepared for a corset.
Healthy and prepared.
Prepared being mature enough and fully grown, and healthy meaning preferably no underlying health conditions conditions (unless your condition is one that your doctor thinks can be improved with a corset, like an abdominal hernia or pain from a slipped disc).

If you have a clean bill of health and your doc gives you the thumbs up, then go for it.

20 thoughts on “Age limits to corseting?

  1. Would renaissance stays, or a medieval bodice would be a suitable alternative for younger girls? Since they supposedly weren’t designed to actually reduce the waist.

  2. Dear Lucy,

    What constitutes waist training vs. wearing it as a costume piece? I’m thirteen, and don’t plan on wearing a corset for tightlacing, just to provide a firm foundation for the occasional bit of historical dress. I’m worried about medical issues. I’m healthy, but growing still. Basically, will wearing a not-very-tight corset (maybe 1 inch, 2 inches reduction?) a couple of non-consecutive days a month change my non-corseted body? Is it the act of corseting alone that is dangerous to a developing body or is it wearing it for long periods of time?

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