Deborah Roberts’ blog on Waist Training experiment (ABC 20/20)

Just a few hours ago, the late-night TV show ABC-20/20 had aired an episode on “Going to Extremes”, in which corseting was discussed (in the same light as plastic surgery and feeding-tube diets). While I could make this post easily dissolve into an argument on why I think the simple wearing of a garment (which can be removed at any time) is not necessarily as extreme as going under the knife, the real reason I’m posting is to bring attention to Deborah Roberts’ latest blog entry on the ABC website and discuss the representative doctor’s statement. In this article, Ms. Roberts explains how she received a custom-fit underbust training corset (made by Jill Hoverman) and undergoes a waist training experiment over the course of two weeks, under the guidance of Ann Grogan, owner of Romantasy.

I’m certain I’m not the only one who noted a tiny discrepancy in the mood of the TV segment vs the blog. While I have 100% respect for Dr. Gottfried and still maintain that one should see their doctor and ensure that they’re in good health before and during the process of corseting, I’m extremely curious to know where she found the statistic that “Corsets can squish your lungs by 30 to 60 percent, making you breathe like a scared rabbit”. In my several years of research, I have only found studies that had shown a maximum of 30% reduction in capacity while wearing a corset, with the average decrease in lung capacity among corseted females being only 20% (see my article on corsets and lungs here for more information). Being one who believes in backing up research with proof in numbers, I’d be annoyed in either scenario if I were to learn that the 30-60% statistic came from a study that was only available within the medical community and deliberately concealed from the public, OR to learn that number were mere speculation and stated as absolute fact.

A diminished capacity of the traditionally reported maximum  30% would be less likely to cause hyperventilation (compared Gottfried’s statistic of 60%) since the tidal volume – the amount of air a healthy, uncorsetted individual takes in during a typical relaxed breath – is a mere 10-15% of the vital capacity for an average human. It would, of course, be stupid to run a 100m dash while tightlaced – but under normal, relaxed circumstances I and many other corsetted individuals have never experienced adverse effects in breathing, particularly when using an underbust corset (which was largely not used in daywear during the Victorian era). If anyone can find the study that states capacity reduction of up to 60%, please let me know because it would be worth adding to my research.

In the very least, the written blog is refreshingly corset-neutral and fairly highlights both Deborah Roberts’ positive and negative experiences – and even Dr. Gottfried’s statement is somewhat ‘softer’ here compared to that on the TV segment. I thank Ms. Roberts for being sensitive and sensible around the subject of corseting.


If you would like to watch the video of ABC’s 10/12/12 20/20 “Going to Extremes” show, click through this link. The corset segment runs six minutes and starts at the 20 minute mark—about 1/3 through the “bar” at the bottom of the screen.

Deborah’s blog:

Finally, this video shows more of the interviewer’s week-long trial of corset wearing.

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6 comments on “Deborah Roberts’ blog on Waist Training experiment (ABC 20/20)

  1. Hi Lucy, I only just now got a chance to read your excellent post on this! I’m so not a waist-trainer, or even really a corset enthusiast by nature (in reality, I don’t like wearing them much, but they are a necessary element to historical costume, so…), but I do hate the knee-jerk reaction that corsets are torture devices/tools of oppression/freaky/only for fetishists/unhealthy.

    You are absolutely correct about the 17″ waist being on the extreme end of the spectrum. The vast majority of extant corsets from the 18th and 19th centuries indicate that the average *adult* corseted waist measurement was somewhere in the range of 26″ in circumference, with outliers on either end.

    The one thing that does rankle me a bit was the girl in the segment who wanted to train herself to 17″… It’s that old Scarlett O’Hara mythos creeping in again. Not even Scarlett could maintain that measurement, honestly! And she’s a fictional character! Yes, there are individuals such as Spook, who at one point got down to 14″ before having to back off for health reasons, and Polaire, who had a famously tiny waist of around 16″, but these women are rare. Just like women with naturally small waists (I’ve personally seen 20-22″ natural waists), the number of women who can achieve a 17″ or smaller waist are rare. It’s not impossible, provided you have the right set of measurements to begin with (most importantly, a long torso with enough of a gap between your bottom ribs and your hip bones). I just don’t think it’s realistic and people should be more cognizant of that!

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  3. Hi Lucy, good job! Your primary topic and seemingly primary concern about the program, was precisely mine when I viewed the corset segment. Namely, I wondered about the factual basis of the doctor’s comment that corseting actually damages or could damage the lungs. I wonder how many of her patients corset or waist train and have experienced such damage, and the extent and duration of it? Sadly as is necessary in entertainment media, the entire topic was boiled down to only an 8- 10 minute segment. I can tell you the crew shot tons of footage. Perhaps the doctor discussed her facts, but they ended up on the editing room floor? For my brief appearance as Deborah Robert’s training “coach”, the crew worked with me for seven hours, with about five hours of actual filming.

    I don’t believe the show unfairly represented the corset in its entirety. For example, my comments were correct with one exception. They took out of context only my statement to Ms. Roberts that if you overeat, eat too quickly, or eat too much while laced down snugly, you may –not will — experience heartburn. Also, I found the interview with the young mother not extreme as to her experience and reason for corseting, nor were the corseted waistlines of those shown wearing more understated and elegant (as opposed to eye candy) corsets, overly extreme as I expected might be the case.

    Don’t forget, too, that what is considered “extreme” is really like art and beauty — something that is basically in the eyes of the beholder. Because I was born with a God-given large hip spring, I have had viewers comment that my waist when cinched only two inches as it was during the show, is “extreme and ugly.”

    To reach out to the mass “non-techie” and perhaps non “social media” audience with more correct information than not, provided an opportunity that convinced me to participate in their research. Post-show contacts from viewers have been uniformly positive. Also, Ms. Roberts approached her corset research with earnestness, humor, common sense, and humility unanticipated for a media personality. She was responsive via email to my checkins to see what issues were developing and she followed my advice. Her blog reflects her reasonable approach, as did the clips on the program. Overall I felt her experience was more than just corset-neutral: she actually endorsed her experience by showing her enthusiasm and her pleasure in seeing her two-inch reduced waistline and realizing the possibility of permanent figure shaping with corsets. I believe that “20/20”, by taking on this little-publicized topic, while not perfect by any means, opened more doors for the addition of many more new corset enthusiasts to our ranks. Keep up the good job!

    • Hi Ann, I’m really pleased to read your comments on the filmed segment, because editing was one of the concerns I had when watching it. Namely, how much of what you had contributed was chopped up to fit a certain “agenda” on behalf of the producers of the show. It did feel to me, as a viewer, that the aim was still “Look at these freaks in their corsets,” and not exactly balanced or nuanced (but then again, how much nuance can we expect from a six minute segment on a mainstream news show?). However, I thought you presented a nice, professional and normalizing presence. Though you couldn’t have control over how your segments were edited, I thought yours were the only parts of the entire piece that seemed level headed and realistic. Good job!

  4. I saw the segment about “Going to Extremes” and I think some people do go to the extreme with waist training. The woman featured on the segment said that she wanted to get down to the size of a mayonnaise jar. I understand that waist training could be a hobby or a non-surgical way to maintain an hourglass figure, but anything done in excess can become a bit extreme… I am going to start waist training soon but I would like to set a realistic goal for myself. In my opinion, 17 inches is a bit extreme unless you’re a size 0 or below.

    • Indeed, 17 inches is an extreme goal for waist training (unless the corseted is already petite, with a natural waist of say, 21-22″). But the practice of cinching down that far was also quite uncommon in the later 19th century – for instance, the Williamsburg collection of corsets range in size from 24″ – 30″. People who are less educated on the subject wouldn’t know that not all people who wear corsets have the same goals, or wear them for the same purposes. The hostess also made the incorrect and dangerous statement that corsets are a way of avoiding dieting or exercise. I simply found the show unfairly portrayed the corset and the process of waist training by showcasing women with extreme goals, and then making a blanket statement about all corsets in general.

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