Corset Wearer’s Organs Illuminated by MRI


I can hardly contain my excitement! For the first time, we have public information as to what happens to a corset wearer’s organs through the use of MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). I’ve wanted to do a study like this for years, but time, finances and limited access to imaging facilities prevented me from doing so.

Fortunately, German medical doctor and TV sensation Dr. Eckhart von Hirschhausen took it upon himself to study how a corset moves organs in a tightlacer on his October 2nd episode of his gameshow, Hirschhausens Quiz Des Menschen (“Hirschhausen’s Quiz of the Human [body]”).

Internationally acclaimed burlesque artist Eden Berlin volunteered to be studied, wearing a specialized tightlacing corset made by Korsettmanufactur TO.mTO.  The magnetic pull in an MRI machine is so strong that it is capable of ripping steel out of corsets and through flesh – so Tonia Merz, the corsetiere behind TO.m.O, explained how she used non-metal boning and other non-ferrous hardware in the corset so as not to endanger Eden during imaging.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 11.02.20 AM

In this episode of Hirschhausens Quiz Des Menschen before viewing the results, the contestants had to guess what would happen to Eden’s body when she’s wearing a corset. Here were the options:

A. The lungs are compromised, so she has a lack of oxygen.
B. The kidneys are compressed, so they are less efficient at filtering.
C. The intestine is deformed, so digestion is slowed.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 11.04.20 AM

Here are two MRI images of Eden, with her uncorseted figure on the left and her corseted figure on the right. This image is behind her peritoneal cavity, showing her kidneys and lungs. Dr. Hirschhausen explains how the lungs and kidneys haven’t moved much between the two images.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 11.06.54 AM

This screencap now shows the peritoneal cavity. Dr. Eckhart gestures the normal location of the ascending, transverse and descending colon in the left image, and the transverse part of the colon is clearly viewed (where his hand is).

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 11.07.38 AM

Now Dr. Eckhart gestures to the right image and shows how the intestines are flexible. He says that you can see that the transverse colon has shifted so that part of it is above the waistline, and part of it is below. (While it might not have been explicitly mentioned, from the image we also now have confirmation that the liver and stomach move upwards (and the liver remains pretty much in the same shape) and they are not forced down below the waist like some horrendous illustrations once claimed).

Therefore, Dr. Eckhart concluded that answer C (the intestine trapped and digestion slowed) was the correct option.

As a follow-up to this, an MRI was done on a woman in her third term of pregnancy with the baby already in head-down (vertex) position, to show how the intestines have shifted upward considerably (again, the intestines are designed to be flexible). The baby is obviously highlighted in red.

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 11.14.57 AM

One thing I should point out is that Eden is not a daily waist trainer but rather wears her corsets for her performances. It’s also unknown how much time she was given to lace up and have her body adjust to the tightness before she had the second MRI taken – I know that if I give my body time to adjust while lacing down slowly, I can feel an intestinal shift after 20-30 minutes, and find that the feeling of pressure is reduced and I can lace a little tighter than before. Fran of Contour Corsets proposes that over time, a tightlacer can coax the entire transverse colon to sit below the waistline, away from the line of highest pressure from the corset, which can make digestion much easier.

Update: Eden Berlin has commented on her experience:

“The MRI pictures where made pretty much directly after i was putting the corset on and on top of this it is a new corset so still very stiff in shape. I think with a corset that my body was already used to and more time before the MRI picture the result may have been a bit different. But my organs where basicly just moved a bit up or down without changing much in shape.”

And on her waist reduction:

“My natural waist is 63cm… it was a 50cm corset and it was actually completly closed.”

Tonia Merz also confirmed that the corset was made to close at 50cm, and designed to give about a 5 inch reduction. With a 20% change in her waist circumference, this definitely qualifies at tightlacing.

If given the opportunity, 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. Huge thanks to Hirschhausens Quiz Des Menschen, Eden Berlin and Tonia Merz for their incredible collaboration and allowing us to finally see where the organs shift when wearing a corset, and especially to Tonia for her translation of the conclusions!

EDIT, JANUARY 10, 2015: You can now view the full episode here on Youtube (German, no subtitles). The corset topic begins at 35 minutes in, with the MRI portion around 45 minutes in.

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

30 comments on “Corset Wearer’s Organs Illuminated by MRI

  1. Hi – you’re probably aware of this by now, but Bernadette Banner on YouTube has a video about her experiences titled “I Grew Up in a Corset. Time to Bust Some Myths. (Ft. Actual Research)” It’s very useful in educating people that supportive corsetry is not some kind of perverse body abuse.* She also has many videos about making historic costume, support garments, etc. I’m not posting the link because it might not get through your comment filters, which is wise of websites!

    *unlike most modern heels, for example.

    • Hi CV, I’m very familiar with Bernadette, we’re in some Facebook groups together. :) I agree her channel is a great resource for those interested in sewing reproduction garments.

  2. Ayelen on said:

    hola my name Ayelen, I know it has been a long time but I wanted to know if it is safe then tu use corset? Please Im starting to use y realy need to know this…

  3. DannyJane on said:

    Not all of us are waist trainers. I wear my corset because:

    A. I’m a Steampunk and Historical costume wearer and corsets give me the correct silhouette.
    B. Because it supports my heavy skirts, and
    C. It’s wonderful support for my bad back.

    I achieve a 3-5 inch waist reduction without resorting to tight lacing (I’m just squishy). A broken rib prevents anything tighter. I have no problems breathing or digesting. As far as I can tell my internal organs move less than they did when I was pregnant. The only real issues are that when corseted I can’t change my shoes and getting into/riding in/exiting a car probe problematic. Seat belts and hoops are unmixy things.

  4. Hi Lucy,
    Thank you so much for this wonderful post. I do love it and refer back to it often. I’d like to repost it on my blog but the original video looks to have been removed? I’d love to know where to get a copy? Do you think you’d be able to post it on your youtube channel? It’s SUCH a valuable video to reference.

    • bishonenrancher on said:

      Hi Raven, I didn’t realize that the video was removed again. I wouldn’t post the video on my channel because that might result in a copyright strike (I don’t own the content) but I know that someone else in Germany was planning on posting the video, with English subtitles. I’ll see if that’s still happening.

  5. Andrea on said:

    Hey there,

    I have been following some videos on YouTube about wearing corsets and came across yours.
    The link to the German TV programme doesn’t work anymore of course, but I’ve researched it on YouTube: Hirschhausens Quiz des Menschen – 2014 Folge 05 v…:

    Have a great 2015.

  6. Hello, Lucy and this is very interesting to see and I think I will share this with my friend who has just got into the world of Corsets.This brings me to a question that I hope you can help me with. I started waist training about a month ago and I paired it with aerobics and clean eating because I wanted to loose some weight and it really helped. Recently I discovered your great blog and I finally started to see some results in my silhouette. However, I noticed not both of my sides were equal: one of my oblique muscles curves more than the other slightly but not to dramatic. Because of my budget at the time I bought a really great off the rack corset but next month planing to go custom, the corset it self is very sturdy with no unequal sides or anything of that nature. So I am wondering can it just be my body is not very symmetrical? Such as one of my obliques being stronger than the other? Is it the way I am lacing?Or is there a way to even out my sides?
    -thank you Lucy

    • bishonenrancher on said:

      Hi Becca, I was actually working on a video on corsets and asymmetry at the time you made this comment! You can view it here (I’m still working on the written article for it). If you have any further questions after the video please let me know and I’ll try to help. :)

  7. Thanks so much for posting this Lucy! My fiancee had some concerns about the future progression of my corseting since I like dramatic hip spring (I’m going to get the Petite Josephine since it’s had so many recommendations!) I’ve sent him this article and I’m sure he’ll breathe a sigh of relief. Really appreciate it! This saves me a lot of man-management. :) Raves

  8. DannyJane on said:

    This article is bogus because it doesn’t clarify that it’s only about tightlacing, which does alter the internal organs. In truth, even tight-lacing doesn’t do much harm if it’s only done occasionally.

    However, as an entertainer I’ve been wearing historical corsets for more than 20 years. I make them myself specifically to my own measurements. They do no harm because I never compress more than four inches, which considering how squishy I am is very little. Instead, my corset is the best support my bad back has ever had. It also encourages me into correct posture. You can not do historical recreation without authentic undergarments and if you’re doing anything from 1500 to the present means some kind of shaping garment.

    • bishonenrancher on said:

      DannyJane, please read the article more carefully. I mention near the end of the article that Eden Berlin is not a waist trainer, but she tightlaces for her occupation – and the experiment had been rushed. I also mentioned that the results may have shown differently depending on the experience level, the reduction, and the individual person.
      I agree that a well-made, custom fit corset can be more comfortable than even a medical back brace.
      Watching the segment of the show, it was not an attempt to prove that corsets will kill its wearer, but simply to illuminate what has occurred inside of Eden given the circumstances.

  9. Marjoram on said:

    One thing that might be worth pointing out though is that if corsetry is actually comparable in terms of physical stress to pregnancy, then that doesn’t exactly translate to ” totally safe”. I mean, pregnancy is still, despite all of modern medicine, quite a stressful physical state. Even uncomplicated pregnancies can cause some really major side-effects.
    If long-term waist training is like being pregnant for years on end then, well…I haven’t had kids, but that doesn’t sound good :P
    With that said, we should definitely be looking at it with actual, empirical facts rather than cultural hysteria.

  10. Fascinating! Thank you for sharing.

  11. Miss Ava on said:

    Finally! Someone shows that pregnancy moves the organs in the same way as a corset. And pregnancy is not demonized by the general public.
    I love that they did this study. Seeing real medical science that proves what corset wearers have known all along is comforting. Education is the solution. Sure, there will still be anti corset propaganda, but now we have the medical proof.

    Thank you for this wonderful post, and I will for sure add your blog to my Feedly app.

  12. Kristen on said:

    Oh i wonder if the corset maker used carbon fibre boning that i’ve seen recently for sale on a corset making site. It is fascinating to see how the corset does and doesn’t effect the organs within the body.

    • Kristen on said:

      gah i meant DOES and doesn’t effect organs lol

    • bishonenrancher on said:

      Hi Kristen! Tonia said that she used a heavy duty plastic boning (not the featherweight stuff), it was about half an inch wide, and she said that she used more plastic bones in that corset than she normally would have done for metal.
      The grommets she used were made of brass (an alloy made from copper and zinc) so if it was a “clean” brass then it should contain no iron, and so wouldn’t be affected by the magnet.
      Tonia mentioned that before she made the corset, she took all the materials for the corset (including the fabric) and tested it in the MRI machine to make sure that no part of it would react, before she made the final corset for Eden. :)
      The carbon fibre would be another cool option but probably only for the center front, as they have very little flex to them and don’t really come curved for the sides of the waist.

  13. Kristen on said:

    Oh i wonder if the corset maker used carbon fibre boning that i’ve seen recently for sale on a corset making site. It is fascinating to see how the corset doesnt and doesnt effect the organs within the body.

  14. Marjoram on said:

    Oh man, actual *science* and corsetry, instead of just hyperbolic freak-outs? Unheard of! Seriously though, this is really interesting and well-written. More, please!

    • bishonenrancher on said:

      Isn’t it fascinating? I hope this opens the doors for the opportunity for more corset-related medical testing – I can see this information being relevant for orthopedic technicians who make medical back braces as well.

  15. Edward Kitchen on said:

    Sounds interesting I’ve been tight lacing forabout a year now. I’d be interested in looking at how my body has changed. It does seem to aid digeston in my case and I have lost weight since tight lacing. Thanks for th insight though most interesting.

    • bishonenrancher on said:

      Hello Edward! I’m glad that corsets have seemed to help improve your digestion – I have heard this from a few other corset wearers as well; if they had problems with bowel movements in the past, it seems to have gotten easier for them with a corset. Of course, results and experiences vary and some other people do seem to have slower bowel movements, which is why I’m so curious to see what’s happening inside!