Ah, media. Through the years we’ve seen over and over (and over and over) that our words can’t be trusted to be conveyed clearly, fully or accurately in the news. For half a decade I’ve avoided speaking with reporters for fear of them putting a negative spin to my words and reflecting badly on corset wearers at large. What often ended up happening is that after I declined to be interviewed, these reporters sometimes found another innocent starry-eyed corseter who ended up saying something on the extreme side, and that one unfortunate sound bite was misconstrued and given a negative tone.
This is why this year I decided to start speaking up and answering questions about waist training, tightlacing and corset wear – because I’ve been in this industry long enough to know a bit about corsets, I choose my words wisely, and I always keep a record of what I say and write.
A few days ago Emma Reynolds, writer for News. Com. Au, contacted me wanting to know more about the difference between waist training and tightlacing (which was still confused in their final piece). Of course, at the time I was contacted, I was never given any hint that the article would have a negative spin, or that my answers would be spliced and creatively paraphrased, or that the photos of some of my friends would be used without consent to be treated as side show attractions.
Since I didn’t sign any NDA, I presume that it’s fair to post the questions presented to me by Reynolds, and my unabridged responses to the Australian news source, which were deliberately made extremely detailed, with an emphasis on listening to one’s body, being monitored by a doctor, and the community being body positive as a whole.
Also, before we get started: CORSETS ARE NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR WEIGHT LOSS.
How did you get into tightlacing?
This is a long and winding story, but my initial goal was not to tightlace. I simply enjoyed making corsets for cosplay and re-enactment purposes, and later for back support when I was working up to 16 hours at a time. When I discovered that I was very comfortable wearing a corset for several hours at a time/ several days a week, I became interested in waist training and learned about the process through Ann Grogan of Romantasy. I think of it as a form of sport or slow, long-term body modification that can be varied, changed or reversed as one desires. Many people train in order to achieve a certain waist circumference or silhouette when not wearing the corset. However, my end goal was simply being able to close a size 20″ corset, I had no expectations for how I wanted my bare waist to look.
Why is it different/better than waist training?
Waist training is wearing a genuine corset for long durations (months or years) with some kind of end goal in mind, like closing a specific size corset or reducing the size of your natural waist. It’s worth noting that within the corset community, the use of latex or neoprene fajas is not waist training in the traditional sense.
Tightlacing is simply wearing a corset that is notably smaller than your natural waist. For some people, a tightlacing corset is at least 4 inches smaller than your natural waist regardless of your starting size – while for other people, they only consider it tightlacing if you reduce at least 20% off your natural waist (which would be 6 inches reduction if you have a size 30″ natural waist, 8 inches if you have a size 40″ waist, and so on). Yet others will say “if the corset feels snug to the point that it’s challenging but not painful, whether that’s with 1 inch reduction or 10 inches, that is tightlacing to the individual.” To this effect, an actress or model that never wears corsets except on set may be considered tightlacing. But what all of them have in common is that with tightlacing you don’t have to set a goal, and you don’t necessarily wear your corset for long durations.
Put more simply, waist training is a goal-oriented process, while tightlacing is simply an action. You can theoretically waist train without tightlacing (if you are wearing your corset at gentle reductions, but consistently enough to see results), and you can tightlace without waist training (wearing your corset with a dramatic reduction, but only on an occasional basis so your natural waist expands back to normal within a few minutes of removing your corset). Some people enjoy tightlacing on a regular basis with no initial goal in mind, but over time they will notice that their waist will be inadvertently trained smaller.
I wouldn’t say that tightlacing is better than waist training. Not everyone can tightlace as easily as others; it tends to be easier for those who have a higher body fat percentage, and according to some, it can be easier for women who have already given birth. It can be a little more challenging for athletes with more muscle tone than average. Of course, I would recommend that one be in good health before they wear a corset, whether it’s for tightlacing, waist training, or otherwise – and that they never lace to the point of pain.
How much does your waist size change and does it last?
When tightlacing, I am able to reduce my natural waist by 6-7 inches in a corset – but be aware that I have been wearing corsets off and on for many years. When I started, I was only able to reduce my waist by 2-3 inches. When I take off the corset, my waist expands back to normal within the hour.
When I was waist training several years ago, in the interest of staying comfortable in my corset for longer durations, I wore my corset on average 4-5 inches smaller than my natural waist, around 5 days a week, and up to 8-12 hours a day. The body responds best with consistency, so over several months even with this (relatively) lighter reduction, my natural waist went from 29 inches to around 26.5 inches out of the corset (even if I hadn’t worn my corset in days), and I was comfortably wearing my corset at 22″ while waist training. If I then chose to tightlace, I was able to wear my corset at 20″ for shorter durations (a couple of hours at a time) once my body was warmed up. Once I achieved this goal, I realized that it was more extreme in silhouette than I preferred, which is why I chose to back off and now I wear my corset closer to 22-24 inches, which I feel is more proportional to the rest of my frame while still lending a retro silhouette.
What do you like about it?
When the corset is laced snug I can use it as a form of deep pressure therapy – essentially, it’s like wearing a big bear hug that you can keep on all day and even conceal under clothing, if desired. At the time I started wearing corsets regularly, I was working in a STEM field and living away from home, working long and odd hours in a lab, with not much free time to socialize. I initially started wearing my homemade corset for posture support during those long hours, but I also noticed that it helped me feel more calm and relaxed. I was less anxious before and during presentations because I felt protected and held by a suit of armor. This calm, quiet confidence began to spill over into other areas of my life, and I became more sure about myself and carried myself more proudly even when I wasn’t wearing the corset. At that point, it wasn’t even about the appearance anymore.
What is the community like as a whole?
The international corset community is extremely varied, and that’s part of why I like it. We come from all walks of life and have many different interests – with some people, the *only* thing I have in common with them is a mutual interest in corsets. Some people love history and the Victorian era, while some people take more to the 1950s New Look style and pin-up era. Some people wear corsets simply because they’re beautiful and luxurious, some people wear them for medical or therapeutic purposes, and some people wear them as a challenging sport. Some are as blasé about putting on their corset in the morning as they are about putting on their socks, while some are excited about corsetry and consider it a fetish.
There are many online forums and Facebook groups to choose from, whether you’re a beginner or veteran, whether you want to tightlace, waist train, or just wear them for fun, whether you want to buy and sell corset from collectors, or even if you want to learn to sew your own corsets. In the forums I frequent, the community emphasizes body positivity. While we support individuals for the waist training goals they have already chosen for themselves, it is extremely frowned upon to push someone else into wearing a corset if they’re not interested – it’s equally offensive to try and push another person to lace past their comfort level, or shame them for their natural body type.
What are your limits? Do some people take it too far?
My personal limit was closing a size 20″ corset. I found it a challenging goal that took 3 years to achieve, and once I reached it, I was over it. Of course there were the few trolls online who egged me to train further and called me all sorts of names when I didn’t – but they aren’t representative of the community. I always listen to my body and I’m always 100% in control of my laces. There are other people who can lace down less than 20″ but some of them are 6 inches shorter and weigh 20kg less than me – so while it may look extreme on my body, for a petite woman with a natural 23 inch waist, she might not consider a size 20″ corset to be tightlacing at all.
It’s not my mission to put everyone in a corset, but for those who are interested in wearing them, whether for waist training or tightlacing (or both), I’ve spent the last 5 years creating hundreds of free educational videos and articles so that people can learn to choose a corset that’s right for their body, and know how to use them properly and safely. I say over and over that pain is not normal. When a tightlacer hasn’t put proper research into their practice, when they aren’t open with their doctor, when they ignore the advice of more experienced lacers and ignore their body’s signals, and they wind up hurting themselves, I know that it could have been prevented and it will end up reflecting badly on the tens of thousands of others who do wear corsets responsibly.
There will always be those who lace down faster than what I would normally condone, or smaller than my personal preference – but beyond offering free educational resources and ensuring that they are listening to their own bodies, that they are not in pain, that they are prioritizing their well-being, and that they have open communication with their doctor and have regular checkups, no one has the right to tell another what to do with their body. Their body, their choice.
This was the end of my correspondence with Reynolds, but if you would like to read some balanced perspectives on corsetry, both historical and modern, there are a few articles linked below.
Collector’s Weekly: Everything You Know About Corsets is False
New York Academy of Medicine: Did Corsets Harm Women’s Health?
Several articles on The Lingerie Addict:
Tightlacing 101: Myths About Waist Training in a Corset
“20 Bones”, Broken Ribs, and Other Myths about Waist Training.
What Makes a Corset Comfortable?
Historical Sewing: Dispelling the Myth of the Itsy Bitsy Teeny Tiny Waist
A Damsel in This Dress: Corsetted Victorians and others – myths and reality
The Pragmatic Costumer: With and Without: How Wearing a Corset Affects You and Your Clothes