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“Corset Waist Training” Primer (Romantasy) Book Review

Today I’m providing a walkthrough and review of Romantasy’s newest book, titled Corset Waist Training: A Primer on Easy, Fun & Fashionable Waistline Reduction written by Ann Grogan. This was released in late 2016 and I read through it in 2017.

Differences between the Primer and Corset Magic:

Cover Art for the Corset Waist Training primer, by Ann Grogan (Romantasy.com)

This is a different book to the one I had reviewed back in 2011 (Corset Magic), and there are quite a few differences (and improvements made!) to this new book. I still maintain that Corset Magic is the most thorough publication I’ve ever read on waist training – but it was a daunting read at the time, being well over 125,000 words (over 300 A4-size pages with smallish font, single-spaced). I remember that the search function / page numbers didn’t work with my Adobe PDF reader, making it easy to lose my place.

The Primer is a bit shorter (perhaps closer to 100,000 words, in 4 very digestible parts), more concise, more organized, and easy to search for words and find your place again) in the PDF reader. It has also been carefully edited, proof-read and beta-tested to create a more user-friendly read overall. Resources and links have also been updated from the old Corset Magic version, so they work properly and no longer lead to dead links – so from a technical standpoint, the Primer is a huge improvement!

The Primer is not meant to be a full replacement for Corset Magic, but it definitely helps you get started (hence: Primer). You can still buy Corset Magic for $50 which goes into more detail about what happens to the body when you wear corsets; it’s more heavy on research, and also seems to have additional chapters (e.g. on men wearing corsets). Corset Magic really is a comprehensive resource for the keeners (no shame; I fall into this category too!) but the Primer will still give you more than enough information to get started, and at a more attractive price ($14.95 on this site), it’s a much smaller and more manageable investment.

Like I said in my old Corset Magic review: if you’re not sure if waist training is for you, then it’s wiser to invest [now $15, for the Primer] to educate yourself than it is to spend $300 or $400 on a custom corset, discover that you’re not the biggest fan of wearing corsets or your lifestyle doesn’t allow you to wear corsets, and find that you just wasted hundreds of dollars on a garment you’ll never wear.

 

Some disclaimers before we start:

Oftentimes in this book, waist training is mentioned hand-in-hand with weight loss, and there’s considerable emphasis placed on the obesity epidemic and the importance of losing weight or having a svelte figure. While weight loss admittedly does seem to be the general trend with many people who waist train, I also know of several people who have successfully trained their waists and developed a curvier natural silhouette while staying the same weight or even gaining weight, so I know that training can be achieved independent of weight loss.

So if you’re rocking the plus size and have no intentions of losing weight, there are portions of this book which will not apply as much to you – and try not to take offense to some passages in this book which emphasize weight loss. If you have a history of disordered eating, some concepts in this book may be considered triggering (small portion sizes, calorie counting, food restriction / denial).

Ann does acknowledge the fact that not all waist trainers lose weight, writing on pg 24: “When following the basic waist-training steps outlined in this book, depending on your figure size and shape, it’s not unusual to find that you permanently lose 2″ to 3″ or more from your waist with or without weight loss.” But then also adds: “You also might lose from a few pounds, up to 20 or more.”

Edited to add: since I knew there are a few trans women and non-binary folks who visit my site: in this book there are terms used like “genetic male,” “transsexual”, etc. in reference to trans women. From my understanding, some of these terms are inaccurate and outdated and might be cause for concern – I had emailed the author to suggest using some more updated terminology (AMAB, transgender) but she said she checked with the transgender community in San Francisco regarding her writing and received no negative feedback. Since I’m a cis woman, it’s not my place to police these terms, so I let the subject go. Use your own discretion when coming across these terms in the book.

 

PART 1 (includes Introduction and Ch 1-3)

A peek into the contents and organization of the Corset Waist Training Primer (Romantasy.com)

The Introduction goes into parallels between corset training vs dieting/ starting a fitness regime. One might think it all starts with how tight you wear your corset or how long you wear it (in the former), or how much you exercise or what you eat (in the latter). But in reality, all starts with your mind and in identifying – and setting – your priorities. It might involve a quite a bit of mentally “checking in”, and she says that our default behavior in times of stress (challenging times, emergencies) is particularly telling compared to times when life is smooth sailing. A little mindfulness can go a long way, and she recommends checking in with a waist training coach, having a buddy system, or if possible, even talking to a counselor to identify unhealthy automatic behaviors.

Ann also says that waist training regimens are highly individual and not a “one size fits all” approach, the same way that one person can feel amazing on one diet while another person can do the same diet and end up very sick. I fundamentally agree with this as a nutritionist – if one diet worked for everyone, we’d only ever have one. We all need to find what works best for our bodies.

Chapter 1 discusses some of the many benefits you may experience with wearing corsets – not only physical benefits (better posture, back support, appetite reduction if that’s your thing), but also the comforting aspects of deep pressure, some possible reduction in stress and anxiety, etc.

Chapter 2 is all about the “Corset Question” which is “Don’t corsets hurt?” And obviously the answer to that is an emphatic NO!… as long as the corset is of decent quality, properly fitted to the unique hills and valleys of your body, and you’re wearing it responsibly (which also includes the fact that you will loosen the laces when you feel the need to).

This chapter also goes into various unsavory experiences Ann has had with sensationalistic TV segments and news reports which negatively portrayed corsets, and I sympathize as I have multiple responses to such news segments here on my blog.

Chapter 3 explains how waist training works. Ann provides plenty of before and after examples, showing many of her students who permanently lost inches on their waist, most of them losing a significant amount of weight as well (the most dramatic being one client who lost 50 lbs in 3 months). However, Ann is also quick to mention that corset waist training is not a “lose weight quick” scheme – it requires considerable discipline and consistency, and often a lifestyle change. She says waist training works best if you focus not only on wearing the corset, but changing other elements as well (including what to eat and how to exercise).

But even though this regimen requires control, Ann recommends going into it with an open mind and positive mindset – you don’t want to force the process and end up developing resentment towards your corset or your routine.

 

PART 2 (includes Ch 4-5)

Chapter 4 is a big chapter. It goes into her official requirements for the perfect waist training corset – I remember reading this checklist back in 2010 or 2011 and being very surprised by the amount of scrutiny that went into every detail of the corset. Now, in 2018, I agree that these components are reasonable, and most could even be considered obvious! Some of these requirements include non-stretch tightly woven fabric, strong thread and tidy stitches, steel bones, front busk, 2-part grommets, presence of a waist tape, etc.

She says for best results, get an underbust corset made custom to your measurements, and she goes into detail on how to measure yourself accurately for a custom corset. Above all, Ann recommends you don’t rush into getting a corset.

She is vehemently against OTR corsets (this is where she and I disagree). But what I do agree with is that if someone is impatient about choosing a corset/ they don’t want to put any homework into exploring their options/ they choose “rock-bottom prices” over their own comfort and proper fit, then this person is not likely to be successful regarding waist training over time. Waist training is a long, slow process which requires considerable discipline and control, so if you can’t bring yourself to spend at least a few weeks exploring your options for corset brands, quality, and fit, then you’re not likely patient enough for waist training to begin with.

Ann also discusses turnaround times for corset makers: some may be 4-6 weeks, while others in very high demand might take 6 months to a year (or more!). She also troubleshoots many corset fitting issues, like if the top edge is too loose or too tight, the corset is too long or too short, and she also gives special consideration if the client has scoliosis.

She also discusses client-maker communication – and, should you find anything you suspect is wrong with your corset, to first check that you didn’t lace it too high, too low, upside down or on a slant, and to check whether your demands are unreasonable, like if one stitch is 1mm longer than the others.

Finally, she talks about how to lace up your corset, the seasoning (break-in) process, and beginning your waist training regimen – which takes us to chapter 5.

Chapter 5 is where Ann introduces us to her 13-step system for successful waist training. She walks you through the preparation before you even begin – knowing what to expect, taking your “before” pictures, and writing down your stats. Then she shows you how to set realistic goals for yourself: writing down not only the number of inches off your waistline you want to lose (and/or how much weight you want to lose), but also how long you want your intensive training period to be. She recommends a minimum of 3 months, lacing 6 days out of the week and giving yourself one rest day per week.)

She also walks you through the Roller Coaster method of waist training, and ways to keep striving toward your goals and not lose motivation. Some suggestions she makes include writing a contract with yourself, hiring a coach or having a buddy system, betting money on your success (or having some other kind of reward and punishment system), having a daily ritual and daily journal, and even visualization or meditation.

 

PART 3 (includes Ch 6-7)

The author of the Primer, and Proprietess of Romantasy, Ann Grogan. Corset: Sheri Jurnika. Mascot: Miss Tata

Chapter 6 deals exclusively with food and eating habits, and she recommends breaking up your meals into 6-8 small meals and snacks spread throughout the day, cutting down on refined sugars and processed foods, and taking in more fiber and water.

As I’m a registered nutritionist, this is the one particular chapter where I found I disagreed most, especially regarding certain generic statements e.g. calorie counting (as some people can easily run away with that), and some of the portion sizes mentioned in the book are smaller than I would recommend – but I understand that Ann is discussing this in the context that one may not be able to eat full-size portions while wearing a waist training corset. Ann mentions that she eats quite often (around 7-8 times a day) and requires a considerable amount soluble fiber to keep her own gut happy. Others may eat 4 times a day or whatever personally works for them.
What I do agree with is mindful eating, eating at a relaxed pace if your work/lifestyle allows it, and especially to avoid overeating to the point of discomfort when in a corset. I also agree with keeping a focus on more nutritionally rich foods, and checking in with yourself if you feel compelled to eat out of boredom, stress, or during emotionally challenging times.

Ann also goes into the plausible reasons as to why and how corsets act similarly to bariatric surgery (without the same risks that surgery carries). Ann is quite strict about the idea that food is for nourishment, and although it’s fine to mindfully enjoy what you do eat, she says it’s important not to overindulge or treat food as a crutch, especially during social outings.

Chapter 7 is all about exercise – and in particular, toning and strengthening your core.

There are some lifestyle waist trainers who enjoy wearing their corsets almost 24/7 and they are scared of building up muscle that may interfere with their training, but Ann recommends maintaining your muscle tone in your back and core – her waist training regime doesn’t require a 24/7 schedule (in fact it requires as little as 2 hours a day, up to 8 hours a day – although you can wear your corset for 12+ hours if you desire).

In addition to doing some core-strengthening exercises every day, Ann also recommends taking one day per week off from your corset to make sure you’re not growing dependent on the corset for back support, and this I agree with.

Obviously, we all have different starting points regarding fitness: we have different strengths and weaknesses, different ranges of motion/ flexibility, and some of us may have old injuries that we need to be careful of, so Ann ensures that not all exercises are suited to everyone. But she does illustrate and explain some of her favorite exercises for warmup / cooldown, strengthening the core and back, and improving flexibility.

 

Part 4: includes Ch 8-9 and Appendices

Chapter 8 is about making waist training easy and comfortable. She says there are 3 challenges to waist training: Logistical, Emotional, and Physical.

Logistical issues include which types of furniture to sit on comfortably, and some tips on riding in a car or plane when corseted. She also gives advice on sleeping in a corset, preventing yourself from overheating, how to stealth in your corset, etc.

Emotional issues include impatience, frustration, or excitement around waist training. Whats your emotional state when wearing your corset – uptight or relaxed? Ann says that the goal is to remain a bit detached to the whole process of waist training, “even a bit blasé.” She also gives some tips on how to overcome the judgmental reactions from strangers or colleagues regarding your figure, and how to keep up your personal motivation.

Physical challenges include concerns as to what happens to the body when you wear a corset, and Ann quotes a few studies on pressure on the waistline delivered by corsets (first done in 1887 and repeated again in 1999 with similar results).

Ann has a section on discomfort: how much is normal, and when you should loosen your corset or when you should bear up. She says that training should be challenging, and one should aim for a 6 or 7 on the discomfort scale out of a possible 10, and bear up as long as you’re in good health. I tend to disagree (I don’t like wearing corsets that make me uncomfortable, and I think anything more uncomfortable than a pair of shoes means something about the fit of the corset or the method of wearing it is wrong). Where both Ann and I agree is that discomfort is subjective, bodily autonomy is a thing, and as long as an individual is not causing injury to themselves or others, it’s up to that individual as to how tight or loose they want to wear their own corset.

She also addresses other things like blood pressure, what to do if you have acid reflux, skin problems like itching, bruising or redness (although bruising is not normal and shouldn’t happen), and various restroom issues.

Chapter 9 is on maintenance corseting: once you’ve reached your training goals, how to keep your results while corseting less (if you want. If you like wearing your corset every day then do what you like!).

The appendices can be quite helpful as well; there’s a guide on the difference between different corset silhouettes, a discussion on the difference between tight lacing and waist training, some recipes, a typical measuring guide for a custom corset, and a chart to keep a record of your waist training progress over 3 months.

 

Takeaway:

All in all, you’re receiving a huge amount of information in this book – essentially four books for the price of one. As much info as I described in this overview, it still only covers perhaps 2% of the entire Primer.

The Corset Waist Training Primer answers nearly every question you ever had about corseting (and some you’d probably never thought to ask as well). At $15, it is much more accessible to those with smaller budgets compared to Corset Magic ($50) and it’s more than sufficient for beginners and intermediates.

As Ann and I are both very passionate about corsetry (and also strongly opinionated), take my criticisms with a grain of salt – at the time I’m writing this, there is still no other waist training book on the market has come close to the length, detail and scope as this Primer (with the obvious exception to the even more exhaustive Corset Magic). If you choose to read this book, incorporate the things that resonate with you, and leave the rest (but I don’t have you tell you this; this is true of any book!).

Click here to go to Romantasy’s site and learn more about Ann’s newest book (not a referral link): Corset Waist Training: A Primer on Easy, Fun & Fashionable Waistline Reduction

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Corsets and Rib Removal

This week is an update on corsets and rib removal (rib resection being the proper term for it), because this surgical procedure has been circulating in the news again recently. Back in 2012, I believe I said that there was no medical documentation of anyone in the no one past or present had ever surgically broken or removed their floating ribs for purely aesthetic purposes, and I turned out to be mistaken! Pixee Fox (The Living Cartoon) had three pairs of ribs removed in 2015, and more recently Rodrigo Alves had two pairs removed in late 2017. Since both of them habitually wear corsets, many people have emailed and messaged me to ask my take on this, so this gives me the opportunity to correct what I stated 5-6 years ago.

 

Why Did I Doubt Cosmetic Rib Resection Before?

“The Corset: A Cultural History” by Valerie Steele (2001). Click through to view on Amazon (referral link).

I originally got this information from Chapter 10 of Victorian Secrets by Sarah A Chrisman (it’s still an excellent memoir on corsets and waist training otherwise), and also from Valerie Steele’s book The Corset: A Cultural History which was published in 2001. At the time, Steele couldn’t find any official publication from the 19th or 20th centuries regarding elective cosmetic surgery to remove the ribs:

“Historians sometimes claim that rib removal occurred, but without providing evidence, or they hedge their bets by mentioning the ‘rumor’ that certain women had this operation … It would have been very difficult for a woman to find a trained surgeon willing to undertake such a hazardous operation for cosmetic purposes. Histories of plastic surgery to not mention rib removal.

“Rumors of movie stars having their lower ribs removed still circulate. It would now theoretically be possible to perform such an operation, and someone somewhere may have done it. ‘But there’s never been anything published about it; no one has owned up to performing such a procedure, much less to having had one,’ says Dr. John E. Sherman of Cornell University’s medical school.” (Steele, 2001, p 73-74)

This was obviously in specific context to rib resection as a purely cosmetic surgery, however. Nobody doubts that rib resection has been used for various medical purposes.

 

Medically Necessary Reasons for Removing the Ribs Today

Two pairs of floating ribs (11th and 12th ribs) highlighted in red; note how they don’t wrap around and join in the front. Courtesy of Wikipedia (creative commons).
  • If someone breaks a rib by injury, or has a congenital condition that led to severely deformed and rotated ribs, and there’s a chance it might never be corrected (in the case of broken ribs, they might never heal properly), sometimes the surgeon believes it’s better for the patient to remove it.
  • If there is any cancer that spreads to the bone and it cannot be effectively treated by other measures like chemotherapy or radiation, the bone is amputated.
  • The ribs can also be removed to use in reconstructive surgery in smaller parts of the body. A common place to use these bones is in the face and jaw (after a bad injury or oral cancer, etc.) because using your own tissue is said to have a lower chance of rejection or reaction, compared to titanium plates and the like.
  • Sometimes the upper ribs are removed for medical purposes: the first rib (close to the clavicle (aka collarbone) can be removed in hopes of correcting Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, blood clots in the neck and shoulder, Reynaud’s Syndrome, or other medical complications that might arise from nerves or blood vessels growing around the bones of this area above the collarbone. Some people even have little vestigial cervical ribs that grow out of the neck (this is rare – like being born with a tail).
  • There are also many open surgeries where the ribs are temporarily broken or removed to get at the heart, lungs or kidneys, and then the surgeons usually put the ribs back again.

You can read more about the more common reasons for rib resection on this site.

 

However, Victorians Did Not Remove Their Ribs

The idea that millions of women in the 1800s removed their floating ribs for the sake of vanity is absurd. This was a time before anesthetic was able to be calibrated based on a person’s size and weight – at the time, ether or chloroform was used as anesthetic, and depending on how much was administered to the patient, there was a risk of them either waking up in the middle of surgery, or never waking up again.

Puncturing a lung and causing it to collapse was also very real risk (and is still a risk today) because you’re working so closely to the area, trying to separate bone from the intercostal muscles that lie overtop of the lungs.

Also, people didn’t know about blood types until around the year 1900 – if a patient lost too much blood and needed a transfusion, it was a game of roulette to find a donor that would match their blood type (if one could find a donor fast enough at all).

Germ theory was only really starting to be accepted around the 1880s, so before this time, many surgeons would not sterilize their tools or even wash their hands. Even if a physician were an early adopter of germ theory and did learn the importance of hand washing, it would still be about 50 years before penicillin would be discovered in 1928 (and even then, it wasn’t officially medically distributed until closer to 1940). So infections, complications, and fatalities associated with any surgical procedure (medically necessary or not) were still extremely high.

Remember that surgical procedures were so feared that as recently as WWI, among those who needed life-saving surgery, many opted for death instead – so the idea of many women to voluntarily opt for cosmetic surgery around this time is simply ridiculous and not based in fact.

In fact, a lot of rumors about Victorian period (rib removal surgeries, tightlacers’ spines breaking in half when not supported by a corset, forced tightlacing to 12″ waist circumference by strict school headmistresses, etc.) were actually stories from 19th century fiction pieces and fetish magazines. People forget that fanfiction was still a thing a few centuries ago; not every surviving publication from the era was documented fact. (A great documentary to learn more about the gruesome history of surgery is one called Blood and Guts, a History of Surgery).

Also worth mentioning: a sizeable number of surviving photographs from the Victorian and Edwardian eras have been edited (essentially an early form of “Photoshop”) by painting over parts of the negatives to make women’s waists look smaller, more tapered, and more extreme than they really were. Karolina Żebrowska did a great video explaining this (and giving a very easy modern example), which you can watch here.

An old capture of part of an article “Victorian Tightlacing Myths” by Contour Corsets; showing a doctored photo of Polaire and what her waist probably looked like in reality. Fran explained it better than I ever could.

When Did Cosmetic Rib Removal Start Getting More Popular?

According to Steele’s book (as of 2001), rib resection as a purely elective cosmetic surgery was not something that had been medically documented before. While there are countless rumors of various celebrities having their ribs surgically removed (Cher, Marilyn Manson, Cindy Crawford, etc.) they have never been medically verified… but from my research, around 2006-2007-2008, rib removal has been discussed as a procedure for trans women to create a more narrow torso and waistline.

Here is a video from 2011 by Dr. Aaron Stone performing a tummy tuck, liposuction and rib removal on one patient to create a smaller waist (content warning: very graphic – blood, muscle and bone tissue clearly visible, as well as some genitals).

However, the procedure is invasive that most doctors will not consider performing it. Some patients claimed to fly down to South America to have it performed, as they were hard-pressed to find doctors in Europe or North America willing to do it. And it goes without saying that the surgery carries all the same risks as other major surgeries: risk of reaction to anesthesia, infection, sepsis, problems healing, etc. (And there’s still a risk of collapsing a lung during the surgery and then you’d have to re-inflate it.)

 

Notable (and Documented) Cases of Cosmetic Rib Removal

Pixee Fox (“The Living Cartoon”) sporting a conical rib corset, laced to 16 inches. Click through to go to her website and learn more about her procedures.

We can’t have a comprehensive article on modern rib removal without talking about arguably the most famous case of cosmetic rib resection, which was performed on Pixee Fox, who is another corset enthusiast!  For her “living cartoon” project, she had 3 pairs of ribs removed in 2015 (the four floating ribs and a pair of false ribs above them), which allowed her to cinch her waist down further in her conical-rib corsets. More accurately, according to Fox’s surgeon, her ribs were not fully removed but rather shortened, as he explained in this interview in 2016.

The two lowest ribs (11th and 12th ribs) are “floating” and don’t wrap fully around the ribcage to begin with. If you look at a skeleton, the bottom two sets of ribs are only connected at the back, and can swing like hinges in and out with your breath. According to Fox’s surgeon, he shortened her ribs by removing the cartilage tips on the sides but left part of ribs in the back, around the kidney area.

Another documented case of voluntary rib removal was performed on Rodrigo Alves who had two pairs of ribs (the floating ribs) removed. To prove that it was real, the consultation and surgery streamed on Alves’ Instagram, and Alves was allowed to take home and keep his removed ribs in a jar. Click here for an interview with Alves on This Morning (content warning: his removed ribs are shown around 30 seconds into the interview).

 

My Opinions on Cosmetic Rib Removal

If you’ve followed me for long enough, you know that I prefer to report objectively on corset-related news; especially when it comes to health and medical cases relating to corsetry. However, there was an overwhelming number of requests for my my personal opinion on Pixee Fox and Rodrigo Alves after reading their recent stories in the media. Let me be clear: asking me to gossip and share my personal opinions of people I’ve never met is not very classy.

Regarding my opinion of cosmetic rib removal of the procedure itself: It is not something I would ever consider, and I don’t find it necessary because corsets are able to shift the ribs very dramatically over years or decades (as in the case of Cathie Jung).

Of course having your ribs surgically removed is not an average procedure, and both Pixee and Rodrigo have said that they were never going for average – both of them have said in interviews, in their own way, that they prefer to stand out: they are not aiming to look like anyone else, and they’re each setting records and pushing the limit as to what plastic surgery is able to do. While I wouldn’t recommend removing ribs for purely aesthetic reasons, it’s really not my place to say to other people “Hey, you’re not allowed to do that with your body!” because their body is not mine to begin with.

Considering how difficult it is to spread the message that corsets are capable of promoting self-esteem and body-image, they can be empowering and are a strong expression of bodily autonomy, it would be especially hypocritical of me to drag anyone for having a procedure that they researched thoroughly, responsibly consulted with professionals, and really, really wanted for themselves. I am less familiar with Alves’ experience (partially because it’s so recent), but it is obvious that Pixee Fox had done plenty of research and was aware of the risks; she sought many professional opinions on rib removal before going through with it, as was evident by the fact that so many doctors refused to perform the procedure before she found one that was willing.

Moreover, I have never heard Fox pressure her followers to do the same; she’s never said, “Hey everyone, you all NEED to do this!” Rather, she always says in her interviews, “I’m doing right by me, and you should do right by you.”

Regardless, the procedure is finished and what’s done is done. I’m happy that the operations seemed to have gone well for all three medically documented cases (the trans woman in 2011, Pixee Fox in 2015, and Rodrigo Alves in 2017).

My final word regarding my opinion on all of this: it’s not something I would ever consider, but my opinion is irrelevant. For people who have already gone through with this surgery, whether they’ve “gone public” with it or not – from what I can see they’re not committing any harm to others, and so they deserve the same amount of respect as anyone else.

 

Creating a Smaller Waist and Ribcage Using Corsets

X-ray of Cathie Jung in a corset, demonstrating that she still has all ribs – they have just tapered though years of corset training with conical rib corsets. Click through to see her other scans.

It is entirely possible to achieve a small corseted waist without surgery – Cathie Jung has been wearing corsets for some 40 years, and has a 15 inch waist underneath her corsets – if you look at her X-rays, you’ll see that she has all 12 sets of ribs; they’ve just been contoured and formed over decades of training.

You can also see the same in the skeletons of women who waist trained in the 1800s, and even Rebecca Gibson’s studies of impoverished French women in the 19th century showed that they experienced some tapering of the ribs as well.

So it is possible to achieve an extreme shape with corsets and creating a tapered ribcage with a conical rib corset, while still keeping all your ribs. It does take many many years (possibly decades for some), and it does require that one has a relatively flexible ribcage (flexible costal joints, where the ribs connect to the spine) to begin with. Some people have extremely rigid ribs and don’t tolerate compression on their ribs at all (their ribs would rather bruise than move). With this in mind, I suppose that the motivations of some people for going forward with surgery are:

  1. they don’t want to wait years / decades for results, and
  2. they may have a very rigid ribcage and are physically unable to compress their ribs using corsets.

 

In conclusion, I wanted to come round and confirm that:

  • Rib removal / rib resection is a real surgery.
  • It is used more commonly for correcting pre-existing medical problems or for reconstructive surgery in other parts of the body.
  • It can be performed as a cosmetic procedure on its own, but it is still relatively rare (and secretive) and most surgeons do not recommend it.
  • It’s not a procedure I would consider for myself / widely condone.
  • It was certainly not successfully done in the Victorian era; there were too many risks and medicine was not that refined enough.

 

I hope this cleared up some common misconceptions about rib removal. What do you think of the myths and truths surrounding the procedure? Have you experienced tapering of your ribs from corsets? Leave a comment below!

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Did Victorian Women Break In Their Corsets?

 

Many moons ago, one of my Tumblr followers asked: “Did people season their corsets in the 19th century?”

Short answer:

Not really. But they molded to the body much faster than many corsets made today, and some corsets came out of the factory already seasoned, in a sense.

Long answer:

Victorian corsets were usually single layer and molded quickly to the body

The vast majority of corsets in the 1800s were utilitarian, daily pieces – often a single layer of cotton, with lap seams that were either wide enough to hold a bone, and/or separate channels that were sewn on externally or internally. I have tried some single layer corsets and MANY multiple layer corsets, and single layer corsets always mold to the body faster and season very quickly. If you’ve ever had a mockup fitting, think of how well the single-layer mockup fits you, and how much heavier and stiffer the final corset feels in comparison, even with the same or similar measurements.

I also own some single layer corsets – some homemade, some factory samples, and some that were deliberately commissioned as a single layer like my Bizarre Design corset, and they have all felt fairly broken in after only 1 day.


Victorian corsets had a different construction (and shorter stitches)

In the case of those single-layer homemade mockups or samples that I’ve worn for extended amounts of time, they also started falling apart faster too, mostly at the seams. But why wasn’t this the case in Victorian corsets?

I remember at the Symington museum collections where they have dozens of antique corsets from the 19th century you can touch and study – there were hand-written factory specs of many corsets, but one of them in particular caught my eye because this one said that it was sewn with a stitch length of 26 stitches to the inch (the stitches were less than 1mm long!).

Check out the teeny tiny stitch length on this antique corset, as compared to the busk knobs or my thumb – even in “non tension bearing” seams like the quilting or boning channels!
(From the Symington Collection: Leicestershire County Council Museum Service)

Compared that to an OTR corset today, which has about 8.5-9 stitches per inch. (Of course, thread quality strength matters too, not just stitch length.) With a shorter stitch length, there is less “sliding and redistribution of the threads so you get less of a shear force. And with lap seams, flat felled seams, or seams straddled by a boning channel, these types of seams put much less stress on the thread compared to, say, the sandwich method that is popular today.


Whalebone (baleen) molded to the body with body heat and perspiration

Remember that prior to steel, the corsets contained whalebone which were thinner, lighter and – when exposed to warmth and moisture – the baleen became very malleable and could be bent in pretty much any direction. So when the corset is put on, the warmth and perspiration from the body would soften the corset more – and when the corset was removed, the bones would get the chance to cool and dry out, but could retain the shape of its wearer.

Steel bones do not have these same properties, especially some of the cheaper, rigid, less-comfortable flat steel bones often found in budget OTR corsets.


Side note: Second-hand / hand-me-down corsets were more common than you think!

Anthropologist Rebecca Gibson has studied the skeletons of impoverished French women from the 1800s and she said that it wasn’t uncommon for corsets to be be passed down from mother to daughter, or from mistress to maid – hand-me-downs and 2nd-hand purchases were a thing in the 19th century! So in that sense, the corset was already very much seasoned, but Gibson’s research also showed that just because they were seasoned doesn’t necessarily mean that they fit well – because the corset might not have matched their measurements.


Some corsets were steamed and “pre-seasoned” before being sold

After the industrial revolution in the 1830s, some factories actually steam molded their corsets which is kind of like rapid seasoning before it ever sees a body. Here’s one example from the V&A museum:

1887 steamed and molded wedding corset, Edwin Izod. Courtesy of the V&A Museum, London, UK. Click through for more info.

Quote from this page:

To improve shape, performance and comfort, manufacturers claimed numerous inventions. One of the most successful was the steam-moulding process developed by Edwin Izod in 1868, and still used in the 1880s to create elegant corsets such as this one. The procedure involved placing a corset, wet with starch, on a steam-heated copper torso form until it dried into shape. The result was a beautifully formed corset, whereby ‘the fabric and bones are adapted with marvellous accuracy to every curve and undulation of the finest type of figure’ (The Ladies’ Gazette of Fashion advertisement, London July 1879).

 


Victorians were accustomed to restrictive, non-stretch clothing

Almost all clothing today contain at least a small amount of spandex/lycra for comfort and positive ease. With the exceptions, say if someone puts on a nice work suit with no stretch they think it’s confining enough – imagine when they put on a corset for the first time and they’re introduced to the concept of negative ease! I’ve found that when someone is new to wearing corsets, they have a much more positive association with it if they only wear a corset gently for a small amount of time and build up from there (as opposed to taking 6 inches off their waist immediately and wearing it like that for 12 hours). As Ann Grogan of Romantasy says, “You wouldn’t put on a pair of 6-inch stilettos and run the Boston Marathon, would you?”

Soft children’s corded stays, for no waist reduction – fastened by buttons in front, and contains no bones (not even baleen). (From the Symington Collection: Leicestershire County Council Museum Service)

For this reason, I consider the seasoning process as important for a novice’s body, or probably more important for the body, than it is for the corset.

Victorians, on the other hand, had no stretch in their clothing per se (although pleats and gathers do what they can), and wore stays from childhood. Now, these stays wouldn’t take much (if anything) off their waist, they were corded stays and fastened with buttons instead of laces – but they would be quite snug and be close to fitting their natural waist measurement – such that their waist circumference was probably held more or less constant even as the rest of their body grew.


Tightlacing was less common; light reductions were more the norm

Props to Alexa for pointing this out: Most Victorian women didn’t tightlace, but rather their corsets were worn more for support (bust support and back support), supporting the heavy skirts, and perhaps gentle cinching. So even when worn daily, their wear might not be as rigorous as someone who laces down 6-8 inches and wears it 23/7 today.

This one study from the Victorian era mentions that corsets were typically laced with a reduction of 1.5 to 4.5 inches, with the average being just 2.5 inch reduction from the natural waist (26.5 inch natural waist, and 24 inch corseted waist). When you consider that a reduction of 2-3 inches is recommended during the modern seasoning process, it’s really not all that different from how many Victorians wore their corsets all the time.


How long was a corset supposed to last, anyway?

This antique corset was guaranteed to not break for 12 months! This implies that other brands or makes may not have lasted that long with daily wear.
(From the Symington Collection: Leicestershire County Council Museum Service)

Another thing to consider is how long a typical corset lasted back then. Some corsets boasted that they’re guaranteed to last 12 months, which implies that many other corsets didn’t last that long (but, as we know from Gibson’s research, hand-me-downs were not uncommon so they probably got a few years of use, and they mended and repaired where they could).

Some Victorian women may have bought a new corset every few years or up to multiple times in a year, depending on the family’s wealth, the quality of the corset, and the amount of wear and tear on the corset from the woman’s activities. But they would likely find it unreasonable to expect a corset to last 5-10 years or up to a lifetime, the way that some people consider modern corsets to last.

So although Victorians didn’t having a seasoning regimen the way it’s been popularized today, their corsets were very different to modern corsets. Today, corsets come out of the factories fairly flat, and often contain multiple layers of fabric (often a mix of fibers too, like polyester). They’re decidedly crunchy due to the starch and sizing, and they contain almost exclusively steel bones (which don’t change properties when exposed to body heat), AND also consider the fact that that people today are not used to wearing restraining clothing.

I hope this answered the question as to why seasoning was probably not done during the Victorian era, but was also likely not required.

If you have any comments or questions on the matter, leave a comment below!

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A Brief History of Hysteria

The history of the “medical condition” of hysteria is a long, winding, somewhat convoluted one. In its earliest definitions, hysteria was a term to describe trauma or disease of the uterus (hence the word “hysterectomy” to remove the uterus) – or even to describe a vengeful or mischievous uterus that detached itself from the pelvic region and wandered around the body.

4000 Years Ago, Ancient Egypt:

It’s said that the concept of the wandering womb came about around 4000 years ago in ancient Egypt, although the term “hysteria” wasn’t coined until around 2400 years ago by Hippocrates. Now, in general there was some stuff that Hippocrates got right – indeed he’s considered the father of western medicine. But he had some really interesting and wrong ideas about the uterus.
In old Greek, “hystera” (without the i) referred to the womb, which is where we get terms still used today like “Hysterectomy” – removal of the uterus.

2400 Years Ago, Ancient Greece:

Hippocrates lived around 400 BCE, and wrote / taught about the “wandering womb” – that the uterus was not anchored in place but was like an animal with a mind of its own, traveling around inside the body and wreaking havoc on other tissue and organ systems like a delinquent. All the symptoms caused by the womb’s antics is what they collectively described as hysteria.

The wandering womb was said to cause heart problems, liver problems, respiratory problems, it could cause a host of neurological issues, everything from headaches, to epileptic seizures (known as “Hercules’ Disease”), to unexplained paralysis (which might now be classified as conversion disorder).

Symptoms of hysteria include:

  • Sleeping too much, or too little.
  • Becoming disinterested in past hobbies, or too interested or obsessive in hobbies.
  • Showing apathy or lack of care, or having anxiety, irritability and caring too much.
  • Having high libido, or low libido.
  • Being too quiet and mute, or being too talkative and loud.

I think you get the idea. There was a very narrow range of “acceptable behavior” and if a lady swung too far out of that range on either side, she could be diagnosed with hysteria.

1500-500 Years Ago, Middle Ages in Europe:

In the middle ages, hysteria was tied to sorcery, witchcraft and demon possession and so – naturally – of the treatments was exorcism. Hysteria was a disorder of exclusion – if every other known disease had been ruled out and doctors couldn’t come up with an official diagnosis, then they believed that it was a disease brought about by something “intangible” and “not well understood” and therefore a result of the devil. And of course, since women were thought to have brought about original sin (re: Eve and the serpent), women were thought to be either naturally prone to “evil”, and/or more naïve and impressionable to evil spirits. Exorcism often involved physical and mental torture of the patient, and many women didn’t survive this “treatment”.

150 Years Ago: Victorian Era in Europe:

By the 19th century, at the height of Victorian fashion, hysteria had become a blanket term for emotional, sexual or mental disorders suffered exclusively by women. Some people blamed quintessentially “feminine” objects and garments for the disease (like corsets!) while other people thought that corsets helped prevent hysteria. But honestly, when I first started researching the history of hysteria, I was surprised by how little it was tied to the corset (the real history of corsets and stays are only close to 500 years, while hysteria is 4000 years old, so this is unsurprising).

Hysteria was a particularly popular diagnosis in the 18th and 19th centuries – in fact the 2nd most diagnosed condition after fever. According to author Laura Briggs, one doctor in the 19th century had a 75 page publication listing all the possible symptoms of Hysteria (and said that list was still not exhaustive)! It was estimated that 25% of the female population was affected by hysteria in some form or another. So Hysteria was still this vague, catch-all, umbrella diagnosis that could manifest in any different ways (it had hundreds or thousands of different “faces”) – as long as the patient possessed a uterus. If you, as a lucky owner of a uterus, disturbed the peace in any way, you could be diagnosed with hysteria and hauled away to a sanitarium or insane asylum.

We’ve discussed the many “symptoms” of hysteria, but what were the causes?

Some claimed that hysteria was due to the uterus becoming too dry and light. (Did the uterus become a helium balloon and just float off somewhere else in the body??) So doctors recommended ways to keep the uterus moist and weighted…. Except not really, because another source said that hysteria was caused by too much fluid retention in the pelvic region, specifically because the female was not purging her body of “female sperm”. (!?!!?)

In the 1700 and 1800s they also blamed “bad air” for hysteria, so when a woman “got the vapours” it meant their womb was acting up. You might have heard of smelling salts which were used to rouse fainting women (this worked by creating a sharp inhalation reflex, which was said to oxygenate the body), but the salts also were supposed to help with hysteria. Smelling salts were not pleasant in aroma; they were made with ammonia. Taking in the pungent odors through the nose at the top of the body was thought to repulse the uterus so it would be driven down through the body. Doctors also recommended applying sweet perfumes and scents to the groin to lure the uterus back to its assigned seat, so to speak.

As you can imagine, there was a lot of contradiction and nobody could really agree as to what caused hysteria, what the mechanism is, or how to cure it.

The horrific “treatments” in the name of hysteria:

Smelling salts, while not pleasant to actually smell, was probably one of the ‘preferred’ treatments for mild hysteria. Others recommended spreading dung on the upper lip or in the genitals (which is anything but hygienic).

Hippocrates said that pregnancy could keep the uterus anchored in place and prevent it from wandering – but the caveat, he says, is that the action of childbirth could cause the uterus to act up again and encourage it to wander. So, he seems to have implied that regular relations with one’s husband to keep the patient like constantly impregnated would be the answer.

Rachel Maines, author of “The Technology of the Orgasm”, has written extensively about the “treatment” for hysteria involving what we would now consider sexual abuse. Forced vigorous pelvic massages – manual stimulation administered by the doctor, or this task could be delegated to the nurse or midwife. According to this chapter in her book, when doctors complained that they were getting too tired stimulating the patient or it took too much of their time, that’s when sexual vibrators were developed as a popular substitute.

Lucy’s Added Thought: Even though hysteria is millennia older than the Victorian era, perhaps one of the reasons why it seems to be so intertwined with this era (apart from more literacy and more surviving written documents about the disease during the 1800s), is that there seems to be this connotation that compared to all other times in history, the 18th and 19th centuries in Britain seemed to be the most sexually repressed and these values were said to be spread to other cultures and countries around the world through colonialism during this era.

1885: Sigmund Freud and Male Hysteria:

Sigmund Freud was erroneously blamed for the widespread belief of the wandering womb, when really the theory had existed for millennia. When I looked more into it though, Freud started learning more about Hysteria from Jean-Martin Charcot around at the end of the 19th century, around 1885. Charcot popularized the theory that men could suffer from hysteria as well, especially soldiers. Many of the symptoms Charcot described would later be known as “shell-shock” and then post traumatic stress disorder. Freud put forward the belief that female and male hysteria was basically the same thing, related to anxiety neuroses – which was sort of laying down more framework for what we now know as anxiety disorder, borderline personality disorder, dissociative disorders, and PTSD although that wasn’t what they was called yet.

So in the late 1800s and early 1900s, Freud and Charcot and a few others were working to reclassify many of hysteria’s symptoms into new diagnoses, admittedly a lot of those were also wrong and often harmful and now rejected too – but they did claim that hysteria was a psychological, neurological and emotional disorder presented by survivors of trauma. It was not physical disease reserved only for those who own a uterus, and they promoted hypnotism and talk therapies. Freud even diagnosed himself with hysteria at one point, but there was so much resistance around male hysteria from the rest of the medical community that he flip-flopped and started calling hysteria a “feminine” disease again later on.

Meanwhile there was still a lot of messed up shit happening in the name of “treatment”. It seems that spreading dung on yourself and exorcism had both fallen out of favor by this time (thank goodness), but of course there was still sexual abuse and smelling salts as I had mentioned earlier, they were also injecting things into the uterus, cutting or burning away the genitals with fire or chemicals (Dr John Harvey Kellogg was said to be particularly supportive of female circumcision), using electroconvulsive therapy or shock therapy, among other stomach-churning things. And this was all happening well into the 20th century.

1920 – 1980: The Fall of Hysteria:

Hysteria as a diagnosis plummeted drastically after the 1920s in part due to women’s suffrage, but also a huuuuuge factor was because so many people, men and women, across different countries and cultures, started to present symptoms of PTSD during and after WW1 and WW2 that doctors could no longer deny its association with experience and trauma, and that it had nothing to do with gender. However, hysterical neuroses was still mentioned in the DSM-II in 1968, and was only officially deleted when they came out with the DSM-III in 1980.

 

Like I said before, Hysteria has about 4000 years of history, and it’s a convoluted history. Obviously there were multiple and contradictory hypotheses that existed at the same time about both the cause of Hysteria and the symptoms as a result of the condition, and also there’s a lot of disagreement about the timeline of it and who believed what about it prior to the 1900s. Also it’s worth noting that I am not a historian (I’m trained in modern biology) but I’ve tried to touch on events as fairly as possible in this article and clear up some misconceptions about hysteria.

I’ll post links below if you want further reading on this topic. Comment below and let me know the most absurd thing you’ve heard about hysteria!

 

Links for Hysteria (for further reading):

https://www.jstor.org/stable/30041838

http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/m/maines-technology.html

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25273494

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3480686/

Did Victorian era doctors use vibrators to treat hysteric female patients with orgasm therapy?

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England Adventures: Oxford Conference of Corsetry (OCOC), Interviews, Factory Tour & More!


At last, after 2 years I’m sharing with you some highlights of my trip to England, and what you can expect at the Oxford Conference of Corsetry if you choose to attend in the future.

There were unfortunately some restrictions placed on what could be photographed or filmed and what couldn’t, and so I filmed very little in 2014 (the first year I attended). In 2015 I filmed a little more, after seeing what other attendees freely filmed / photographed without getting a slap on the wrist – but here’s a nonexhaustive list of limitations (just so you won’t be underwhelmed by the lack of footage in the video above).

  • At Jesus College, where conference was held, you’re not allowed to portray it in any way that could be considered an advertisement.
  • You’re not allowed to show certain signs or crests or logos in video or photography.
  • Regarding the conference itself, I was respectful of attendees who didn’t want to be shown on camera (but when you’re at a conference you’re constantly surrounded by people).
  • I would have loved to do a dozen corset reviews or interviews at the conference as well, but I was not allowed to favour the work of any one maker over the others (if I interviewed one, I would have to interview all of them, and there wasn’t enough time to do so).
  • You’re was also not allowed to film the models or photographers when they were at work.
  • Obviously you’re not allowed to film the workshops in their entirety, as that could be giving away the presenters’ trade secrets.

So what was left that I could film included old architecture and gardens, the backs of people’s heads, tiny snippets of talks, and piles and piles of corsets (of course, the corsets were the whole reason I was there!). I’ve pulled together what I could here, and in this video I’ll also be talking about what I got up to before and after the conference (in both 2014 and 2015).

 

Corset Pilgrimage, 2014: Oxford, London, Leicestershire, Birmingham, Bath

Lowana of Vanyanis (right) and myself in the car (also with Jenni of Sparklewren in the front seat), all of us excited to head to OCOC 2014!

The location itself felt like I was staying at Hogwarts. I’m not certain if there are any buildings in Canada that are quite as old as those in Oxford, and I felt a combination of reverence and the heebie-jeebies. You could choose whether you wanted to share rooms with a friend or whether you wanted your own place (I recommend bunking with a friend – it’s less expensive as well). When you check in at the college, they assign you your room. Attendees are all scattered around the college, you’re not all in one giant rez.

At the conference there’s always a room with a corset pile on a giant table. Corset makers can bring their corsets and label them and leave them here for the weekend for all other attendees to study and try on (if you allow trying on of your corsets). This room is locked after hours so your belongings are protected. Again, I was not allowed to conduct any interviews or corset reviews at the conference, but I did do a couple of interviews (Beata Sievi of Entre-Nous in Bath, and Lowana O’Shea of Vanyanis in London) after the conference in 2014.

Autograph for Christine Wickham from Mr Pearl. It reads, “To Dear Christine / Love is the Messge / Love has no time or space. / Mr Pearl”

There was also a table set up for Christine Wickham, of Ariadne’s Thread, as it was her crowdfunding that helped me afford to travel to England to the OCOC in the first place. Christine passed away unexpectedly in July 2014, just a few months after the campaign ended, and a month before the Conference of Corsetry. I commissioned Sarah Chrisman to hand-bind a book with blank pages, and anyone could come and write a note to Christine or to her family.
I ended up bringing the book 2 years in a row, and at the conference in 2015, the one and only Mr Pearl signed her book.

On the Saturday night, there is a dinner gala where you can dress up in formal or semiformal wear, and many of the corsetieres wore their own creations.
In 2014, the special guest and keynote speaker was Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden, and how her business had evolved over 25 years.

Some of the classes and workshops in 2014 included:

  • Drawing inspiration from architecture and nature, guided by Alison of Crikey Aphrodite
  • Couture hand finishing techniques by Ian Frazer Wallace of Whitechapel Workhouse
  • Studying antique corsets including the bird’s wing corset, with Jenni of Sparklewren
  • Grading different sizes for standard sized collections by Marianne of Pop Antique
  • Working with Worbla and other interesting materials with Barbara of Royal Black

Let’s rewind a bit and talk about going to the Symington corset collection in Leicestershire before the 2014 conference. I made plans to meet Lowana of Vanyanis at the airport, and we made an appointment to study some of the antique corsets in their collections. It was simply amazing; we were allowed to touch the corsets with clean bare hands. See the video for many examples of the corsets we studied there.

This antique corset has teeny tiny stitches – about 25 per inch – and it was considered impressive if the corset lasted 12 months before needing replacement!
Corset courtesy of the Symington Museum Collections in Leicester, UK.

After the museum, Lowana and I went to Birmingham to the Jewellery quarter and spent a day at Sparklewren’s studio. Marianne of Pop Antique was there too, and Lowana hired Inaglo Photography for a day there. I also had a small turn in front of the camera.

After the 2014 conference, I toured different parts of London and Bath – parts with Lowana and Beata, and parts solo. I was particularly excited to visit the roman baths, because my grandmother visited them in the 70s and loved them so much. I’m named after my grandmother but never met her, and it was of an odd importance to me that I walked the same areas she did when she visited England over 40 years ago.

Again, if you’d like to see the interviews I did in Engand in 2014, click here for Beata Sievi of Entre-Nous in Bath, and Lowana O’Shea of Vanyanis in London.

That was the summary of my whirlwind 2014 England trip! Continue reading to learn what I got up to in 2015.


Corset Pilgrimage, 2015: Oxford, London, Portsmouth

Joni (Rainbow Curve Corsetry) and myself (Lucy Corsetry) hugging a really, really old tree somewhere near the fields where Harry Potter’s Quidditch games were filmed.

The Oxford Conference of Corsetry in 2015 was structured similarly to the year before. That year I was only in England for about 5 days, so there were fewer opportunities for tourism, and the itinerary was a lot more jam-packed. I arrived just hours before conference festivities began on the Friday, so I went walking in downtown Oxford with some other corsetieres like Sara of Exquisitely Waisted Designs, Karolina Zarzycka with the label of her own name, Dee from Luscious Pearl Designs, and Joni from Rainbow Curve Corsetry, and we checked out some different sites where Harry Potter was filmed. Later that evening all the attendees went to Bill’s for a casual meetup and grub before lectures and workshops started the next day.

This year, I decided to share a dorm with Laurie Tavan, and as we’re both quiet people who completely nerd out on the minutia of corsetry and aren’t afraid to help each other out, she was the perfect roommate for that weekend.

Again on Saturday night, there’s a semiformal dinner, and the keynote speaker for 2015 was Immodesty Blaize, who gave an amazing performance and then gave a beautiful speech afterward.

Workshops and classes in 2015 included:

  • 3D printing and other interesting materials with Barbara of Royal Black.
  • Pattern matching workshop conducted by Autumn Adamme of Dark Garden.
  • Question and answer period with Mr Pearl.
  • Building your own website and SEO with Fionna Pullen.
  • There was also a class on integrating corsetry into other clothing (led by Ian Frazer Wallace of Whitechapel Workhouse) – arguably the class I was most excited about on the itinerary that year – but that particular year, attendees were divided based on skill & experience level, so not all makers were allowed to attend all workshops. This is the one detail that I would change in the future with OCOC; if all attendees pay the same amount to attend the conference, they should all be able to sit the workshops they’re most interested in. Attendees only learned that we were segregated into different classes after we had already paid for our tickets.
Katie Thomas (right) and myself in the WKD London boutique.

After the conclusion of OCOC 2015, I spent two days with Katie Thomas of What Katie Did. She showed me the headquarters in London, where all the amazing lingerie and corsets are stocked for online orders, and showed how their business operates on the back end – from testing samples, to online customer service, to working with celebrity stylists, to order fulfillment. I also learned about the “What Katy Did” books and the history behind the name, and also we took a trip to their boutique on Portobello Green and saw how they ran their shop. I also got to try on a few corsets, and of course Katie and I sat down for an interview! If you’d like to see the whole interview, click the link in the cards, or in the description below.

Katie’s family also took me to Basildon park, a gorgeous estate where they filmed parts of Downton Abbey. I’m so grateful to Katie and her family for housing me for a few days and showing me such hospitality.

After two days with Katie’s family, I took the train south to Portsmouth where the Vollers family kindly put me up for two nights, and allowed me to tour their factory and see how one of the oldest corset companies in the world runs their business and makes their corsets. They have lots of nifty tools machines, which you can see in this detailed video. Naturally, what would a visit be if I didn’t also interview Corina and Ian, the owners of Vollers corsets?

I wore Vollers Veco corset dress to the formal dinner at OCOC 2015, and then visited the Vollers factory after the conference.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After leaving the Voller family, I went straight to the airport and flew home.

Unfortunately I was not able to make it to the 2017 conference of corsetry, but from the sound of it and all the pictures, it seems like it was their best year yet.

Many thanks to the coordinators and presenters at OCOC, Christine Wickham, Lowana, Jenni, Glo, Beata, Katie, Laurie, the Voller family, and everyone who made my two trips to England as wonderful as they were. The next OCOC meetup is in 2019 and I’m determined to attend again – and hopefully spend a little bit longer time there to take in more of what England has to offer.

 

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Corsets and Riding a Bike / Motorcycle

Welcome to another Fast Foundation Friday! Today we will explore the question of whether you’re able to ride a bicycle / motorcycle while wearing a corset.

While I don’t own a motorcycle or a bike (so I can’t give you a live demo unfortunately), I do however know a few corset wearers who do ride bikes or motorcycles. The have informed me that the corset works on a bike similarly to how corsets helped cavaliers on their horses in the 19th century: the corset helps correct posture while on the motorbike, it can act like a kidney belt to prevent organ jiggling especially over gravel, and it can provide another layer of proprioceptive feedback (telling you when you’re leaning and when you’re straight).

One acquaintance who rides motorcycles, Deanna, contributed to my Solaced book. Hers is the first story of the Back Injuries chapter, you can read her story for free if you go to Amazon and read the kindle sample. In her testimony, she mentioned that she had wiped out on her motorcycle twice – once before discovering corsets (and wearing a corset helped in back recovery) and quite a bit later, she had an accident again – this time while wearing her corset. The second time she had an accident, she said she had injured almost every part of her body except where her corset covered (armor indeed!).

“Love Will Find a Wheel” by Sarah Chrisman – a story about Victorian Biking Clubs. Image courtesy of Amazon.

Regarding bicycles, there are many accounts of corset wearers biking while in a corset. The first person that comes to mind is Sarah Chrisman, author of Victorian Secrets. She is a lifestyle corset wearer and has many pictures of herself on a bike as well as many resources from the Victorian era regarding bicycling.

For those who are looking for some advice regarding how to start riding your bike while in a corset – some common sense tips include getting used to riding your bike without the corset, and getting accustomed to wearing your corset before jumping on a bike. Learn how to breathe, bend and move in a corset before your first bike trip, and learn your bike paths and figure out how much you’ll be exerting yourself.

While on your bike, in your corset, pace yourself so you don’t get too winded e.g. when going up hills, and don’t be afraid to stop and loosen the corset if you feel the need to. I will always say safety first on the road, so if a corset prevents you from turning properly to check any blind spots behind you (regardless of the vehicle) then you may want to consider going without the corset – take it in your bag and put the corset on when you get to your destination.

Do you have any other ideas or questions you want answered in future Fast Foundation videos? Leave a comment below!

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What News Australia’s Tightlacing Article Failed to Mention

Miranda Rights, waist training advocate and journalism major, lost 10 inches off her waist over several years through a plant-based diet, exercise and waist training. She was told by Barcroft Media in late 2015 that her story and results were not "extreme" enough for media. Click through the picture to read her full response to Barcroft.
Miranda Rights, waist training advocate and journalism major, lost between 12-14 inches off her waist over several years through a combination of exercise, a plant-based diet, and waist training. She was told by Barcroft Media in late 2015 that her story and results were not “extreme” enough for media. Click through the picture to read her full response to Barcroft.

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?

This photo of me has been stolen and spun out of context by hundreds of people. Contour Corset is engineered to be an illusion. It's actually slightly larger in the waist than my Puimond corset shown below, but the silhouette and hip spring makes it look more extreme than really is. Even though this corset is more comfortable than some of my larger corsets, once I waist trained to reach this goal, I found I preferred a gentler silhouette.
My Contour Corset (21 inches) is my most “extreme” looking corset. It’s specifically engineered to be an illusion. In reality it’s slightly larger in the waist than my Puimond corset shown below, but the silhouette makes it look smaller than it really is. My waist is thicker in profile. Even though this corset is one of the most comfortable I own, once I waist trained to reach this goal, I found I preferred a gentler silhouette and less reduction.

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 Puimond corset is actually smaller than my Contour Corset above. Proportion matters, and so does context.
My Puimond corset (20 inches) is actually smaller than my Contour Corset above. No one batted an eye at this. Proportion matters, and so does context.

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

io9: No, Corsets Did Not Destroy the Health of Victorian Women

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?

Three corset articles on Kitsch-Slapped:
Part 1, historical medical “evidence“.
Part 2, corsets viewed as “sexy”.
Part 3, suffrage movement.

Yesterday’s Thimble has two articles on corset myths. Part 1. Part 2.

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

A Most Beguiling Accomplishment – A Difficult History: Corsetry and Feminism, Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Appendix.

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Corsets and Skeletal Deformities: Anthropological Study

Venus de Milo vs Victorian corseted woman. *sigh* Not this again.
Comparison of the Venus de Milo vs Victorian corseted woman. How accurate is this illustrator’s representation?

In September 2015, The Canadian Student Journal of Anthropology (Nexus) included an anthropological study of women’s skeletons from England and France in the 1800s, when corsets were at their height in fashion. In this research study, PhD candidate Rebecca Gibson aimed to find any correlation between skeletal morphology (shape and relative position of the bones) and lifespan.

She documented how the ribcages and spines of corset wearers were modified from a lifetime of corset wear, and she gives us a window into how these women may have lived in order for their bones to have been shaped to the extent that they were. Gibson states that despite the fact that nearly all women in England and France wore stays between 1700 – 1900, this was a fashion perpetuated by women, for women.

Women themselves used, championed, and criticized corseting, and men often interpreted and disseminated the literature regarding the practice. What this view lacked, and this study seeks to rectify, is two-fold. Firstly, impoverished women’s voices are missing, both from the modern studies and from the written accounts. Secondly, the extant evidence that corseting was inherently harmful comes completely from hyperbolic and unreliable doctors’ accounts and as such it cannot be verified using the literature alone. ~ Gibson, pg 48

What Gibson explains (in addition to Norah Waugh, Valerie Steele and several other authorities on historical corsetry) is that men wrote publicly and extensively about their distaste for the corset; often comparing the (then modern) small-waisted woman to the statue of Venus de Milo. Dr. O’Followell himself (if you remember my previous discussion of his 1908 X-rays of corseted women) made the argument that the Venus is universally and objectively considered beautiful, and through a game of logical hopscotch he concluded that anything not-Venusian (i.e. a nude small-waisted Victorian woman), therefore cannot be beautiful.

Gibson found however that 50 years prior to O’Followell’s study, in his 1868 book Freaks of Fashion: The Corset and the Crinoline, William Berry Lord wrote that “No fallacy can be greater than to apply the rules of ancient art to modern costume.”

Lucy’s note: The apparent volleying of subtle sass between writers during this era pleases me.

If you wish to skip over Gibson’s anthropological study itself, the conclusion is that she showed plastic deformation of the ribcage into a more circular shape as compared to the broad, ovoid flaring of a “control” modern ribcage, and also noted some downward bending and overlapping of the spinous processes in the thoracic spine. However, these deformations were not seen to correlate with a shorter lifespan of the subjects, and on the contrary the subjects reached or exceeded their life expectancy at birth.

Layperson’s explanation: The skeletons of 19th century corseted women were studied to see how their ribcages were flexibly bent into a more tapered shape from the corset. From the photos, you can see literal ‘bends’ in the ribs where the pressure from the corset formed the ribs into the shape of a circle. Also, the spinous processes seemed to be affected too: spinous processes are the small “spikes” humans have on their vertebrae; they look like spikes down a lizard’s back, but in humans these are small and one can occasionally see or feel them as the ‘bumps’ along one’s back. In the skeletons that showed rib shaping from a corset, these same skeletons also had “spikes” in the upper back that bent downward and overlapped like snaggleteeth. Despite this finding, the age at death for these subjects were average or older than the national life expectancy at the time, even correcting for infant/childhood mortality. Therefore, even though corsets have been shown to deform the skeletons of these subjects (and the reasons why will be discussed later), it didn’t affect how long they lived.

Below you’ll find my summary of the study, Rebecca Gibson’s answers to my questions concerning the study, and my thoughts on how this affects what we know about modern body modification through corsetry.

Continue reading Corsets and Skeletal Deformities: Anthropological Study

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Wearing Corsets with a Stoma – Interview with Kitty

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.

 

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Dr. Oz Investigates Waist Training: My Response

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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WAIST TRAINING RESULTS: How long should it take?

 

Here’s a question I receive nearly every day:

“My natural waist is 30 inches, and I just started waist training. How long will it take to see real results, and obtain a natural 24 inch waist?”

 Of course, the exact wording, the numbers, and the goals all vary slightly from person to person. But I will tell you what I tell all of them – and you will not be happy:

I DON’T KNOW. And unfortunately, neither can anyone else. If someone claims that they CAN give you a specific duration of time that you will achieve your waist training goal, they are flat out lying.

If you look at these Before / After Waist Training examples, you will see that people have achieved all kinds of results, in all different durations. Some saw a marked difference in three months, while others achieved less dramatic results over two years. It’s different for everyone.

WHY is this?

The (semi)permanent results of waist training is dependent on a number of factors, including your body’s current state and your genetic pre-disposition, the quality of your corset and its compatibility with your body, and the way you train in your corset. Let’s break those down in further detail:

 

Factor #1: Your body type and current body stats

Abdominal body fat can be subcutaneous or visceral - and they affect your corset training differently.
Abdominal body fat can be subcutaneous or visceral – and they affect your corset training differently.

Your Body Fat

  • Adipose tissue can immediately compress down a lot more than muscle in a corset, but it also bounces back when you remove the corset. Some with a high body fat % are able to cinch down 10 inches in the waist, while someone with very low body fat may only be able to cinch down 2-3 inches.
  • Weight distribution also plays a role. Do you tend to carry more weight in your belly, or do you carry more weight on your hips and thighs? If you do carry weight in your belly, do you have a lot of visceral fat or subcutaneous fat? Subcutaneous fat sits under the skin but above the muscle, and makes your skin soft and malleable. Visceral fat is the more ‘dangerous’ fat that sits under your abdominal muscle, between your organs. Someone with more subcutaneous fat (even over their tummy) will probably have an easier time lacing down than someone with visceral body fat.

Your Muscle Tone

  • Very toned, dense muscles may be more difficult to cinch down compared to less toned muscles, BUT if you time your workouts well, you can actually use your resistance exercise regimen to your advantage in waist training to change the morphology of your oblique muscles and have them almost “grow” into the hourglass shape encouraged by the corset. Also, once you get to higher reductions, you have to “stretch” those side muscles, and also the tendons and ligaments. Some people’s bodies seem to more readily accommodate to this than other people’s bodies.

 Your Skeletal Frame

  • Do you have wider ribcage or smaller ribcage? Are your ribs flexible and are you able to accommodate corsets with a conical ribcage easily, or is your ribcage very inflexible and difficult to move? Those who are easily able to train their ribs are likely to see faster waist training results than those whose ribs are very rigid. My article on the corset’s effect on the skeleton goes into more detail about this.

Your Age

  • More mature waist trainers have bones that are not only less dense, but less malleable compared to younger trainers. For more information on how age can affect your corseting, see my article on waist training and age restrictions.

 Your Organs

  • When you look at human anatomy in a textbook, you’re seeing a general “average” of the size and orientation of organs. But not everyone’s organs look like that! Some people have larger organs, some have smaller organs. Even the position and orientation of organs can very slightly differ between individuals, and that small variation might make a huge difference in how well your body can accommodate the restriction of a corset. For further information, see my article on corsets and organs.

Your Water Retention

  • What’s your water content like? If you are often bloated or have water retention, either due to your lifestyle or because of a medical condition, you not only won’t be able to lace down as much or as readily, but you have more of that “temporary squish” to you as opposed to contributing to that “long term training”.

Whether You’ve Been Pregnant Before

  • Have you had a baby before or not? While this point is a bit more anecdotal, it seems that mothers are (on average) able to lace down more readily/ more comfortably/ to higher reductions compared to nulliparous women. Maybe this has to do with the fact that the baby had moved around a woman’s organs (especially in the final trimester), or the relaxin in your system during pregnancy had stretched out some tendons and ligaments already, or the woman was already accustomed to the feeling of restriction or breathing higher up in the chest, so she may be psychologically more comfortable with the feeling of being corseted. Read more about corsets after childbirth.

 

Factor #2: Your Corset

This corset has a conical ribcage, and will be more effective at training the ribcage.
This corset has a conical ribcage, and will be more effective at training the ribcage compared to a rounded ribcage.

Proper Fit

  • Is your corset comfortable? Does your corset fit you properly: when you lace down, does it reduce only the waist, and is it lying flat and gently supporting your upper ribcage and your hip area? Is your corset gap straight or uneven? Or is the corset overall not curvy enough: and is it giving you muffin top, pinching your hips or causing any lower tummy pooch to spill out underneath? A well-fitting corset is not only more effective at shaping, but it’s also much more comfortable, so you’ll be encouraged to wear it longer and more often.

 Strength

  • Is the corset strong? Does it hold up to the tension without buckling? Are the seams securely stitched? Are the bones creating a proper scaffold and not digging into your body? Are the grommets holding in? Having to put your training on hold – not because you want to, but because your corset breaks every 2 months and you have to replace it – is not cost effective and it’s not time-effective. If you’re in this for the long haul, invest in something strong and custom. See my article on Waist Training vs Tight Lacing, which also covers different requirements of a suitable corset for each.

Silhouette

  • Is the corset the right silhouette to do the right job? If you want to train your ribcage, you might need a conical ribcage corset, which gradually tapers down and increases the pressure on the lower ribcage. A corset with a mild silhouette or with a corset with a rounded ribcage will give you a different effect. Be sure that the corset you are using is designed to do for you what you want. You can’t force a round peg through a square hole and expect a triangle to come out.

 

Factor #3: Your Lifestyle Habits and Training Methods

I demonstrate a bicycle crunch, one of the staples of my daily core workout.
I demonstrate a bicycle crunch, one of the staples of my daily core workout.

 Supplementary Exercise

  • Are you exercising alongside your waist training? Adding or increasing core resistance training can help you see results faster by encouraging your muscles to “heal” in a certain way. Even if you have no intention of losing weight (you only use a corset to see a change in your silhouette), exercise is still important! If you don’t add some core resistance training, your torso may see some shaping from the corset, but it may be squishy and complacent, and not hold that hourglass shape as well as if you were combining it with resistance training.

 Eating

  • Are you eating clean? Are you getting enough fiber so that you stay regular when corseting? Are you avoiding foods that you know can cause bloating or discomfort in your corset? Are you having regular small balanced meals, or are you the type to fast and then feast? Corseting over a large meal can be uncomfortable and difficult, and the quality of that meal also counts. You don’t necessarily need a specific diet for waist training, but eating sensibly goes a long way.

Drinking

  • Are you staying hydrated? Are you getting a lot of clean water or tea? Are you keeping your electrolytes balanced (this ties in with water retention). Are you watching your blood pressure (which relates to your blood volume)? Do you take in a lot of caffeine or other diuretics, and are you making sure that your water intake balances that out?

Duration of your corset wear (and reduction)

  • To get the best results in a corset, you have to use it. What method of waist training are you using? There is Romantasy’s “Roller Coaster” method, and there is the Contour Corsets “Cycle” Method (see the differences between the two waist training methods). Some people use a combination of both, or they may try a different method altogether. Some people consider waist training as wearing their corset only 8 hours a day while they’re out working. Others waist train by only wearing a corset to bed at night. Some people wear their corsets 12 or 16 hours a day, and a few very dedicated ones wear their corset 23 hours a day.
  • The body responds best to consistency – for reasons I’ll explain in an upcoming article, you’ll probably see more results (and more comfortably!) if you wear a corset at a light or moderate reduction for long hours, as opposed to tightlacing or overlacing your corset for an hour and then not wearing it again for a few days.

Let’s use an infomercial exercise program as a metaphor for waist training expectations. Many exercise programs say that you CAN lose UP TO 20 lbs per month (as an example), but read the small print and you find that these results are not typical. Many of these programs are also backed up with a guarantee that with proper compliance to the program, you will see some kind of result (often within 60 or 90 days) or your money back.

But you will notice that they do not guarantee a certain number of inches lost, because people have different bodies, different fitness levels, different levels of compliance. It’s the same with a waist training program.

Ann Grogan (of Romantasy) offers the only corset training program I currently know of – in her some 25 years of working with waist trainers and 14 years officially coaching, she is able to confidently say that with her 3-month waist training program, you’re likely to see some noticable results in your natural waist with proper compliance to the program (the program covers a lot of factors: the type of corset you’re using, the reduction, the hours, the foods you eat, the exercises you do, etc). But since each program is personalized based on goals, each person’s compliance is different and each person’s body accommodates their corset differently, it’s still very difficult to precisely predict how many inches you’ll lose, or how fast.

What I have found is the highest indicator of success is whether you actually enjoy wearing your corset and find it completely comfortable. If you practice patience, and wear your corset consistently (and ironically, not be overly attached to your end goal), you are likely to see more results over time than someone who is less patient and is only corseting for the end result. But I will cover that in another article soon.

Do you currently waist train, or did you train in the past? How long did it take you to see results? Let me know in a comment below!

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Should you Work Out in your Corset?

A Victorian “circus strongwoman”, who made a living performing athletic feats while wearing a corseted costume.

I often receive inquiries from people wanting to specifically buy a “work out” or “exercise” corset. I’m not entirely sure where they got the idea that they are supposed to exercise in a corset (and sometimes exclusively wear the corset during exercise or sleeping hours) but it may have something to do with those elastic shapewear cinchers that seemed to have exploded with popularity over the last couple of years. From my understanding, vendors of these latex cinchers claim that exercising in one of these will cause the wearer to sweat more in their midsection and temporarily lose inches of water weight from this area. However, genuine corsets work by entirely different means, and they are not designed to be worn during heavy activity.

I have always recommended that you intend to waist train (more than 8+ hours a day) then in order to avoid any dependence on your corset, it’s a good idea to start or increase your exercise regimen, particularly your core resistance training (strengthening your abs and back). But do not exercise in your corset – take it off, do your work out, take a shower and put the corset back on. As I mentioned in my previous Corsets and Muscles article: if you do your intense core resistance training at the very end of your workout, you take your shower and put the corset on within an hour of finishing your session (while the muscle fibers are still ‘broken’) then it’s possible for your oblique muscles to build themselves to the shape of the corset and retain more of an hourglass silhouette semi-permanently (even when not wearing the corset). Wearing your corset during your workout is not required for this! Let’s go into some of the reasons why I don’t recommend working out in your corset:

 

Exercising in your steel-boned corset may ruin your corset.

  • When you sweat profusely, the moisture, salt and pH of your sweat can damage the fibers of your corset. Silk eventually breaks down even in mildly acidic conditions, and the salt can be corrosive over time too (not to mention salt and sweat stains can make your corset look dingy).
  • If you happen to sweat on a regular basis in your corset, the fabric can become a breeding ground for microbes. Remember that mold and mildew absolutely love dark, moist, anaerobic environments like the inside of your corset, and this is not healthy to wear next to your skin for an extended amount of time!
  • Not only this, but the moisture can cause steel bones to rust over time. Remember that even galvanized (zinc-coated) or even stainless steel are not protected forever – over time with constant exposure to moisture and oxygen, they can form rust spots as well.
  • While you could wash your corset, detergents are often made from salts and have a very basic pH which can further compromise the integrity of your corset, not to mention submersing your corset in water can be a nightmare for the metal hardware.
  • Additionally, if you are moving vigorously in your corset (say you’re doing high-impact aerobics, kickboxing, lots of bending and twisting in your corset), it’s possible to warp the fabric if your corset over time or possibly even tear seams of your corset.
  • Weak corset bones (even some lower quality steel boning) can kink, warp or possibly even break with enough force, which may leave you with a misshapen and uncomfortable corset.

Overall, if you work out in your corset, you can expect your corset to have a considerably shorter lifespan.

 

Exercising in your steel-boned corset may potentially be dangerous for you.

  • If you’re not used to a certain level of activity in your corset, it can leave you winded or light-headed. A tight corset has been shown to decrease your total lung capacity between 10-30% depending on the restriction and the individual. If you’re used to intercostal breathing (taking breaths higher in your chest instead of “breathing into your abdomen), then at rest, this restriction may not be that noticeable because your tidal volume is only around 15% of your total lung capacity. However when doing hard cardio work, your body requires more of your lung capacity to draw in large breaths, it’s likely that you’ll feel that diminished capacity to a larger extent and you may feel short of breath.
  • Corsets can also increase blood pressure when worn, so do be careful when exercising in a corset, especially if you have a history of hypertension. It’s a common misconception that corset wearers feel faint because they feel short of breath – realistically speaking, when at rest, a corseter should be able to breathe relatively freely. From my research, fainting has more to do with abrupt changes in blood pressure, so a corseter would be more likely to faint if their blood pressure drops too low or too quickly – so do be aware of your own blood pressure levels, and if you do intend to exercise in your corset at all, then make sure you warm up very slowly, that you don’t go too hard and fast with your workout, and that you cool down slowly as well.

 

Although I don’t personally condone working out in your corset, I know several people who do. And these people have a few things in common:

  • They are all advanced waist trainers (at one point or another they have trained up to 23 hours a day, 6-7 days a week, and they are very familiar with how their body functions while laced).
  • They all own multiple corsets, and may consider some of their corsets to be expendable. This means that if a corset were to warp, rip or break during a workout (horrors!), they will have backup corsets so they’re able to continue waist training.
  • They all know how to make corsets – their experience and skill level may vary, but they have all made their own corsets and they understand exactly how much time, materials and labor go into each piece. Some of them are professional corsetieres, and testing out the strength and integrity of their own corsets would be beneficial as they’d be able to determine how much abuse their product can take, pinpoint and improve any potential weak spots in their construction, and set a specific guarantee.
  • The majority of them are also experienced athletes – they are already familiar with how their body works and feels when they’re pushing themselves in sports, and they would be able to recognize when they’re pushing themselves too far. One of them has worked as a personal trainer, another one does CrossFit and runs marathons, and many of these people have been seasoned athletes for years, some even before becoming interested in corsetry – so I trust that they know what they’re doing and how to read themselves if they are determined to work out in a corset.
  • I have heard of a few athletes who wear their corset in lieu of a weight-lifting belt in the gym. Although I have not personally tried this, I understand that if the corset were not tied too tightly, a short corset can function very similarly to a lifting belt. If anyone has tried this in the gym and has more information, I would be very interested to learn more from you!

In summary: I generally do not recommend exercising in a corset, and I personally have not and would not work out in my corset. Those few people who do exercise in their steel boned corsets, I trust that they are well-educated about the risks involved and understand how to minimize them, and it is their sole prerogative if they want to put this kind of strain on their corsets (and potentially their bodies as well).

Additional links on exercising while corseted have been kindly provided by KathTea Katastrophy; all from Staylace: (1) (2) (3)

Please note that this article contains my opinion and observations. It is provided for information purposes, and is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. Please contact your trusted physician if you would like to start or change your exercise regimen, or if you plan to wear a corset for any reason.

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Interview with Sarah Chrisman of “Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself”

In March 2014, after the blogger conference at Orchard Corset headquarters, some friends and I took the ferry to visit Port Townsend and stay with Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman. For those who don’t remember, Sarah Chrisman is the author of “Waisted Curves”, which I had reviewed last year. Since then, the corset has been officially published by Skyhorse and renamed “Victorian Secrets: What a Corset Taught Me about the Past, the Present, and Myself“. During our brief visit, Sarah gave us a walking tour of Port Townsend, allowed us to study her and Gabriel’s large collection of antique artifacts an read some original Victorian and Edwardian literature, cooked up a feast for my friends and myself, and sat down for an interview. It was a quick but packed weekend!

I enjoyed seeing first-hand Gabriel and Sarah’s ongoing life project; how they’ve already placed Tesla lightbulbs in their house and use oil lamps at night; they own a wood-burning oven and they are working on refurbishing a vintage ice-box to replace their refrigerator – which leads into their aim of eating locally and seasonally, growing their own food, and wasting as little as possible.

Below you’ll find the interview in full on my Youtube channel! Scroll down below the video to see the list of the questions.

  • It’s been several years since you’ve written your memoir; how has life changed for you since then? Has your book been received well?
  • Are you recognized more often in your hometown? When you travel? If so, do you enjoy being recognized?
  • Have any of your friends and family been inspired to use a corset after seeing your own personal journey? Have you found yourself becoming a mentor to others in lifestyle corseting?
  • What are some reasons that you and Gabriel love Victoriana and the Victorian way of living, or what important lessons could the layperson learn from this? (e.g. adornment, the mannerisms, a possible economic or ‘greener’ lifestyle, the tendency to mend/ repair instead of dispose, etc.)
  • It must be wonderful having a supportive partner who shares your tastes and passions. Who do you think was the instigator to move from simply ‘collecting’ antique items to really living as if you were in the era?
  • Has Gabriel experienced any personal growth during these years that you have been transforming?
  • If you had to pin down a specific year or decade where most of your style or your favorite pieces come from, what would that be?
  • You mentioned in your book that you used to do martial arts. Do you still do that? What are some of your other favorite pastimes apart from reading, writing and bicycling?
  • What are your ambitions for the future? Are there plans for a “Victorian Secrets Part 2”  in the future?

Huge thanks to Sarah and Gabriel Chrisman for their incredible hospitality and for kindly answering our questions!
If you’d like to learn more about Sarah’s book “Victorian Secrets”, find it on Amazon here.

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An Interview with Cora of The Lingerie Addict!!

Back in March 2014 while visiting Orchard Corset headquarters in Wenatchee, Washington, USA, I had the immense honour of sitting down with Cora Harrington, founder of The Lingerie Addict. In this interview, you will learn: 

  • How many years Cora has been blogging and how she got her start
  • From where or from whom Cora drew inspiration when she was just starting out with her first blog
  • At what point Cora felt that she was ready to move from the role of a hobbyist blogger to a full-time writer
  • The work that Cora is proudest of to date
  • What Cora does when she’s not being a Lingerie Addict
  • What to expect from The Lingerie Addict in the near future

If you’d like to learn the answers to these questions and more, see the video below!

Once again, huge thanks to Cora for taking the time to answer my questions and let me pick her brain – it has been a dream come true. :)
You can learn more about Cora and read her blog here at The Lingerie Addict.

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Shapewear Squeezes your Organs? My response.

A few days ago, HuffPost released this article on how stretch shapewear and compression wear are associated with various health risks, including organ compression – and I was asked by a few followers what I thought of this. After a few days of thought, this was my response on Tumblr:

Wow, this might be opening a can of worms. I could talk for a long, long, long time on this, but I’ll try to keep it on point and try not to get too ranty about it. Going point-by-point with the original article:

When you wear shapewear, you’re compressing your organs.

  • This is also true for corsets – but to what extent is important to note. [Note, see my article on corsets and organs here]
  • Pregnancy also compresses your organs.
  • Leaning or bending in any direction compresses your organs.
  • Nauli Kriya really compresses your organs.
  • Your own organs compress your other organs. Taking a deep breath expands your lungs, lowers your diaphragm, and pushes down on your intestines. Peristalsis is the motion of your intestines moving chyme along – they’re constantly contracting and writhing.
  • Organs are not supposed to be rigid. Life as we know it would never have existed if our organs were not made to move and compress. (The one exception to this is the brain, which has conveniently evolved to be encased within a hard skull.)

That includes compressing your bowels.

  • Indeed, and this exactly why the body is so resilient and able to tolerate compression. From what I understand, corsets typically compress the organs in the peritoneal cavity, and the vast majority of what fills this cavity are hollow, membranous organs (like the stomach and intestines) that contain food/water/air/waste. When your stomach and intestines are mostly empty, they can easily be flattened down, and they take the majority of the pressure from shapewear (or a baby, or nauli), leaving other solid organs like the liver and pancreas bearing relatively little stress.
  • As for shapewear possibly causing constipation and other bathroom issues, I talk about that in detail in this video (or this related article). Fran from Contour Corsets has also talked about why it’s important to learn how to have bowel movements while corseted, in this article.
  • But some people who’ve had chronic constipation throughout their adult life have actually found that corsets have helped stimulate their bowels and help them have more regular movements. It works similarly to applying abdominal pressure and massage for relieving constipation.
  • Speaking personally, I find that cycling the pressure of my corset (looser, then tighter, then looser, etc.) actually pushes things along in my bowels. Within the first 30-60 minutes of putting on my corset, I’m pretty much guaranteed to poop (I imagine it’s a toothpaste effect) and then I find I’m able to lace down further in greater comfort, as my abdomen just effectively lost volume. If no corset were on, this space would be replaced with air.

You can develop tingling, numbness and pain in your legs.

  • This is not just true for corsets and shapewear. It’s also true for tight underwear and jeans, and some people get numbness and tingling when they sit even in loose clothing – it depends on the person, how long they’ve been sitting, how they’re sitting, whether they have ergonomic furniture, etc. So I find it a bit unfair that they would point the finger at shapewear for something SO common. That said, just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s safe or good for you.
  • Also, they mentioned something very important here – the problem usually arises when sitting, which is a serious issue in itself. Seriously, do you know how bad sitting is for you? If they wish to minimize their health risks, humans should not sit.
  • A well-fitting corset, when worn properly, should never cause numbness or tingling. This is why I’m constantly stressing the importance of finding a corset that fits you properly and doesn’t put any pressure on your iliac crest. A reducing corset should only compress the waist, not the hips or the underbust.
  • In my last giveaway (where contestants wrote in explaining how corsets had improved their quality of life), several people have written in and explained how corsets had a hand in actually relieving nerve issues like sciatica and other complications related to scoliosis and/or slipped discs – this is because a proper corset made by a trained professional can function like a therapeutic brace.
  • While we’re on the topic of nerves in general, corsets can help prevent/ relieve thoracic outlet syndrome in women with heavy breasts, and can help with sensory adaptation in those with sensory integration dysfunction and other sensory disorders. So while corsets have their risks with nerve issues (which is an indication of wearing it wrong, actually), corsets have their potential benefits as well. It’s a balance, you see.
I demonstrate a bicycle crunch, one of the staples of my daily core workout.
I demonstrate a bicycle crunch, one of the staples of my daily core workout.

Your muscles will suffer if you rely on shapewear for good posture.

  • If you don’t use it, you lose it. I don’t deny that some people can “develop a reliance on corsets” or other shapewear for good posture – but this is precisely the reason that Ann Grogan recommends a training schedule working yourself up to ~8 hours a day, 6 days a week. The 7th day is a full uncorseted day and gives you the opportunity to rely on your own core muscles so you can gauge your strength.
  • Also – I’m not sure why this idea is propagated so widely, but corsets were never intended to be a substitute for exercise and toning. In fact, when people take on a waist training regimen, it often motivates them to work out more often in order to avoid atrophy. I recommend a daily core-strengthening workout if you start corseting – this can actually help you potentially obtain faster results than corseting alone or exercising alone, and it also ensures that you don’t experience core muscle atrophy.
  • Also, when used properly, corsets may actually train you to improve your posture over time, not necessarily worsen your posture. More on that here.

Plus, shapewear can create an environment prone to infections.

  • I’ve talked about corsets and common skin issues here, so yes – if you don’t have good personal hygiene and common sense, and you’re not wise about the fabrics you choose for your corset and liners, there are risks.
  • But I would argue that the risks for skin issues with rubber shapewear is even greater than the risk associated with corsets. The greatest cause of skin issues is the lack of breathable fibers. Many types of spandex/rubber shapewear are designed to make you overheat and sweat, claiming that this is how you lose bloat. Real corsets are not designed to work that way, and they can be just as effective at shaping your figure even when made out of cool, breathable mesh.
  • Honestly, mesh corsets will change your life.

Like everything in life, it’s important to exercise moderation: Don’t wear them too often…. Lastly, choosing the right fit is key.

Hopefully this clears up my thoughts on the anti-shapewear article. I think that the article brings up some valid points, particularly the last one about moderation and proper fit. But by researching corsets properly, acquiring a high quality piece that fits you well, and using it responsibly, you can enjoy corsets (and maybe even other shapewear) and still minimize your risks. Of course, if you have pre-existing health issues, you should see a trusted doctor before corseting, and same goes if you experience any discomfort while corseting.

*This article contains my own opinion and is provided strictly for informational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of a medical physician. Please talk to your doctor if you’d like to start wearing a corset for any reason.*

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Corsets and their Effect on Muscle Tone, Sculpting & Flexibility

Corseting obviously affects many parts of the body, some systems more obviously than others. One of the more obvious parts that corsetry affects are the underlying core muscles – almost every week, someone asks me if corsets have caused any muscle weakness or atrophy in my core. I would argue that my core has only improved its strength since beginning tightlacing, because it’s made me more conscientious about my posture and muscle tone.

Can Corsets Cause Muscle Atrophy? Can Corsets Worsen your Posture?

If you wear your corset 23 hours a day, 7 days a week (taking it off only to shower and change), it is true that you may experience muscle atrophy, especially in your oblique muscles. Those who do experience atrophy may notice that they get fatigued easily when standing unsupported by their corset for long periods of time. However, nobody has ever flopped over at the waist or snapped their spine in half, from my research. This scenario is simply not realistic.

The risk and amount of atrophy depends on how long and how tight you wear your corset. If you’re wearing your corset with more than a 4-6″ reduction, it’s more likely that the corset will encourage muscle stretching, and by extension relaxation – this is great for people who have overtense muscles who experience back cramping or spasms, but relaxation over too long a time is what can cause atrophy.

It is of my opinion that wearing your corset to the point of atrophy is not beneficial. I try to maintain moderation in my tightlacing, where I enjoy wearing corsets but I also enjoy my uncorseted time. I don’t want to feel dependent (physically or psychologically) on the corset.

Not everyone experiences atrophy, however. Some corseters have even experienced that wearing their corset at a slightly lighter reduction has helped them improve their posture at all times (even when uncorseted) through muscle memory. Further, being lightly corseted has encouraged them to keep their abdominals engaged at all times. There are small things you can do to engage your muscles while wearing your corset. While I don’t necessarily condone trying to force your muscles to flex in a corset (typically you should not have to “fight” nor “help” a well-constructed corset), I occasionally push my abdominal muscles against the front wall of the corset as an isotonic exercise, and then I try to pull my abdominals inward, away from the front wall of the corset as much as possible, with a focus on the latter exercise. Even when you’re wearing your corset, it’s still possible to engage some of those muscles, at least up to a certain reduction – so atrophy of your core muscles while wearing a corset is not absolutely true.

1870 posture corset, to keep the shoulders back and spine erect. Click through for a lovely case study by Creative Couture
1870 posture corset, to keep the shoulders back and spine erect. Click through for a lovely case study by Creative Couture
Corsets, through encouraging a consistently proper posture, may help the vertebral ligaments to adapt and support the spine to maintain erect posture at all times

In a recent SciShow talk show, Michael Aranda and Hank Green discussed spinal posture and how slouching is encouraged by the ligaments between the vertebrae stretching over time. It was also proposed that this process is eventually reversible, and by maintaining a consistently erect posture, then the ligaments may shorten again (and the muscles of the back may become accustomed to holding this position) so that one’s “neutral” posture is naturally erect and can be enjoyed effortlessly.

 However, until the day arrives that your ligaments do shorten, many people find it exhausting to hold an erect posture, or they may often forget and begin to slouch again. Wearing a corset can serve as a reminder to maintain proper posture at all times that its worn. While overbust corsets or corsets with shoulder straps help to also keep your shoulders back, even wearing a normal underbust can help correct posture in the lumbar and low-thoracic area, and may help to set up the proper “stacking” of the rest of your vertebrae. By keeping your spine in this position, the ligaments may eventually shorten, whether or not your core muscles are engaged. Of course, if you do want to consistently use more of your own core muscles, you can simply wear your corset at a relatively light reduction, using it just as a rigid reminder to maintain proper posture but you’re depend more on yourself.

 

Does muscle tone impede your waist training progress?

Many people avoid exercising their core muscles because they believe that muscle is less compressible than fat (technically true), that well-toned muscles become larger over time (not necessarily), and therefore it will be more difficult to achieve their corseting goals (not necessarily). But in my opinion, this idea is not so simple.

The functional part of your muscles are called sarcomeres, which are contained inside the myofibrils, inside the muscle cells (myocytes). These are the fibers which are responsible for contraction. Surrounding your sarcomeres is the sarcoplasm, which is rich with glycogen, nutrients, and proteins like myoglobin that brings oxygen to the muscle cells.

There are two elements to muscle growth (hypertrophy): sarcomere hypertrophy, which increases muscle density, tone and strength but not so much size. This is why some people are little but mighty. Then there’s sarcoplasmic hypertrophy which makes the muscle bigger and puffier by increasing glycogen stores around the fibers, but this doesn’t directly affect the strength of the muscle.

Exercising your core can increase the size of the muscles, but most women don’t have to worry about this (there’s a genetic predisposition). But if you’re concerned about this, it’s worth researching ways to increase muscle tone without changing their size too much. I didn’t study exercise science in-depth but there are hundreds of forums that go into more detail about this – I personally just stick with the exercises I mention in the next section. (Click through the “read more” tab if you’re on the main site page)

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