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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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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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Responding to Media Sensationalism… Again.

One of my friends linked me to Hidden Killers of the Victorian Home yesterday evening, in which one reporter uncovers the dangers of living in the Victorian era. Not surprisingly, corsets were featured (the corset segment starts around the 17:50 mark).

I would like to address some of the concerns mentioned in the video. Now, I’m not going to make sweeping generalizations and say that corsets are everyone’s friend. I don’t believe that everybody should wear corsets and I don’t deny that injuries from corsets have occurred on occasion. But I’m willing to believe that corset-related injuries were more the exception than the norm – just like injuries from everyday beauty products today, like:

  • high heels (bunions, broken toes, hammer toes, corns, modification of posture/weight distribution, broken and sprained ankles)
  • hairstyling products (thermal burns, chemical burns and severe allergies to certain products)
  • pierced ears (infections, keloid scarring, tissue necrosis)

I could go on.

Anyways – onto addressing some of the concerns in the video:

 

  • Liver being pushed upwards, and grooves forming in the liver – yes, I don’t doubt that the liver moves. All organs in your peritoneal cavity are designed to move. If they weren’t designed to move, then pregnancy, exercise, stretching, or even digesting your food (peristalsis) would kill you. Once again, look up nauli kriya on Youtube – the intestines (and presumably everything above it, like the liver, pancreas and stomach) are pushed up into the ribcage using one’s own muscles. Maybe I’m insensitive, but indentations of organs don’t irk me, because I’ve seen from dissecting various organisms in biology lab that organs have indentations from other organs as it is. If you have a large amount of visceral fat, or if you a fetus inside you, you will also experience considerable organ compression.
  • The stomach moving downwards – Ann Grogan (Romantasy) and Fran Blanche (Contour Corsets) both vouch that the stomach actually moves upwards instead of down. Also, the stomach (and intestines) are not solid: they’re hollow membranous organs, often full of food/waste and air, which get pushed out when a corset is properly worn and slowly cinched down. ***Note, as of October 2014, we now have MRI evidence of the stomach and liver moving upwards.
  • Uterine prolapse – I did agree with the woman in the video as she said that the corset may exacerbate pre-existing problems; that is, the corset may not have caused uterine or vaginal prolapse per se, but if the pelvic floor had already been weakened, the extra intra-abdominal pressure may exacerbate this condition. My article on corsets and the reproductive system.
Screencap from the documentary: Lipscomb's tidal volume, uncorseted (red line) and corseted (blue line). Y axis depicts volume from 0.2L to 2L. X axis shows time: blue area = at rest, green area = during exercise, pink area = recovery
Screencap from the documentary: Lipscomb’s tidal volume, uncorseted (red line) and corseted (blue line). Y axis depicts volume from 0.2L to 2L. X axis shows time: blue area = at rest, green area = during exercise, pink area = recovery
  • The reporter’s experiment on respiration/ cardiac output during exercise – it is undeniable that the corset (especially Victorian overbust corset that is restrictive enough to fully support the breasts) is capable of reducing the lung capacity. Due to reduced capacity, the body compensates by taking higher and more frequent breaths to maintain the same amount of oxygen exchange. The conclusion of the experiment was that the reporter took in an average of 200-300 mL more air with each breath. But they’re still not telling the whole story:
    Photo from Hole’s Human Anatomy and Physiology, 8th edition (1999). This graph is actually of the average male – a female has a slightly smaller total capacity at about 4L. Click through to read more.

     

  • The total lung capacity in an average woman is about 4L (4000 mL). The vital capacity (which does not take into account residual volume) is about 3L (3000 mL).
  • The average tidal volume (uncorseted) is about 500 mL. So the tidal volume while corseted is an average of 750 mL.
  • This means that the corset has caused about a 10% increase in breathing, compared to vital capacity (not even the total capacity).
  • Also consider that it was the first day she tried lacing up (so she wasn’t adapted to wearing a corset), she was wearing the corset over a sweater (so her internal measurement was even smaller than 24 inches), and it was an overbust corset (which restricted more of her ribcage than an underbust would), and then did she did cardio exercise (which isn’t recommended while wearing corsets to begin with). Most women today wear underbust corsets which stop lower on the ribcage, they wear the corset over a very thin liner, and a well-made corset today is properly fitted to the body, rather than Victorian corsets which were sometimes made to force the body into an ideal shape to fit clothing of the day.
  • Note the spoon busk that curves around the tummy, hip gores, and expandable side ties to accommodate a growing belly. Some of these corsets also had flaps at the bust to allow for nursing post-partum.

    Women of higher class were tightlaced to reflect that they didn’t have to run around the house. The working/ industrial class and servants did wear corsets, but laced loosely to accommodate for the high amount of activity. One would also consider it insulting to “show up” the  woman of the house by having a more fashionable silhouette than she had.

  • Pregnancy corsets – I don’t doubt that women who were trying to hide their baby bump by tightlacing during pregnancy could have resulted in (possibly/probably deliberate) terminations. But pregnancy corsets were designed to accommodate a growing belly by having adjustable ties around the tummy, while providing back support for the gestating mother.
  • Pneumonia/ tuberculosis – if a corseted woman contracted a respiratory infection, then the corset may have contributed to exacerbating the condition since the woman would not be able to cough up the sputum and clear her lungs. But whether the corset actually caused women to contract the infection in the first place is unclear. Both pneumonia and TB are bacterial infections, commonly spread in a time where germ theory was non-existent or just being discovered. Whether corsets were the cause of respiratory infections is somewhat disputed. Some sources say that the corset may have prevented contraction of pulmonary TB (consumption). (Nevertheless, I do not condone wearing corsets if you have any kind of respiratory infection.) I have an article on the respiratory system here.

    Susan B Anthony ca. 1900, wearing a corset around age 80.
  • The dress reform and the women’s suffrage movement were not necessarily mutually exclusive, but they were still two distinct movements. Many female suffragists (sometimes distinct from the boorish “suffragettes”) still wore corsets, including Susan B. Anthony (often called the mother of the women’s rights movement).
  • Broken and deformed bones – I agree that corseted individuals with bone issues such as rickets may result in a higher risk of distorted ribs, but this is not a common case today. In fact, a 2015 anthropological study on the skeletons of impoverished women in the Victorian era showed that although there was some rib distortion, age markers of these women showed that they all reached and in some cases exceeded the life expectancy of the time.
  • The comment around timepoint 29:45 “There are stories of ribs breaking and piercing the lung underneath.” disappointed me – it’s difficult to tell sometimes what is a factual report or simply an urban legend. Whether or not these stories are true, Sarah Chrisman explains in her book that “ribs” also referred to the whalebone or reed that was used as boning in the corset, which can become dry and brittle over time – so broken “ribs” are said to often describe the ribs of the corset, not of the human body. If you’ve ever had a bra bone that pokes into you, you can imagine the discomfort. If a whalebone were to snap, a sharp shard could perhaps puncture the skin of the wearer – but as flexible steel is now used in corsets, this problem is almost unheard of in higher quality corsets unless the garment has been abused for years.

Well, this was a long post. Hopefully it cleared up some popular misconceptions about corsets in the Victorian era.

What were your thoughts and reactions on the segment?