Posted on 2 Comments

Why I No Longer Recommend Front-Lacing Corsets

This week is part “story time”, part “Physical Effects of Corseting”, and hopefully an opportunity for others to learn from my early mistakes.

In early 2010 I purchased my first custom corset, which also happened to be a front-lacing corset – but these days, I would not recommend a front-lacing corset for higher reductions (tightlacing more than 6 inches) or daily waist training, and this post will explain why.

Why I chose a front-lacing corset for waist training in the first place:

In 2010 I was still in school which required copious time sitting in class, and I figured that if a corset has no laces in the back, then there wouldn’t be an annoying lump in the back when I’m resting against a hard plastic flat-backed chair.

I also figured that if I were to wear a corset in my sleep, a front-lacing corset might be more comfortable to sleep in since there wouldn’t be a knot at my back. I could fall asleep comfortably on my back, and if I ever needed to tighten or loosen the laces throughout the night, I could continue lying down on my back and easily reach in front of me to loosen the laces a bit – this (I figured) would disrupt my sleep less, as I wouldn’t have to sit up or get out of bed to adjust laces behind me.

Even though I was able to lace a back-lacing corset pretty well (since I had ‘normal’ back-lacing OTR corsets and homemade corsets for several years already), I had to admit that it was a pretty attractive idea at the time to not have to twist my neck to see what I’m doing in the mirror, and not have to twist my arms behind my back to lace up my corset every morning: a front lacing corset felt very intuitive; I didn’t even have to open my eyes to just tighten my corset in the morning and start my day.

I was also dealing with anxiety back in 2010 for several reasons (performing well in school, living so far away from family, dealing with a difficult relationship, etc.) and I figured if I ever had a sudden panic attack or began to feel claustrophobic, it would be easier and faster to cut myself out of a front-lacing corset. I also worked in a microbiology lab at the time so I was constantly around open flames and caustic reagents – and even though many lab coats have a fire-resistant coating, I figured that if there were ever a fire or if I ever spilled something on myself and needed to disrobe quickly, then – again – cutting the laces from the front would be faster and easier.

Admittedly, I was also attracted to the novelty / rarity of a front-lacing corset: I had seldom seen anyone else commissioning one – and I wondered why, because it seemed like the greatest idea at the time.

As it turned out, I was just reinventing the wheel – if front-lacing corsets were so functional and comfortable for everyone, they would have caught on long ago and survived through the centuries. It was after around 6 months of consistently training with this corset that I realized that a front-lacing corset is not as practical as I had hoped.

At first I blamed myself and my body… “Why had my waist training progress halted? Why am I experiencing discomfort when I feel that I was going about my training in a responsible way, and I had a made-to-measure corset? What was I doing wrong? Is my body just not made for corseting?”

It was only when I decided to stop training for a short time, let my body rest, and then start my training anew with a new custom fit corset with back lacing, that I realized that the issue was with the tool I was using, rather than my waist training technique per se.

Why I Don’t Recommend Front-Lacing Corsets for Tightlacing or Waist Training:

This post is not to bash the maker of my first custom corset – they were an engineer who made corsets in their spare time, and they discontinued shortly after my commission. My inexperience in ordering custom corsets combined with their inexperience with waist training at high reductions. The corset construction was strong and durable, and it gave a beautiful silhouette – however, although it matched my measurements, it did not fit my body for several reasons which could not be predicted by the numbers alone. This is one distinction between a made-to-measure corset and a truly custom corset that includes a mockup fitting.

If I remember correctly, my front-lacing corset was spiral boned all the way around the corset (with exception to the center front by the laces). This means it also included fine spirals in the center back – which I thought I would love for the flexibility, but the corset ended up being slightly too curved in the back for me. It was trying to create curve where my spine normally is, so I felt a band of pressure on the vertebra that was directly under the waistline of the corset – this led to a bit of lumbar pain when I laced down too much, and (where many corsets have the opposite problem of being too straight in the back) the front-lacing corset created an unnatural swayback in my posture while I was wearing it. The profile view in the corset was lovely, but it was not comfortable or healthy for me.

Also, this corset was conical in silhouette as I was interested in training my floating ribs at the time. instead of placing pressure in the front “tips” of my floating ribs, my front-lacing corset placed more pressure on the back of my ribs – imagine trying to close a door by pushing on it close to the hinge instead of near the doorknob. The torque just didn’t feel right. It felt like too much force with little efficacy, resulting in “hot spots”. (Now, if your body is a little larger and your corset affects mostly the adipose over your abdomen and doesn’t affect the placement of you ribs, you might not notice the difference in how the pressure is placed, but at the time I personally felt the pressure on my ribs).

The curve in the back and the pressure on my ribs could possibly have been eliminated if the pattern were improved and the construction slightly changed – perhaps taking out some of the curve at the back seam, installing flat steels instead of spirals, and making the ribs more rounded – but at the moment, this is not something I’m keen to experiment with – because there are other issues with front-lacing corsets, which I’ll continue below.

I also felt that more pressure was placed on my retroperitoneal cavity and kind of pushed my flesh forward, which is not a great idea. One big reason why traditional back lacing corsets work (and this is explained in further detail in my Corsets and Organs article) is because the majority of the pressure is on the peritoneal cavity which primarily consists of hollow organs, like the stomach and intestines. These are not solid organs (although they contain food, waste and air) and they are designed to move. They can also compress and flatten out of the way, like during yoga or pregnancy. As long as you have soft stools and good peristalsis, and as long as you take your time lacing down slowly, digestion and elimination should not normally be adversely affected.

But my front-lacing corset didn’t put pressure on the front (peritoneal) cavity – instead, it placed a lot of pressure on the back, where solid organs like the kidneys are location, and it made my tummy pooch out in turn. (You can see in my self lacing video, my abdomen was bulging a bit.)

One thing that would have made my front-lacing corset better would be if it included a modesty panel to support my abdomen where the lacing gap left no support. Alas, my corset didn’t come with one. Back in 2010, at the time I thought I would be okay because the bones sandwiching the grommets were flat steel – but I quickly learned that I needed more support, especially I was dealing with large waist reductions (my natural waist was around 28 inches and my corset was a size 20, worn with about a 1.5 inch gap in the front). I ended up having to make a separate boned modesty panel myself to help support my abdomen, avoid bulging and keep it flat.

Another reason why a front-lacing corset is not the best for me: as it turns out, I prefer to sleep on my stomach! I always start out falling asleep on my back, but more often than not I wake up on my front. However, having a big knot / bow in the front is uncomfortable to lie on (rather than “princess and the pea”, it was more like a mess of laces which felt more like the size of a tennis ball on my abdomen when I laid flat on it).

Under What Circumstances Would I Recommend a Front-Lacing Corset?

  • If it’s a waist training corset that you’ll be wearing for long periods of time, I think a back lacing corset would be more appropriate – it provides the proper support and compression from the front of the body and not the back. I would not recommend a front-lacing corset here.
  • Same if you’re tightlacing, or lacing down 6, 7, 8 or more inches – it will likely be more comfortable if you have a back lacing corset, not a front-lacing one.
  • If you’re using a light reduction corset, say not more than 2-4 inches of waist reduction, for medical purposes or posture support, a front-lacing corset might be okay.
  • If you have an abdominal hernia, especially an umbilical hernia, I would never recommend having a front-lacing corset.
  • If you have mobility issues in your shoulders or strength issues and you are unable to lace up a corset in the back, then front-lacing is a reasonable option for light reductions (as mentioned before) but also, a fan-lacing corset might be an option for you.

If you’re making your own corset and you just have no access or funds for a front busk – try a metal zip, or closed front corset, or a corset that is laced in both front AND back.

A corset that is laced in both front AND back is better because you’re able pull in the front by two inches, then pull in the back by two inches, and keep alternating so that you’re bringing in both sides of the corset laterally (placing pressure pretty evenly on either side of the body), without creating any weird torque at the back of the body. Just remember that if the front of your corset has a lacing gap, it’s best to have a stiffened or boned modesty panel to support the abdomen.

Later on, I plan to make a video on fan-laced corsets, what they’re good for (and what they’re not good for), and pehraps a tutorial on how to convert a regular laced OTR corset into a fan lacing corset, if I have the time.

I’m also talking with a friend on making a collab video with helpful info on how to put on and take off a corset, whether you use a wheelchair or have issues with strength or mobility. This is still in the early planning stages, but I hope to share more with you later.

Again – hopefully my loss is your gain, and you can learn from my mistakes so you have a more comfortable corseting experience. Let me know in a comment whether you’d like to see those upcoming videos, and leave a question below if I’ve forgotten anything or if you’d like to know more about any other details of my front-lacing corset.

Posted on 5 Comments

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!

Posted on 1 Comment

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?

Posted on 6 Comments

No, Wraps Don’t Cause Fat Loss or Detox Your Body

This Fast Foundation Friday topic is thanks to a fan request – thanks to “KT” for suggesting a video on plastic wrap under corsets. (If any readers have requests for future FF videos, leave a comment below.)

Wearing plastic wrap under your corset is not the best of ideas. Wearing plastic wrap at all isn’t a good idea, actually.

Back in 2011 I made a couple of videos explaining potential skin issues that can arise from wearing corsets improperly or in an unhygienic way – some of these issues can include bacterial and fungal skin infections, broken skin, etc. There are ways to prevent these issues, like wearing a washable, breathable and moisture-wicking corset liner between yourself and the corset, trying mesh corsets for better air flow to your skin, etc. But in this post I’ll address the two main reasons why people claim to wear plastic wrap, other types of wraps, or unbreathable garments next to their skin: for weight loss, and for detoxification purposes.

Myth #1:

Wraps heat up the body through “thermogenesis”, and helps “burn more fat” around the waist and lead to spot reduction.


“Sweating out the fat” is unfortunately bad science.
When I was a kid I remember an adult saying “if you’re not sweating while you’re exercising, you’re not working out hard enough, you’re not burning enough calories”.

 

Why this is incorrect (the scientific explanation)

If you’re exercising, you’re taking organic molecules of fat and sugar and combining it with oxygen you breathe to transfer the energy in those bonds to ATP, and then converting ATP to ADP and free phosphorus and energy to move your actin and myosin, which makes your muscles move. This is an exothermic reaction (moving from higher energy bonds to lower energy bonds) and also a fairly inefficient reaction, so part of the energy is lost as thermal energy (aka heat). This causes your body to heat up during exertion and then your body produces sweat, which absorbs your body heat and then evaporates in an effort to cool you down.

Sidenote: If your body heats up too much without a cooling system like sweating, then by the time your body reaches ~42°C (107°F), many of the proteins in your body’s cells actually lose their shape (denature) and stop working, and this can be fatal. This is why they say if you ever have a fever of over 106°F you should immediately go to the hospital.

(The layperson’s explanation)

That is to say, the heat is a byproduct of exercise, but heat in and of itself does not mean that you’re burning more calories. You may might burn a tiny amount of energy just through the mechanism of vasodilation and sweating, however shivering from the cold activates your muscles and also burns calories. A sizable number of the calories you consume in a day is allotted to maintaining your body heat at 37°C (98.6°F) instead of having it cool to room temperature. What are you doing if you’re helping your body increase its core temperature more efficiently?

Put another way: an engine gets hot because it’s working. Simply heating up an inactive engine will not necessarily make it work.

 

Myth #2:

Wraps increase the amount you sweat and “help you to detox” your body more effectively.


There are people who say that you can sweat out heavy metals and other toxins. This is to a small extent true, but your skin is only responsible for about 1% of the total detoxification of your body (according to toxicologist David Cruz). Your liver, kidneys, lungs, and even your gut helps with most of the detoxification of your body.

The body’s natural detoxification processes (the abridged scientific explanation)

Let’s say you eat something toxic. Your microbiome, partially comprised of your beneficial gut bacteria, can help to deactivate some toxins and prevent them from being absorbed into your gut in the first place, so it passes through your body instead of absorbing it into your blood stream.

If it does get absorbed from your intestines, your liver should filter out the majority of toxins. Anything you absorb from your guts goes through the portal vein to the liver to be cleaned and processed before it gets into the rest of the body. Your liver has well over 500 functions in the body, so it gets “first dibs” in many of the nutrients, and it also cleans and filters the blood before it’s sent out to the rest of your body.

And if the toxins still get through to the rest of the body, then the liver or kidneys are constantly filtering them to catch them again and dump them into the poop or urine. Some water soluble toxins can also be expelled through the lungs. By the time toxins are circulating through your body long enough to get pushed out of the blood stream into the interstitial fluid, percolate into your dermis and be sweated out, this might mean that the other detoxification systems in your body didn’t catch them in time, meaning they are not as effective as they should be, or may be overwhelmed.

 

(The layperson’s explanation)

Of course, sweating is good (even if it is a relatively inefficient form of detoxification). But your skin would not be a form of detoxification, however small, if it weren’t necessary. However, trapping the sweat in next to your skin for hours may be defeating the purpose.

In a normal situation, you sweat, then it beads up and rolls off your body, or gets wicked into your absorbable fabric, or it evaporates with the wind. But putting plastic wrap or unbreathable fabrics over your skin traps the sweat in, and that clamminess you feel when you take it off means that whatever you sweated out before, just turned around and got absorbed by your skin again.

Think of transdermal patches (like the birth control patch), cortisone creams, and other topical medications which get absorbed into your skin and circulate throughout the body. Whatever you detox out through your sweat, if it stays next to your skin for hours every day, can also have the opportunity to be absorbed right back into your system. (Same as toxins that get dumped by your liver into the intestines – if you have a lazy bowel, these toxins can be reabsorbed again, but I’ll address this another day). So unfortunately, forcing your body to sweat but not getting rid of the sweat doesn’t work to detoxify the body the way that many people hope it does.

 

“But why do I lose weight and why do I look more muscular when I wear wraps?”

Let’s say that you do sweat profusely and this sweat was wicked away. You’ve lost both water and electrolytes, and you’ve effectively dehydrated yourself. This temporarily relieves edema in your skin, and this is a well-known trick amongst body builders and fitness models to bring out the definition of the muscles and vascularity. But drink some water, rehydrate your body, and take in a balanced amount of electrolytes, and you will see plumpness return to your skin and that water weight come back.

If you are personally an advocate for sweating for detoxification, I would say that a more effective way of sweating is taking a warm bath and letting your sweat be washed away by clean water. But plastic wrap is never required for waist training, weight loss, or detoxification – and for certain people, this may be doing more harm than good.

 

What do you think about the “wraps” trend? Leave a comment below or under the Youtube video.

Posted on 7 Comments

How to Talk to your Doctor about Corsets

Lucy, I have discovered that corsets help greatly with my medical condition – but I’m hesitant to tell my doctor. How should I approach my physician with this information, and how can I convince my insurance provider to cover the cost of a therapeutic corset?

I’ve been receiving this question more frequently ever since my book Solaced was published, since the book covers many people’s true first-hand experiences of how they use their corsets not for vanity, but rather for medical purposes – like back support, pain relief, and anxiety reduction.

I’m not a doctor – I don’t have a medical license so I can’t give out medical advice. The book doesn’t violate this point, but of course, in the book and here on my site as well, I provide disclaimers that if you intend to wear corsets, it’s best to check with your doctor. Up until today however, I haven’t covered in detail how exactly I went about telling my own doctor (and chiropractor).

I understand that many people are shy or apprehensive about bringing it up with their doctor, but I must stress that it’s best for you to be open with your doctor about it, for better or for worse. Asking me for my opinion on whether you should or should not wear corsets is not that useful, because I have never met you – but if you have a family physician, they’re familiar with your long-term medical history. And just like your pharmacist would be able to tell you not to combine two different medications, your doctor might notice something in your medical history that might be incompatible with corseting (e.g. high blood pressure, inguinal hernia, gall stones).

 

Medical Professionals are People Too


Coming from a science background, I have several friends who have gone on to become doctors and nurses. Subsequently, I get to hear a lot of stories about their more interesting shifts, and believe me when I say that they’ve seen some pretty disgusting things. I honestly don’t think you mentioning that you wear corsets is going to particularly shock or faze them. In fact, there’s a surprising number of nurses who use corsets at work, to help support their backs while lifting patients. See the news segment below which features a nurse that wears a custom Starkers corset under her scrubs.

(All this said, if you work in an environment where there are potentially emergency situations where you need to spring into action, you will need to weigh the pros and cons yourself as to whether the corset would help with your strength vs hinder your mobility).

Remember that a (good) doctor’s office is a judgement-free zone. No matter what you show them, they’ve probably seen much worse. Smoking tobacco is almost universally seen as bad for your health, but you wouldn’t hide your smoking habit from your doctor. If you caught an STI, you would show your doctor. I don’t believe that corsets are as detrimental as cigarettes or STIs, even if they are considered by society as more controversial (that’s a post for another day) – but the point is that you should never be ashamed or afraid of bringing up anything with your doctor.

Also remember that all doctors are different, and different doctors may be more or less familiar with corsets depending on their location, their age, and what kinds of ‘side stories’ they learned from their professors in med school. A doctor from California has likely encountered patients wearing corsets more often than a doctor from Ohio. An elderly doctor who has childhood memories of their mother wearing corsets may have a different opinion about corsets than a younger doctor might, whose only exposure to corsets has been the sensationalistic social media posts on tightlacing.

 

How did I bring up the fact that I wear corsets with my doctor?


When I brought it up with my family doctor, and also my chiropractor, I did it as clearly and directly as possible. The first time I mentioned corsets to my family doctor, she seemed bored and was wondering why I was bringing it up in the first place. When you mention a corset to someone who’s unfamiliar, they might be thinking of flimsy lace bustiers, or perhaps latex or neoprene cinchers. (One person thought I was talking about floral corsages!) So the next time I had an appointment with my doctor, I brought one of my corsets in.

I showed them “THIS is exactly what I’m talking about, THIS is how it works. It has breathable material, it can be adjusted with laces, it has flexible steels, it’s rigid in these places, it presses on these areas of my body, it gives me this posture, etc.” That way, there was no miscommunication.

This isn’t my xray, but it looked very similar to this. Normally my neck is slightly lordotic (normal) but in this particular corset, my posture completely changed. Photo: e-Health Hall.

My chiropractor saw me lace into my corset, and took X-rays of my posture with and without my corsets. From that experience I learned that although I love the look of Edwardian inspired, flat-front longline corsets, they’re not the best for my posture and can lead to neck and shoulder strain over time. Longline, flat front corsets overcorrect my posture and give me an anterior (forward) tilting pelvis. This gives an exaggerated lumbar lordosis – not quite as dramatic as that associated with S-bend corsets, but it changed my posture all the same. This posture encouraged me to throw my shoulders back to counterbalance, and my head ended up popping forward too much, giving my neck a kyphotic curve. The hip bone’s connected to the… neck bone! (Abbreviated version of the song.) So, we learned that if I want to avoid neck and shoulder strain, I would need a corset that doesn’t tilt my pelvis and supports a more neutral posture.

 

In Sum:


If you have a G.P., a chiropractor, or some other health practitioner that you know and trust, I think it is in your best interest to tell them about your corseting for any reason – but especially if you are using it for therapeutic applications. Doctors need as much detail as possible to fully understand the situation help you the best they can, so the best way to approach your doctor is a directly and clearly as possible. They might be able to make suggestions about the way you’re wearing your corset to maximize comfort and minimize risks. For instance the tightness, or the duration, etc. (Or in my case, the type of corset to help improve but not overcorrect my posture).

Regarding convincing your insurance provider to cover the costs of a corset, unfortunately that is not my area of expertise. You will likely need a written note from your doctor in order to move forward, even a prescription for a custom corset (preferably one made by a corsetiere with some experience in orthopedics or medical devices). Your doctor may be able to give you more instruction on what to do next, and if the corsetiere is experienced in working with insurance companies already, they may be able to provide advice as well.

 

Have you told your doctor about your corsets? How did you tell them, and how did they respond? Leave a comment below!

Posted on 9 Comments

There is Still Time to Contribute to the Book!

Kitty Lace Embrace Corset
Remember Kitty? She has scoliosis as well as a ligament disorder that caused her liver to drop. She wears a custom Lace Embrace corset to support her spine and lift her liver up into its correct position, and it accommodates her iliostomy bag. Click photo to read my past interview with her.

In case you missed the announcement on my Youtube channel last year:

I’m writing a book! 

Many of you know that I’ve received hundreds of emails over the past 5 years from corset wearers relaying their personal experiences regarding how corsets have been beneficial to them physically, mentally or emotionally. This was the original inspiration for my Corset Benefits permanent page. While this serves as a decent summary, I know that this can be taken a step further.

This book will be a compilation of first-person true narratives by the people who have been directly affected by corset wear – a collection of uplifting short stories that inspires readers and sometimes softens the heart, similar in sentiment to Chicken Soup for the Soul but only regarding corsets and corset wear. It will include experiences of people who waist train, tight lace, use corsets for medical/ therapeutic use or simply for fashion – it is for all people who enjoy corsets, no matter their context. My dream is that this book will be something that corset enthusiasts will be able to read and relate to, and perhaps be able to give to their loved ones to demystify corsets and remove the stigma.

Our industry has been so harshly attacked by bloggers and national news stations alike. Not least I have been personally attacked, had my content and research stolen without credit, had my photos and videos used on national television without my knowledge or consent and subjected to libel, with stories fabricated around my image. Instead of naming and shaming these naive individuals and corporations, I’m responding with love and compiling the amazing stories of how corsets have contributed to people’s quality of life.

Unfortunately, after not winning the draw for the free custom corsets last week, a couple of previous contributors decided that it was not worth it to them to participate in this project anymore – so I am looking for more contributors to take their place.

If you have an amazing corset-related experience and you’d like to be part of this project, please contact me via email and briefly let me know what you would like to write about. You’re absolutely welcome to talk about corsetry in whatever context fits your life.

What kinds of true stories are accepted for the book?

Here are some examples of true stories that may become part of the book:

  • Corsets as a driving force in finding one’s joie de vivre after menopause
  • The corset as a symbol of a woman’s independence and self-reliance after escaping an abusive relationship where her partner wouldn’t grant her essentials like clothing or food.
  • A corsetiere’s perspective about how unique the corset community is in their mutual support, compared to more cut-throat niches in the fashion industry.
  • Corsets used to correct PoTS and help stabilize low blood pressure
  • Corsets being used to correct pelvic tilt, which in turn corrected the writer’s knee and ankle alignment, allowing them to stand and walk again without pain
  • Several stories about how corsets have saved their wearers from injury in car accidents and against violent aggressors
  • Many stories about scoliosis correction, and soothing depression and anxiety related to grief, PTSD or autism/ Asperger’s.

More unique experiences (e.g. “my corset did more for me than my previous lap-band surgery ever did” or “a stranger punched me and broke his hand on my corset”) will have a higher chance of being accepted for the book – I have been deluged with stories of back pain relief already, although if you have more rare causes of back pain and curvature like Multiple Sclerosis, Lupus, Polio, etc. these unique stories are welcome.

(For those on the front page of my website, click the “Read More” button below to get more detailed info about the book!)

Continue reading There is Still Time to Contribute to the Book!

Posted on 12 Comments

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

Posted on 2 Comments

How to Avoid Gas & Bloating when Wearing a Corset

Trapped gas in the body can be an uncomfortable or even painful experience (my cousin was once hospitalized for what everyone thought was appendicitis and it turned out to just be gas). But when you put a corset overtop of a gassy tummy, it can be even more uncomfortable. Your stomach and intestines are the hollow, membranous organs that take up arguably most of the space in your peritoneal cavity. According to Dr. Bob Jung (an orthopedic surgeon and Cathie Jung‘s husband), when these organs are relatively empty and not bloated with gas (or waste), they can flatten easily to accommodate the compression from a corset. However, when these organs are filled, there is a competition for space in the body which results in discomfort when corseted.

Therefore it’s in our best interest to minimize the amount of bloating when corset training. Unfortunately, many people try to change their diets simultaneously when they start corset training, opting for a high-fiber and ‘clean’ diet, and while this may indeed be better for you in the long run, your digestive system might be shocked by the abrupt change – unable to deal with the sudden increase in fiber, your bowels may protest and you may experience more gas, bloating, diarrhea, etc. Hopefully this post will help you pinpoint what is creating your gas, and what you can do about it.

What causes gas?

Foods: beans, cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, asparagus, cauliflower, etc.), dairy if you’re lactose intolerant.

Drinks: carbonated beverages, milk (see above), hidden artificial sweeteners (especially the sugar alcohols: sorbitol, maltitol, xylitol etc.)

Your gut health: whether your intestinal flora is balanced and you are creating the necessary digestive enzymes.

Eating/ drinking habits: How quickly are you consuming your meals? Are you taking small bites and chewing slowly and thoroughly? Are you drinking enough water every day? Do you habitually chew gum or suck on candies throughout the day?

Other behaviours: Do you breathe more through your nose or your mouth? Do you tend to suck air through your teeth when you’re tense?

I wouldn’t necessarily say to swear off all the food and drinks above – that may be too much of a diet/ lifestyle change for some, and there are many benefits to eating beans and vegetables (as long as you don’t have an allergy or lectin sensitivity). But choosing your foods wisely, preparing them in a different way, or moderating how much you consume at a time can go a long way.

Tips on minimizing gas production when wearing a corset (or anytime):

Carbonated drinks:

From my 25 questions tag video – I’m also guilty of drinking fizzy drinks and corseting, and pay for it every time.

There is no biological need for fizzy drinks, so avoid them if they’re not offering anything to your quality of life. If you must have a carbonated drink, let it bubble on your tongue and go flat before swallowing. My guilty pleasure is sparkling mineral water – no sugar, no phosphoric or citric acid to erode the enamel of my teeth if I let it sit in my mouth, no food colouring to stain my teeth, and no artificial sweeteners/ sugar alcohols to cause bloating.

Beans and pulses:

When I was in university I lived off a lot of dry beans, because they were even cheaper than canned beans but they did require more preparation when cooking. Some people say to soak the beans overnight and toss the water in the morning to avoid excess gas, then add the rinsed beans to your cooking. I often opted for lentils because they create less gas – and they’re small so they don’t need to be pre-soaked and they cook up relatively quickly.

Cruciferous vegetables:

Cooking your cruciferous vegetables can destroy some of the saccharides that cause bloating – this goes for beans as well – but overcooking your vegetables can denature some of the other nutrients as well, which leads to the next tip…

Take an enzyme supplement if you need it:

“Beano”  supplements the enzyme alpha-galactosidase which your body doesn’t normally produce – it helps to break down those undigestible sugars (essentially what our body sees as another form of fiber) so it doesn’t create gas and bloating in our gut. In the case of dairy, you can use lactase (“Lactaid”) which helps to digest and break down the lactose sugar if you are lactose intolerant. Of course, if you don’t need these enzymes, it’s not necessary to take them – and I hope it goes without saying that if you have food sensitivities or allergies unrelated to digestive enzymes, it’s better to avoid those foods completely.

Chew slowly:

Digestion starts in the mouth – your teeth grind up food and the amylase and other enzymes in your saliva start the breakdown process. The more time you spend chewing and the finer your chyme, the easier digestion will be for the remainder of the journey. As Ann Grogan also states, choosing smaller portions and eating slowly will help you recognize that full signal before you get to the point of feeling overfull, as overeating is discouraged when wearing a corset. On the topic of chewing, I personally had to give up my daily habit of chewing gum. Gum helped me with stress relief in some ways, but it eventually led to TMD symptoms and consistently upset stomach – so now I sip water instead of chewing gum, and manage my stress in other ways.

Stay hydrated:

Fran Blanche mentions several times in her own posts that it’s so very important to stay hydrated when wearing your corset – drinking enough water makes sure that your blood pressure and blood volume is regulated, which prevents wooziness or circulation issues, and to regular body temperature through sweating. Enough (not excess) water will also keep your digestive and urinary tract functioning properly, as well as keeping the other fluids in your body in the proper dilution – including your saliva and mucous. Gross to think about? Maybe. But having thick saliva or phlegm (or not enough at all) may contribute to swallowing more air or causing digestive upset.

Go slow when introducing new foods (or a new lifestyle):

I know that it’s easy to get swept up in a whole new lifestyle when you start waist training, and you might want to toss your old ways, cut out your old foods cold turkey, eat 100% clean, start a new exercise regime, etc. And for some people, that “all or nothing” approach might work for them – but for many others, this may cause them to feel sick and they may need to slowly change their habits over time. If you’re looking to introduce more fiber-rich foods, perhaps add them in a little bit at a time over the course of a few weeks so your digestive system has the time to adjust to the change. If you’re giving your diet and fitness regime a complete overhaul, maybe start with one or the other (either your meals or your exercise habits) and then phase in the other over time – that way, if you feel ill or have tummy troubles, you’ll better be able to pinpoint the culprit. Talking to a nutritionist or trainer can help you create a system or schedule.

See a doctor if your consistently bloated or have digestive issues:

Your natural gut flora may affect gas too, or what enzymes your body can naturally produce. If you are always having stomach or bowel issues, you might want to see a doctor, dietician or other trusted professional to investigate the issue. A solution may be as simple as cutting out foods to which you’re sensitive or supplementing probiotics, or it might be something bigger like undiagnosed IBS or diverticulosis which might go on for years without people really doing anything about it – so if you have digestive issues to begin with, definitely talk to your doctor before even trying a corset.

Let it out:

If social situations allow for it, and you feel that you’re going to burp or pass wind, just go for it. Your body has this function for a reason, and trust me, you’ll physically feel better for it.

*Please note that this article is provided for information purposes, and is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. Please contact your trusted physician if you plan to wear a corset for any reason.*

Posted on 8 Comments

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.

 

Posted on 51 Comments

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.

Posted on 16 Comments

Dependence on Corsets – Can you ever stop wearing a corset?

Ethel Granger without corset bare waist

There is this false theory that “once you start using corsets, you can never take them off”. I remember one girl telling me this when I was younger, painting an image in my head that the moment I put on a corset for the first time, I’d be doomed to wear it for the rest of my life, as if the corset would immediately and magically impair all function of my core muscles.
 
Obviously, this hasn’t been the case, and it’s my belief that permanent dependence on corsets is another one of those cases of “broken telephone” where the meaning has become misconstrued. While a few notable people have experienced a physical dependence on corsets, this has been the result of wearing corsets daily for years, in some cases starting from adolescence. When it comes to most modern corset wearers who begin wearing corsets in adulthood, who maintain a healthy core maintenance regimen and who practice lacing in moderation, physiological dependence on corsets isn’t that applicable.
 

Psychological Dependence on Corsets

 
As many of you know, about 3 months ago in November I suffered a number of injuries (falling down the stairs, and then an auto accident – during both incidents I was not wearing a corset). I took a break from wearing corsets for about 2 months, waiting for my bruises to heal and my bloating from the medication to decrease. During those two months, a thought crossed my mind that intrigued me: I missed that familiar “hug” from my corsets.
 
I followed a waist training regimen from 2010 to mid 2013 to achieve my goal of closing a 20″ corset – once I reached that goal, I decided that silhouette wasn’t for me. Since then I’ve simply been wearing corsets “casually”: wearing them occasionally as I feel like it, or as is necessary when I’m breaking in corsets for my reviews, but no longer 12 hours a day.
 
When my freedom of choice to wear a corset was taken away from me, I deeply resented the circumstances. I spent some time thinking about my own reactions and thoughts around this – was it a sign that I had a psychological or emotional dependence on the corset itself, or was it simply the fact that I was denied this practice that made it more tempting (like forbidden fruit)?
(If I’m completely honest with myself, part of the frustration was also that seasoning corsets is part of my job, and my injuries were pushing back my review schedule.)
 
I’ve written at length about using corsets as deep pressure therapy, and how corsets can improve your posture and even make you more confident, regardless of the figure-shaping perks. But I do believe that it’s important for each person to occasionally gauge themselves and make sure that they’re using corsets for the right reasons, and that they’re using the corset as an aide to improve their experience or quality of life, and not using the corset as crutch that they can’t function without.

 

I hear stories of agoraphobic people being able to step outside without having a panic attack when they wear their corset and that is truly amazing. But certain people can become psychologically “addicted” to corsets, same as some people are hooked on buying shoes/ following a TV series/ eating a certain food.

 

We see taglines in commercials “Betcha can’t eat just one” (Lay’s chips) or “Once you pop, you can’t stop” (Pringles) – but these statements are meant to be fun and make the product seem enticing. It doesn’t make people freak out or ponder the addictiveness of processed snacks. You don’t have visions of being caught in a horrible circular existence of eating bag after bag of potato chips till you explode. It’s supposed to be taken lightly – but corsets are almost never taken lightly in this context. Because the corset is not as ubiquitous as high heel shoes, for instance (another easily collectable garment) it’s easy to try to blame the corset for a person’s “addiction”, as opposed to acknowledging that person’s possible tendencies to collect things, or immerse themselves in fashion, or research controversial topics.

 

2014 was especially full of sensationalist headlines about tightlacers Penny Brown, Kelly Lee Dekay and Michèle Köbke. Narrators purposely chose adjectives for them like “obsessed” and “addicted” to corsets – when in reality, when you speak to these ladies themselves, they may prefer to use words like “dedicated” or “disciplined” to describe themselves. Even if someone is a lifestyle corseter, tightlacer or waist trainer, it doesn’t necessarily equate to that person going bananas after one day without their corset as a journalist may insinuate. Remember that more often than not, the media blows stories out of proportion as it’s easy clickbait.

 

Physiological Dependence on Corsets

 
It is, however, important to discuss the potential physical dependence on a corset, because it’s not impossible. If one constantly wears their corset and doesn’t make it a priority to tone their core with exercise, it is possible to experience muscle atrophy and experience a weak back or abdominal muscles. I’ve written at length about the corset’s effect on the core muscles before.

 

Ethel Granger without corset bare waist
Ethel Granger, who laced to just 13 inches in her corset over several decades, experienced weakness in her core but as shown here was still able stand without her corset.
Although core muscle weakness can lead to physical dependence on the corset, it’s my belief that in the vast majority of cases, this dependence is not permanent (as long as the affected person has the desire to do something about it). I have never found a medically documented case of someone taking off their corset and suddenly flopping over, snapping in half or breaking their spine from a lack of support.
Even Ethel Granger, who wore her corset for some 50 years and laced to 13 inches, was still able to support herself without the corset for short periods of time.
Cathie Jung, who currently laces to 15 inches, has also said that she removes the corset for bathing, although allegedly becomes a little lightheaded without the corset. News segments on Michèle Köbke have claimed that she was unable stand up without their corset, however there is evidence of Michèle standing up without a corset in the video footage, contradicting the information given. Michele explained that she did lose some strength in her torso and became winded when changing her corsets, but she could still stand up unassisted. Michèle has since stopped wearing corsets, and a newer video filmed nearly a year after the first shows that she has gained more strength in her torso and her waist measurement has now expanded to approximately 25 inches, similar to her starting waist measurement before corseting.
 

“You can’t stop wearing corsets…”

… otherwise you will lose your waist training progress and your waist may begin to expand again. This is a much more sensible interpretation of the statement.
  • If you get braces to change the position of your teeth: you can’t stop wearing your retainer, otherwise your teeth may shift slightly back to the way they were before.
  • If you build yourself up for a body building competition: after that competition is over you can’t stop lifting weights completely, otherwise your muscles will eventually shrink/ waste away, you’ll get soft, and you’ll lose your progress.
  • If you put yourself on a diet to lose weight: once you reach your goal, you can’t stop eating healthily and start eating all the junk food you want, otherwise you’ll gain weight again.
  • If you train your waist smaller with corsets: if you stop wearing your corset cold turkey once you reach your goal, your waist is likely to expand. Certainly, many waist trainers see a change in their natural, uncorseted waist over time; but a certain level of maintenance is required to keep any results you get.
 

Even if you train your ribcage to be more tapered, if you get pregnant, the baby can push out your ribcage again. This is why it’s said that corset training is “semi permanent” – but that is the topic of another article.

Read more about dependence on corsets on Contour Corsets, and also Staylace.

What do you think about corset dependency? Have you experienced a psychological, emotional or physical dependence on your own corset, to positive or negative results? Leave a comment.
Posted on 30 Comments

Corset Wearer’s Organs Illuminated by MRI

 

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 11.02.20 AM

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 11.04.20 AM

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

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 11.06.54 AM

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

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 11.07.38 AM

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-10-08 at 11.14.57 AM

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

Update: Eden Berlin has commented on her experience:

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

And on her waist reduction:

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

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

If given the opportunity, I would love to repeat this MRI study with different tightlacers to see how the positions of organs change slightly depending on the individual, the silhouette of corset worn, the reduction of the corset, and how long they’ve been training. Huge thanks to Hirschhausens Quiz Des Menschen, Eden Berlin and Tonia Merz for their incredible collaboration and allowing us to finally see where the organs shift when wearing a corset, and especially to Tonia for her translation of the conclusions!

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

Posted on 6 Comments

Corsets and the Victorian Fainting Culture

In a previous article, we discussed how feeling faint or light headed is caused by the brain not being properly oxygenated – but contrary to popular belief, most of the fainting done by people in corsets was not due to suffocation. Most genuine fainting was said to be rather due to abrupt changes in blood pressure. (This is just one of many reasons why it’s important to lace down gradually; tying your corset too tight, too quickly can cause acute changes in blood pressure and make you feel lightheaded.)

Today we’re not going to focus on blood pressure per se, but we’re going to specifically touch on the “Victorian fainting culture” – what do I mean by that? Well, have you ever wondered why there are so many stories of fainting during the Victorian era, and why the “swooning Southern Belle” is depicted so often in period movies? Have you ever wondered why people claim that the Victorians invented the fainting couch solely for this reason? Let’s analyze a few different reasons why upper class Victorian women could have fainted:

Shortness of Breath (from possible overexertion)

I’m not denying that some women could have genuinely fainted from shortness of breath, but this scenario was likely far less common than some individuals claim. Someone could feel woozy if they were laced more tightly than they’re accustomed to, for a special occasion (like a party or ball). It wasn’t out of the ordinary for a woman of wealth to own more than one corset, and sometimes her formal corset would be slightly smaller than her day corset to give a more dramatic or impressive silhouette (I should add that I don’t personally consider it responsible to tightlace past the point of discomfort/pain; nevertheless, other people do go the extra inch for a special event). Add an evening of more exertion than usual (like hours of dancing) and dehydration on top of that, and it would not be outside of the realm of possibility that a woman would faint.

Overheating

Let’s not rule out the possibility that women may have fainted from simply overheating. Consider the Full Monty of undergarments: a chemise under the corset, bloomers, the corset itself, a corset cover, possibly a hoopskirt, several petticoats, and then over that would be a blouse, an overskirt, possibly a jacket, train for the skirt, and perhaps a little hat or bonnet on top of your head. Clothing can exceed 20 lbs at times, and there would be around 4 layers of clothing between your skin and the air – which, even if made from the lightest linens and using the thinnest corset, would still add up in weight and insulation. If you could imagine wearing all this in the middle of summer in Texas or Georgia (since the media love to depict Victorian ladies as specifically Southern Belles), and air conditioning won’t be invented for another 100 years, it’s safe to say that you may feel considerably overheated – and this can lead to fainting and heat stroke.

Dehydration

It is so very easy to become dehydrated. Even today, some sources state that 75% of North Americans are chronically dehydrated – we do not drink enough water or eat enough hydrating foods. Corsets are able to exacerbate symptoms that you would not normally notice when you’re uncorseted – i.e. while corsets are not to blame for our chronic dehydration, wearing a corset may make you more aware of your body, and you may feel dehydrated faster and with more intensity than if you were uncorseted. When I started corseting on a regular basis, I noticed that I felt thirstier than usual. When I started setting alarms for myself to drink 2-3 liters of water each day, I started feeling much better both in and out of the corset. Fran Blanche of Contour Corsets has written about blood volume, dehydration and corseting on her blog here.

The scenarios already mentioned above (overheating, overexertion etc.) can lead to further dehydration, which may cause fainting much faster or more frequently in an already chronically dehydrated person. Staying hydrated is so very important if you choose to wear a corset.

Shock/ surprise

Yes, fainting from shock does happen. I have two stories where I’ve almost fainted in my life, and neither of them involve corsets: I remember being about 6-7 years old, trying to make a paper palm tree, and I accidentally stapled my thumb. I took one look at my thumb and I remember developing tunnel vision and ringing in my ears (classic vasovagal response). According to those around me, my face went pale and my lips turned blue. I never lost consciousness, but I do remember instinctively lying down quickly. A similar thing happened the very first time I put in contact lenses. Fainting from shock, with or without corsets, is a real possibility.

But would Victorian women be so sheltered as to faint at the slightest bad news? It likely depended on the individual’s temperament, and also their family’s status. The very high class were probably not exposed to the blood and gore like those living on a farm, nevermind being desensitized to shocking news and images and media the way we are today. News came from newspapers, magazines and word of mouth. Public executions were not done everywhere, and likely not attended by all people. It’s therefore not hard consider that if a sheltered person were see or hear something out of the ordinary (something appalling or grotesque) they may have reacted somewhat more dramatically and could very well have even fainted – whether intentionally or unintentionally, which leads us to the last point…

Mock Fainting (or what I like to call “Feign-ting”)

Many Victorian women were probably taught to pretend to faint in uncomfortable situations. Remember that it was unbecoming for a proper lady to throw a hissy fit (lest she be diagnosed with “hysteria” and hauled away). What’s a woman to do when she:

  • wants to quickly become the center of attention at a party?
  • sees someone annoying and wants to avoid talking to them?
  • is angry about certain circumstances but society doesn’t allow her to throw a temper tantrum?
  • (And as one viewer mentioned in a recent comment:) needs to escape to the toilet but doesn’t want to announce something so unbecoming?

The answer to all of these? She faints. Or feigns fainting, in any case. Fainting was said to be one of few ways to abruptly change a subject or leave a room while still saving face and being considered a lady. “Fainting culture” indeed!

What about all those fainting couches?

“Chaise longue in a 4th-century Roman manuscript” (Wikipedia commons)

Many people will claim that the Chaise Longue was invented in the Victorian era – in reality, they existed in Egypt and Greece at least 2000 years prior, and possibly as far back as the 8th century BCE. Unfortunately, taking a millennia-old piece of furniture and reinventing it as a strictly Victorian “fainting couch” (and treating their invention as a direct response to the corset) did nothing more than glorify and perpetuate the fainting culture and help Victorian women look fabulous while they were (pretending to be) unconscious.

While fainting in a corset is not impossible, there is much more to the wilting Victorian lady than what we’re usually taught. It’s worth noting that while many people faint for many reasons, it is NEVER “normal” to feel faint whether in or out of a corset. If you faint on a regular basis or for unexplained reasons, always see your doctor.

But there is a big difference between genuinely feeling lightheaded vs feign-ting for the “fun of it” – and I would prefer that the perpetuation of the swooning corset-wearer stereotype would stop today. So the next time you’re at a Renfaire or convention and you see someone at the corset vendor’s kiosk, melodramatically swooning and pretending to fall over for the “fun of it”, be sure to let them know that their melodramatic performance is hardly an original act.

Please note that this article is provided for information purposes, and is not intended to replace the advice of a medical professional. Please contact your trusted physician if you plan to wear a corset for any reason.

Posted on 6 Comments

Do Corsets Carry any Health Risks?

corset_carrot

I can and have talked for hours on this subject, but writing a dedicated article on corset health risks is undoubtedly going to open a can of worms.

Not surprisingly, I get this question a lot. When I look at my site search term referrers for the past month alone, I see:

  • dangers of waist training
  • is waist cinching dangerous
  • risks of corset waist training
  • waist trainer dangers
  • the dangers of corsets
  • health risks corsets
  • waist training risks
  • is waist training bad for you

If you search for any of these terms and happen to click on an online newspaper column or a fitness blog, they will probably parrot the same horror stories and urban legends that have been repeated for the past century – ever evolving, like a game of broken telephone.

In a previous article responding to BBC’s “Hidden Dangers of the Victorian Home”, I explained how other clothing generally considered acceptable today, especially high heels, can pose risks in certain situations.

In the interest of keeping this post short, I won’t go into specifics about every single corset-related ailment ever uttered; if you are interested in learning how the corset may affect specific systems, the Physical Effects of Corseting series is there at your disposal. You’re welcome to watch the playlist on Youtube or read the corresponding articles in this section of my site. I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet, but my biochemistry degree has  given me a fair understanding of how the body works, and taught me how to do proper research.

Any time someone asks me whether corseting is dangerous, I will always tell them the same thing: if you are already in good health, if you invest in a well-made corset that actually fits your body properly, and if you are responsible about how you use the corset, then danger can be minimized. But one time a reporter tried to get me to state that I believe corsets pose zero risk. No. Even as a regular lacer and a proponent of corsetry, I will never say that corsetry poses zero risk. There is a risk with everything. Let me explain:

Carrots pose a risk to your safety

I’m sure most dieticians would tell you that carrots are very healthy, but my aunt spontaneously developed a fatal allergy to them while pregnant with my cousin (she had been able to eat them all her life, then one day she went into anaphylaxis from them). One of my friends in university once accidentally inhaled a baby carrot and it lodged in his throat.  In both situations, they were home alone. Had they not been able to take proper action in time, carrots could have killed them.

When I was 10 or 11 years old, I was chopping a carrot into sticks, and it rolled out of place and I ended up slicing my finger open! I was lucky – had the knife been sharper, had the angle of the knife been different, or had I dropped the knife, I could have lost a finger or hit a larger blood vessel and bled profusely. Sounds ridiculous, but accidents happen every day.

Everything (even corsets and carrots) comes with risks, but it depends on what conditions you’re already predisposed to (e.g. my aunt’s allergy) and it depends on how responsibly you use it (e.g. in the case of my buddy who choked due to user error). And in the case of my slicing my finger open chopping carrots? Well, the slicing was really done by the knife, and caused by myself (also user error) – not the carrot. It didn’t stop the carrot for taking the blame, though. To this day I hate chopping carrots, although I’m fine with using a sharp knife to cut up other food. Both my friend and my aunt avoid carrots, for obvious reasons. Had carrots not been so ubiquitous, I might have thought that carrots were killers, as so many think of corsets today.

Exercise poses a risk to your safety

There are tales of CrossFit athletes developing rhabdomyolysis (this is the disintegration of muscle fibers causing an influx of myoglobin carried through the circulatory system), which can overload the kidneys, and in some situations cause kidney damage or failure and the need for emergency dialysis.

Weight lifting can cause hernias, it can cause uterine/vaginal prolapse in women, and with poor form it can lead to broken bones or ruptured tendons.

People who were otherwise completely fit and healthy have been known to suddenly die of heart failure in the middle of sports or running, due to a previously asymptomatic and undiagnosed congenital heart condition.

I am not saying this to vilify carrots or any type of exercise. I have always stressed that a healthy lifestyle is not without proper nutrition and exercise. But it would be irresponsible to say that anything in this world, no matter how common or how seemingly innocuous, comes without risk. Water has risks. Heat and cold have risks. Corsets have risks too.

When you use the right tools, when you go about it with proper form, when you are responsible and you accept your body’s limitations, that’s when your risks are minimized.

For almost everyone, the benefits of exercise outweigh the risks. And for many people, for instance Sasha who survived a motorcycle accident, corsetry becomes a necessary medical tool and increases one’s quality of life – and the benefits outweigh the risks.

What are some negative risks or dangers associated with corsetry?

Here are real stories that I have heard first person from modern corset wearers (not urban legends from long ago):

  • Some find that their blood pressure can become elevated while they’re wearing a corset (although those with chronically low blood pressure have found this to be beneficial for them)
  • Others find that if they have uterine prolapse, that the pressure from the corset makes it uncomfortable.
  • In my case, a corset that is not properly made to fit me can end up pressing on a superficial nerve on my hip and causing pain, tingling or numbness in the area (although this doesn’t happen with a custom corset designed to fit me; and other people who don’t have this asymmetry do not seem to have this issue).
  • Wearing a corset regularly (especially in the heat and without a liner underneath) can potentially cause skin problems which can become worse if you don’t treat it properly and take a break from the corset.
  • Some report slight constipation (although another chronically constipated person had reported becoming more regular since the use of corsets; results vary).
  • Other individuals have experienced headaches or acid reflux (although Sarah Chrisman reported reduction in her migraines and reflux, interestingly).
  • I have also legitimately opened my closet door and had a pile of corsets drop on me before.

What are some positive risks or benefits associated with corsetry?

There is an entire section of my website called Corset Benefits that is dedicated to collecting the positive stories and benefits people have experienced since they started using corsets. It’s three pages long; covering physical, mental, emotional, societal and economical factors.

Corsets are not made for everyone, just as certain types of shoes are not made for everyone. If you have certain health conditions (including but not limited to) hypertension, certain types of hernias, or conditions that cause gastrointestinal inflammation (irritable bowel, Crohn’s, colitis, etc), you may find that certain risks outweigh the benefits. This is why I will always say to talk to your doctor if you would like to use a corset for any reason, whether it’s for fun or aesthetic reasons, whether you are waist training, or whether you wear the corset for therapeutic purposes.

Talk to your doctor.

I put that in the largest font WordPress would let me, because it’s extremely important. My family doctor, my chiropractor, and even my dentist all know about my corsets. I have also had my chiropractor take an x-ray of me while wearing one of my corsets. I’ve also had the opportunity to show some of my corsets to a clinical psychologist, a psychotherapist, and several registered nurses to see what they think. Not one of these practitioners have told me to stop wearing corsets. Nevertheless, I still have my health monitored regularly because I want to do this responsibly.

I also invest in custom corsets that fit my body and accommodate my individual quirks (like the nerve that runs over my left hip) so they don’t cause me discomfort. I listen to my body: I put on a corset when I feel like it, and I loosen or remove the corset when I feel like it. There is nothing heroic about pushing yourself further than your body can handle.

So here I am, a corset cheerleader, telling you that wearing corsets does carry some risks. If you tell me that you plan to wear a corset or that you already wear corsets, I trust that you have already done extensive research on corsetry (from multiple sources), that you are aware of corset health risks or side effects of corsets (both good and bad), that you have talked to your trusted practitioner, that you have been given the thumbs up in your health (or that your health conditions merit the therapeutic use of a corset), that you are able to read and respond appropriately to your body’s signals and go about wearing corsets responsibly. If you haven’t, then you are putting the risk of user error into your own hands.

Posted on 20 Comments

Weighing in on “The Corset Diet”

The first time I heard about the “Corset Diet” was late last year (2013), and at first I didn’t quite know what to think of it. I laid low, watching carefully what the media was doing with this “new-old fad”. Despite many people asking me what I think about it over the last 8-ish months, I have eschewed the topic up until now, because while I don’t feel that the “corset diet” is totally invalid, I do think that the concept is highly flawed.

(Please note that I will continue to use the “corset diet” in quotation marks for the remainder of this article, for reasons I’ll explain shortly. I had my own independent experiences with weight loss while waist training long before the “official corset diet” came to exist – but I cannot say I’ve tried the “official corset diet” as recommended by their website, because they only guarantee the program if you use one of the corsets they supply (either latex cinchers or Corset-Story stock), and I have had bad experiences with both of these product brands in the past.)

I will admit that at first I was intrigued that this “corset diet” designed by a doctor – I have had a few doctors quietly buy corsets from me in the past, but here is one that is actually willing to publicly condone the use of corsets and monitor his patients’ health! But the products recommended by the program, and the way they choose to market the concept in itself, both left me with a bad taste in my mouth. The greatest issue I take with this program is that they choose to call corseting a “diet”.

“The Corset Diet”: it’s short, punchy, and it attracts people’s attention. They also claim a 100% success rate, and guarantee a loss of at least 2 lbs per week. I understand why they opt to call it a diet, but I don’t agree with it. When I think of a diet, I typically think of limiting certain foods, eliminating others completely, moving the time of day you eat or the frequency you have your meals, and sometimes limiting the volume of food or the amount/type of calories you eat. From a glance, it seems that this “corset diet” is only limiting the volume of food, by stomach constriction from the corset.

Here’s the crux of it: a corset is not a diet. It is no more of a “diet” than a pair of running shoes is a “marathon”.

A corset is a garment, and I have never ever believed, mentioned, or condoned that it is a way to replace proper nutrition and exercise. It’s a piece of clothing! Let’s compare this to a different piece of clothing: the running shoe. Just because you own a pair of running shoes, doesn’t mean you’re going to be successful at running a marathon. You still have to put time, effort and dedication into running on a regular basis. Granted, a good quality pair of running shoes can certainly help you run better than a pair of high heels – the shoes can aid you in your goal, can support your feet properly and keep your body in alignment. They can help you bring your A-game, but the shoes are not an exercise routine in and of themselves. This idea is flawed. 

Moreover, do you only wear running shoes when you’re running marathons? Not necessarily – you can wear running shoes because you like them, and you can wear them every day if you desire. It’s the same with corsets – not all people wear running shoes when they’re training for a marathon, just as not all people wear corsets for the purpose of weight loss. To presume so is incredibly narrow-minded and it is a form of prejudice based on one’s choice of dress.

However, for some people, a corset can aid in weight loss in some ways, so the argument is not totally invalid, but it is flawed. This article will discuss the specific application of a corset as an aid in weight loss, and examine the pros and cons with respect to this corset “diet”.

 

The Pros of the “corset diet”

(or rather, not the official “corset diet” but rather the general use of corsets as one tool/ aid for weight loss, or for positive changes to your nutrition and fitness levels)

Ann Grogan from Romantasy has shown for years that it’s not unusual to lose weight when waist training – she says that a corset can act like an external, less invasive gastric band, by putting pressure on your stomach so that it’s not able to expand as much during a meal. (Have you ever heard of a ‘food baby’, where you eat so much your abdomen is distended? This is impossible in a corset.)

Many people are accustomed to eating heavy foods and large portions; they may eat way too quickly, and some customarily binge in the evenings from the time they get home from work until whenever they go to bed. For many people, their stomachs have stretched to a very large capacity (they can accommodate a huge volume of food at any one time), and these people may have issues with their leptin/ ghrelin hormone levels (leptin insensitivity can inhibit a person from feeling full or satiated, while high ghrelin levels can cause that person to feel hungry all the time). 

 

How a corset may combat appetite issues is by increasing intra-abdominal pressure – some of the first organs to respond to this are the stomach and intestines (the more hollow and membranous organs, in contrast to the more solid organs). In the stomach and intestines, most of the volume is filled with air, food and waste. When those contents are excreted and not replaced (or not replaced quite as much), the stomach and intestines are easily able to flatten and reduce in volume. (In my corsets and toilet issues article, I described how wearing a corset can sometimes encourage bowel movements just from a “toothpaste effect”.) 

By wearing a corset and decreasing the capacity of your stomach, it may help you feel full faster (and if you eat too much, it becomes uncomfortable faster). So if you consistently wear a corset with your meals, particularly your largest meal of the day (which is dinner for many of us), then you will quickly learn that it’s not quite as easy to overeat in a corset compared to when you’re not wearing one.

And while it’s not the same for everyone, for some people who have those malfunctioning hunger signals, it’s possible to recondition and reset your appetite over time: not only learning to take smaller portions, but also feeling satisfied with less.

 

Another way that the corset may help (which is a bit more controversial as it deals with personal body image) is that a corset may allow you to see yourself in a way you always wanted to look, but could never visualize before that moment. A lot of people give up on “diets” or fitness regimes because they don’t see their figure transforming fast enough – but a corset is able to give you an instant hourglass silhouette, and sometimes allow you to instantaneously fit into smaller or more fitted clothes that perhaps you couldn’t fit into before. The corset smooths out any bumps under an outfit and makes your clothing hang differently; for some people, that gives them a boost in confidence and makes them feel fabulous.

But at the risk of naysayers telling me that I’m encouraging people to “fool themselves” into having a figure they don’t naturally possess, I am proposing the possibility that if a person is currently not 100% happy with the way they treat their body, and they have problems motivating themselves to change their current lifestyle (due to a lack of results or not being able to visualize themselves any different from their current state), these people may find that the immediate change they see in their figure by the use of corsets can serve as inspiration and motivation. A shocking, sudden shift in your self-image (being able to ‘imagine results’ before they happen) may help to kickstart a new regime: help you to start a fitness program or to choose higher quality foods, because you know you deserve to treat your body well, to give it clean fuel and keep it strong.

But please don’t misinterpret what I’m saying, because I’m not suggesting that all people with a sedentary lifestyle who eat junk food have low confidence/poor body image, or even people who carry a little more weight than the “average” have low confidence. Confidence and positive body image can exist at any size. Ultimately, those who wear corsets choose to do so because they enjoy it.

 

The Cons of the “corset diet”

(or rather, the expectation that corsets can be used as the only tool for weight loss/ changes to your nutrition and fitness levels)

A lot of people apply the first law of thermodynamics to dieting and weight loss: calories in, calories out. Fuel in, energy out. Energy density within certain foods, and which foods tip that scale. (I know a lot of people don’t believe in the concept of equal calories but just bear with me here. For many people, this is the oversimplified relationship between diet and weight loss.)

Now let’s look at the simplified view of corseting as related to diet and weight loss. It’s a matter of physics instead of chemistry now: how large of a volume of food can you fit comfortably in your body at one time (whilst your stomach capacity is reduced by the corset)? Let’s say that while you’re wearing your corset, your stomach can only comfortably hold 2 cup of food, instead of 5-6 cups.

But you can easily see where this concept doesn’t work for everyone, because it completely removes the factor of the quality of food you’re eating – you’re not looking at nutritional density at all!

  • If you eat 2 cups of very calorie dense foods (cheese, deep fried foods, or nutritionally deprived foods like candy), instead of a cup of calorically-low and nutritionally-dense foods (steamed cruciferous vegetables, squash, berries or eggs), then don’t be surprised if the “corset diet” doesn’t work.
  • Conversely, if you already eat healthy to begin with and you maintain your healthy habits after you take on corseting, you may not see any change with the “corset diet”.
  • If you are the type to not eat meals, and you just graze 16 hours throughout the day (keeping your stomach volume small at any given time but your total day’s quantity of food is high while its quality is low overall) then the “corset diet” may not work for you.
  • And if you get tired of wearing the corset and you take it off halfway through your meal to be able to eat more, then the “corset diet” is probably not the right method for you. 

Not all people’s bodies are the same, either. There will always be those types who are able to constantly shovel in poor quality food (with or without a corset), and still not experience any undesirable effects in their health, their appearance or how they feel. And while there are some people whose appetites are curbed by wearing a corset, I’ve actually talked to some individuals who feel more hungry when wearing a corset! So as with any other “diet” in this world, results will of course vary with the effectiveness of this “corset diet” as well. 

 

My Personal Experience

(with the general use of corsets as one tool/ aid for weight loss, or for positive changes to nutrition and fitness habits)

In the past, I’ve talked about “stomach hunger” (appetite, physical hunger, need for fuel) versus “head hunger” (food cravings, food addiction, stress/ emotional eating). I have personally found that the corset helps with my “stomach hunger”, but I must still practice some willpower when it comes to overcoming my addiction to refined sugar and junk food – even when wearing a corset, you have to choose foods that are of higher nutritional quality, and you have to choose to not remove the corset when the corset makes your body feel full before the meal feels ‘over’.

However, while I can’t speak for everyone else, I know that in my experience, wearing corsets has helped train me to avoid certain foods over time. Carbonated drinks, ice cream, cheesecake, fried dishes, certain types of heavy meats, a lot of artificial sweeteners (especially the sugar-alcohols that can cause bloating), and empty calorie foods high in corn syrup and refined sugar all tend to give me a slight stomach ache when I’m corseted. So, what do I do when I eat something that doesn’t agree with me? I avoid it!

When I’m corseted, I notice that I have a tendency to choose lighter foods and higher quality foods – smoothies and protein shakes, salads, grilled vegetables, overripe fruit, and leaner meats – obviously depending on your lifestyle, your beliefs, your health and what feels good in your stomach, you may opt for different foods, but 99% of the time, the foods that are gentle on my stomach have also been foods that are more healthful (less processed and more nutritionally dense).

In my experience, when I am actively waist training (as I was through mid 2012 through to mid 2013), I tend to drop weight. When I realized that I didn’t like my silhouette with a 20-inch waist and I stopped waist training, then consequently my weight and my natural waist size both went back up.

However, it’s important to note that corsets have not been about weight for me to begin with. People have told me that I’m just lazy for strapping on a corset, and that I’m trying to “trick” people into thinking I’m thinner than I really am. But for me, having a temporary vintage hourglass figure when I’m wearing a corset was always more about creating curves and having vintage clothing fit a certain way, not about “looking skinny”. For me, corsets are about the waist, NOT the weight.

 

 

When I was contacted by a producer of The Dr Oz show a few months ago, they asked me how much weight I lost by corseting, and how long have I kept off the weight – I knew that they were trying to put a certain spin on what corseting is supposed to offer, but I wasn’t ready to lie. Before I started corseting, I was a university student, living off $5 a week for food. I ate lentils, carrots and apples for months at a time. When I didn’t buy a bus pass, I often walked 45 minutes to class (which was situated up on a steep hill), wearing a 20 lb backpack. (I wish I were hyperbolizing, but those who have gone to school with me know that I’m not.)

These days, I work a cushy job, I live in a suburb where it’s customary to drive most places, and I can pay for more than just lentils. I’m not eating the same, I’m not getting the same exercise, and I doubt I have the same metabolism I did in my late teens or early 20s. If you want to look at the whole 5-ish year span between the time before I started corseting on a regular basis and today, it’s clear that I have gained weight!

If I wanted to lose that weight, I know what I need to do. Yes I would personally include corsets in my regimen, but that will not by any means be the only tool. Once again, I have never ever ever said that corsets were designed to be a substitute for proper diet and exercise. In fact, I have regularly said that when you start corseting, that’s a good reason to increase your core strength exercises, and to reflect on what you eat and drink in order to make your waist training as comfortable and smooth as possible.

(For what it’s worth: with what I know about weight and health these days, I’d probably be happier with a shift in composition as opposed to a flat-out loss in weight. Remember that weight and BMI alone cannot accurately tell a person the state of their health. Instead of wanting to lose a flat 30 lbs, it would perhaps be healthier to try for 20 lbs of fat loss, but 10 lbs gained in muscle – so the scale may only register 10 lbs lost overall, but my body would probably look and feel incredibly different.)

 

In summary:

WEIGHT ALONE IS NOT NECESSARILY AN ACCURATE REFLECTION OF HEALTH, and should not be too closely tied to your body image. Focusing on your fitness and overall health is more important than what the scale reads.

CORSETS ARE NOT A DIET, and they are NEVER a substitute for good nutrition and fitness.

WAIST TRAINING IS NOT AN EASY, SHORT-TERM SOLUTION. It is often a form of slow body modification that directly affects your ribcage and muscle morphology – any effect on weight (or particularly body fat percentage) is by indirect means. Reduction of your waist size may be independent of any change in the scale.

While weight loss by use of a corset is possible, the expectation that it works perfectly/quickly/effortlessly is flawed. Again, and forever: it should not be the only tool you use to take control of your fitness or body image.

 

Have you experienced any weight loss or change in body composition with long-term use of a genuine corset, whether intentional or unintentional? Does your appetite increase, decrease or stay the same in a corset? What about the quality or the volume of food you eat? Leave a comment below.

Posted on Leave a comment

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.