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Tips for Full-Figured Corseters

This entry is supplementary to the video “Plus-Size Corseters” which you can watch on YouTube here:

Larger people can usually tolerate larger waist reduction

If you have a little more to start with, than chances are you can reduce down more than a smaller person. Think of waist reduction as a percentage: say two people are both able to cinch their waists down by 20%. One has a 24 inch waist while the other has a 38 inch waist. The person with a 24″ waist will be able to cinch down 4.8 inches, down to 19.2″. The other corseter is able to cinch down an incredible 7.6 inches, to a corseted waist of 30.4″. Of course, this depends on your amount of visceral fat vs subcutaneous fat, your muscle tone, etc., but chances are if your waist is above 34 inches, you will be able to start with a corset 5-6 inches smaller than your natural waist rather than the recommended 3-4 inches by most corset retail sites.

Larger corseters, larger busts

If you are large-busted, it may be tempting to order an overbust corset for the extra support, as overbusts take much of the bust-related strain off your lower back. However, I recommend that women start with an underbust corset regardless of size, the main reasons being that underbusts are easier to breathe and move around in, they’re more versatile, and they’re easier to construct and get the proper fit, and thus they almost always cost less than overbusts. For more detail about this, watch my video above.

If you order an underbust corset, you will have to wear it with a separate bra. I recommend you have the top line of your corset end at least 1 inch lower than the underwire of your bra, to prevent chafing. Alternatively, wear bras that do not have underwires, such as sports bras, post-operative compression bras. I have personally had success with the Genie Bra (for a short while); it gives support while not giving an unattractive back roll between the bra band and corset. You can also wear your bra overtop of your corset to prevent that “double lift” so you don’t end up with a chin rest, and this also prevents chafing from the underwire.

Remember the law of displacement

Flesh doesn’t disappear in a corset; it has to move somewhere. For many tightlacers (especially the ones that are a little larger to start with) I recommend ordering a corset with underbust and hip circumferences 1 inch or so larger than your natural measurements, so the compressed flesh has somewhere to go.

In terms of the shape of the corset, I recommend corsets with a high back which gently cups around the flesh of the high back instead of giving “muffin-top”, and I recommend mid-hip or long-line corsets which cup the flesh around the hips to smooth out your silhouette.

The number of panels matter (to a point)

My first custom corset only had 8 panels (4 on each side) but currently I prefer my corsets to have 12 or more panels. More panels help to customize the shape of the corset pattern so it fits every contour of your body just the way you want it. More panels also help to distribute extreme curves more evenly so each smaller panel looks closer to parallel in shape as opposed to fewer, larger panels with extreme deviations in measurements – how more narrow panels help is that they allow a smoother line and fewer wrinkles in the corset when done right – i.e. combined with proper sewing techniques and enough bones, which leads us to the next tip…

The number of bones matter (to a point)

Some corsetieres recommend placing a minimum of one bone every 2 inches around the waist of a corset – this means a corset with a 36 inch waist would have no less than 18 bones in it, while a corset with an 20 inch waist may only have 10 bones. This means that not all corsets should be made the same! When ordering a corset, I would advise requesting double boning from the corsetiere – although this will be more expensive, it will eliminate much of the wrinkling and buckling in the corset fabric, allowing for more support, a smoother line on your body, and therefore a much more comfortable experience. If you’re sewing a corset yourself, I would advise placing at least 1 bone every 2 inches around the waist of the corset. The easiest way to do this is likely to place one bone at each seam and another bone in the center of each panel.

Health

Although it is not always the case, larger people tend to carry a higher risk of hypertension (high blood pressure). Combined with a slightly raised blood pressure contributed by tightlacing, one has to be careful to maintain an acceptable level and minimize their risk for stroke. Please monitor your blood pressure carefully, as one can’t actually feel their blood pressure rising. If you experience light-headedness, swollen extremities (particularly legs and feet) or your heart pounding harder than normal when you lace up your corset, do check your blood pressure with a monitor.

In the next post I will go into more detail about corsets and blood pressure, as well as clearing up the “fainting” rumours surrounding corseted ladies.

Lucy’s Little Life Lesson: You’re beautiful at any size.

*Please note that this article is strictly my opinion and provided for information purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of a medical doctor. Please talk to your doctor if you’d like to start wearing a corset.*

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Corsets and Skin issues

This is a summary of the two video “Corsets and Common Skin Issues” and “More Severe Skin Problems and Corseting” which you can watch on YouTube here:

In this entry, I will go over the common skin issues that may arise with regular corseting, and I’ll also mention some more severe skin problems that rarely occur (but you should still look out for).

Please note that this article pertains mostly to genuine steel boned corsets made with a cotton strength layer. If you wear latex cinchers, you could have a different issue such as an allergic reaction to the rubber latex. I’ve given my thoughts on latex cinchers in this article.

Sweating

Sweating is more of a problem if your corset or your liners are made from synthetic fibers instead of breathable natural fabrics. When possible, choose silk, cotton, bamboo and wool for your corsets and liners instead of polyester, nylon, vinyl etc. For those who like a bit of an edgier look to their corsets, real leather breathes better than pleather or PVC.

Sweating in a corset is hot, wet, uncomfortable, can worsen itching and chafing of your skin in the corset, and it can become a breeding ground for microbes which love dark, warm, moist, anaerobic conditions. Also, the sweat from your skin can damage your corset and causes the fabric to wear out faster. Worse, when your corset becomes soiled from sweat and oil, you will have to wash the corset more often, which also damages the fibers.

How can I control sweating when I already have a corset made from synthetic materials?

  • Use corset liners or shirts made from no less than 85% natural fibers like cotton or bamboo.
  • Bring multiple liners with you in your handbag so if you’re hot, you can change your liner when it gets sweaty.
  • Powder your skin before you put on the corset. I find I don’t need to do this, but it works the same way as using baby powder to prevent diaper rash. If you’re worried about talcum powder causing cancer, try cornstarch instead.
  • Last summer, I traveled to work a little early and put my corset on in the restroom – since my building was air conditioned, I was comfortable the entire time I was at work. I took the corset off again when I left for home, and if I felt like it I’d put the corset on again in the evening when my apartment was cooler. I was still able to waist train successfully this way.
  • Some corsetieres make “summer corsets” that are lighter and often made of one very strong layer of sport mesh to allow the skin to breathe. 

Itching

Both sweating and dry skin can cause itching. If you have very dry skin, use a moisturizer after showing and/or before putting on your corset. When my skin gets chapped in the winter I like to use cocoa butter (note: these days, I almost exclusively use extra-virgin olive oil on my skin). If you don’t like the greasy feeling of some moisturizers, udder cream (found at craft stores sometimes) will moisturize your skin and not leave a residue; however I still recommend you still wear a liner between your skin and your corset.
Itching can also be caused by wrinkles in your shirt or liner – your liner is supposed to shrink with your waist, so if you find your liner is wrinkling, it might be too big for you. Usually a liner containing 5-10% spandex or lycra will be stretchy enough and still be sufficiently breathable. In my experience it is easier to prevent wrinkles with nylon/lycra shirts or liners than it is with cotton or other natural liners, so there is a bit of a trade off between breathability and wrinkle-prevention.

How to scratch an itch under your corset

If I have an itch that I can’t ignore, then I can usually scratch the area with a little pencil or school-size wooden ruler. When it comes to scratching your skin under your tight corset, long, thin/flat objects usually do the trick. If the itch doesn’t go away, then take the corset off and do what you need to do to rectify the situation – scratch/change your shirt/moisturize etc.

Chafing/burning

When you ignore an itch, it can sometimes turn into a chafing or burning sensation. Your corset might not be fitting right (either from incorrect measurements or due to a slight twisting or riding up of the corset on your torso over several minutes/hours). Little micro-movements and shifting of the corset cause abrasion on your skin. Taking the corset off and putting it back on again, ensuring that it is straight and sitting properly at the waist, can often get rid of the problem. You can also try to change your shirt/liner as wrinkles can cause chafing. Sometimes if a corset is not of the best construction, then internal boning channels can cause chafing. This problem is more common in off-the-peg corsets than it is for custom corsets.

 

Pressure points

These sore spots are caused by the contours of a corset not following the contours of your body, and thus parts of the corset push down more on some parts of your body than other parts. People who corset too tightly before they’re ready (or if they bruise easily) may find bruises caused by pressure points especially where bone is close under the skin, such as the ribs or hipbones.

Take care of the pressure points by loosening your corset or taking it off completely. If you get pressure points from a custom made corset even after you’ve broken it in, take it back to the corsetiere and get it refitted. If these pressure points are ignored for a long period of time, you can start developing ulcers and your skin can become necrotic (compare it to a bedridden patient with bedsores). You do NOT want it to get that bad, so do be careful to take care of your pressure points.

Skin infections / irritations

Some microbes LOVE  dark, moist, anaerobic environments, especially yeast. You may think that candida overgrowth can only occur in your private parts or in your mouth (thrush) but it can happen anywhere you have folds of skin. Not all, but many morbidly obese people can get candida infections under their arms or breasts etc. However, if you’re not careful, you can create this environment on your skin underneath your corset, no matter what your size or shape.

How to prevent skin infections

Having a corset that breathes will help, as well minimizing your sweating and practicing good hygiene. You don’t need to become germophobic and use antibacterial soaps – remember, you have a good, balanced coating of good bacteria on your skin in order to keep bad microbes like MRSA and candida under control. Antibacterial soap ruins the balance of the ecosystem on your skin, allowing the growth for harmful microbes. Just wash with normal soap, and wash regularly.

If you do find an unusual skin rash, irritation or infection beginning to form on your skin, see your doctor or dermatologist quickly so you can catch it before it begins to spread. I learned this the hard way: When I got my first corset, I coincidentally developed an atypical case of pityriasis rosea at the same time (not caused by the corset).  My first thought was maybe my corset had picked up ringworm during manufacturing or delivery, but as it turns out pityriasis is a one-time nuisance and it went away on its own after a few weeks. However, if I had gotten my skin checked out when the initial herald patch occurred, I could have saved myself a great amount of unnecessary anxiety.

Skin calluses and “toughening” of your skin

The same way your feet toughen up when you start wearing sandals, I’ve heard of the skin of corseters toughening if they don’t moisturize or wear liners. Some of these corseters claim that toughening up the skin can prevent itching, abrasions etc., however this is an option I would never take; I certainly don’t want calluses on my torso and prefer to keep my skin soft.

Dry brushing for soft skin

I’ve been dry brushing my skin for several years now. There are supposedly many advantages to dry brushing, like clearing out your lymph system, helping improve circulation, and reducing the appearance of cellulite. I don’t know how true these claims are, but I love the way it feels and it keeps my skin soft and glowing. I have no calluses anywhere on my body (including my feet) and dry brushing has also helped reduce the small bumps and ingrown hairs on my elbows and knees. One brush will last several years if you keep it clean.

Next time we shall discuss how a person’s girth can affect the way they corset: full-figured corseters and what they can expect when waist training.

Lucy’s Little Life Lesson: Practicing good hygiene is not only good for your health, but also good for your social life.

*Please note that this article is strictly my opinion and provided for information purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of a medical doctor. Please talk to your doctor if you’d like to start wearing a corset.*

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Corsets and the Female Reproductive System

This entry is a summary of the video “Corsets and the Reproductive System” which you can watch on YouTube here:

(Note: this entry is on the female reproductive system; male corseters don’t need to worry about this.)

I have received many questions by women on how corsets may affect the uterus, birth canal and other parts of the reproductive system, so I’ve compiled the most popular questions and answers here.

Will my uterus be compressed or fall out by wearing a corset?

There can be some small amount of uterine compression if you wear corsets. When the uterus begins to drop from its normal position, it’s called uterine prolapse. Uterine prolapse cannot with any certainty be tied to corseting because the risk of prolapse increases with several events:

  • Age (especially after menopause when estrogen levels drop)
  • Atrophy of the pelvic floor muscles
  • High number of vaginal deliveries (especially if you receive trauma like ripping of the birth canal)
  • Anything that creates pressure on the organs, including heavy lifting and straining when having a bowel movement.

Can wearing a corset decrease your chances of conceiving a child?

There is a large misconception about corsets “squeezing out” fetuses and as a result, it was thought to believe that many corseted ladies would not be able to become pregnant. In truth, there is no proof that corsets cause infertility. Many women in the 18th and 19th centuries managed to conceive 10-15 times (or more!) easily within their lifetime. Of course, miscarriage and stillbirth statistics were much more prevalent than they are now, but when you factor in less access to medical care, no prenatal screening, poorer nutrition overall (consider the fact that shipment of fresh produce was largely impractical until airplanes were used), not to mention lack of education in terms of drug/alcohol abuse during pregnancy, there is no way to prove that corsets are to blame for not being able to conceive. The largest culprit of illness or death among new mothers in the 19th century was “childbed fever”, an infection of the still blood-rich womb, due to the lack of sanitation (germ theory was not widely accepted until the late 1880’s), not due to corsets.

Can you corset when you’re pregnant?

Victorian women were always corseted, even during pregnancy. It was considered indecent to go out without a corset at any time in one’s adult life (consider the fact that the corset also served as bust support before the modern bra was invented). However, pregnant women used specialized maternity corsets that had laced panels which expanded as their bellies grew. Ultimately these corsets were not used for waist reduction nor to achieve an hourglass shape, but rather they were used for support for the back and core, as 24/7 corseting since late childhood often caused weakening of wearer’s back and created dependence on the corset.

Today, it’s true that in the first trimester you don’t tend to show a baby bump, and many women can still do crunches and sit-ups without harming the fetus. Many women in the Victorian era still laced with their normal corsets in their first trimester of pregnancy, but I still strongly recommend not wearing a corset at any point during pregnancy. Just as any responsible woman would immediately stop drinking and smoking once she discovered she’s pregnant, a woman of today should immediately remove the corset upon realizing she’s pregnant. If you are pregnant and find you have a weak core or experience back pain, back support still exists in the form of more flexible maternity support belts or “belly bands” which won’t harm the baby.

Post-partum Corseting

What causes belly pooch after childbirth?

  • Distended uterus
  • Other organs moved out of place by the growing baby
  • Subcutaneous fat (the “squishy” feeling fat underneath the skin)
  • Visceral fat (the fat surrounding the internal organs)
  • Diastasis Rectus (diastasis recti for plural)

 After the baby is born, when the mother is nursing her newborn baby, release of the hormone oxytocin makes a woman’s mammary glands contract to help the milk flow (called “let-down” reflex), and the uterus contracts in response to the oxytocin in order to shrink down close to its original size and improve muscle tone (which is why new mothers may nurse their newborn babies and experience pelvic cramps). Along with this process, the other organs more or less move back into the position they held before pregnancy. (A woman’s organs never fully goes back to the way they were before their first pregnancy, but the body tries as much as it can).

Belly binding has existed for many hundreds of years

Many women of the past wear compression gear to help their organs move back into position. Although compression gear is not necessary, it can help quicken the process. In fact it’s nothing new. Civilizations have been using it for centuries before tightlacing corsets appeared in the west.

The Mayan women in central America bound their torsos after childbirth. In Spanish this is still called a “faja” which literally translates to “strip of fabric” or “belt” (wound around the body many times to achieve the compression) but now the term is used for any corset or cincher.

In South India during Bananthana (or post-partum) there is a strict protocol including belly binding to put the uterus and intestines back into place, keep the body warm, and help purge the “bad blood” accumulated during pregnancy.

Japanese women wore an obi (“sash”) most of the time, which was a piece of cloth about 1 foot wide by several meters long  tightly bound around and around and around the torso. Later in pregnancy, many of these women switched to a sarashi which is again a long strip of cloth that binds the midriff and also the chest.

I want to wear a corset after childbirth. How do I know if it’s right for me?

Check with your doctor before wearing compression gear after labour. Your doctor may or may not recommend compression gear for you, depending on your size, your level of health, the difficulty of your delivery (and/or whether any damage to your pelvis occurred during childbirth). The largest factor is whether you delivered naturally or by caesarean, as a natural delivery can increase the risk of prolapse, but caesarian involved cutting into your abdominal wall which can be painful or nonconducive to healing if you put too much pressure on it. However, if you get the go-ahead from your doctor to use compression gear to hasten the process of recovery after childbirth, it should be okay to lace down lightly (2 inches or so) in a well-fitted corset.

Next time, I’ll share with you the common skin issues that may arise when you waist train on a regular basis.

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

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Corsets, Nerves and Pain

This entry is a summary of the video “Corsets, Nerves & Pain” which you can watch here:

I have always stated that I never feel pain when I corset. Granted, there were times that corsets have been uncomfortable, like how shoes are uncomfortable before you break them in, or parting your hair on the other side of your head is uncomfortable, but this discomfort in a new corset always subsides within a few hours or days. However, it never gets to the point of pain for me.

However other experienced corseters have mentioned that they are never quite comfortable in a corset. On Romantasy.com, Ann Grogan mentions that on a pain scale of 1-10 her corsets are consistently around a 6. What does this mean, and how can we explain this discrepancy?

Does it mean their corsets are worse quality than my own? Of course not; Ms Grogan owns corsets from some of the best modern corsetieres.

Does it means I’m a total wuss when it comes to pain? I definitely can be, I don’t have a high tolerance to pain and I don’t like it. However I can still successfully cinch down to 22 inches.

The best explanation I can find is that I must have a high pain threshold – this is related to the way my body was formed and this is different to pain tolerance.

What kinds of nerves are there?

Neurons (nerve cells) come in two different flavours:
Sensory nerves: the nerves that send signals from your body to your brain. These help you feel. These types of nerves are the ones that we will focus on in this entry.
Motor nerves: the nerves that send signals from your brain to parts of your body. These help you move.

How do nerves work?

Speaking very simply, nerves hold a charge, kind of like batteries. When they hold a charge we say that the cell is polarized. When they get the appropriate signal (by something touching our skin, in the case of sensory nerves) they release this charge, so the cell is now depolarized. This little depolarization signal travels down the axons of a cell.

Think of this action potential being kind of like a relay race, where the signal is like a little messenger running down the axon (the axon being like a long corridor leading to the next nerve). When the next neuron down the line receives the signal, it also depolarizes, releasing its charge, and the tiny runner (signal) gets relayed to the next nerve in line. This continues along each nerve cell in line until the signal reaches the brain. Once the brain makes sense of this signal, you become aware that you “felt” something. All this happens in a tiny fraction of a second!

 Different sensory nerves are built for reading different signals.

Nerves have many receptors (receptors being related to the word “RECEIVE”) because they receive and pick up information. These receptors are like doors and only certain signals, like keys, can open these doors.

Mechanoreceptors sense mechanical changes: touch and pressure like poking, scratching, fluttering etc. These mechanoreceptors open up simply by pushing open the door.

Nocireceptors sense both temperature and pain. Pain can obviously also be mechanic, like tearing or crushing your flesh, but there are many other types that have to have a certain key to open the door and sense, say, changes in temperature. One example is the molecule capsaicin. Capsaicin is present in spicy foods and your nerves may interpret it as heat – and in high enough quantities, pain. A molecule that opens up temperature receptors and gives you a cold sensation is, not surprisingly, menthol. This is why something warm, like peppermint tea, can still give you a cool refreshing sensation. However, if you have any part of your body get too cold (like frost nip), it will hurt!

 What’s the point of all this?

Basically, the feeling of pain depends on how many nerves you have, the type of signal your nerves are receiving, and how concentrated this signal is / how many receptors you have on your nerves.

Just like every tree has a somewhat random organization of branches, everybody’s nervous system is built differently (even identical twins!). We used to think that neurons stopped growing once you were born, but we now know that nerves CAN grow; they can branch out and become thicker in response to stimuli.  It then stands to reason that some people have more sensitive bodies than others. We all have different thresholds for sensation and different levels of pain. Consider the huge range of tolerance to spicy food! So, why would it be any different for separate people having differing levels of tolerance to corseting? I have a body that easily tolerates a corset. Other people don’t.

If your body can easily take the pressure of waist reduction and your friend can’t, don’t tease them or berate them – it doesn’t necessarily mean they are weak or cowardly; their bodies just cannot tolerate it. Likewise, if you have tried on a corset once and found it to be extremely uncomfortable or painful, don’t automatically assume that everyone who corsets must be a masochist. Some people (like myself) actually do feel comfortable and “at home” in a corset!

 I desperately want to corset, but I find them so uncomfortable! What can I do?

You can still wear corsets but you will need more time to get used to the pressure. Some of your sensory nerves get used to a consistent signal over time and become desensitized – sort of like you can feel yourself putting on a shirt in the morning but you don’t feel it on your skin all day. So if you want to start wearing a corset, try wearing it with little or no reduction for several weeks or until you get used to the feeling. Once you get to the point where you forget that you’re wearing it, tighten it just ¼ inch at a time and wait several weeks or a month before tightening it again. It may be a very slow process and take you several years to achieve your goal, but you can absolutely waist train safely, responsibly and without pain.

Lucy’s Little Life Lesson: “No pain, no gain” is a myth. Don’t believe it, nor live by it.

*Please note that this article is strictly my opinion and provided for information purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of a medical doctor. Please talk to your doctor if you’d like to start wearing a corset.*

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Corsets and Bones

This entry is a summary of the video “Corsets and your Bones” which you can watch here:

Corsets and the Spine

The first and most important thing I should say is that a good corset should not affect the position of the spine. A study done by Dr. Robert Dickinson in 1910 shows how some corset styles can cause forward-leaning posture, backward-leaning posture, stoop (slouching) and other unnatural postures which can later cause other skeletal issues by overcompensation of the muscles that help you balance.  The S-curve or Edwardian corsets used during the time of this study were built to have a flat front and a fairly curved lumbar area, forcing the wearer into a forward-leaning posture where her bust would be thrust forward and her bottom would be tilted back. This posture would eventually give the wearer swayback (lumbar lordosis), actually affecting the permanent curvature of the spine. For this reason I never wear traditional Edwardian style corsets and I do not recommend anyone waist train in these corsets. If you love the look and feel of Edwardian corsets, I would suggest wearing them only occasionally.

For Victorian style corsets, modern corsets and “Edwardian inspired” corsets made today, the wearer’s spine is usually should not be affected. If you find your corset is causing you to arch your back unnaturally in any direction, it is not well-made for your body. This is one of the important reasons for having personal fittings and mockups when having a custom corset made; not only to be sure that your corset is shaped beautifully but also to ensure that your spinal curvature is not being manipulated into an unnatural shape.

Corsets and the Ribcage

Most people have 24 ribs (12 pairs) in their body – in some rare cases an individual may have more or fewer (the same way some individuals may have more than 32 teeth or less than 28). The ribs start right under the clavicle (collarbone) and end around or right above your waist.

The typical corset does not come up to the shoulders so wearing a corset will never affect all your ribs. The ribs that are most affected are the last 2 pairs. These are the floating ribs which don’t extend up to the breastbone/sternum. On these ribs, you will find cartilage where the rib joins to the spine so when you breathe in and out, those ribs easily expand and contract too. Thus, when you compress these ribs in a corset, you are actually compressing them at the area of the joint instead of putting pressure on the curvature of the bone itself. For this reason, one can compress the floating ribs 1-2 inches easily without fear of them breaking or cracking (assuming that the individual is in good health and doesn’t suffer from brittle bone disorders). The floating ribs are thought to be unessential; they don’t bear any weight and are too small to protect much of your soft tissue – they’re often removed if a little extra bone is needed in reconstructive surgery for a small area like in the face.

 Bones are Living Tissues

Many people have the misconception that a bone is a solid, static, rock-like structure that should never move. However, this is not true at all. While bones seem solid, they are actually in a state of dynamic equilibrium. Inside every bone are strong scaffolds of fibers and the cells that control the density and strength of the bone:
Osteoblasts – the cells that build bone
Osteoclasts – the cells that break down bone

These two types of cells are always in balance in a healthy individual.  That’s why a broken bone will heal, and they will also move over time when you put gentle, consistent stress on them; thus it’s possible to reshape the ribcage over time by corset training. It’s theorized that the movement and curving of bone is a dynamic process of breaking down one side of the bone and building up the other.

As you put pressure on the front of a rib with a corset, this may signal osteoclasts to break down and dissolve bone on the outside of the rib and then signals osteoblasts to build bone on the inside of the rib so the rib more or less stays the same in size, density etc but simply moves inward.

Skeletal softness during youth

When a human is born, its skeleton is mostly cartilage and has very little bone. The younger an individual is, the less hard bone they have and the more cartilage they have. Cartilage is more flexible, bends more easily and mends more easily if one happens to fracture it.  As the individual grows older, the cartilage slowly is replaced by bone and becomes harder, more dense, more brittle and takes more time to heal fractures.

Thus, in many civilizations where body modification is popular, many of them start the practice during childhood while the bones are still soft. This is why in Traditional China it was customary for foot binding to start between the ages of 3-6. In some parts of Africa, the practice of skull binding is still performed and the process begins in infancy. In Western Europe, ladies often started corseting at the age of 12 (or younger, if they were considered “clumsy” or poor-postured).

For readers currently in their teens: Even though it’s easier to change your body’s shape when you’re younger, I do not suggest that young people train their waist or tightlace – since you’re still growing and developing your skeletal system, you can seriously warp your body and cause harm by putting too much pressure on your spine and ribcage.

Ann Grogan of Romantasy.com does not accept any waist training students under the age of 21 since that’s the generally accepted age that young adults have stopped growing in height. I myself thought that I was finished growing by age 14, but then gained an inch between the age of 18-20. I realize that there are young ladies in their teens who are interested in corset training and for those that do decide to start before the age of 18, I’m obligated to recommend that you have your guardians’ permission before engaging in any form of body modification, and I strongly suggest going very slowly, at a rate of no more than 0.5 to 1 inch in reduction each month.

Next time we will discuss why some people are fine with corsets and others find it uncomfortable – we’ll delve into nerves and pain.

Lucy’s Little Life Lesson: Keep your bones strong! Get in some regular resistance training, and consume enough calcium (but not from milk).

*Please note that this article is strictly my opinion and provided for information purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of a medical doctor. Please talk to your doctor if you’d like to start wearing a corset.*

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Corsets, Lungs and Breathing

This entry is more or less a transcript of the video “Corsets, Lungs and Breathing” which you can watch here:

Your respiratory system includes your lungs, bronchial tubes, trachea, your diaphragm and your intercostal muscles and other supplementary muscles which help your ribcage to expand and contract. When I originally posted my “Corsets and Organs” video, I included a small bit on the lungs but soon realized that it would be better create an independent video just on corsets and the respiratory system, since there are so many rumours out there relating corsets to suffocation. I’ll first explain how the mechanism of breathing works, then I’ll address the issues, rumours pertaining to corsets and breathing.

How breathing works (in general)

The diaphragm is a horizontal muscle running through your torso below your lungs. In Greek it means a “partition” because the diaphragm can be seen as a cross section that separates your top half and bottom half of your torso. When the diaphragm moves down, it increases the intra-abdominal pressure below the diaphragm and decreases the pressure above the diaphragm. When the diaphragm moves upward, the relative pressures in the abdomen above and below the diaphragm are then reversed.

To start taking a breath in, your diaphragm moves down and creates more space in your body above the diaphragm – the lungs then have space to expand.  There is less air pressure inside your body compared to outside your body, so it creates a vacuum in your lungs and air rushes in passively. When your diaphragm moves back up, this increases the pressure in your upper torso, and air is forced out of your lungs (the same way you would force air out of a balloon by pushing down on it).

Muscles involved in breathing

There are other muscles involved in the breathing process. The harder you breathe, the more muscles get involved. If you’re breathing fairly normally, then your abdominal and intercostal muscles (the bands of muscles in between your ribs) will work to push your ribcage outwards. If you watch sleeping babies, the most natural breathers among humans, you will see their lower ribs and abdomen expanding due to this relaxed style of breathing.

If you’re breathing more heavily due to physical strain or if you’re extremely stressed, then your lats (lower side back), traps (on the shoulders) and pecs (in front of your chest) start playing a role to stretch your ribcage outward more at the top of your lungs. These are the muscles that contribute to the “heaving bosom” that is so associated with corseting.

How breathing works in a corset

When you put on a corset, it does not completely paralyze the diaphragm; it can still move up and down (if it couldn’t, millions of women would be dead before they could procreate and the world today would be much less populated). However, you can expect a corset to somewhat hinder the breathing in the lower part of your lungs, especially if you’re wearing an overbust corset. Studies done in the 1800’s showed that lung capacity can be decreased up to 30 percent, with the average being  approximately 20 percent.

Be aware that these studies focus on lung capacity, not relaxed breathing. Most people don’t use their full lung capacity – in this other blog post, you will see that the tidal breath is only about 10-15% of the lung capacity, so you should absolutely be able to get enough air during “tidal breathing”. Only in rare situations would one need to use one’s full lung capacity, such as during vigorous exercise (and I don’t recommend exercising in your corset in the first place). If you put on a corset and feel that you’re suffocating, loosen the laces until you get used to breathing higher in your lungs. Although I would not recommend that people with already reduced lung capacity (from asthma, cystic fibrosis, scarred tissue from previous infections) wear corsets, most healthy people needn’t worry.

It is speculated that with enough use of the accessory breathing muscles (lats, pecs and traps) over a long enough time, one can actually expand the upper portion of the lungs to somewhat compensate for the loss of lung capacity in the lower lobes of the lungs, thereby increasing their capacity overall.

Now let’s discuss some common concerns relating to corsets and breathing:

Corsets and Singing

In the late 18th and 19th centuries when female singers started to become more popular in operas, they still wore corsets onstage. There are stories of some of these singers dropping onstage from insufficient air (although if these stories are true, they may have actually fainted from changes in blood pressure as opera-style singing takes a decent amount of physical exertion). However, many of these singers did not cinch to 17 inches; instead they used tricks in their costumes to give the illusion of a tiny waist like huge crinolines and large shoulder pads. As an added note (not in the video), many vocalists today train in a corset, as it provides a “wall” of resistance against which the diaphragm can push, helping to develop a stronger and more supported voice.

Pneumonia and Corsets

There are recorded cases of heavily corseted women dying of pneumonia. Pneumonia is inflammation caused by fluid in the lungs, usually in turn caused by a respiratory infection (by viruses or bacteria). An increase of fluid and sputum (mucus in the lower respiratory tract) in your lungs this makes it difficult to breathe even without a corset, so there are rumours that a corseted lady could easily die from suffocation from pneumonia at any moment.

There are several reasons why this theory is incorrect: firstly, it is extremely difficult to have pneumonia and be unaware of it. Pneumonia is usually accompanied by fever and associated aches, sharp pains in one’s chest and back, coughing up mucus/sputum, and gurgling or rattling lungs when taking a breath.

Secondly, we now know that infections are caused by microbes, not by a mechanical binding of the lungs. Yes, being heavily corseted may hinder one’s ability to cough up those microbes and can thus lead to a deep respiratory infection, but often this illness begin as a more superficial infection such as dry cough or bronchitis, which is now faster to catch and easier to treat.

So, what would you do if you get a respiratory infection? Take the corset off! Go to the doctor and have him/her prescribe you some antibiotics if it’s a bacterial infection. Remember also that penicillin wasn’t officially discovered until 1928 so it was very difficult to treat bacterial infections from prior to this time, during which time corseting declined in popularity anyway (partially due to the popular “boyish silhouette” and partially due to rationing of steel and textiles during WWI).

Pulmonary Tuberculosis and Corsets

There were also wide-spread rumours that corsets caused tuberculosis (TB). Once again, TB is caused by airborne bacteria. They’re robust bacteria making the infection difficult to overcome, but today it is still treatable with certain antibiotics (and there are also several vaccines available). Most often you becomes exposed to TB by being close to an infected person who coughs, sneezes or breathes in close proximity to you. Wearing a corset can compromise your ability to cough out pathogens and clear your respiratory system of mucus, but in developed countries the risk of TB is very small. TB is very prevalent in some underdeveloped areas however, so if you’re spending any long amount of time in the continent of Africa you consider getting vaccinated against TB.

Smoking and Corsets

Interestingly, the combination of smoking and corsets only became a large issue in the mid 20th century. Before around the 1920’s, only “lower class” women smoked cigars or cigarettes (there were a few exceptions to the rule, of course). Once cigarettes started being marketed to women in the 20’s, corsets were already out of fashion.

The mechanism of how tobacco damages your lungs is essentially this:
You have thousands of little villi in your bronchial tubes – they look like tiny fingers that catch bits of dust, dirt and microbes that float into your respiratory system. The job of these villi is to catch foreign objects and sweep them up and out (it’s like the microbes are crowd-surfing up to the point where they reach your throat and you can cough them out). When one smokes, the tar in tobacco coats everything in your bronchial tubes, causing them to stick down flat against the surface and making it harder to sweep out any foreign objects. Tar coating your lungs makes oxygen exchange more difficult for your alveoli sacs. Your lung capacity decreases (in the case of emphysema it increases to the point where you can no longer exhale properly), your risk of respiratory infection increases, tumorigenesis can occur through carcinogen buildup and inflammation, and I’m sure the rest of the story is old news. Long story short, if you smoke and corset at the same time, don’t be surprised if you find yourself somewhat short of breath.

Next time I’ll explain how corsets can affect the bones in your body.

Lucy’s Little Life Lesson: Don’t smoke.

*Please note that this article is strictly my opinion and provided for information purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of a medical doctor. Please talk to your doctor if you’d like to start wearing a corset.*

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Corsets and Organs

This blog entry is a summary of the YouTube video “Corsets and your Organs” which you can watch here.

Nearly every day I receive a comment on one of my videos along the lines of this:

“DON’T YOU KNOW THAT CORSETS MOVE YOUR ORGANS?!!? WOMEN IN THE PAST HAVE DIED FROM HAVING THEIR INNARDS CRUSHED BY CORSETS!!!!”

Any of you who think this is true, I challenge you to bend over and touch your toes. Or laugh, or cough, or go poo. Do it, right now.

You just made your organs move around. Perhaps not to the extent that a corset moves them, but they moved nonetheless. The organs in your abdominal cavity are attached to eachother with a membrane called the peritoneum, which keep them from floating all over the place – however, your organs are not entirely cemented in place; they are still somewhat flexible. Additionally, no two bodies are exactly the same – there is natural slight variation in the size and the position of organs in each person. The diagrams you see in anatomy textbooks are simply average representations. For some interesting cases of unusual organ placement, look up situs inversus (mirrored internal organs) and dextrocardia (a condition where the heart is on the right side of the chest).

Now let’s look at some examples where organs are temporarily and dramatically moved around:

Pregnancy

Think of a pregnant woman and how her organs are pressed and squeezed. The bladder gets squished down, the kidneys get squished back, the stomach and liver get pushed up. However, this occurs gradually over several months so the body has time to adapt to the change. Corseting is similar – you don’t put on a corset for the first time and reduce 10 inches, you start with 1-2 inch reduction and work your way up to your goal over many months or years.

 Yoga

In the practice of hatha yoga, Nauli is a move where the organs are moved up into the ribcage and “massaged” using one’s own abdominal muscles. Although this move may take some time to perfect, it is an impressive example of how the organs can move far out of place in only seconds or minutes. This is also completely safe. (Note: I can’t perform Nauli in its entirety, but prior to starting corset training I did learn how to perform “vacuum stomach” which is the first step to Nauli. It involves using the negative pressure in your lungs to push your intestines up into your ribcage.).

So, which organs move when you corset?

Basically, the organs that can be moved are those in the peritoneal cavity: stomach, much of the intestine, the liver and the spleen.

One great advantage is that the stomach and large intestine are mostly hollow organs which flatten easily with little to no damage. The trick to this is keeping your meals small and frequent while you’re corseting.

The liver is one of the largest organs in the body and is essential for life as it aids in digestion (production of bile), metabolism (storage of glycogen and fat) and detoxification of the body. Fortunately, it is also one of the only organs in your body that can regenerate – it can heal itself and grow larger and additional lobes. When autopsies are performed on tall, slim people with naturally small waists, some of these people are found to have vertically-stacked liver lobes instead of the “textbook” horizontally stacked liver.

The spleen is part of the lymphatic system – it sweeps out the waste in your body and holds antibodies which fight foreign objects to keep you healthy. Like tonsils, you can live if you have your spleen removed (but because your lymph nodes hold “memories” of your immune system, you may get colds or other infections more often).

Note: there is now MRI evidence of how the organs are affected, see this article for more details!

The organs less affected/not affected by corseting

The organs less affected are those in the retroperitoneal cavity (kidneys, adrenals, most of the pancreas, some parts of the colon). This is because these organs are outside of the basic abdominal cavity and they are more cemented in place than the above mentioned organs. Additionally, a well-constructed corset tends to push in on the front and sides of the waist primarily, whereas the back of the torso must preserve its shape due to the spine. Since the kidneys, adrenals, part of the pancreas and colon are all located in the back of the torso, then they will receive less direct pressure from the corset.

The pericardial organs (heart and major blood vessels) are likely not moved at all by corseting. There were some stories of hearts being “pushed up into girls’ necks” and other horror stories but many of these are likely rumours. Here is an X-ray of Cathie Jung’s torso while she’s wearing her corset at a closed measurement of 15 inches.

She currently holds the Guinness World Record for the smallest corseted waist; almost halving her original natural waist over several decades. If she can reduce her waist over a foot and not have her heart squish up into her collarbone, then chances are you can wear a corset at a modest reduction of 4 inches without much injury to your heart.

Next time we’ll discuss how corseting affects your breathing.

Lucy’s Little Life Lesson: Slow and steady wins the race, and also prevents corset-related injuries.

*Please note that this article is strictly my opinion and provided for information purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of a medical doctor. Please talk to your doctor if you’d like to start wearing a corset.*