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.
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.
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.
Wow, this might be opening a can of worms. I could talk for a long, long, long time on this, but I’ll try to keep it on point and try not to get too ranty about it. Going point-by-point withthe original article:
When you wear shapewear, you’re compressing your organs.
Your own organs compress your other organs. Taking a deep breath expands your lungs, lowers your diaphragm, and pushes down on your intestines. Peristalsis is the motion of your intestines moving chyme along – they’re constantly contracting and writhing.
Organs are not supposed to be rigid. Life as we know it would never have existed if our organs were not made to move and compress. (The one exception to this is the brain, which has conveniently evolved to be encased within a hard skull.)
That includes compressing your bowels.
Indeed, and this exactly why the body is so resilient and able to tolerate compression. From what I understand, corsets typically compress the organs in the peritoneal cavity, and the vast majority of what fills this cavity are hollow, membranous organs (like the stomach and intestines) that contain food/water/air/waste. When your stomach and intestines are mostly empty, they can easily be flattened down, and they take the majority of the pressure from shapewear (or a baby, or nauli), leaving other solid organs like the liver and pancreas bearing relatively little stress.
As for shapewear possibly causing constipation and other bathroom issues, I talk about that in detailin this video (or this related article). Fran from Contour Corsets has also talked about why it’s important to learn how to have bowel movements while corseted,in this article.
But some people who’ve had chronic constipation throughout their adult life have actually found that corsets have helped stimulate their bowels and help them have more regular movements. It works similarly to applying abdominal pressure and massage for relieving constipation.
Speaking personally, I find that cycling the pressure of my corset (looser, then tighter, then looser, etc.) actually pushes things along in my bowels. Within the first 30-60 minutes of putting on my corset, I’m pretty much guaranteed to poop (I imagine it’s a toothpaste effect) and then I find I’m able to lace down further in greater comfort, as my abdomen just effectively lost volume. If no corset were on, this space would be replaced with air.
You can develop tingling, numbness and pain in your legs.
This is not just true for corsets and shapewear. It’s also true for tight underwear and jeans, and some people get numbness and tingling when they sit even in loose clothing – it depends on the person, how long they’ve been sitting, how they’re sitting, whether they have ergonomic furniture, etc. So I find it a bit unfair that they would point the finger at shapewear for something SO common. That said, just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s safe or good for you.
A well-fitting corset, when worn properly, should never cause numbness or tingling. This is why I’m constantly stressing the importance of finding a corset that fits you properly and doesn’t put any pressure on your iliac crest. A reducing corset should only compress the waist, not the hips or the underbust.
While we’re on the topic of nerves in general, corsets can help prevent/ relieve thoracic outlet syndrome in women with heavy breasts, andcan help with sensory adaptation in those with sensory integration dysfunctionand other sensory disorders. So while corsets have their risks with nerve issues (which is an indication of wearing it wrong, actually), corsets have their potential benefits as well. It’s a balance, you see.
Your muscles will suffer if you rely on shapewear for good posture.
If you don’t use it, you lose it. I don’t deny that some people can “develop a reliance on corsets” or other shapewear for good posture – but this is precisely the reason thatAnn Grogan recommends a training schedule working yourself up to ~8 hours a day, 6 days a week. The 7th day is a full uncorseted day and gives you the opportunity to rely on your own core muscles so you can gauge your strength.
Also – I’m not sure why this idea is propagated so widely, but corsets were never intended to be a substitute for exercise and toning. In fact, when people take on a waist training regimen, it often motivates them to work out more often in order to avoid atrophy.I recommend a daily core-strengthening workout if you start corseting – this can actually help you potentially obtain faster results than corseting alone or exercising alone, and it also ensures that you don’t experience core muscle atrophy.
Also, when used properly, corsets may actually train you to improve your posture over time, not necessarily worsen your posture.More on that here.
Plus, shapewear can create an environment prone to infections.
But I would argue that the risks for skin issues with rubber shapewear is even greater than the risk associated with corsets. The greatest cause of skin issues is the lack of breathable fibers. Many types of spandex/rubber shapewear are designed to make you overheat and sweat, claiming that this is how you lose bloat. Real corsets are not designed to work that way, and they can be just as effective at shaping your figure even when made out of cool, breathable mesh.
Hopefully this clears up my thoughts on the anti-shapewear article. I think that the article brings up some valid points, particularly the last one about moderation and proper fit. But by researching corsets properly, acquiring a high quality piece that fits you well, and using it responsibly, you can enjoy corsets (and maybe even other shapewear) and still minimize your risks. Of course, if you have pre-existing health issues, you should see a trusted doctor before corseting, and same goes if you experience any discomfort while corseting.
*This article contains my own opinion and is provided strictly for informational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of a medical physician. Please talk to your doctor if you’d like to start wearing a corset for any reason.*
Corseting obviously affects many parts of the body, some systems more obviously than others. One of the more obvious parts that corsetry affects are the underlying core muscles – almost every week, someone asks me if corsets have caused any muscle weakness or atrophy in my core. I would argue that my core has only improved its strength since beginning tightlacing, because it’s made me more conscientious about my posture and muscle tone.
Can Corsets Cause Muscle Atrophy? Can Corsets Worsen your Posture?
If you wear your corset 23 hours a day, 7 days a week (taking it off only to shower and change), it is true that you may experience muscle atrophy, especially in your oblique muscles. Those who do experience atrophy may notice that they get fatigued easily when standing unsupported by their corset for long periods of time. However, nobody has ever flopped over at the waist or snapped their spine in half, from my research. This scenario is simply not realistic.
The risk and amount of atrophy depends on how long and how tight you wear your corset. If you’re wearing your corset with more than a 4-6″ reduction, it’s more likely that the corset will encourage muscle stretching, and by extension relaxation – this is great for people who have overtense muscles who experience back cramping or spasms, but relaxation over too long a time is what can cause atrophy.
It is of my opinion that wearing your corset to the point of atrophy is not beneficial. I try to maintain moderation in my tightlacing, where I enjoy wearing corsets but I also enjoy my uncorseted time. I don’t want to feel dependent (physically or psychologically) on the corset.
Not everyone experiences atrophy, however. Some corseters have even experienced that wearing their corset at a slightly lighter reduction has helped them improve their posture at all times (even when uncorseted) through muscle memory. Further, being lightly corseted has encouraged them to keep their abdominals engaged at all times. There are small things you can do to engage your muscles while wearing your corset. While I don’t necessarily condone trying to force your muscles to flex in a corset (typically you should not have to “fight” nor “help” a well-constructed corset), I occasionally push my abdominal muscles against the front wall of the corset as an isotonic exercise, and then I try to pull my abdominals inward, away from the front wall of the corset as much as possible, with a focus on the latter exercise. Even when you’re wearing your corset, it’s still possible to engage some of those muscles, at least up to a certain reduction – so atrophy of your core muscles while wearing a corset is not absolutely true.
Corsets, through encouraging a consistently proper posture, may help the vertebral ligaments to adapt and support the spine to maintain erect posture at all times
In a recent SciShow talk show, Michael Aranda and Hank Green discussed spinal posture and how slouching is encouraged by the ligaments between the vertebrae stretching over time. It was also proposed that this process is eventually reversible, and by maintaining a consistently erect posture, then the ligaments may shorten again (and the muscles of the back may become accustomed to holding this position) so that one’s “neutral” posture is naturally erect and can be enjoyed effortlessly.
However, until the day arrives that your ligaments do shorten, many people find it exhausting to hold an erect posture, or they may often forget and begin to slouch again. Wearing a corset can serve as a reminder to maintain proper posture at all times that its worn. While overbust corsets or corsets with shoulder straps help to also keep your shoulders back, even wearing a normal underbust can help correct posture in the lumbar and low-thoracic area, and may help to set up the proper “stacking” of the rest of your vertebrae. By keeping your spine in this position, the ligaments may eventually shorten, whether or not your core muscles are engaged. Of course, if you do want to consistently use more of your own core muscles, you can simply wear your corset at a relatively light reduction, using it just as a rigid reminder to maintain proper posture but you’re depend more on yourself.
Does muscle tone impede your waist training progress?
Many people avoid exercising their core muscles because they believe that muscle is less compressible than fat (technically true), that well-toned muscles become larger over time (not necessarily), and therefore it will be more difficult to achieve their corseting goals (not necessarily). But in my opinion, this idea is not so simple.
The functional part of your muscles are called sarcomeres, which are contained inside the myofibrils, inside the muscle cells (myocytes). These are the fibers which are responsible for contraction. Surrounding your sarcomeres is the sarcoplasm, which is rich with glycogen, nutrients, and proteins like myoglobin that brings oxygen to the muscle cells.
There are two elements to muscle growth (hypertrophy): sarcomere hypertrophy, which increases muscle density, tone and strength but not so much size. This is why some people are little but mighty. Then there’s sarcoplasmic hypertrophy which makes the muscle bigger and puffier by increasing glycogen stores around the fibers, but this doesn’t directly affect the strength of the muscle.
Exercising your core can increase the size of the muscles, but most women don’t have to worry about this (there’s a genetic predisposition). But if you’re concerned about this, it’s worth researching ways to increase muscle tone without changing their size too much. I didn’t study exercise science in-depth but there are hundreds of forums that go into more detail about this – I personally just stick with the exercises I mention in the next section. (Click through the “read more” tab if you’re on the main site page)