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Shapewear Squeezes your Organs? My response.

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

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

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

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

That includes compressing your bowels.

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

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

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

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

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

Plus, shapewear can create an environment prone to infections.

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

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

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

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

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Corsets and 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.*