Written by Nina Melendez for Charlotte’s Book: an online resource dedicated to aesthetic health + wellness.
You’ve heard of waist training: otherwise known as the “corset craze”, celebrities like Jessica Alba and Kim Kardashian are using the system to recuperate after pregnancy, restoring their coveted hourglass figures.
But something that seems directly from the Victorian era can’t be a good idea, can it? To get the skinny on corsets, we spoke to Leah Keller, a Charlotte’s Book expert and the go-to woman for prenatal and postnatal fitness. She’s also the CEO and Co-Founder of The Dia Method, a comprehensive, research-based fitness and lifestyle program.
A Post-Pregnancy Solution For Abs
Keller incorporates corsets into her training curriculum and says that yes, it helps post-natal moms recover firm, flat abs. “Corsets, when worn correctly, act as a splint to physically approximate the two halves of the rectus abdominis,” she explains.
Essentially, corsets draw together the muscles that often separate during pregnancy, which can give postpartum moms a looser middle.
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“While corsets do not strengthen the abs or heal a separated abdominal wall on their own,” Keller says, “they can support and speed the healing process.”
In the sense that a corset creates awareness, yes, they can speed the healing process. But corsets themselves are a short-term fix. Says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of ob-gyn at Yale School of Medicine told Women’s Health, “medically, it doesn’t make sense that cinching your waist tightly will make it permanently smaller. Once you take the garment off, your body will return to its usual shape.”
Isn’t It Uncomfortable? How Much Is Too Much?
Jessica Alba told Net-A-Porter that she used a double corset for three months to get her pre-baby body back. She described the experiences as “sweaty” and “not for everyone.”
Explains Keller, “Corsets can be detrimental to health if worn too tightly and for too long.” Black and white images of women with tiny waists come to mind. Where exactly do all the organs go when the waist is only six inches in diameter?
They get squashed, of course. And the internal damage can be detrimental, from lung dysfunction to heart problems. In 1908, a doctor took x-rays of his corset-wearing clients to highlight its damaging effects, and it wasn’t pretty. Side effects included distorted rib cages and back muscle atrophy.
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Thankfully, today’s corsets are not so severe. Keller gives four ways to tell if the corset is just too tight to be right:
1. If your breathing is restricted;
2. If your movement is inhibited;
3. If there’s bruising;
4. If you feel downward pressure on your pelvic floor—
If you experience any of these, your corset is too tight. “You should feel the garment lifting and supporting the abdomen, never exerting downward pressure,” Keller says.
Caroline Apovian, MD, professor of medicine at Boston University School of Medicine and a spokesperson for The Obesity Society agrees that for a short time, the corset can restore confidence, which can be a good thing. She told Health: “If you’re going out and want to look really thin, I don’t see a problem with wearing one of these for an evening,” she says.
When Used Alone, Not A Technique For Weight Loss
Keller insists on one important note: corsets do not contribute to weight or fat loss. “I wouldn’t consider wearing a corset to be an effective weight loss strategy,” Keller says. “A healthy lifestyle is far more effective.” Dr. Apovian agrees. She points out that corsets can’t actually reshape the body long-term, or translate into weight loss. “In my opinion, that is complete nonsense,” she says.
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Some corset vendors claim that wearing corsets stimulates thermal activity and mobilizes fat and toxins. Keller says she’s unaware of any evidence to support that claim. “A corset can be a helpful accessory when actively incorporated in a lifestyle intervention that includes exercise and nutritional improvements,” Keller says. “If used as a quick fix without doing the actual work required to achieve it, I’m afraid you will be disappointed.”
Leah Keller, CEO and Co-Founder of The Dia Method