Medical experts and physical trainers are increasingly sounding the alarm bells about the practice of waist-training, calling it useless in the long-term and also dangerous — especially for girls whose bodies are still developing.

Credit: 360nobs.com
(credit: 360nobs.com)

The emergence of modern waist-training was spearheaded by none other than the “I’ve-never-met-a-camera-I-didn’t-like” Kardashians. Khloe and Kim Kardashian first posted selfies of themselves wearing corsets as they waist-trained.

Soon, model Amber Rose, celebrity reality TV star Snooki, and Jessica Alba, actress and billionaire founder of The Honest Co., started cinching in pursuit of the perfect hourglass figure. The Paris runways were also jam-packed with fall 2015 fashions offering wide belts cinched tightly at the waist. 

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What, exactly, is this trend called waist-training? It’s the wearing of a corset usually made of steel or some other strong, durable material for up to 23 hours a day, seven days a week, to “train” the waist to be smaller. Cinching the corset more tightly over time theoretically teaches muscles, fat pads, ribs and organs to live in a tinier space.

Remember the actresses of the 1930s and ’40s whose waists were impossibly tiny? They were probably small-boned to begin with, but many also may have spent long, uncomfortable hours in tight corsets.

EdwardianScarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind” famously had her corset cinched as she clung to a bedpost. Maybe it wasn’t called waist-training in the Antebellum Period, but waists were cinched indeed in the name of fashion. 

Today, the practice hinges on the elusive ideal of physical perfection, which is why Michael Boyle, a personal trainer who runs Body by Boyle in Woburn, Massachusetts, calls waist-training “incredibly stupid.”

“Waist size has a lot to do with how you’re put together,” he told LifeZette. “With diet and exercise, you can change your waist size to some extent, but in the end, you are who you are, physically. Women with tiny waists were born that way.”

Boyle says waist-training manipulates the lower sets of ribs, called “floating ribs” because they aren’t attached to the breastbone.

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“Waist-training disrupts the breathing pattern,” he said. “Breathing should come from lower down in the body — not the shoulders and neck, and using all your ribs is critical to breathing. Restricting the waist causes the act of breathing to access these higher muscles, and that’s not how the body was intended to work.”

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Celebrity plastic surgeon Dr. David Alessi told the website Perezhilton, “It (waist-training) has several potential complications. These can include causing or worsening acid reflux and, in severe cases, causing herniation of the stomach into the chest. There is also compression of other abdominal viscera including the liver, intestines, and spleen. Even the kidneys can suffer compression trauma. They also will constrict lung capacity and that can be permanent.”

The practice can damage internal organs and aggravate other health conditions like acid reflux.

Diana Barrett, 52, an Austin, Texas, resident and exercise enthusiast, laughs at the concept.

“I’m all for wearing Spanx or garments that help shape you under clothing. But wearing a corset? Sounds awful, and all I can think of is ‘deceptive advertising.’ What happens when you take the corset off and everything explodes out of it?” Barrett asked.

Yet waist-training enthusiasts dubiously claim the practice is safe and yields long-term results.

Credit: cathiejung.com
(credit: cathiejung.com)

Cathy Jung, who in 2011 made the Guinness Book of World Records for her “tiniest waist” (it had the circumference of a jar of mayonnaise), says that slowly cinching the waist at regular intervals achieves results over time.

However, this seems to contradict her answer to a “fan” on her website, in which she says she wears a corset all the time. “I do wear a corset 24/7 and have for so many years that I am very comfortable wearing it. Actually leaving it on all the time is easier since you don’t have to become accustomed to the tightness each time you wear it.” 

Boyle, the Massachusetts trainer, said he is concerned young girls will adopt the practice.

“It is a typical societal desire to have a thinner waist, but I would want young girls to know that the results of corset-training will not be long-term, yet the damage they do to their growing bodies just might be,” he said.

The best thing to train, Boyle said, is not our waists, but our attitudes. “Accept yourself as you are, and build from that,” he said.