Welcome back to Lady Things, the column where I explore things that pertain to being a female person. Last week, I drank a laxative tea that Kylie Jenner gets paid to pretend that she uses on Instagram. But I found that drinking a tea that made me "shit my brains out" (I'm quoting myself here) was not going to work for me on an ongoing basis. I want strangers to get boners when they see me, sure. I'm a human woman raised within the patriarchy, but I wasn't ready to give myself constant elective diarrhea to do it.
This week I turn to the wider Kardashian krew for inspiration about how to be a better lady. What if you don't want to diet or drink a non-regulated tea from Singapore but you still have dreams of having a body like a music video girl? Well, why not try a "waist trainer," the corset in different colors that D-list stars are wearing all over Instagram?
Waist training, corseting or some type of lacing up the waist has been around since the Minoans of Crete wanted tiny Barbie waists. Since then, at regular intervals, it has become fashionable for corsets to crush women's midsections into submission.
In the past couple years, the practice has gotten a cool, hip makeover, thanks to a Florida woman named PreMadonna, who started making her own waist trainers in 2013 and soon had Kim Kardashian shilling her waist-defining corsets on the internet.
Waist training, as it is now called, according to the site called "Waist No Time"—which sells waist trainers so, you know, take their words with a grain or so of salt—is "a gradual process of waist reduction using a waist-cinching corset."
They go on to make some interesting biological claims:
Wearing a waist cinching corset, exercising and eating a healthy diet can radically reduce your waist size; instantly giving you a beautiful sexy silhouette while permanently getting rid of unwanted inches around your waist.
Another website, called just "Waist Trainers" says: "Over a period of the time, your body actually gets trained to be pulled in at the waist."
You probably have some questions. For one, why are all your Lady Things so far about physical appearance and the Kardashians? Answer: I think being a woman is about a lot more than just how you look, but currently the Kardashians are the most noticeable symbol of femininity in America. You know who agrees with me? Amy Schumer! She said so in her monologue on Saturday Night Live this week!
Also, these were the first two ideas I had, but don't worry: I'm planning a whole series about the blood that seeps monthly out of lady bodies and the products used to deal with said blood.
Question two, that I imagine you are asking me from your computer screen: What kind of parents did you have to raise you to be like this? Answer: My parents are great and loving and supportive. Leave my parents out of this, you hypothetical monster.
Does this all sound a little rambly? Off the rails a bit? Is it, as commenter Mark Kelly suggested last week, "typical estrogen-addled whining"? Well, that's probably because I am wearing a waist trainer right now and I can't fucking think at all. It's sucking my will to live.
Here are some ways the waist trainer feels terrible:
*It makes me generally feel angry. I don't know why. Just an overall pissed-off feeling at the world.
*Parts of it are digging hard into my lower back. I can feel bruises forming. Also, it's causing an ache in my lower back that I can't quite pin down.
*I feel distracted and unable to focus on the sentences I am writing.
*I can't laugh without it hurting.
*Actually, I can barely breathe at all.
*Oh man, I am so angry!
OK, I've taken it off so I can continue with this piece.
So far, I've only been able to wear the waist trainer twice—the first time for three hours, the second time for one—because I am a person with a job and family and things to do that require being able to think and not rage out on people for no reason. So far, my waist is still the same shape.
The second I take the waist trainer off, I feel much, much happier.
The horror I experience while wearing this torture-device-for-beauty led me to wonder: What does a waist trainer do to a person's body, on a science level? Is it something that I should just deal with? Is beauty painful but, like, totally worth it?
I reached out to my friend Kyle Eveland-DeWan, who is a physical therapist working in acute rehab at Honor Health Osborn Medical Center in Scottsdale, Ariz., and asked him if he could tell me what waist training actually does to your body. I've known Eveland-DeWan since sixth grade, so I can vouch for him as an expert person and also vouch for how weird it feels to call him "Eveland-DeWan."
"One reason the waist trainer can feel awful is because it significantly increases your intra-abdominal pressure by squeezing everything together," he told me over email, "making it tough for your diaphragm to work at its full capacity and subsequently the ability of your lungs to fully expand, reducing the amount of air you can take in."
"Depending on how tight it is," he added, "the corset may lead to changes in blood pressure."
Honestly, Eveland-DeWan had so much interesting stuff to say about the effects of waist training, I think it's best if you just read it straight from him (bold is mine):
The increased intra-abdominal pressure may lead to increased blood pressure as your heart is compensating to get blood to the periphery and gut. Conversely it may impair the return of blood from the lower extremities resulting in further compensations from your heart to appropriately oxygenate the body in the presence of lower blood volume such as increased heart rate. The increased pressure may also impact blood flow to your vital organs. I can’t speak too much to the physiology here, but disrupting kidney and liver functional sounds like a bad idea.
As far as structurally, the corset is acting as a brace in place of musculature that, when balanced, is already providing support for the spinal column. When it is braced for long periods of time there is the potential for the muscles to atrophy and subsequently create instability in the spinal column. There is also the potential for instability to develop at the vertebral segments above the corset as the corset restricts movement of the lumbar spine and may result in excess movement from the segments above. The bottom line is, you are doing absolutely nothing for strength and control.
Outside of that, a tight corset can cause superficial bruising and the potential for bruising of the ribs and internal organs such as the liver, kidneys and spleen.
So, to paraphrase: Waist training can fuck up your blood pressure, and disrupt the functioning of your vital organs. And yes, it could change your body structurally, but it will do that by causing your muscles to atrophy. That is, if you have a will of steel and can handle the unremitting pain caused by wearing the thing.
Eveland-DeWan points out that there are legitimate uses of corsets: "They can be super-helpful for someone who has had a spinal cord injury and who doesn't have the ability to use their abdominal muscles to fully exhale air." He adds: "These are all supportive and appropriately fitted to the patient. The difference is between functionally and aesthetically driven design."
It's like the difference between braces and Lil Wayne's grill, for example.
The first time I put on my waist trainer, I said to my coworker who was helping strap me in: "It's painful—but is it painful enough?"
She laughed and said, "Now that's a Lady Thing, thinking something needs to hurt more to work."
If you'll permit me to get mildly philosophical here (and really you have no choice), I wonder if that really is a part of being female in this culture, internalizing the ideas that we should both be sexy at all times and that we should be punished for being sexy, too. We deserve the pain we feel when we do the required work to make our bodies into the things men put their penises into.
It could be the lack of blood to my brain earlier, but is it possible we as a gender are suffering from Stockholm Syndrome?
I don't know. I'm probably just estrogen-whining again, about to get my period, something. I'll get back to you when I find a man who can properly tell me how to feel about this issue.
Tune in next week when I promise to tell a really gross story involving a tampon. Apologies in advance, Mark Kelly!