In the world of celebrity fashion, it's 1860 all over again. Corsets are back, this time under the guise of "waist training."
In case you're not keeping up with the Kardashians, waist training consists of donning a corset to make the waist look slender and, in theory, train the anatomy to conform to a coveted hourglass shape.
Waist-training corsets are sold in many women's clothing stores and online, ranging in price from $20 to $80. They can be made with spandex or — ouch — have wires sewn into the fabric. Modern waist trainers typically close with hooks or zippers instead of laces.
Celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, Jessica Alba and Nicki Minaj rave about waist training, and their corseted selfies have generated enormous buzz.
But the waist-training trend has healthcare professionals rolling their eyes. They say waist trainers simply won't yield any long-term changes to your figure.
A temporary fix
"From a global perspective, this trend reinforces the culture of the current society: Everyone wants that quick, immediate fix and to look instantly thinner," says Dr. Roxann Engle, an family medicine physician and medical director of UCI Health — Tustin. "The corset gives you the immediate fix. It will shape the muscles of your waist for the short time you're wearing it."
But, when you eventually tire of wearing the constraint, your body will quickly find its way back to your original shape.
"It's a temporary reduction," she says. "You're basically creating muscle atrophy where you're cinching your waist."
Waist training likely isn't harmful in the short-term. For people who are overweight, wearing a waist trainer can even temporarily improve mobility and flexibility because the core muscles are being tightly supported. It also compresses the stomach, so you may eat less.
Medical effects of corsets
But it can cause problems long-term. Doctors in the Victorian age noted some of the effects of corsets in medical literature, Engle says.
"If you were to wear a waist trainer for long periods of time, depending on how tight, you will absolutely create medical problems, not just in reducing muscle and core strength, but in how it affects the internal organs."
A corset will gradually cause the core muscles to weaken, leading to back pain, poor posture and overall physical weakness. Cinching the waist also reduces lung capacity and pushes the intestines down.
"Obviously, the cons far outweigh the pros," Engle says.
Exercise is better than a corset
If having a slender waist is important to you, there's a way to get it — just not an easy way. Perform exercises that tone the oblique muscles, such as sit-ups, abdominal crunches and plank poses.
"Those are the kinds of exercises that shape the core," she says. "Those things are hard, though, which is why people don't do them."
And, mothers, don't pass down those waist trainers to your daughters. Adults should encourage kids to eat healthy foods and exercise regularly for a strong, healthy body. Long-term results will take time and there is no "quick fix."
"The biggest thing in primary care now is prevention: to get people to start young by eating healthy, exercising and staying in shape," Engle says. "Then you don't need all of these contraptions."