Corsets are back. In fact, they never left.
Since time immemorial, women (and men) have been using products to narrow the waist and flatten the belly. In the United States, 18th- and 19th-century whalebones gave way to the tight-fitting straps of the 1950s.
Now the lucrative shapewear industry [roupas para dar forma] and celebrity influencers have launched certain abs-tightening products as more than just strategies for flattening special clothes.
Waist shapers — compression devices that are tightened around the abdomen and typically secured with zippers, Velcro, or a series of eyelet hooks — have been touted as useful tools for losing weight and sculpting stubborn waists.
Some worshipers post videos of themselves using the bands during workouts or revealing their progress each day. Others wear them passively throughout the day, hoping to convince a saggy belly to turn into a guitar waist.
The implication is that with regular use, your waistline will tighten and shrink while maintaining a permanent hourglass configuration. But can a waist shaper really do that? Here’s what the experts have to say about four of the product’s claims.
1. A permanently sharpened look
The first claim is that wearing a waist shaper will irreversibly shape your body into a shape you like, like wearing a retainer or braces to keep your teeth from shifting. The idea is that if you regularly squeeze your waist into an hourglass shape, over time your body will maintain that shape.
But unlike teeth, which can be moved and maintained because they are bones, the fat, organs and flesh around your abdomen will not be trained to stay in a new position, said Colleen Tewksbury, bariatric program manager at Penn Medicine. and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Dr. Maria Lombardo, a plastic surgeon who specializes in breast and body surgery, said fat cells cannot be moved or destroyed.
“When you wear something to tighten your waist, the fat is being distorted inside that fat cell, but the cell is not breaking down,” she said. “It’s not moving somewhere else. It’s just being squashed.”
2. Targeted Sweating Leads to Targeted Fat Loss
Another marketing claim from waist shapers suggests that perspiration in the belly area can break down fat cells more quickly. But just as fat cannot be redistributed with pressure, it cannot be shed by sweating either, Dr. Edward Laskowski, professor and specialist in sports medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
In fact, any post-workout weight changes you may notice are likely a result of fluid loss.
There are some medications that can help you lose weight, but only surgery can remove fat from a specific area. Diet and exercise are often more affordable, and yet it all slowly goes down all at once, no matter what you’re wearing.
There is no such thing as “targeted toning,” said Dr. Fatima Cody Stanford, physician-scientist of obesity medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. “I know we as humans want to feel like we have control, but the reality is we just don’t.”
3. Calorie restriction with constriction
A third claim is that a tight stomach means less room for food, helping to suppress appetite and eat smaller portions.
Hypothetically, wearing something tight around your abdomen can make you feel full faster, thereby limiting your calorie intake, said Dr. Amy E. Rothberg, professor of medicine and director of the Weight Management Program at the University of Michigan.
Since girdles can be so uncomfortable, though, chances are you won’t wear them long enough to make a difference in the amount of food you eat, she said.
In part of a small study carried out in Sweden and published in 2010, for example, researchers aimed to investigate whether wearing corsets after weight loss in obese patients could help them keep fit.
But the researchers were unable to draw firm conclusions on this topic because the corsets were so uncomfortable that less than a quarter of the participants ended up wearing them regularly.
“There is no scientific evidence, and only very limited, if any, data that waist-shapers actually contribute to weight loss,” said Dr. Rothberg.
4. A stronger core
The fourth thesis says that doing a ‘core’ workout with the straps can make the intense pressure on the waist help build muscles faster.
For some people, experts say — especially those with weakened abdominal muscles, often after major surgery like a cesarean, hysterectomy or bowel surgery — this may be true. A waist shaper can be helpful to support them in the early stages of healing and rebuilding their core.
A small 2012 study found that after patients with chronic low back pain wore a corset for six months, their pain lessened and some core muscles were strengthened.
Once these patients gain strength, Stanford said, they will be able to support themselves “with their own musculature.”
But in the absence of any serious trauma to the core muscles, experts have warned that a waist shaper can actually weaken the abdominal muscles people are trying to increase. That’s because it can act as a crutch, forcing people to rely on the shaper, not the core, to support the torso.
Because muscle burns more calories than fat, a waist shaper can delay long-term weight loss, Lombardo said.
Are there long-term risks?
Most doctors agree that you would have to wear a very tight waistband for a long time to harm your internal organs. And in the short term, any discomfort you may feel will likely lead to you loosening the braces.
If you ignored the discomfort and kept the girdle on, consuming too few calories would likely be unsustainable, or could even be harmful. Restrictive dieting can slow your metabolism, leading to future weight gain, or it can cause eating disorders and weakness.
And the constriction itself can cause gastrointestinal problems like bloating or constipation. “This compression can also contribute to acid reflux by interfering with normal digestive flow,” wrote Dr. Laskowski.
A waist shaper can also impair the natural movement of the diaphragm, which in turn can affect breathing. This is especially true if the person uses it during workouts. In rare cases, Lombardo said, people can faint.
“Having good airflow as you were designed is a good thing,” she said.
Waist shapers are part of the ever-expanding world of unproven and often ineffective products sold to women dissatisfied with their weight.
“That’s why we have a billion-dollar weight-loss industry: we want the easy way out,” said Dr. Lombard.
That’s not to say that smoothing out lumps and bumps under an outfit for one night isn’t worth it for some. Confidence is important, and if the styler makes you feel better, go ahead and use it. But for long-term sustainable results, following a healthy diet, incorporating strength training into your workouts, and most importantly, being kind to yourself are much better bets.
“Nothing beats the basics of healthy eating, physical activity and strength training, including core exercise,” wrote Dr. Laskowski. “The best ‘support’ you can give your belly is your core muscles working together, and the best ‘corset’ is the muscle.”
Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves