Up until recently, the idea of a girdle pretty much seemed archaic. I mean, who could find any benefit to smooshing themselves into such a bone-breaking, organ-smashing, old-school contraption? Then Kim Kardashian posted a picture of herself wearing a corset, and the whole world began to view the concept of a waist-cincher through a renewed lense. The practice of ‘waist training’ began to spread like wildfire through social media.
Other celebs like Real Housewives of Atlanta‘s Kim Zolciak also jumped on the waist training bandwagon and at first glance, it seemed like one more silly celebrity-started trend bent on making women feel bad about their current figures. Yet, I have to agree momma Kim K on this one (which may be the only time I ever write that sentence). Belly binding is awesome.
I’ve given birth to five babies, so when it comes to the toll that pregnancy takes on your body (hint: You’re never going to be the same, and that’s OK), I have a lot of experience. For my first four, I recovered the traditional way, which just meant a lot of rest and yoga pants. But, by my last baby, devices like The Taut and the Belly Bandit had reintroduced the concept of postpartum belly binding.
“This is so good for you! I will never understand why more American women won’t do this,” my sweet Trinidadian nurse huffed as she helped wrangle me into a postpartum girdle hours after my last baby was born. “Everyone does this where I am from!”
At first, I was leery of the idea of forcing my poor middle to do anything after childbirth, but the instant she helped me sit up, I realized why women have been wrapping their bellies postpartum for millennia: It felt amazing. The band supported my Jell-O core and made me feel like my organs were returning to their anatomically appropriate locations. It didn’t make me look much thinner (it was very visible under clothing), but I wore the waist cincher for 40 days after my baby was born, and I can honestly say that the recovery from my fifth baby was quicker than any of my previous four.
When I went in for my six-week postpartum checkup, rather than being disapproving, as I had feared, my doctor was delighted I’d done it. My diastasis recti, the separation between my abdominal muscles in the front, was almost completely healed — something that had never happened this quickly or completely with my other babies. My doc explained the girdle had acted as a splint, allowing my muscles to neatly knit back together by taking the pressure off them to hold up my core. Not every woman gets a diastasis during pregnancy but for those of us who do, recovery can be a long and painful process. Often surgery is the only treatment for severe cases, so the fact that I could help it at all with a simple piece of elastic was awesome.
But, waist training — the practice of wearing ever-tighter corsets to shrink one’s waist size for cosmetic reasons — is a more controversial practice than postpartum belly binding. While it doesn’t seem to cause the skeletal damage that people once feared, there are some concerns about compressing organs making it harder to eat, digest and breathe (i.e., the important life stuff).
In addition, experts caution that wearing a corset too much can weaken your core muscles, making you dependent on the corset for posture and comfort. They also point out that, despite claims by manufacturers, corsets simply move around soft tissue and don’t help you lose fat or weight (unless yours is so tight you can’t eat, I suppose).
Still, women have used corsets for centuries and many modern ladies are quite happy with their results. And from my personal experience, it’s only as painful as you want it to be — if you’re having fainting spells, then wear a looser model or take it off. Plus, it’s generally considered much safer than other ways of making your waist smaller like extreme diets, pills or surgeries. But, I do think it’s important to ask yourself why you’re doing it.
“There’s misinformation that body shape and body weight can be easily changeable to society’s standards,” says Leslie Heinberg, M.D., director of behavioral sciences for the Bariatric (weight loss) and Metabolic Institute at Cleveland Clinic, to Ebony. “But we come in all different shapes and sizes and some of us aren’t meant to have a tiny waist.”
Originally published March 2015. Updated April 2017.