Waist Trainers Are Just Another Harmful Diet Culture Product

by Lindsay Wolf
Originally Published: 
No Diet Culture, I Don’t Need A Waist Trainer: Woman posing for camera
Lindsay Wolf/Instagram

Of all the bullshit I’ve encountered as a new mom, getting marketing emails from weight loss companies takes the cake. In the first three years of my daughter’s life, I received unsolicited marketing pitches about stretch mark creams, the newest diet supplement craze, and even attempts to rope me into Beach Body programs. But the most disgusting email someone sent me was a pitch for a waist trainer with a subject line that read “From Mom to MILF.”

“This three-tier fitness belt instantly sculpts your waist and promotes sweating in the mid-section to reduce water weight and inches,” the email states. “It provides an intense sweating experience without the discomfort of wetness, 100% movability, no steel boning, and it won’t interfere with mom’s busy day. Because it can be worn at any time, you can get the full experience of a workout and sculpt your waist. Just by doing your day-to-day activities you get the MILF body you’ve always wanted.”

As a vulnerable new mother, you can only imagine how overwhelming it was to be sent a message like this. As a woman who hadn’t quite loosened the grips around an eating disorder and a longtime battle with body dysmorphia, this stupid email sent me into a total downward shame spiral.

I immediately scoured the internet to research the origins of waist trainers to understand why they even exist. What I found out floored me. Essentially, these weight loss contraptions are just a new evolution of something that feminists spent the vast majority of the 19th century protesting – corsets.

University of Virginia researchers investigated the 500-year old history of corsets, and what they found in their work was startling. Designed to create an unnatural and unsustainable “hourglass figure” in women, men, and even some young children, this barbaric fashion trend impacted the overall health of each person in profound ways. “Innumerable ills were attributed to the corset (tuberculosis, liver disease, even cancer), but some physicians got to the heart of the problem by emphasizing the extent to which a corset prevented proper muscle development and vigorous exercise,” University of Virginia researchers explain.

But that’s not the only reason folks protested corsets. “In the early 1800s, after the French Revolution, fashionable women temporarily gave up their corsets (along with the other symbols of the aristocracy) for looser clothing that seemed to parallel new ideas of freedom in political life,” researchers share.

Basically, corsets kept women self-imprisoned in every sense of the word, so a bunch of 19th-century feminists got fucking fed up and did something about it. All of this begs the question: Why does history have to repeat itself with the modern-day waist trainer?

I spent the vast majority of my teen and adult years keeping my stomach as flat and small as humanly possible. Nothing was off the table when it came to making myself thinner, which is why I happily chugged diet pills for four years as a teenager and dove headfirst into a nasty eating disorder. Looking back on that painful time, I would have totally considered a waist trainer if I had known that it existed. These days, it’s a much different story. I’m a mother of two with a big ass stomach that hangs soft and loose. I’m also living loud and proud as a fat, self-loving mama who has healed my previously broken body image.

You may see my stomach and wonder why I’m so against changing it. And I get why you would. I really do. We’ve all been taught since childhood that my present-day body is a problem. But I’m here to tell you unequivocally that it’s not. Diet culture has been – and always will be – the motherfucking problem.

The profit-driven weight-loss industry works daily to ensure that women continue to idolize thinness at any cost, and it’s because they have a powerful financial stake in the game. A waist trainer, like so many other diet culture fads, needs to be seen for the toxic product it actually is. It compresses our internal organs, which has the very real potential to cause them to improperly function. It can create digestive issues, force our diaphragm and lungs to stop working the way they need to, and even prevent our core muscles from developing the way nature intended.

“Medically, it doesn’t make sense that cinching your waist tightly will make it permanently smaller,” Mary Jane Minkin, M.D., clinical professor of ob-gyn at Yale School of Medicine, told HuffPost. “Once you take the garment off, your body will return to its usual shape. It’s also uncomfortable, restricts your movements, and if you wear it really tight, it can even make it difficult to breathe and theoretically could cause rib damage.”

HuffPost contributor Melissa Edmonds sums it up best. “You learned about the negative side effects of corsets in your grade school days,” she writes.Waist trainers aren’t much different, they’re just wrapped up in a cute little package with some fancy marketing and have celebrities being paid way too much money to promote them.”

Moms and women have it hard enough with the tidal wave of societal pressures we face on a regular basis. There is absolutely no fucking need to create a product which at its very core teaches us to conform to a beauty ideal that is as physically harmful as it is damaging to our self-worth. I am so damn fed up with the onslaught of media imagery I’ve seen my entire life that incorrectly conditions us all to believe that bellies should only be flat and thin. I’m tired of it because that very same messaging led me down the path to body dysmorphia at an impressionably young age. Now that I’m a mother to a little girl, I’m choosing to speak up when I see something that sucks and needs to change. And waist trainers? They are a steaming pile of diet culture bullshit that my mama pooch wants nothing to do with.

Do yourself a favor when you see a photo of a celebrity or social media influencer wearing one of these things. Ask yourself why you would risk damaging your body on the inside just to change it on the outside. When self-abuse has become an acceptable form of self-care, our society has a fucking problem on its hands. We do not have to buy into the shame-inducing culture of weight loss, and we do not need to believe that our body is an ongoing problem that constantly requires fixing. Waist trainers are a waste of our time, and more importantly, they are a dangerous protest of our inherent right to naturally take up space in this world.

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