The Rise of the Squeem
There's a growing obsession with turning a woman's body into a caricature: huge behind, huge boobs, and a waist that's excruciatingly small. Though it's far more prevalent in Latin countries, the look is catching on in the US, promoted on social media by celebrities like the Kardashians and Nicki Minaj. This twisted exaggeration of femininity has even begun to infiltrate the fitness industry.
On these women, the ones who promote health and fitness, their waists are artificially squeezed-in to the degree that it looks cartoonish. My problem isn't with small waists in general, but the ones that have been deformed to become that way. The culprit in this case is not some radical fad diet or dangerous exercise. No, it's actually worse.
Women with these unnaturally pinched waists are getting the look with a device called a "waist trainer." And it's nothing new. Waist training is just the updated healthy-sounding term for an archaic strategy that goes back centuries. Only then, they were called corsets.
Today most women refer to them as squeems, fajas, waist cinchers, or waist trainers, which is odd since nothing is being trained when your fat is merely getting pushed up toward your armpits and down below the belt. If you grab a tube of toothpaste in the middle and keep the lid on, the toothpaste won't actually leave the tube, it will just get squished elsewhere.
Where the Squeezed-Waist Fad Started
Corsets can be traced way back. Old advertisements used to promise that you could tame your midsection, and even increase your health, by wearing the thing continuously.
But today, even with limited use, doctors warn that waist trainers can cause serious long term damage. Scientifically, the claims made by waist-trainer manufacturers about shrinking the size of your waist are ridiculous.
The only difference between an old school corset and waist trainer is that the corsets were stiff, had bone or metal supports, and were laced up. A waist trainer closes with little hooks and is made of elastic that squishes you in, giving you the same result... or an even more pronounced one when you "graduate" to increasingly smaller sizes as some competition coaches often recommend. And while that result might look desirable, it's at best ineffective for fat loss, and at worst, dangerous.
Though they're more popular in Latin countries, many in the US, particularly the bikini and figure competitors, are relying on them just as much as they are diet plans and cardio.
Since I live in Mexico, and own a rather large gym in a big city, I'm able to tell you, without exaggerating, that at least 90% of my female members wear a waist trainer, or "faja," every single day. The women wearing them are either ignorant about the repercussions or they're in denial that anything bad could ever happen to them.
Here are the myths they believe...
Myth 1 – Waist trainers make you lose weight.
If you hacked off your arm the scale would indicate that you've lost weight. But the "weight" we all need to lose should be from fat. So, do waist trainers help you lose body fat? No. Yet, Nakeitha Thomas, owner and founder of Waist Gang Society (whose products Kim Kardashian has endorsed), says, "Perspiration while wearing the waist trainer creates the equivalent of a 30-40 minute workout for the user."
On one company's website, a section titled "Health Tips" says, "Waist training is a gradual process of waist reduction using our corset." The only thing wrong with those statements is that they're not true. If you lose any weight while wearing a waist trainer it's likely you're losing water weight from sweating; rehydrate and it'll all come back.
Myth 2 – Waist trainers make you eat less.
Some contend that because a waist trainer applies pressure to your abdominal area, that you'll eat a little less because your stomach is being squished. But that doesn't necessarily mean you'll stay in a caloric deficit. When you take the thing off your appetite may make you overcompensate for the calories you missed earlier.
A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Primary Health Care sought to prove whether waist trainers could be used to maintain weight lost after participants followed a low-calorie diet. Study subjects were instructed to wear a waist trainer for at least five hours a day, five days a week, for nine months. Unfortunately, most study subjects found the waist trainer to be too uncomfortable to comply with the study guidelines, leaving the researchers to conclude that regardless of whether the waist trainer would have been effective or not, "corset treatment doesn't appear to be an option for sustained weight control."
Myth 3 – Waist trainers are harmless.
First, they can contribute to dehydration, which probably doesn't sound serious to you, but sweating profusely from the midsection while only being able to take small sips of water is not the pinnacle of health. Nor is the bacterial infection that can happen as a result of the sweat trapped against your skin for long periods of time below that waist trainer. Rashes are common.
They also cause acid reflux because of the pressure on the abdomen which pushes stomach acid into areas where it shouldn't be.
And ironically, while these trainers are intended to make the waist smaller, they can actually decrease core strength and atrophy abdominal muscle. The wearer doesn't have to keep her muscles tight because she's basically wearing a gigantic constricting belt. You can relax your stomach and get sloppy because the belt is doing the work of holding everything in.
Myth 4 – They train your waist to be a smaller size.
If you wrap an ACE bandage tightly around your arm and leave it there for an hour, you're going to have an indentation in your soft tissue when you unwrap it. But, it's not going to be permanent. An hour later, your arm is going to look normal again. So, by the same process, any waist slimming is going to be temporary. Unless it's actually deforming the structure of your bones and organs.
And when that's the case, the damage caused by a waist trainer could be permanent. Some doctors contend that there could be damage to the spine. The pressure exerted by the trainer effects the bones, ligaments, and nerves with prolonged use. That should make anyone with a brain ask what the hell kind of "training" is this anyway!?
The biggest cause for concern is what happens to your organs when they're squashed for prolonged periods of time. Women have also been known to pass out after wearing a waist trainer because they can't get enough air in their lungs.
Waist trainers can also place excessive pressure on organs like the bladder, causing women to leak involuntarily. Can't get sexier than that, right? (Men don't love pee stains, FYI.)
Waist trainers can damage the diaphragm, colon, liver, stomach, and intestines which can all be shifted around inside the body and can alter the way you function as a self-sufficient adult who shouldn't need diapers by the age of 25. (This is called "visceral displacement.")
These bodily structures actually have jobs that keep you alive. When you mess with them you can make your life a living hell. The negative side effects can be long term, permanent, or even deadly, and far outweigh their proposed benefits.
Why History Left The Corset Behind
At the turn of the 20th century, a French doctor, Ludovic O'Followell, published a paper titled Le Corset, exposing the dangers of too-tight corsets. While X-ray technology was in its infancy, he was able to show photos of squashed ribcages and displaced organs.
The companies that sell waist trainers sometimes say you should be wearing the device for 10 hours a day. But the fine print says users need to eat healthy and exercise to actually see results. Ya think?
A Figure Competitor's Waist Training Nightmare
Mercedes Carlita de la Vega (name altered for her privacy) was a sultry Mexican figure competitor. She was plumped up, pumped up, pushed out, and augmented in every way. She desperately wanted to strut her sizzling stuff on the Mexican National bodybuilding stage in the figure division, but she had an insatiable appetite for sopes, fried yucca, and churros dipped in cajeta.
So she approached a competition judge who advised her to wear a "faja" which literally means "belt" or "wrap." Mercedes cinched herself up during her next workout and set out to "train" her waist. Then she kept herself squeezed into that thing for the rest of the day. Then she bought more of them, one tighter than the next. Eventually, she wore a waist trainer 12 to 15 hours a day.
She took selfies in them, from all different angles, accentuating her squished waist and became a local social media sensation. With enough girls asking her about her faja and her dwindling waist, Mercedes actually became a distributor for one the largest waist trainer manufacturers in Columbia and began selling them to girls at the gym. She got so busy with women wanting a smaller midsection that she opened a small boutique selling the full line of Columbian waist trainers, Spanx, and traditional corsets.
All was well and good for several weeks. The weeks turned to months and Mercedes squished herself into tighter and tighter waist trainers. Soon, as she was starting her prep for the Mexican Nationals, the problems started. One day her back started hurting. Even though her waist trainer was elastic, she had a very hard time bending over, so most of the exercises she did that required any bend of the waist had become impossible. Of course, taking off her trainer to do them (to her) was out of the question.
As her contest grew near her problems grew worse. Her back pain became excruciating. Her lower ribs were getting pulled in, putting pressure on her vertebra. Indigestion and heartburn became a daily occurrence from the waist trainer exerting so much pressure and pushing stomach acid up out of the stomach, making it hard for her to eat. She also had a hard time breathing for the pressure on her diaphragm and would become dangerously light-headed during her cardio sessions.
One day she passed out on the treadmill, fell, and took a nice chunk of skin off her knee. But in her mind, these discomforts were a small price to pay for a thinning waist, which only seemed to be thinner while she wore her waist trainer. As soon as she took it off her belly poked out – probably because her abs had atrophied from not being able to train them.
As the contest grew closer, Mercedes took off her waist trainer even less – she even slept in it. Nothing could keep her from dwindling her waist enough to win the Mexican Nationals. Problem was, she was pretty much losing muscle everywhere, especially her core, and the lines of her physique were becoming blurred. But she didn't see any of that because she was totally fixated on her waist.
As many women do during a contest diet, Mercedes became constipated. But Mercedes endured the discomfort, focusing only on her contest. On the sixth day of not having a bowel movement, she woke up with scorching abdominal pain, she felt nauseous and started vomiting and running a high fever. Now she was scared. She finally gave in and removed her waist trainer.
Almost instantly a shooting pain ran up and down her spine, her stomach distended and a pain set in so bad that she passed out. Her roommate found her unconscious on the floor and rushed her to the hospital where the emergency room physician diagnosed a bowel obstruction that had caused her small intestine to burst requiring emergency surgery.
So much for Nationals. Mercedes had a long road to recovery. Her back pain had become chronic and she experienced some peripheral nerve damage in her legs from sitting while compressed in her waist trainer. She also found a few varicose veins that weren't there before. It took her several months to fully recover from not only her surgery and her back pain, but also from the organ compression.
And after all that, when Mercedes was fully recovered, guess how many inches her waist had shrunk? ZERO.
The Disturbing Truth
Squeem users can literally bend or break their lower ribs and rearrange their organs. Where do you think all that stuff goes when you squeeze it so tight?
Sure, if you're a young woman interested in fitness, you likely know women who've been using a waist trainer without repercussion (so far). That's probably true. Temporarily wearing one that's not too tight may not result in such devastating problems, but one thing is still true: you're not going to TRAIN your waist to do crap using a waist trainer. The only way you're going to get it leaner is through your diet, exercise, heavy lifting, and patience.
The mentality that would make a woman use a waist trainer is cause for alarm. Taken to extremes, this can be likened to an eating disorder or "tanorexia." If you insist on using one, maybe don't try to graduate to tighter and tighter versions. Use one that's not so tight it causes breathing and circulation problems, and wear it sparingly.
And also, try to remember, they don't work.