Experts warn about danger of 'tightlacing' as corsets make comeback

Celebrities, online videos boast of benefits

INDIANAPOLIS - From celebrities to regular girls who make online videos, some are raving about the effects of so-called "corset training" to slim your waist, but is it safe?

Corsets can slim the waist and enhance curves. Pictures online show the magical transformations, but historically, this kind of beauty has been portrayed as painful to achieve.

Hundreds of years later, corsets seem to be making a comeback. Celebrities like Jessica Alba swear by them to get their pre-pregnancy figures back. Alba said she wore a double-corset day and night for three months.

Scores of others have posted online tutorials on achieving a look they call sexy, but others say they find it creepy.

"When modern people think of a corset as something that's very beautiful and very sexy, that's only a recent way to think of corsetry," Jenny Sherrill said.

Sherrill is a corset maker. The Noblesville mom has made historically accurate corsets for reenactors at Conner Prairie and at the new "You are There 1904: Picture This" exhibit at the Indiana Historical Society.

She said despite their risque reputation, corsets were purely for function in centuries past.

The whale bones gave women much-needed back support.

"They're leaning over building fires, they're gardening, they're lifting heavy things. Women's labor was so much more physical," Sherrill said.

Melissa Shoffner works in a corset eight hours a day as a reenactor.

"I've done all sorts of things in corsets. I've trained oxen, I've done gardening, I've plowed a field," Shoffner said.

So does Lani Lerner, who plays a bride at the "You are There 1904" exhibit.

"I think the biggest thing I notice about it is the posture. I often have really horrible posture and when I wear a corset it forces me to put my shoulders back and stand straighter," Lerner said.

Both ladies agree the fit should be tight -- a bit restrictive -- but not painful.

"I wouldn't go as far as to say I hate it. But I wouldn't voluntarily wear one," Lerner said.

"I'm thankful to take it off. It's the best feeling in the whole world is to open that busk and take the corset off. So, no, I don't want to wear one all day long. There's a reason women have moved out of corsets," Shoffner said.

Yet there are online videos that promote corset training 23 hours a day to make your waist smaller.

Sherrill strongly warns against "tightlacing"-- especially for young women whose bodies are still growing.

She said while corsets can smooth unwanted lumps and give us a more hour-glass shape, they are not meant to permanently change our bodies.

"I would never ever, if I had a daughter, I would never let her wear a corset as a teenager," Sherrill said. "Girls are so very critical of their own form and they don't need this."

Sherrill said it’s OK to wear corsets as costumes and for fun, but you should be able to breathe fully in them and not be in pain.

Experts warn very few people can buy corsets off the rack, they should be made to fit your measurements.

No matter what you read online, corsets are not meant to be worn 23 hours a day. Some doctors warn that doing so -- especially tightly for long periods of time -- can actually cause internal damage.

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