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Belly Binding in 2015: The Physical and Social Dangers of Today's High-Tech Corsets

While I was sitting in the dental chair getting my teeth cleaned the other day, I saw an infomercial about a waist training device that promised to revolutionize my figure. I sat there, motionless, watching perfectly beautiful and fit women happily tourniquet their bodies and encourage me to do the same.
11/25/2015 10:43am ET | Updated December 6, 2017
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By: Sophie Bartsich

2015-11-25-1448466100-3268778-corset_pic.jpg
Image Source: ThinkStock

While I was sitting in the dental chair getting my teeth cleaned the other day, I saw an infomercial about a waist training device that promised to revolutionize my figure. I sat there, motionless, watching perfectly beautiful and fit women happily tourniquet their bodies and encourage me to do the same. As a woman near 40 and a relatively new mom, I could relate to the desire for a slimmer waistline; and these waistlines were among the slimmest I had ever seen. But whatever momentary urge I may have felt to try the contraption was soon replaced by apprehension and aversion.

In plastic surgery, we often use a variety of garments for post-surgical patients. Specialty garments can help reduce swelling, mold fat after liposuction, and generally provide patients with a more supported feel. While the jury is still out on whether they actually do very much in the long run, at least most plastic surgeons agree that they are not outright dangerous; and many patients like feeling like they have a little help along the way.

What is interesting in recent study, however, is that these garments may not be entirely harmless. Constant pressure on the midsection prevents fluid from flowing back up from the legs to the heart, and this may predispose you to blood clots. One can only imagine the effect of ultra-tight, one-size-tries-to-fit-all, extreme garments that are worn all day long. Not to mention the swollen ankles that come along with belting the lower body and letting fluid pool in your feet.

If you've ever studied esthetics, you know that the world is full of "golden" ratios, or ideal proportions. The female form has long been one of the most scrutinized in this domain, and while cultural and temporal differences may change beauty ideals, perfect proportions stay the same. A woman's shape will always be considered optimal if her waist-to-hip ratio is 0.7, whether it is a 25 inch waist with 36 inch hips, or a 30 inch waist with 42 inch hips. Anything more extreme than that just starts to look weird. This is the same principle by which a little lip enhancement can make you look lush, and a lot can enter what I call "frog-effect" territory. Extreme beauty remains an oxymoron, and is the easiest way to waste money and fashion-victim yourself to bad health.

As an expert in body contouring and fat molding, I can assure you that squeezing fat for a long, long time is not the best way to get rid of it. I can also confirm that there is a lot more to the midsection than the fat that rolls over a belt, and women are likely to cause deformities in their bones and/or organs if they really commit to this practice on a regular basis. Much as an oversized breast implant can deform the chest wall from excess pressure, squeezing the torso from below can bend the rib cage over time. It can also clamp down the lower part of the lungs and affect breathing and/or respiratory health.

We know enough in medicine to know that suffocating one's abdomen is neither healthy nor likely to solve a weight problem. But the bigger issue for me is that, no matter what you call it (ie, "Ab Geenie," "Belly Blaster," etc..), what is really happening here is clear: women are intentionally putting themselves back into corsets in the 21st century. In an age where there still is gender inequality, how are we already pretending that we've forgotten what it means to be bound?

I consider myself to be a staunch advocate of women's empowerment to look and feel their best, and I recognize the importance of physical confidence and personal choice. But beauty and wellness start with a healthy lifestyle and freedom of mind, resting on an underlying theme of balance and harmony. The belly bottleneck that is now all the rage defies true notions of the feminine figure, and makes me wonder where we are going with all of this. Is the next step a holographic bodysuit that makes you seem invisible in the middle?

One of the greatest pleasures of my profession is to help my patients realize their goals and preserve discretion as they do so. Personal beauty should maintain your identity and encourage you to shine, rather than distract from who you are and what you can achieve. Looking great and commanding a room are challenging when all anyone is thinking is, "Is that real?" Great plastic surgery, like great makeup, should coast under the radar: it should not be the first thing that someone notices about you. So, before you wrap yourself up too tightly for the day, consider the fact that the belly band you are wearing may literally be taking your breath away; and that didn't even make sense when we wore petticoats and never washed our hair.

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Sophie Bartsich, MD FACS is a Board Certified Plastic Surgeon and graduate of Parsons School of Design. Her practice ranges from cosmetic to reconstructive, with a focus on breast surgery. She is also an ambassador for Beauty for Freedom, an organization against human trafficking worldwide. Visit www.doctorsophie.com for more information.