Elezabet Mitiku also contributed to this story.
With one Instagram selfie in a purple waist trainer, Kim Kardashian brought the waist-squeezing—and potentially lung-constricting and rib-crushing— device mainstream in 2014.
And with it, a 19th-century beauty standard reminiscent of corsets and Hollywood bombshells.
The waist trainer is today’s modern corset, but with celebrities promoting them on social media. Many women have embraced the waist trainer to attain an hourglass figure, yet medical professionals have warned about the health risks, including damage to internal organs.
For starters, the waist trainer restricts the ability to breathe, according to Madonna McDermott, the director of Health Services and Wellness Center at the University of St. Thomas.
“So it’s collapsing in, cinching in at the waist,” McDermott said. “And everybody’s waist is a little bit different.”
Right above the natural waistline, the 11th and 12th pairs of ribs are called “floating ribs.” Waist trainers can cause the floating ribs to crack or puncture an internal organ, according to McDermott.
McDermott’s opinion is that young adults should not wear waist trainers because waist trainers are a way to shape their bodies into something unattainable. She said waist training could contribute to an underlying eating disorder or a propensity for one.
Sae Yang, a Wisconsin high school teacher, wears a waist trainer for about five hours daily during school. While some people use the waist trainer to mold their bodies, Yang uses it as a motivator to be healthier, she said.
After repeated attempts to lose weight, Yang was hesitant about purchasing a waist trainer she saw on Facebook. Within three weeks, she lost an inch-and-a-half from her waist, she said.
“I don’t think I would have been able to do that without the waist trainer,” Yang said.
Despite knowing the possible health hazards of waist trainers, Yang experienced discomfort during the first few days only, she said.
“When I got it, I was like, ‘I don’t think I could fit in this!’” Yang said. “It was half my size, my waist. So I was really, really squeezing in, and it probably took me three days to really like, break into it.”
Yang said teens who want to use a waist trainer need to first educate themselves, “because wearing a waist trainer isn’t healthy, it’s all the other steps along the way.”
“I think if it encourages young women to change their lifestyle and really reflect about their lifestyle and their physical bodies and it motivates them to want to make changes, I’d say, ‘OK,’” Yang said. “… I can’t tell someone, ‘You can’t,’ because I’m doing it.”
University of St. Thomas junior Deborah Honore said she thinks waist training is a trend young people follow because they think, if celebrities can easily do it, they can, too.
Honore has heard of the trend, but does not know anyone who wears a waist trainer.
“It’s something that’s enticing to do because everybody wants to fit, like it’s a societal standard,” Honore said.
She prefers exercising, she said, and thinks waist training is an illusion.
“I wouldn’t (use a waist trainer) because you’re just going to go right back to the shape you were before,” Honore said. “It’s not going to change the anatomy of your body.”
McDermott recommends a more traditional health regimen.
“I would say, first, love your body just the way it is,” she said, “and if you’re feeling that you’re not at the healthy status you want to be, to exercise reasonably, eat well-balanced, get adequate fluid hydration (and) good sleep.”