Tightlacing (also called corset training and waist training) is the practice of wearing a tightly-laced corset to achieve extreme modifications to the figure and posture and experience the sensations of a very tight corset. Those who practice tightlacing are called tightlacers. Some tightlacers call the corsets they wear training corsets.
The most frequent aim of tightlacing is waist reduction. Depending on the silhouette desired (hourglass, wasp waist, and pipe-stem waist are the most common), the shape of the ribcage may be altered as well. Wearing a corset can also change the bustline, by raising the breasts upwards and shaping them, flattening the stomach, and improving posture. However, these effects are only temporary and will be lost on removing the corset. Indeed, excessive corset wearing has been claimed to weaken certain muscles, making it more difficult to maintain posture without a corset.
Although some tightlacers aim to get their waists as small as possible, others prefer to reduce their waists to a certain point and go not further (even though they could), as they consider that proportion and aesthetics are more important than achieving the smallest possible measurement. This can be important to male-to-female transvestites, who often seek to get a realistic feminine figure rather than a wasp waist.
Modern tightlacing is a minority interest, often associated with fetishistic interest in the corset and BDSM. The majority of tightlacers are women, although some men do tightlace (see in particular cross-dressing) – corsetier Mr Pearl has a nineteen-inch waist.
Tightlacers typically wear a corset for at least 12 hours a day, every day, when they are most active, although some tightlacers wear corsets for up to 23 hours a day, taking the corset off only in order to bathe.
Tightlacers usually have a partner, called a trainer, to help and support them. However, it is possible (although very difficult) for somebody to tightlace without a partner. (Tightlacers are often—but not necessarily—in a sexual and/or loving relationship with their trainer.)
A partner might take on any of the following tasks:
- help the tightlacer put on and take off the corset, especially tightening the laces
- help him or her follow through with the training schedule
- monitor the tightlacer's health
- monitor body changes and keep a log
Effects of tightlacing on the body
Contemporary tightlacers claim that tightlacing does not adversely affect the health, as was believed in the later Victorian era. Certainly, there are no contemporary medical sources condemning tightlacing, and the continued good health of modern day extreme tightlacers would seem to demonstrate that the practice is not dangerous—if properly done.
A safe training routine begins with the use of a well-fitted corset (most serious tightlacers have at least one custom–tailored corset) and very gradual decreases in the waist circumference. Lacing too tight too fast can cause extreme discomfort and potential short-term problems such as shortness of breath and faintness, indigestion, and chafing of the skin.
The primary effect of tightlacing is the decreased size of the waist. The smallest waist recorded is that of Ethel Granger, who tightlaced for most of her life and achieved a waist of thirteen inches: a reduction of over ten inches. Such extreme reductions take a very long time to achieve. At first, corsets with waist measurements four inches smaller than the tightlacer's natural waist size are recommended. The length of time it will take a tightlacer to get used to this reduction will vary on his or her physiology; a large amount of fat on the torso and strong abdominal muscles will mean that it takes longer for the tightlacer to wear their corset laced closed at the back. Thereafter, reducing another couple of inches is not much more difficult, but each inch after a six inch reduction can take a year to achieve.
The diminished waist and tight corset reduce the volume of the torso. This is sometimes reduced even further by styles of corset that force the torso to taper towards the waist, which pushes the lower ribs inwards. As a consequence, internal organs are moved closer together and out of their original positions in a way similar to the way that a pregnant woman's expanding uterus causes the organs to be displaced.
The volume of the lungs diminishes and the tightlacer tends to breathe intercostally—that is, with the upper portion of the lungs only, rather that the whole. Intercostal breathing is what gives the image of "heaving bosoms". Due to the lower portion of the lungs being used less there may be a mucosal build-up there; a slight and persistent cough is the sign of the body trying to clear this (and might also have lead to the Victorian hypothesis that corsets caused tuberculosis).
The liver is pressed upwards. As it continually renews itself, it adapts to fit its new position, and in a long-term tightlacer it might develop ridges where it rests against the ribs. It is also possible that tightlacing exacerbates the tendency of some livers to develop accessory lobes, to the point where the accessory lobe becomes as large as the main portion of the liver. The point where the lobe and liver connect can be quite thin, and again, this might have lead to one of the Victorian myths about tightlacing: that a tightlacer can wear her corset so tight that it "cuts" her liver in half.
The compression of the stomach reduces its volume, and tightlacers find that eating too much gives them indigestion and heartburn; foods like carbonated drinks and beans can easily cause trapped wind. The compression of the intestines can cause constipation. Many tightlacers will alter their diet in order to avoid these problems.
Few permanent and serious effects have been attributed to tightlacing; even fewer of them have been proved. Theoretically, it is possible to fracture the ribs through tightlacing, although the necessary pressure would be brutal and the tightlacer would feel acute pain—certainly enough to let him/her know that something was wrong and that he/she should loosen the corset.
- Tightlacing articles, information and advice
- Staylace.com, the website of the Long Island Staylace Association (LISA) has some further information on the medical considerations and effects of tightlacing.
- Corsetier talks about effects of tightlacing
- Overview of modern day return of corseting and tightlacing
- Corset information
- About Polaire, famous early tightlacer.
- Photos of Polaire.
- Website for Ethel Granger, who reduced to a 13-inch waist.
- Website for Cathie Jung, modern tightlacer.
- Lesbian BSDM
- Les Gracieuses Modernes, the European Corset Society
- THE CORSET, questions of pressure and displacement. A medical report from 1887.
- Victorian Corsets
- The Corset Controversy
Valerie Steele, The Corset: A Cultural History. Yale University Press, 2001, ISBN 0300099533.
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