I Attempted to Train My Waist With a Corset

Photo: Corbis

In the past couple of months, both Kim and Khloé Kardashian Instagrammed pictures of themselves (I am not going to say the word selfie now that there is a TV show called Selfie based on the musical My Fair Lady; that word is now beyond use) wearing industrial-strength corsets.

I suppose this is not entirely out of the blue — corsets have a long history. Women have worn them for centuries. Sometimes they did this to flatten out the entire torso, which was considered immensely attractive in the 1500s; later, corsets were used to define one’s waist and puncture one’s internal organs. 

The Kardashians looked great in their corsets.  Their waists appeared impossibly small. I know this because Kim took a picture of herself wearing the corset in front of a mirror at the gym, and Khloé took a picture of herself wearing a corset and posing in front of a mirror in her house. They seemed to think their corsets were helping them. Thus, I suppose I must also wear a corset and see if it helps me too. It is my job.

I decide to buy the same corset as Kim and Khloé because I like to do things thoroughly. It’s just my nature. 

The company that makes this corset is called What’s a Waist??? and its tagline is “Got Waist?” which is such a good name and tagline for a company. Very existential. What is a waist, anyway? Do I even have one? Is it under my bed? Fine.

The only problem, unfortunately, is the cost. The corset I must buy is $153.23 with shipping and handling. I could use that money for so many things — like eating or buying one Kenzo running shoe. The only bright spot in my astonishing profligacy is that the site does promise that you will “look” two to three sizes smaller whenever you wear the thing. Maybe I will take a photo of myself in the corset and send it to no one. 

Day 1
When I receive the corset in the mail, it looks rubbery and industrial and electric blue, just as it did on Instagram. Before I put on the corset itself, I call up the What’s a Waist??? customer-service hotline to get some tips on how to wear a corset. The person on the hotline says that for maximum results, I should wear it for four to six hours a day. Perhaps I should wear it to the gym. Some waist-trainers wear their corsets to bed, but I can work up to that. She was actually wearing her corset as we spoke.

Fortified by this conversation, I decide to put on my corset. One thing to know about me is that I am not intimidated by corsets. I have worn one before, when I was Nancy in the school play Oliver! I have also lain on a bed, sucked in, and tried valiantly to hoist a pair of jeans over the top of my thighs, succeeding through sheer force of will. (They tore in half later.) This corset is intense, however. You can tell it costs $153.23. For five minutes, I can’t fasten it at all. Then, after lying down, breathless on a bed, I finally manage to fasten the bottom snap of the corset. Immediately, I experience a sharp intake of breath and a ghastly pressure on my internal organs. Success!

After another five minutes, I’m able to fasten the top snap of the corset. My entire gut spills out of the middle like a rump roast, and despite my best efforts, I can’t get it closed. I have to do many activities (such as answer the door and buy things at the convenience store) with a large bump underneath my shirt from the undone corset. 

After about an hour of the bump, I decide I need to give the middle of the corset a college try and lie on the bed again. This time, it fastens! My breathing is slightly impaired, but I can still breathe; I just have to take short, staccato breaths. I try to drink coffee, and it’s very difficult. After four hours, I whip off the corset and throw it across the room. My waist has red welts on it but does not appear smaller.

Day 2
I once had a friend who had never heard of the word selfie. It was 2014, and he was a young man. Once I explained to him what a selfie was, he was seemed very upset. 

“That doesn’t mean anything,” he told me. I nodded thoughtfully, stroking my chin like Sherlock Holmes.

“What if you called a selfie an ‘own photo’?" he said. "I feel like that’s a lot clearer."

“Sure!”  I said, resolving never to do that. 

However, “own photos” seem to be a big part of waist training. And so I decide to wear the corset to spinning class and possibly take an own photo afterward. Apparently, this is what Kim Kardashian does: She waist-trains at the gym, then she takes an “own photo.”  

I don’t really like spinning that much, but I go to this particular class because it’s very leisurely. For example, we keep spinning to “California Love,” which is kind of slow. Every song is the pace of a stroll in the French countryside. 

Before I go to the gym, I put my corset on under a gigantic shirt. It’s slightly easier to put on today. Perhaps I am training my waist? I can even walk to the gym without getting too winded.

Unfortunately, actually spinning is a bit harder. I am only one minute into “California Love” when I start feeling very out of breath. I unbutton the first snaps of my corset. Then the spinning instructor puts on “Bang Bang” by Jessie J. She has never done something like this before, and I am quite displeased. What an energetic song. It’s almost entirely screaming. My corset can’t stand the stress. I start unsnapping more buttons under my huge shirt, even though everyone in spin class is looking at me, wondering what I am doing under the shirt. I throw the corset near my bike. I do not take an own photo. I decide to take a couple of days off from waist-training.   

Day 3
Today I am going to sleep in my corset. I can put it on quite easily now — perhaps my waist is far smaller than it used to be, or perhaps the corset has stretched out. I don’t know. Still, when I put on the corset and lie down on my bed, I learn that lying down in a corset is truly awful. I had never really done it for a sustained length of time. It feels like an anvil is pressing down on the top of your chest, cutting off your air supply, which is actually a recurring nightmare I have. I take off the corset after 15 minutes. 

Day 4
Today I resolve to attend spinning class in my corset and wear it the entire time I am spinning. Then, later, I will take an own photo.

In honor of Kim, I even dress like she did when she took an own photo of herself at the gym in a corset. I wear black spandex pants, a white tank top, and the corset over the tank top. It looks kind of good! My waist looks very small. If only I had better contouring makeup. 

The spinning class is a disaster, but I actually persevere for once. I just go very slow and put no resistance on my bike at all. When the instructor says, “And now you must sprint,” I simply don’t do that.

Later, I’m buying a green juice at the gym and I see my friend, who is buying a water. 

“Your waist looks tiny!” she says.

“I’m wearing a corset,” I say, at which point I briefly consider taking an own photo. After class, though, I have sweat so much in the corset that it is sopping wet. Not very good for an own photo, I’ll admit.

Day 5
Today I am going to do something very embarrassing in my corset. I am going to wear it to a sophisticated New York wine bar (Is that even a thing? No) that is crowded with people. I think Kim Kardashian would approve. My sister plays Kim's video game all the time, and that seems to be the point of it.

I haven’t worn the corset for a couple of days, however, and it's much tighter than usual when I put it on. I’m late, so I end up fastening the middle of the corset on the walk to the wine bar and then hiding it under a bulky sweater. 

I sit down at the wine bar and proceed to have a rapid His Girl Friday–style discussion about current events that lasts a good hour (jk!). But the corset is always with me, ruining my motility and ability to recall words. At one point, I am talking about a current event and I must interrupt myself because the pain is too great. I say, “I have to go,” and run toward the bathroom. I can hear my compatriots talking about me while I’m in the bathroom. They are commenting on my odd exit very loudly and animatedly. Later, when I return from the bathroom, holding my corset, they are not particularly chastened.

Later that night, however, I put the corset back on and take an own photo. It is honestly the best I have ever seen myself look. My waist looks SUPER small. I don’t even look that short because all of my proportions are off.

I have now ended my experiment. Sure, I couldn’t breathe at all, but I don’t even care because I have taken a potentially award-winning own photo. 

This leads me to an amazing discovery: I actually think the point of the corset is for own photos? Like, I’m not sure the corset actually shrunk my waist, but in photos, it makes my waist look smaller, which is literally the point of life today. Who even cares about what is actually happening in the flesh? I do not.