One teen experienced some serious side effects from wearing a waist trainer. (Photo: Getty Images)
Over the past few years, the Kardashians have seemingly brought waist trainers to the mainstream. The sisters have posted countless selfies wearing the tool to reveal its role in maintaining their hourglass figures — but there may be a dark side to these modern-day corsets. Just ask 18-year-old Abigail Burland.
The teenager, who told her story in a blog post for Lapp, bought the waist trainer after seeing Kim Kardashian post about her journey with the device. “Like any teen I wasn’t the most confident and lacked self esteem,” Burland explained in the essay. “…[I] thought that waist training was a quick and effective way to achieve the flawless frame of an ‘Insta-girl.’ They look perfect and make it all look so fun and easy, with the likes of Khloe and Kylie Kardashian posting workout pictures wearing the trainer and hailing it as the holy grail behind their figure eight physique.”
Things did not go as Burland planned. After searching high and low for a waist trainer to fit her curves, she wore it “religiously” throughout her day at college until she went to bed each night. Over time she slowly trained her waist to the smallest hooks on the device. However, she says, this wasn’t without issues. Burland says she had no appetite while wearing the tool and was not happy.
One day while she was wearing the trainer, her stomach started spasming during an exam. “I was in so much pain; my belly was moving in all different directions, and I could feel shooting cramps,” she wrote. “I couldn’t breathe and felt like I was about to throw up. It was such a depressing feeling as I couldn’t even concentrate on my exam. … I was so disorientated.”
Although the physical side effects were uncomfortable, Burland noted the mental side effects were the breaking point. “What seemed like a quick and effective way to achieve the ultimate body quickly spiraled out of control and became my own personal hell,” she said. “Yes, I did see some change in my body shape, but the pain and depression it inflicted upon me was not worth it.”
According to Mala L. Matacin, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Hartford as well as the founder and faculty sponsor of Women for Change, waist training is a modern-day example of the extremes to which women will go to reach a societal standard of appearance — something that is not new but has always been alarming.
“This is just another example of how women, historically, have always done things to their bodies for the sake of a current cultural ideal, even things that harmed their health,” Matacin tells Yahoo Beauty. “In the late 1800s, women would eat arsenic to get a pale complexion — the white ideal, of course. Women’s bodies continue to matter seemingly more than anything else, more than their intelligence, contribution to society, and so on.”
Extremes like waist training are also damaging to a woman’s mental health, as Burland hints at throughout her story. Karla Ivankovich, a counselor and an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Springfield, says the perpetuation of a nearly unobtainable cultural ideal has led to a rise in eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder. “The more media holds up these images as a narrow definition of beauty, the more anxiety it provokes to not be ‘in the crowd,’” Ivankovich tells Yahoo Beauty. “That major anxiety can turn into conditions like obsessive-compulsive disorder.”
Trying to conform can become addictive as a person habitually struggles to keep up with the Joneses, says Ivankovich. This is because the “trending” body type society deems most beautiful is ever-changing — and is seemingly becoming more difficult to obtain than ever. “If you recall a few short years ago, a muscular waistline was the thing to be desired,” Ivankovich explains. “This was ‘achievable’ because you could exercise to increase the natural muscle mass. Now we are at a place where an unnaturally thin waistline is matched by a much larger and heavier bottom.” A frame very few women are born with.
Ivankovich says that, if you are struggling with your appearance, consider talking to someone. “If you can’t seem to control your negative thoughts, and peer or family feedback dismissing your concerns of the perceived flaws is not helpful, it’s a cause for concern,” she explains. “If you think about this for a significant amount of time each day and it causes severe emotional distress that interferes with your daily activities, talk to a therapist or doctor who can help you with these thoughts.”
As for Burland, she’s tossed her waist trainer in the trash. She now has a stronger conviction that her natural body is better than a sought-after figure. “If you see a waist-training ad on social media, scroll past and remember your body is not a toy to be messed with,” Burland says, “especially not to achieve an unrealistic body standard.”