I’m always on some kind of self-improvement kick, and this year I’ve tripled down. Mostly I’m focused inward – partly because I’m in that wildly introspective time known as midlife, but also because cultivating peace and compassion is my way of balancing out this year’s surreal sense of being cast as an unused extra in an extended director’s cut of Contagion. But it’s also healthy to get out of my head, so I’ve nudged up my historically feeble physical fitness game. One day we’ll reemerge from our bomb shelters, blinking at the blinding daylight, and when that time comes I don’t want to crawl out looking like a shabby lab rat set loose after a long captivity.
So after cooking endlessly, eating mindfully and, for the first time in my life, exercising regularly, I’m doing something moderately wacko: wearing a waist trainer. For the past three weeks, during most of my waking hours, I’ve been sucked into a stretchy kind of corset. I cook in it, I work out in it, I sit upright at my desk in it (no slouching for corset wearers). For all this effort, I should be swanning around in an intricately beaded Bridgerton ballgown. But no, I’m in my ratty shorts and loose loungy tops like nothing’s up.
This isn’t a Scarlett O’Hara situation that requires someone to tug on the laces while I brace myself against a bed post. The waist trainer is a latex wrap with steel boning and rows of hooks for self-fastening. I’m not trying to be Kim Kardashian – I have a naturally straight shape, so that’s out of the realm of reality. What I’m trying to do is return my poor abused rib cage, unceremoniously shoved open by a series of four human beings who treated my midsection like a personal swimming pool, to something like its original condition.
It’s a minor problem I didn’t really have time to dwell on before. But these days I have time. So I figured, why not? Worst case, I improve my posture.
Astoundingly, it seems to be working. I was fully aware that my rib cage was pushed out from four pregnancies, but the waist trainer made me realize that I was also lopsided, with my left side more open than the right. Postpartum belly binding wasn’t a thing when I had kids back in the dark ages of the early millennium. After bearing my last child, I ordered a post-pregnancy workout DVD in an effort to revive my beleaguered abdomen. And I dutifully worked on my pelvic floor muscles so I wouldn’t leak when running or dancing. But there didn’t seem to be much to do about the ribs.
Now lo and behold, three weeks into wearing the waist trainer, more than a decade after my last infant tenant, the “doors” of my rib cage are more closed, and more even. It’s a trip. I want to show you – I have a photo record, of course. But I don’t really need my ribs on the internet. I’ll have to refer you to the many photos reviewers have volunteered on Amazon.
My friend Lisa was the one who turned me on to this whole idea. Lisa had beautiful full-term twin girls almost a decade ago, which really did a number on her rib cage. She’s a singer and actor by profession, and corset-wearing is an occupational norm in her regular life. She’d read about wearing a waist trainer to squeeze in the rib cage and was eager to try it.
My two girls informed me they already knew all about waist trainers from social media. Apparently Jessica Alba spent virtually 24 hours a day in double corsets after delivering her babies, to get back her much-admired shape. I love her for sharing that. Nobody just snaps back from being blown up like a balloon, not even Jessica Alba.
Those of us who had babies before TikTok were at such an information disadvantage. When I was first pregnant, Amazon was merely a book store. Babies’ butts were cleaned with unwarmed wipes. We were primitive then.
It turns out that post-partum waist-wrapping is a tradition in certain cultures, from cleverly knotted Bengkung wraps in Malaysia to girdle-like fajas in Colombia, and now there are impressively adjustable Velcro belly belts tailored to postpartum needs. It certainly seems sensible that after nine months of abdominal inflation, a new mom’s body could benefit from some gentle assistance with deflation. It also seems logical that given the sustained force it takes to push our insides out, we might welcome a bit of external force to help get it all back in.
I’m looking at the waist trainer not as a passive solution but as an assist. Once I take the waist trainer off, my ribs aren’t likely to stay obediently closed without some support. So every day I do 20-30 minutes of gentle abdominal exercises – ones that focus on the deepest core muscles that get pulled apart during pregnancy – hoping if I exercise my abs with the waist trainer in place, they will better support my ribs in their new (old) position.
How long am I signing up for? Sources say eight weeks of waist training should show some lasting benefits. I tried sleeping in mine once. But the pros say it’s not advisable to stay cinched all the time, and constant external support can have the unintended effect of weakening abdominal muscles. I put in about 12 hours a day. Mostly I kind of like it – it’s snug and reminds me to stand/sit straight – and at the end of the day I am glad to take it off. It also keeps me honest on daily exercise. The waist trainer never fails to do its job, so I make sure I do mine.
I’m in this for February and March, and hopefully in April I can report back on whether the results hold up. Normally I wouldn’t be writing about something without knowing for sure it works, but I didn’t want to throw out this idea just as summer is approaching and have you say, “Really, now you’re telling me?”
It’s still cold out, and we’re still in this largely-homebound existence. But warm weather is coming, and maybe you’d like to join me in this little lark before the indignity of swimsuit season rolls around. Maybe the effort will pay off, maybe not. But I like having a project to work on, and even on the days I feel I didn’t get as much done as I wanted to, the waist trainer is always working for me. And at the end of a day I’ve logged another 12 hours, another crossed-out day in my 8-week human experiment.
After much research, Lisa and I are both trying the same waist trainer from Amazon ($25), made from latex lined with cotton fabric (needless to say, I don’t do sponsored posts, I’m just a regular Amazon addict). I recommend one close to your skin tone color for easier wearing under clothing. The trainer comes in three different vertical lengths, as well as many waist sizes. Measuring for vertical length is as important as waist circumference, so that the trainer covers hips to breasts without digging into either. Lisa has a high waist, so she got the shorter one. I am long waisted and taller, so I got the longest one. Helpfully, Amazon has free returns on this item, and it took Lisa a few tries before she got one that fit the way she wanted.
This particular model has three rows of hooks, along with an extender panel with three additional rows of hooks. You’ll start with the outer row and move your way in over time. Lisa told me to hook from bottom up, not top down. So start at the hips and fasten the hooks up. It’s weird – initially you’ll be dismayed at the rolled skin spilling over the top of your squeezed midsection. But over time, there’s less excess flesh – until you tighten in another row. I don’t know how this works, but wearing the waist trainer does seem to shift things around even when weight stays the same. Quite a few reviewers report they have been wearing it for months or even years, moving down sizes over time.
I’m not in this for the long haul. I want to fix my ribs, more for my sense of well-being than vanity. Certainly no one is remotely interested the midsection of an almost-50-year-old mom of four. I just want to keep the machine in good condition. A vintage jalopy needs a lot more maintenance than a shiny new roadster. I’m trying to do what I can, while I can.
And when we are able to get back out into this great wide world, I want to be ready to go.