A corset is a steel-boned, rigid garment designed to reduce the waist and reshape the body. Worn for centuries, corsets provide structure and support to the back and torso. If the corset is worn regularly for long periods of time, the alterations to the body may become more dramatic and lasting; however, they do not become permanent. Most corset-wearers will wear them only occasionally, for special occasions, and find their bodies return to their normal shape immediately. With more frequent wear, the shape of the body may change temporarily.
Corsets and Your Body
Regardless of how often you wear a corset, it does alter some things in your body, at least temporarily. The corset shifts and compresses the internal organs. The abdominal compression will often lead you to eat less. Depending upon the cut of the corset and the constriction of the rib cage, you may experience respiratory discomfort. It corrects your posture, but does not require effort from your back or abdominal muscles in the process, leading to potential weakness. These symptoms are more significant if you are wearing a corset for significant waist reduction, typically more than 4 inches.
If you wear a corset only occasionally and reduce your waist 2 to 4 inches, when you remove the corset, your figure will return to its normal shape at once. The corset provides shape and support while you're wearing it, but does not alter your body in any lasting way. For occasional wear, remember to keep your corset laced snugly but comfortably, and remove it if you experience discomfort. Lace less snugly if you need to move or engage in physical activity while corseted.
If you wear a corset frequently or continuously, you may notice changes to the shape of your body. Some women do wear corsets to support weight loss or recovery from childbirth. Regular exercise, when not corseted, can help prevent the weakening of your back and abdominal muscles due to regular wear. Digestive difficulties are somewhat common, states gynecologist Sara Gottfriend, but will resolve with a looser lacing or rest period without a corset. The corset may, if worn continuously, alter the shape of the rib cage, according to Dr. Ann Beaumont.
Even if you wear a corset consistently for a period of time, the changes to your body are not typically permanent. For occasional wearers or those who remained corseted for only a short time, physical changes reverse when the corset is removed. Individuals who have corseted for longer may retain some physical changes for a period of years, but these will, eventually, reverse. Some individuals, if beginning extreme corseting quite young, may experience permanent deformity of the ribs; however, photos from the 19th century suggest women who were tightly corseted when they were young had typical mature figures after childbearing.
With a master's degree in art history from the University of Missouri-Columbia, Michelle Powell-Smith has been writing professionally for more than a decade. An avid knitter and mother of four, she has written extensively on a wide variety of subjects, including education, test preparation, parenting, crafts and fashion.