Using Shapewear Judiciously: Because Women Are Not Shapeshifters

Tummies, among women, are one of the most obsessed-about body parts, that’s why we’ve had tummy tamers and shapewear for centuries. They were just known by different names like girdles and corsets. Even now, on the wide variety of parenting groups on Facebook, one of the favourite questions of new mothers is how to get the tummy back in shape.

The market for ‘shapewear’ today has exploded. These days, shapewear tames not just tummies but also muffin tops, thighs, the butt, and the back. So we have corsets for an hourglass shape, body stockings, bodysuits, waist cinchers, shaping panties, compression shorts, and Spanx. 

These are the squeezing, stretchy garments we wiggle into to look alluringly curvy. But that doesn’t mean that they are healthy and it’s more than time to say “enough” and stop hurting our bodies in the name of smooth body lines, at least not all the time.

Seven good reasons you should limit shapewear use

1.    Shapewear affects your digestion: Shapewear is tight- it has to be in order to squeeze your body into the right shape- and due to this we don’t really know what it’s compressing inside.

Since most compression happens in the midsection, your stomach, intestine and colon or the lower part of your intestine are squeezed. This can make you nauseous and can worsen acid reflux and heartburn. 

Long-term use of shapewear can cause erosive esophagitis, an inflammation of the lining of the oesophagus, the tube that carries food from your throat to the stomach, provoking symptoms like trouble swallowing, ulcers, and scarring of the oesophagus. 

As your intestines are compressed over a long period of time, they are not able to contract and move food along, so the food kind of stagnates in the gut causes bloating, gas and pain.

2.    It affects your ability to breathe properly: You need the diaphragm and the abdominal muscles to be working together in order to breathe properly. Shapewear restricts the outwards movement and expansion of your diaphragm, as well as the flaring of the abdomen when you inhale and leads to shallow breathing which causes less oxygen being taken into the body.

3.    It can cause incontinence: Ladies, you do know that you are more prone to incontinence or leakage of urine and stool as you age? 

Incontinence happens usually because your pelvic muscles that kind of hold up your bowel, vagina, anus and other stuff down under, become weak.

As shapewear increases pressure on your abdomen, it can exacerbate or provoke incontinence.

I’ve spoken to many women who say that just getting into and out of a ‘squeeze garment’ is so tough, that they delay going to the loo. If done often, this behaviour can put a lot of pressure on your bladder from the shapewear pressing down, and cause you to leak or make your incontinence worse. You may even wet yourself.

4.    It can lead to neurological problems: Shapewear is associated with a greater risk for ‘Meralgia paresthetica’ which happens when the peripheral nerves in your thigh are compressed when you sit for long periods wearing shapewear. This can lead to tingling, numbness, and pain in your legs, all of which can come and go or remain all the time.

This neurological disorder happens more to women who wear those bum tamers and tight stockings to make their legs look slimmer, or even due to wearing skin-tight jeans.

5.    It can give you varicose veins: Sitting in shapewear can also lead to varicose veins and lymph congestion, which causes swollen ankles. These happen as the squeeze decreases your blood circulation to the extremities. This can also lead to blood clots. 

6.    It can make your muscles weaker: Shapewear is no substitute for toned muscles and a good posture. If you rely on shapewear for holding your spine erect, you will hurt yourself more than you realize.

Used for extended periods, shapewear will actually weaken the muscles in your core and back, and this will make you look more out-of-shape than ever.

Shapewear also doesn’t work like a medical back support. It doesn’t support your back as it’s not designed for the purpose. Shapewear is designed to make you look slimmer and curvy. Don’t expect more than this. If you have back pain, you will require an orthopaedic back support belt. 

7.    It can cause dangerous skin infections: Shapewear can and does create an environment prone to infections because of the fabric. 

Most shapewear is made using spandex. And spandex can be hell in a warm, humid climate like India as it is prone to absorb moisture. And as the sweat doesn’t dry, you can get yeast and bacterial skin infections like folliculitis. This bacterial infection happens when bacteria gets trapped among hair follicles and causes puss-filled bumps. Risks for these infections are higher in overweight women, diabetics and women who sweat a lot.

Who should stay away from shapewear unequivocally? 

Women with stress or urge incontinence, please stay away from shapewear, as it will make your condition worse.

If you have reflux disease or are prone to acid reflux, bloating or gas due to irritable bowel disease, wearing shapewear may exacerbate the symptoms.

How to use shapewear judiciously?

Exercising moderation is key. Don't wear shapewear too often. Shapewear is not meant to be worn day-in and day-out. It is designed to be worn for a few hours once in a blue moon. Stick to this shapewear dharma and you are above board. Do not sit for long while wearing shapewear as well, and try not eating too much while wearing it, as it may become tighter than it already is and start causing serious discomfort.

If you have any unpleasant symptoms like the ones I just mentioned, stop wearing shapewear immediately. 

And last but not the least, choose the right fit. Pick shapewear that actually fits you. Don’t get something so small that it starts to damage your body.

Check for shapewear that doesn’t cut in anywhere and allows you to get in and out without a struggle. This usually shows that it’s made for you and not ‘against’ you if you know what I mean…

About the Author

Shikha Gandhi