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The shape of your health NST 25 February 2014

Women wear constrictive shapewear to fit into figure-hugging dresses but what does this do to their physical health? Nadia Badarudin talks to doctors

MANY women are in a never-ending search for the fastest and easiest way to slim down and get that flawless, hour-glass figure. Rather than shed those kilos the hard way through exercise and diet, some prefer to hide the rolls and bumps by wearing shapewear, such as a corset. It’s a quick fix and will ensure you look good in a figure-hugging dress.

Shapewear is the term for undergarments tailored to temporarily alter the wearer’s body shape and show off a slimmer silhouette. Thanks to marketing, the corset and shapewear (which grandmothers called girdles or bengkung) have become trendy.

Its function goes beyond the trick to instantly do away with pudgy fat and muffin tops to let users look shapely in kebaya, just like actress Saloma did. The traditional fashion accessory is now a hip and expensive weight-loss method.

According to Net-A-Porter, actress Jessica Alba claimed she wore a double corset 24/7 for three months after the birth of each of her two children, calling the tactic “sweaty, but worth it”.

Apart from the one-piece corset, some shapewear come in a set (e.g. a thigh or a butt-shaper, a camisole, a waist cincher and a bra) in various materials and designs. You can even find shapewear for pregnant and for skinny women.

As for men, there’s shapewear brief or a mirdle (a man’s girdle) to give the impression of six-pack abs.

Users don’t mind suffering shortness of breath, profuse sweating and stifled movements when they wear these tight-fitting shapewear for long hours. However, experts say this can be dangerous to health and that the gruelling, tight-fitting corset should stay in the Victorian Era.


According to reports, the negative effects of using shapewear outweighs the positive. Some experts liken its use to literally squeezing your organs.

Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur consultant orthopaedic surgeon Dr Eugene Wong says using shapewear can be compared to having someone sit on your stomach for hours at a stretch.

“It’s like having your internal organs compressed. The overall effect depends on how much compression is experienced, and the duration,” he says.

Dr Wong says erosive oesophagitis is one of the conditions that will happen. This is inflammation of the cell layer that lines the inside of the oesophagus.

“This condition is a complication that results from severe gastro-oesophageal reflux disease. Reflux of acid from the stomach happens due to the compressive effects of shapewear,” he says.

He adds that compression also causes the diaphragm to become restricted and the abdomen to flare during respiration, resulting in shallow breathing. It also suppresses the urge to go to the bathroom and causes stress incontinence.


The digestive system and blood circulation can be affected, particularly among individuals with functional bowel disorders, irritable bowel syndrome or gastric problems, says Dr Wong.

“The tightness impacts the digestive track. If the intestines are compressed for too long, it can cause abdominal discomfort, bloating, and gas. It can add more problems to those suffering from irritable bowel syndrome or functional bowel disorders,” he says.

Use of shapewear can increase the risk of blood clots too. “Meralgia paresthetica, for instance, can develop if the peripheral nerve in the thigh is compressed. This leads to tingling, numbness and pain in the legs, all of which can come and go, or become constant,” he says.

Thigh-shapers can compress blood vessels in the thigh, disrupt blood circulation and cause blood clots. Varicose veins and lymph congestion may develop, says Dr Wong.


Shapewear is mainly tailored to be worn for several hours in a day. And with the garment being occlusive, wearers, especially those with existing skin allergies, are prone to skin infections.

Sunway Medical Centre consultant dermatologist Dr Lee Yin Yin says shapewear is often tight and leads to an increase in body temperature and more perspiration.

“Shapewear tends to trap sweat, increasing the wearer’s risk of acquiring bacterial and yeast infections such as folliculitis (infection in the hair follicles usually caused by bacteria).

“Folliculitis is commonly seen due to the occlusion and irritation caused in hair follicles. Yeast infections are seen at the axillary and inguinal regions,” she says, adding that individuals with poor hygiene or are obese, will be at greater risk of getting skin infections with prolonged use of shapewear.

“Immunosuppressed individuals (AIDS or diabetes mellitus patients), individuals on systemic steroid therapy or those in a hot and humid environment, will be predisposed to skin infections,” she says.


Dr Wong says there are corsets specially designed to help correct posture and minimise back pain but these are medical devices and not those bought from department stores.

People with injuries due to accidents, vertebral fractures or slipped discs, as well as those with neurological disorders (e.g. ataxia) and autoimmune disorders (e.g. osteoarthritis, degenerative disc disease or fibromyalgia) benefit most from using these corsets.

He explains: “Corsets prevent the worsening of curvature in scoliosis patients once they no longer have a brace, or they may be used to prevent back pain from the curvature. Some experienced corsetieres have designed corrective corsets that may help reduce the curve over time.

“Corsets are used as lumbar support to prevent potential back injuries and to give support during work, such as those involving heavy-lifting, repeated tasks or long hours on one’s feet or in front of a computer.”

He says people with hypermobilility or connective tissue disorders like Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome sometimes experience injury due to weakness and hyperextension in their joints.

“Wearing a corset can help brace the torso and prevent spontaneous movements that may lead to sprains or other injuries,” he adds.


Wearing a corset may be the trick for some women to “hide” the overhanging fat or who dream of having an hour-glass figure. However, for Michele Koebke, her body became shaped permanently like an hour-glass after she wore a corset every day for three years.

The German woman’s waistline is only 40.64cm (16 ins) in circumference, or roughly, the size of a large jar of mayonnaise.

Koebke, 24, wears the corset at all times (except when she’s in the shower). She has to eat 10 small meals throughout the day because her stomach doesn’t have the room for large meals. She doesn’t consider this a burden and says that the “bottleneck waistline feels nice and smooth”.

“My life hasn’t changed, just slowed down a little. Now my movements are more feminine,” says Koebke, whose waist measures 55.8cm without the corset.

She has trouble standing upright without the corset due to the hypertrophy of her back and stomach muscles. Doctors have warned her that any further constricting of the waist would paralyse her, but that isn’t stopping her from reaching the 38cm threshold.

She says: “I’m not worried about the medical implications. I would reconsider if I thought they were serious or that wearing a corset could prove fatal — but, as far as I’m concerned, that’s not the case.”

Source:, June 10, 2013


ACTRESS Rozita Che Wan, 41, has a figure that many women envy. The mother of two teenaged sons brushes off claims that she depends on shapewear to maintain her figure.

She says wearing shapewear is not only a hassle but the garments are also pricey although the “body-shaping” effect is temporary.

“I have friends who wear a few pieces of shapewear at the same time all day long. Listening to their stories, I think it is a hassle to put them on and take them off. And branded shapewear is mostly expensive,” she says.

“However, I do wear a corset occasionally, especially when I want to look good in kebaya.”

So, if it is not a shapewear, what is her secret?

“Good posture, and I owe it to my mother. When I was a child, she would always remind me to sit up straight and not slouch. Eventually it became a habit. And it does help me to shape up,” says Rozita who also eats a healthy diet to help maintain her figure.


HERE are some tips from Dr Wong and Dr Lee:

• Try to wear the garment for short periods, about two to three hours daily.

• Shapewear is not an excuse to ditch exercise and healthy eating.

• Wash the shapewear regularly.

• Choose shapewear made of thin materials and which can absorb sweat.

• Be realistic and choose a size which is appropriate for your body.

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