A post-pregnancy corset may have worked for Jessica Alba, but those kinds of magic bullet solutions for weight loss are a bad idea for a lot of reasons.
In order to get back in shape after having her second baby, actress Jessica Alba used the ‘corset training’ method. A corset is a steel ribbed cage that apparently can reduce waist size by seven inches when tightened. Alba told news reporters that she “wore a double corset day and night for three months” and that “it was sweaty, but worth it.”
I thought corsets died out in the 1800s and that the general consensus is that they were horrible for women. Not only did they restrict women’s movements on a daily basis, but they also caused internal damage by squishing organs. In fact, corsets were so stiff that they caused women’s abdominal muscles to atrophy; this meant that, when they took them off during pregnancy, many died in childbirth because they had no abdominal muscles left to push out the baby. Corsets, in my opinion, represent an archaic practice that really should stay in the past, along with other awful trends such as foot-binding and lead face makeup.
Alba’s news story made an impression on me because I often think about perceptions of health and body image. To be thin is the goal of so many women, and yet it’s such a vague and general term. All too often, thinness can also indicate physical weakness, illness, or poor nutrition, and yet both women and men continue to do terrible things to their bodies on their quest for thinness, including women whose bodies have just been through the toughest challenge of all -- giving birth. The Western society in which we live places thinness (particularly instant postnatal thinness) absurdly high on a pedestal, and this is tragic for a number of reasons.
First, ever since starting CrossFit nearly three years ago, I’ve learned that there’s a huge difference between being thin and being in shape. The former used to be my ideal, but now it’s the latter, because it’s far more important and useful to be strong and active than to wear small jeans. I’d rather be large and muscular and able to lift, squat, climb, and carry than be thin and unable to move weight around.
Second, everyone has different body types. For years, I struggled to accept my “thunder thighs” and the fact that, in grade three, they were already twice as wide as my best friend’s thighs. I realize now that her body was built differently from mine, and that I am much bigger-boned than she, but it was upsetting at the time. It took me years to realize I’d never look like the thin, waif-like models featured in magazines, and even longer yet to realize I’d never want to look like them anyways.
Third, the quest for thinness results in women (and men, too) beating themselves up on a quest for a magic bullet — like Jessica Alba’s corset and crazy, unhealthy weight loss diets — that will make them look thin at the cost of health, happiness, and comfort. The only magic bullet out there, I’ve come to realize, is doing real physical work; every other promise of miraculous results is an illusion. In my case, the best work happens while busting my butt at the CrossFit gym, but everyone has to find their own thing.
In the meantime, let’s fight back against the absurd cultural obsession with thinness and try to teach young women and men, as well as new mothers, that strength, ability, stamina, and health are far more valuable investments than spending three months locked into steel cage. Please, let’s leave those nineteenth-century inventions in the past where they belong.