OPINION: I never used to understand why waist training has become so popular these days.
For you lucky few who don't know what waist training is, it's the practice of wearing a cross between a corset and spanx under your clothes every day. You're supposed to keep it on for about eight hours a day, progressively tightening it as you get used to not eating and breathing.
When you put it like that it sounds like a highway back to the 19th century. And you'd have thought modern women would be throwing off the shackles of oppression, not snagging them for $59.99 online. Naively, I assumed it was such an archaic thing that it could never make a comeback. But clearly it's the Winston Peters of the beauty industry.
Not only is it already popular but it's gaining in popularity. Startup Kiwi company Waist Trainer NZAU sold $3.5 million worth of the waist trainers in only 12 months. You'll probably know them because their founder, Iyia Liu, hit headlines last year for paying Kylie Jenner almost $300,000 to wear a trainer on her Instagram.
It appears to be a cheap way to achieve the Kardashian bootylicious body. Waist Trainer Australia-New Zealand states that it helps with appetite surpression, better posture and "a flatter, more toned and tight looking stomach" if used over time. And more and more girls I know have started doing it. But it's akin to a new hobby to feel like you're permanently being digested by a python.
Eventually I realised there was only one way to find out why it was so popular. So I strapped myself in for a wild ride towards the perfect figure. And God was it awful.
It didn't start off awful. One of the nicer parts about wearing it at the start was that it made me feel cinched in. I have a subconscious fear of my stomach pudge spilling out over my jeans. But while I was wearing it there was a constant, physical reassurance my muffin top wouldn't over-spill.
But more and more I started to worry about how my stomach looked when I wasn't wearing it. This is pretty much a text book harm that Dr Pani Farvid, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at AUT, expressed about waist trainers. "Using a waist trainer, not only has you focussed on a specific part of your body, but using it will change your relationship with that part of the body. You could become more critical and more obsessed." She argues they have seen similar effects with other body modification or even make up. "Once you start wearing makeup, suddenly your natural face can start to look unnatural or even unhealthy to you." And when I took off my trainer I hated my natural waist.
It also made me feel very little and, I'm embarrassed to say, feminine. It's the same feeling that I get from a push up bra: having cleavage instead of my usual frozen peas makes me feel like a woman. But again, I came to hate the feeling. I don't want to teach myself that small is sexy. It's hard enough trying to mentally resist the relentless cultural tide that tells me thin is fabulous - let alone ignore the constant reminder that you only feel sexy because you strapped in your guts.
Aside from the psychological effects, there are also things like burping. It's not ideal, especially for a TV presenter who's trying to appear moderately intelligent on air. Then there's the fact that supressing my appetite all day made me ravenous when I escaped it at night. I would come home and ingest anything edible in a 2m radius.
And my God did it make me dull. I spent all of the time thinking about my appearance. Admittedly It's hard to think about anything else when you feel like you're stuck in a vacuum cleaner tube. But as a millennial I'm quite vain enough already without encouraging myself to spend any more of my time thinking about it. Speaking of which, it took mental energy away from the things I actually needed to think about. And I have things to do that need my attention way more than my stomach flab does.
I also don't think it made me any thinner. I only wore it for two weeks because the psychological pressure of wearing it was too intense. They say you need a sustained period of training before you see results. But even the experts aren't convinced it does its job. In fact, wearing the waist trainer can make you look less toned.
Lucy Lydon, physiotherapist and partner at Move to Live physiotherapy argues that, "the external bracing effect of a waist trainer allows a person to relax their core muscles." These are muscles that normally you'd keep a little bit more engaged in everyday life. If you keep the trainer on for months, it is possible that a loss of muscle tone would occur, because the constant low level of internal muscle bracing you'd provide yourself is not being utilized."
Basically your core gets lazy because it's used to the trainer doing all the work for it. Ouch. I paid 59.99 for more flab.
So in the end, I just couldn't keep doing it. I could probably put up with the burping, feeling faint from not eating, and the constant discomfort of doing…well, everything. But the mind bending way it heightened all my existing insecurity was just poisonous. I ended up dreading having to put it on every day. It lures you in with the promise of fixing your body worries, and then it just makes them a whole lot worse.
Verity Johnson is a Newshub digital reporter.