When I could no longer zip a single pair of my jeans, I was ready to try anything. Though I was still at a healthy weight, I'd gotten squishy around the middle, and something had to be done—I couldn't afford a new wardrobe. So I did what any sensible person would do: bought a corset. The idea is pretty much the same as it was in the 19th century: Constantly wearing a cinching device—or "waist trainer," as it's now called—is said to shrink your waist by toning the skin around your belly and flattening flab. It seems ridiculous, but some of my friends swore by it postpartum, and it sounded sexy in a vintage pinup-girl way.

Alas, today's therapeutic waist cinchers aren't anything Bettie Page would have worn. Popularized in South America, the rubbery faja was initially marketed as a postsurgical compression garment for lipo patients before it was co-opted by women seeking telenovela-star curves. It's like a girdle on steroids, or perhaps herbal supplements: The one I bought from a specialty store in New Jersey claimed to contain collagen-boosting ginkgo biloba extract, anti-inflammatory vitamin E and seaweed extract—all of which supposedly aid in fat reduction.

I quickly learned that waist training isn't exactly a shortcut; in the time I spent getting in and out of the contraption every day, I could have done "8-Minute Abs." I'd contort myself into the faja, suck in, fasten 18 hooks, and reacquaint myself with outfits from 15 pounds ago. At first, the constant squeezing was torturous—I could barely lean forward!—but after a week of wearing it for 13 hours a day, I actually found the compression comfortable. Not to mention, I lost an inch from my midsection within a month. And I gained something unexpected: better posture. Like most people, I spend my days hunched over a computer. In the faja, that was literally impossible. Even my boss noticed I looked "erect." My newfound awareness of my spine has inspired me to concentrate on my posture without depending on a complicated undergarment. I wouldn't mind losing another inch or two, but I think I'll give the corset a rest—the confidence you project by standing up straight improves your look no matter your size.


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