IT’S more than a century since women everywhere were liberated from their corsets by the bra.
After seeing this snap of actress Keira Knightley at Paris Fashion Week last month, however, the ‘corset diet’ could be the only option if you want to get a waist just as tiny.
The 29-year-old showed off her eye-popping waist in an image quickly pinged around the world.
And, measuring a mere 23.5 inches around the middle, the star’s shock silhouette was due only in part to her optical illusion Karl Lagerfeld dress.
British beauty Keira is famous for donning a corset in period dramas including Pride and Prejudice and The Duchess. Off camera though, the wasp-waisted actress told how she doesn’t need any help: “My abs are just luck. My mum has good ones, so it’s a family trait.”
Good genes aside, your waist size is a key indicator of health, with experts recommending we all whip out the measuring tape.
Launched in 2011, the Safefood nationwide campaign, Stop the Spread, saw the distribution of 250,000 measuring tapes to pharmacies across the country. It was blasted by eating disorders association Bodywhys for promoting a “one size fits all” approach to waist-watching.
Three years on, the Government body is standing by its message that women should measure no more than 32 inches around the middle, and men, 37 inches.
“We’re actually relaunching the campaign this autumn,” says Dr Cliodhna Foley-Nolan, director of human health and nutrition at Safefood.
“Fifty-four per cent of men and 64% of women have [a] waist circumference which is greater than the recommended figures. So the campaign is as valid as it ever was.”
Most Irish women would simply be happy to let a little air out of their spare tyre, reckons Dr Marilyn Glenville, author of Fat Around the Middle.
“As women, I think we’re getting closer to men [in shape],” says Dr Glenville (below). “We’ve always been more pear-shaped, with fat around the hips, now we’re more apple-shaped with the fat sitting around the middle.
“Cosmetically, women don’t like this weight,” she adds. “Their blouse feels too tight, their skirt is uncomfortable.
“Most women want to get rid of [this fat] because they don’t like the way it looks, but actually the bigger problem is the risk to their future health.”
Heart disease, diabetes and even cancer are just some of the ailments associated with muffin top, according to the experts.
Dr Foley-Nolan explains: “In the past, we thought fat was fat — but the fat on your arms is not the same as the fat on your stomach.
“The fat that we accumulate around our middle is particularly active in terms of producing hormones and other chemical substances which have negative consequences on health.
“If you have an excess of fat around your middle you are producing hormones which make you more likely to develop high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.
“From a health perspective, it would be better to carry weight peripherally than centrally.”
With role models like Knightley and Rihanna, who’s thought to have a 24-in midriff, then, why are the rest of us getting more ‘ab flab’ than ‘ab fab’?
“Waist circumference wasn’t monitored [in Ireland over the years] so we don’t have accurate figures for how much it has increased,” says Dr Foley-Nolan
“What we do know is that over the last 15 years obesity has trebled in men and doubled in women, and as weight has increased, waist circumferences have increased.”
As Dr Glenville explains: “This particular fat is driven by our stress hormone cortisol.
“When we are under a lot of day-to-day stress, which has increased a lot over the last few years with the recession, the body puts on this protective cushion around the middle.
“Cortisol is also released when our blood sugar fluctuates, so if we miss meals, we’re releasing even more of this stress hormone — not just because of external stress but because of eating patterns — and that’s laying on the weight [in a] sort of double effect.
“The fat around the middle produces blood clotting agents which increase the risk of heart attack and stroke,” she adds.
“In women, it produces excess oestrogen which increases the risk of breast cancer. “That’s why there’s such a concern not only about being overweight, but where that weight is sitting.”
Pregnancy is often a game changer for women. Currently pregnant with her first child, Scarlett Johansson can wave goodbye to her perfect 27in waist.
Meanwhile, mum-of-two Jessica Alba revealed how she got her incredible 34-24-34 physique back just three months after giving birth.
“I wore a double corset day and night for three months,” she told Net-a-Porter last year. “It was brutal.
“It’s just to get your body back because everything is everywhere.”
Dr Glenville says: “When you think about it, in pregnancy, we’re our biggest apple shape we’re ever going to be and that’s why there’s an increased risk of things like gestational diabetes.
“After pregnancy, obviously we’ve got to lose this ‘mummy tummy’,” she adds. “When you’ve got a new baby to look after though, sometimes trying to feed yourself gets put down to the bottom of the list, making it even more difficult to lose that pregnancy weight.”
Whether it’s a mummy tummy, or a ‘food baby’, personal trainer James Murphy of Zest Fitness has this advice.
“If the goal is a flat stomach, focus on big compound exercises,” he says.
“Squats, deadlifts and bench pressing will do more for you than [ab] crunches ever will.
“Meanwhile, work on tidying up your diet — cutting out processed sugars and unhealthy fats.
“If you’re honestly looking for abs, and want to wade through the waffle, 30 minutes spent preparing food for the day is better than 30 minutes doing sit-ups,” he says.
“It’s really to think about eating little and often,” says Dr Glenville.
“Avoid gaps of longer than three hours without eating because as soon as we get to that point the body will release stress hormones and send us off for a quick fix.
“We can live on this rollercoaster during the day,” she explains.
“People often feel it around four o’clock in the afternoon, where they think ‘If I don’t have a cup of tea and a biscuit, I’m not going to make it through the afternoon’.
“We think it’s picking us up, but it’s very short-lived, then we’re down again and need another pick-me-up.”
And the measuring tape doesn’t lie, insists Dr Foley-Nolan.
“People often say, ‘Ah sure, I still take the same size trousers’,” she says. “But where are the trousers [sitting] now? “First of all, clothes sizes have become, we’ll call it ‘more generous’. As well as that, people are wearing their trousers lower down, under a bulge rather than on their waist.
“When we started the [Stop the Spread] campaign, there was questioning of ‘Oh, well I’m tall’ or ‘I’ve had several pregnancies, all those type of things,” adds Dr Foley-Nolan.
“We did look into the research on those areas, and, yes, they will legitimately affect your [waist] size in the range of two inches or so.
“But that’s the leeway — it’s not five inches or ten inches.
“It’s about getting to grips with reality, really.”
With most of us more concerned with being ‘the perfect 10’ than ‘the perfect 32’, however, the reality is that many women here don’t even know their own waist size.
And given that the dress size of the average Irish woman has ballooned from a 12 to a 16 in just over a decade, some may prefer to keep it that way.
As curvy Kate Upton rules the runway and Debenhams rolls out size 16 mannequins, it’s never been easier to ignore our expanding waistlines.
Most women are aware of their dress size but experts say our waist measurement is more important when it comes to our general health; Keira Knightley, above, in a Karl Lagerfeld dress which emphasised her tiny waist.
With her tiny, 22-inch waist, burlesque star Dita Von Teese is ten inches narrower than the average Irish woman.
Now 41, she told how she’s loosened her laces a little: “At my very smallest, I was down to 16 inches [on stage]. [But] I don’t sleep in my corsets, and I’m not obsessed with obtaining the world’s smallest waist anymore.”
Women who want to define the funnel in their hourglass have found a far more comfortable way to do so, says Emily O’Byrnes, a lingerie buyer at Arnotts in Dublin. “Shapewear has moved on a lot in the past few years. A lot of brands use retro-inspired boning to give the customer that really feminine silhouette. So it can be quite sexy, while giving targeted shaping at the same time.
“There are different levels of compression and control,” she says.
“Some customers come in and want to lose a dress size. Others just want to achieve a seamless look under their clothes.
“One of our best-selling products is Wacoal’s high-waisted iPant, €59.50, which contains anti-cellulite ingredients, such as Vitamin E.”
It’s certainly one way to ‘stop the spread’.
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