Shapewear Poses Significant Health Risks to Women and Teens

(Memphis) The arrival of spring also brings a shift in fashion.  We see shorter hemlines, more fitted clothing, and of course formal wear for everything from proms to weddings.

Believe it or not, though, experts say it’s what’s underneath that clothing that has become a potential problem.

From corsets to girdles, ladies have long worn undergarments that offer smoothing in all the right places.

However, as the On Your Side Investigators discovered, what may seem like harmless fashion could be hazardous to the health of women and teens.

“Women want to look their best,” says Kimberly Rainey.  So, as your grandmother might say, that starts with a lady’s foundation, or these days, shapewear!

“You want to look sucked in, you want to look nice,” adds Rainey. “It pulls everything in, you don’t see the muffin top,” adds Tammy Hart.

“I have two kids and that’s when I did start wearing it more,” Traci Gatlin says.

However, almost like a training bra, and now days it seems a push up, that rite of passage is coming earlier for young women.

Twenty-two year-old Eincia Atkins recalls her first experience with shapewear, “I was almost in tears.”

The Lemoyne-Owen student says she was 17 and getting ready for senior prom. “Me and my mom, and my grandmother argued in the mall for 30 minutes because I didn’t want to put on a girdle!”

Since that time, shapewear has come a long way, and so has Eincia’s opinion. “I love it, I’ve been in love ever since, exclaims Atkins.

Shapewear comes in all sorts of designs and colors, there are even man Spanx and shapers claiming to help you lose weight.

“They have the panty brief, or they also have some that are butt enhancers,” says Atkins.

Some celebrities admit to doubling up on shapers, and it’s been nearly two years since Consumer Reports first sounded the alarm about teens wearing shapewear under sports uniforms, plus regular clothes.

“It’s not surprising to me because I’ve seen it,” says nurse practitioner Stacey Powell.

Powell focuses on healthy lifestyles in her Collierville clinic. She still hears from young women wearing shapers for too long.

“Kids get up for school at six o’clock in the morning, and then they’re coming home, aren’t taking it off ’till 9:00 or 10:00 at night, so that’s 12 to 16 hours of compression gear,” explains Powell.

Which believe it or not has health risks like bladder infections and nerve compression. Powell also said, “I think the main risks would be on the gastrointestinal system, reflux.”

Hart knows exactly how that feels. “I wore it for about eight hours, and at the end of the night, I became sick.” Hart says she spent $350 on a product called Body Magic, but was feeling anything but magical.

“I was dizzy and nauseous,” adds Hart.

While these health concerns go for both women and teens, psychiatrist Dr. Elizabeth Vannucci, says there could be deeper problems for a young woman extremely concerned about body image.

“It might even cause them anxiety if they perceive they have defects with their body and they’re trying to cover them up,” explains Dr. Vannucci, a fellow with the UT Department of Psychiatry.

Dr. Vannucci says if parents are concerned, communication is key. “I think it’s important to be accepting of a wide variety of body shapes and sizes and to really not focus so much on their bodies, to look at more of others areas for self esteem.”

Powell says if your teen or tween insists on wearing shapers, limit usage and search for lighter fabrics.

She also says grown ups should listen to their bodies when they speak, “If it’s very uncomfortable or painful for you, that’s an indicator that the type of gear that you’re wearing may be a little too tight.”

Hart says she saves shapers for special occasions, focusing instead on slimming her body the old fashioned way.

“My goal ultimately is to get out of shapewear, but it does have your body looking the way that you want it to look as a woman.”

We reached out to Spanx and the maker of Body Magic for a comment and didn’t get a response.  Some doctors advise women to limit their time in shapewear to three hours or less.

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