“The Works” Waist Trainer (Waist Gang Society, worn by Kim Kardashian . Commercially-produced object. Latex and plastic.)
In 2014, Kim Kardashian Instagrammed herself wearing this waist trainer, with the hashtags #ad and #whatawaist. As an icon of ideal physical femininity today, she’s credited for bringing this object into the contemporary public sphere. The waist trainer is a form of restrictive bodywear likened to the corset. Its curved sides work as a mold for the hourglass body shape. Pulling its clasps together empower the wearer to actively gain control over their bodies. For example, Kardashian states that it helped her regain her pre-pregnancy figure. However, the object is critiqued for converting women into standardized commodities modeled after patriarchal standards and the fetishization of black women’s bodies.
The waist trainers displayed in Kim Kardashian’s sponsored Instagram posts are from the brand Waist Gang Society. The model “The Works” is pictured above and is listed simply on the website as Kim Kardashian’s “favorite.” This object is a strip of latex that fits below the wearer’s breasts and above their hips. The material is stretchable but sturdy, and is structured by flexible “boning.” On the front are two rows of interlocking hooks that are used to clasp the item on the body and “allow you to adjust the corset to your comfort level to enable a continuous refinement of your figure.” When worn, the wearer’s waist is made to look “up to 2 sizes” smaller, giving the user an “hour-glass” figure—though this has proved to be somewhat temporary after the waist trainer is taken off. It also straightens the wearer’s posture. “The Works” is priced at $119.99 USD (which goes up with size) and comes in three colors: purple, pink, and blue. Kim Kardashian wears Royal Blue. According to Kardashian, waist trainers feel uncomfortable but similar to Spanx. Others have said that they also felt more confident while being forced to stand straighter. The waist trainer restricts breathing slightly and limits other types of mobility, like bending over or driving or sitting down for a period of time without pain. One can also experience gas pains and much more serious physical consequences as the waist trainer compresses one’s vital organs.
The curved shape of the waist trainer alludes to the hourglass, or ‘slim-thick,’ figure that is the most popular body trend currently. Just looking at the object brings to mind celebrities like Kim Kardashian, who have slim waists, large breasts and large hips. The waist trainer defines the current (but ongoing) standard of beauty. This idea of the body historically dates back to even the 15th century. Body trends have changed over recent decades, but this type of body alteration seems to be the most regressive and traditional. This places today’s waist trainer users in a similar space to women back then, valued by their perceived fertility and birthing abilities to best serve their husband. These hyper feminine visual connotations imply that the waist trainer is an object that facilitates the patriarchy and controls women’s bodies. This control is further emphasized by the other ways the waist trainer restricts the body: lack of mobility, food intake, breath, and all around comfort. The object perpetuates the expectation that women are meant to do everything that men do but while performing unrealistic, and even painful, standards of beauty at the same time. On the other hand, the waist trainer could also be seen as a tool for empowerment. While it forces the user to move in a certain way, it also enables them to sweat more and therefore be more effective when they exercise, to have the support to sit more straight, to feel less hungry when dieting, and to achieve the body that they desire. The waist trainer invites you to exercise with it, but empowers you to defy the limitations of your natural body.
Moreover, the representation of this object is closely tied to its visibility on social media and its association with the Kardashian family. Social media is integral to the scripted use of this product; it is meant to be a public act. Thus, waist trainers aren’t seen as shameful and hidden like Spanx or plastic surgery. Rather, they fit into Kim’s go-getter persona. Kim Kardashian’s waist trainer is a symbol of a powerful, wealthy, and successful female business woman. Women pioneer the technology of the waist trainer movement, and can be seen as taking the corset back into their own hands. Despite this, Kardashian’s promotion of this product marginalizes certain women of color. The waist trainer provides the means for the appropriation of black women’s bodies. The body modification that waist trainers allow glorifies the “slim-thick” shape, but this body type was only deemed the ideal by mainstream society once it was appropriated by light-skinned, high profile celebrities, objectifying the bodies of those who naturally have this figure. The mold that the waist trainer creates can heighten expectations for black women and fetishize them, while constructing standards for other women that can only be achieved through extreme change.
People’s relationships with the waist trainer vary with their purpose for using it. Kim Kardashian stated that she used it to slim down her waist and remove stretchmarks after giving birth, but many users try the product in order for their bodies to look like Kardashian’s. Perhaps an unintended use for this specific waist trainer could be for those assigned male at birth to “feminize” their figure. It’s not uncommon for trans or gender-nonconforming people to use corsets. However, this product is only apparently advertised to cis women and thus may not physically accommodate male bodies. With a waist trainer, there isn’t much room to physically use it in ways other than intended, so for this reason it is a heavily scripted object.
The shape of the waist trainer projects a feminine, racialized, ideal figure. With this object, only one type of body is available. While the majority of people do not develop this extreme hourglass figure naturally and everybody has the option not to conform to this ideal, the Waist Gang Society waistshaper actively invites consumers to transform their bodies with a very particular, cookie cutter mold. For those who can afford it, ‘outsider’ bodies can become members of the small waist club. In “Dances with Things: Material Culture and the Performance of Race,” historian Robin Bernstein explains that an object can be at once the negative and the positive of the human body through her example of the spoon. While the wearer’s waist is the negative of the waist trainer (the space in which the body is meant to fit), the user’s hands and mind could be seen as the positive because they control how tight the waist trainer is and how often they wear it. The user controls the object that controls the body.
The script is that Kardashian’s hourglass figure is a commodity women have always wanted but could never achieve without waist trainers. But we know that this script fails for many users because once they remove the object from their body, their resting body no longer fits the negative space that the waist trainer had forced it into. Therefore, one could argue that, in this case, the latent presence is mostly imaginary. This suggests that the user lacks control over their own reality versus the object’s projection, making them subservient to the waist trainer.
Robin Bernstein, “Dances with Things: Material Culture and the Performance of Race,” Social Text Vol. 27, No. 4 (2009)