how celebrities and influencers drove our modern obsession with shapewear

Throughout history, women have been pressured to have certain body shapes, often leading them to use extreme methods to achieve them. So you would think that with a greater emphasis on body positivity in recent years, the days of wearing corsets and other restrictive undergarments would be behind us. In fact, the global shapewear industry is booming – sales of these products are expected to reach US$3.7bn (£2.9bn) by 2028.

While corsets date back to the 16th century, it was in the 18th century that the hourglass shape became fashionable. Corsets had also come to represent elite status and physical fragility, a symbol of femininity.

Different body ideals have come into fashion since, largely shaped by popular celebrities or even famous images and artworks. For example, Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of beauty, was frequently depicted in paintings and sculptures with a curvaceous body.


This article is part of Quarter Life, a series about issues affecting those of us in our 20s and 30s. From the challenges of starting a career and taking care of our mental health, to the excitement of starting a family, adopting a pet or simply making friends as adults. The articles in this series explore questions and provide answers as we navigate this turbulent time in life.

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While hourglasses were popular throughout the 1950s due to celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, the 1960s saw a shift towards a slimmer physique – thanks in part to famous model Twiggy. This skinny, waif look remained in vogue well into the 1990s – again thanks to the continued popularity of models, such as Kate Moss.

The 2010s saw a move towards a “curvy” silhouette, where a slim waist and fuller hips once again became the ideal. Just like in previous decades, this change was driven by celebrities, including Rihanna, Beyonce and – in particular – Kim Kardashian.

Social Media Trends

Although social media has helped to provide space for celebrating a more diverse range of body shapes, there is still continued pressure to conform to an ideal that may not be entirely natural. This is why shapewear remains popular – even though the way these garments are perceived and worn have changed significantly since the 18th century.

Before American underwear brand Spanx launched shaping leggings and underwear in 2000, shapewear was generally only reserved for special occasions. But thanks to endorsements from celebrities and Instagram influencers, shapewear (including Spanx) has become an everyday item of clothing, used to help improve appearance and achieve the ideal figure. Both Kim Kardashian and Victoria Beckham have launched their own lines of affordable shapewear.

We have now reached the point where young women are wearing slimming clothes as outerwear instead of hiding them as underwear. Searches for the best shapewear now even exceed searches for the best way to lose weight.

A photo of the Skims shapewear website, next to a phone displaying the company's logo.
Kim Kardashian has played a huge role in the continued popularity of shapewear.
T. Schneider / Shutterstock

Sports belts in particular are a prime example of the power of social media and celebrity endorsements to drive sales and change perceptions. For example, a selfie posted by Kim Kardashian in 2015 in a corset created a big boost in sales. Other celebrities such as Nicki Minaj and Kylie Jenner have also posted about wearing corsets.

In the past, women only knew about the latest fashion trends through designers or magazines, which featured illustrations of fashionable silhouettes. But with social media, users are constantly exposed to images – whether they are ordinary people or extremely photographed models and celebrities. So it’s hard to escape idealized body shapes – and what you can buy to achieve them.

Social media has a huge influence on the consumption of fashion products. With approximately 3.2 billion users worldwide, this creates huge potential for brands to expose consumers to fashion products on a daily basis. Trends that were worn by fashion magazines are now in the hands of influencers. And with even everyday people flaunting idealized figures and sharing their experiences with using shapewear products, the products may seem more relevant than previous generations.

Although some influencers talk about shapewear as a way to celebrate the female form, its relationship to old notions of perfection and its endorsement by tiny-waisted celebrities raises questions as to whether body acceptance is what these products are really trying to sell. But these clothes are unlikely to go away anytime soon – with celebrities such as Billie Eilish and Lizzo continuing to popularize them.

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There are more and more questions about the potential benefits and risks of using shapewear. While corsets can temporarily reduce waist circumference, the waist quickly returns to normal size after discontinuing use.

Plenty of research also shows that long-term use of corsets and corsets can cause problems, ranging from digestive issues to extreme organ damage. Some women who wear shapewear for 8-10 hours a day for several months have also reported tingling, acid reflux, organ compression and breathing problems.

Technical innovations in manufacturing, such as making these products more breathable and flexible, may eventually provide a more natural and less harmful fit. But to ensure safety, only wear form-fitting clothes that fit your body and avoid wearing them every day.


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