15 SEPTEMBER 2016
WANTING A WAIST
Christa D’Souza has spent her life hankering after one thing: a waist. Now, with hourglass silhouettes ruling the catwalks from Loewe to Saint Laurent, she’s decided to take back the middle ground…
You have the body of an older woman,’ a boyfriend of mine once said when he saw me in a bikini for the first time. Charms! Who cares, he was a loser anyway, but the comment stuck. Not because I adored him particularly, but because it hit on a No 1 bugaboo: my waist (or lack thereof).
It doesn’t matter how slim, toned or tanned I am: I was born an ‘apple’ — more inclined to go out at the middle than in — and consequently don’t have, and have never had, a waist. And while ‘pears’ out there may disagree, I firmly believe that when it comes to looking good in clothes, THAT is more important than anything. An inner-thigh gap or endless legs are all very well... but a waist, that’s what counts.
Nothing, not even a sack dress, fails to look better when you are nimble-waisted. Being able to tuck stuff in or cinch it with a belt, without having to fuss about it all day, gives you license to wear pretty much what you want. Well, maybe not everything — but certainly this season’s metallic bustiers and handkerchief-pointed hems from Loewe. And the bowed side belts from Saint Laurent, and Gucci’s divine pleated skirts. Those sculpted suits at Balenciaga? The cinched-in coats at Prada? They were all made for you lucky pears. Like everyone else, I’m mad for a tea dress in the autumn, but if it goes in gently at the waist, all the Spanx in the world isn’t going to stop me looking slightly like a sausage (or a refrigerator in high-waisted jeans, despite being not a bit overweight).
A nimble waist has anthropological form. It showed ancestral males we weren’t pregnant and were therefore ready to breed. Perhaps that is why, as any evolutionary psychologist will tell you, a waist-hip ratio of 0.7 — that is, a waist measuring 70 per cent of the hip circumference — has always been perceived as the ideal, whatever a woman’s size. And we know it’s healthier that way round, too. According to a study by the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, fat skinny folk (thin people with matchstick legs and no bottoms but a spare tyre of fat round the stomach) have twice as high a mortality risk as those who are overweight all over.
But hey, this is the 21st century, anything ought to be possible. Why can’t I have what I want? In the grand scheme of things, is going in at the middle that much of an ask? It’s not like wanting longer legs or narrower feet or better turned ankles, after all. How, then, to get what I want without actually having a rib removed?
If you have any girlfriends from the continent, you may have noticed how many of them wore a corset after giving birth to get their tummies back into shape. There’s some wisdom in this: the rectus abdominis (the muscle running down the middle of the tummy) does part during pregnancy, leaving a croissant-shaped hole. Those muscles need to knit back together after birth and some doctors do recommend helping it along with a special post-pregnancy girdle or corset.
Kim and Khloe Kardashian swear by their Waist Gang Society waist trainers for that hourglass effect — but I know for myself, having bought my first corset at Rigby & Peller a quarter of a century ago, that they dig in something terrible; and the moment they come off, everything irrevocably seeps back to how it was before. The other problem with ‘cheating’ via a corset is that if you’re meaty around the middle, that ‘meat’ has to go somewhere, which means spilling out over the bottom and top. I know someone who wears two sets of Spanx when going out in the evening, but truthfully, you can’t fool everyone all of the time.
To exercise, then — but what works best if you are targeting your middle? Can one even target a specific area? According to Aud Aasbo, head instructor of pilates and gyrotonics at Triyoga, you can, to a degree. But don’t underestimate the power of standing up properly: ‘Good posture can definitely make you look more drawn in around the waist,’ she says.
When I visit her at Triyoga’s Camden studio, she notes how I tend to tuck my bottom in and slump my shoulders, which automatically makes my middle spread. Another warning: conventional sit-ups can make you bulge where you didn’t before if you are not engaging your pelvic floor. ‘My advice is to work smart not hard; it shouldn’t be about the burn,’ says Aasbo.
‘It’s all about your transverse abdominals, that girdle of muscles above your hip bones which act as a cradle to the baby when you are pregnant,’ adds personal trainer James Horan, a 3rd Dan black belt in Taekwondo — and the man in London, according to many a Notting Hill devotee, to help relocate an errant waist. ‘Once you get those engaging all the time, you’ll probably lose an inch off your waist.’ He recommends, too, that we breathe with our stomachs rather than with our chests, ‘a pernickety little thing’ which nonetheless makes all the difference because of the way it constantly activates your core.
It doesn’t end there. Our lifestyles can play a huge role. Wine — particularly red — and cider are the worst for waists, possibly because of the yeast content. Horan recommends that his clients drink only white spirits in moderation with diet tonic. Boxing, he adds, is great for the waist, and so is planking if done correctly.
And be sure to get your full eight hours as well, because not enough sleep will — according to research published in the US scientific journal Sleep — screw with our insulin levels and cause our tummies to thicken (as will being stressed; cortisol, the ‘fight or flight’ hormone released by our adrenals when we are stressed, is known to cause belly fat).
But what if you can’t be bothered to exercise or diet? Enter Coolsculpting, perhaps the treatment of 2016, which literally freezes the fat on your body part of choice with a pair of clamps, kills it, and then enables you to harmlessly pee it out. Sound too good to be true? Well, Gwyneth Paltrow swears by it, and I think now I might do too, having had it done on my tummy by Magda at the Cosmetic Skin Clinic on Upper Wimpole Street before the summer holidays.
The procedure was discovered by two Harvard doctors who observed how children who ate ice lollies lost cheek fat — ‘popsicle panniculitis’ as they called it. That process of cold-targeting fat cells, later known as cryolipolysis, was how Coolsculpting came to be invented.
Does it hurt? Not really. But it’s weird when the applicator is clamped on and you start feeling your tummy going numb from the cold; weird, too, when they take it off and you see a frozen block of fat on your stomach. Other women I know had to take painkillers for weeks afterwards to stave off the shooting pains, but not me. In fact, I thought it hadn’t worked until about six weeks later, when I looked down at myself in the shower and wondered where it had all gone.
So the downside is that it takes about a month, if not more, to show the effects — and it won’t work on that apron of loose skin when you lie down sideways. For that, I recommend Venus Legacy, a painless treatment involving radio frequency and pulsed electromagnetic fields (PEMF) to tighten and contour the skin from within. The idea is to stimulate cellular inflammation in the area targeted to encourage the production of new ‘baby’ collagen, the stuff which makes your skin go from lax to tight. (It’s also meant to be good for cellulite.)
Such a treatment queen, me. But has any of it made a difference? Well, yes. You’re supposed to have eight sessions for the Venus Legacy to show — I’ve so far only had one, from a nice American lady called Renée at Botox baron Dr Michael Prager’s surgery on Wimpole Street. But the Coolsculpting has worked, actually, even if I feel a bit of a cheat. Okay, you’re never going to see me in a crop top or a pair of high-waisted jeans, but the other day I tucked in a shirt. It could be the beginning of a whole new wardrobe.
But then again, waists, shmaists, who cares anymore? I just looked at a picture of me from 20 years ago. Where has my jawline gone? The quest to find it begins…