Corset-Wearing German Woman's Scary 16-inch Waist: What Are the Risks?

Michele Kobke has worn a corset all the time -- even while sleeping! -- for three years. (Photo: Michele Kobke …Taking the idea of an hourglass figure to the extreme, a 24-year-old German woman has squeezed herself into a corset 24/7 for the past three years, whittling her waist down from a healthy 25 inches to a dangerous 16 inches in circumference.

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"It embraces me and gives me [a] pretty, defined waist," Michele Kobke told Sky News recently. "Some people find my shape really attractive."

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According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the average waist size for a 20-something woman in the United States is 37.5 inches, which means that Kobke's original 25-inch waist was pretty tiny to begin with. But going from 25 inches to 16 inches isn't enough, she says. While she's happy that "my movements are more feminine," she'd like her waist to be even smaller -- just 14 inches, she hopes, to beat her idol, Cathie Jung. Jung, whose waist is a crazy-small 15 inches in circumference, currently holds the Guinness Book of World Record's title for having the smallest waist on a living person.

The smallest waist ever recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records belonged to the late Ethel Granger, who wore corsets to cinch herself down to just 13 inches. Her extreme look inspired an issue of Vogue Italia. But corsets aren't just a fashion statement: Actress Jessica Alba recently revealed that she wore not one, but two corsets day and night for three months after the birth of her youngest child, she was so desperate to get back to her pre-baby weight.

"It was sweaty, but it was worth it," Alba admitted in April. "It was brutal; it's not for everyone."

While corsets do force you into a traditionally feminine silhouette, they can also wreak havoc on your body. After three years of spending virtually every moment in a corset (she wore it even while sleeping!),  Kobke's back and stomach muscles are so weak that she has trouble standing up if she's not wearing one. She walks gingerly, as if her balance is off, and when she removes her corset, it leaves deep grooves and welts on her skin. In her YouTube videos, she has to pause and struggle to take deep breaths while talking to the camera. She also can't eat a normal-size meal, because the corset constricts her stomach; instead, she eats as many as 10 tiny meals each day. Her doctor has warned that she's harming herself -- during a recent visit, an ultrasound revealed that her stomach had been squished into an unnatural position -- but she doesn't believe him.

"I guess it would be painful if there were problems," she told Sky News, reasoning that she's not in pain so her health must be fine. "My life hasn't changed, just slowed down a little," she said.