08/19/2012 10:42 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Science of Shapewear (and Where All the Fat Goes)

No question, we have a love/hate relationship with our body shapers and waist cinchers. On the one hand, we are grateful they give us the seamless, streamlined look we desire -- no muffin tops and rolls here, woo! But let's be honest: in their effort to restrict and confine our, well, fat, they leave us a little uncomfy. And some, depending on the slimming technology (no, that's not what they call it), keep us from feeling quite like normal, happy selves. (Yeah, I get cranky when I can't breathe!)

We're not alone on the sentiment, I'm sure. Celebrities and regular people alike admit to shapewear use. And for those who don't disclose how they look so slim in their body-hugging ensembles, they're sometimes "outted" via revealing paparazzi pics. Yikes!

But perhaps if we understood how they work, it'll help us pick the best minimizer for us, not to mention, appreciate them more for what they do so well. So we turned to experts to get the skinny on shapewear...

How does shapewear make us so skinny?

"Shapewear makes us skinny by sewing or knitting together elastic or rigid fabrics that are cut into such a pattern that when worn, the finished garment nips and tucks the body," says intimate apparel brand Va Bien co-founder and fit expert, Marianne Gimble. "Especially when cut and sewn together -- as opposed to knitted seamlessly, like hosiery, designers are able to use pinpoint accuracy to 'catch' curves in the perfect places and enhance them. Hosiery-style seamless knitting, by contrast, tends to flatten curves. Both techniques slim the body, just in different ways."

But Amy Sparano, senior vice president of sales and merchandising of It Figures!, cautions that with skimpy shapewear (as in the cheap, not-effective kind), excess fat can be pushed up over the waistband of a bikini pant, for example, creating the "muffin top" look. (Oh, the horror!) "With appropriate coverage of the torso, the control fabric holds the body in a smaller area, making the body appear thinner and smoother," Sparano explains. So if you're going to take advantage of the minimizer, choose the kind that works!

Reports have surfaced that we could develop blood clots, acid reflux and breathing problems for using 'em. Are we in danger for wearing shapewear?

"Shapewear can actually have health benefits," explains Gimble. "It can stimulate circulation and provide support to muscles."

ResultWear shapewear designer Kiana Anvaripour reminds us of Scarlett O'Hara being laced up into her corset in Gone with the Wind. Women have been in shapewear for decades! "Sometimes, beauty is pain, but our generation is lucky," she says. "With technology, fabric, stitching, and high-quality design, you can achieve that hourglass look without pain. No boning, no horse hair. Our lifestyles as modern women don't afford us the ability to be in pain."

We're perplexed. Where does all of the fat go?

"Fat can move into spaces where muscle is compressed, such as the abs. It can also be moved directionally, towards more desirable places," says Gimble.

Jason Scarlatti, creative director of men's brand 2(x)ist Underwear, adds that the flab is just made more compact. "Shapewear is engineered to funnel excess weight to help you appear to be more slim; it can slim you up to 1 to 2 inches," he says. "The excess flab is condensed, the same way as when you push your hands on your belly to push in the fat."

Anvaripour adds that the fat is still there. It's just presented in a sexier way, like in your breasts, cleavage and butt. (So it goes all the way up there and down there?! Nice.)

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