By Lesley | April 11, 2008
I hate Spanx. Not exclusively; I hate all shapewear equally. But I blame Spanx for polishing up the old-fashioned girdle – something from which most women today would rightly recoil in horror – and putting it in an adorably designed package with a retro cartoon lady on the front and making a tight, thick synthetic binding of the legs and/or torso sound like a Grand Revolution For Women Everywhere. When really now, call me a drudge, but I fail to see what is revolutionary about slightly compressing one’s shape (and, I’m sorry, the difference really is slight, and not worth the $36, or whatever ridiculous price these things retail for) through the judicious use of nylon and spandex to look culturally-acceptable in a certain article of clothing. I blame Spanx for reviving the concept of shapewear in general as a normal thing that all women have a responsibility (to themselves? to society?) to own and employ.
I had a brief flirtation with shapewear a few years ago. I tried the high-waisted shaping-shorts, but the high-waist bit just rolled down no matter what I did, up to and including trying to tuck the top edge under my bra. Foiled by backfat! I tried a more traditional shaper cami, but by the end of the day my midsection felt suffocated and I in general was miserable and ridiculously cranky. There was a palpable, measurable sense of relief when I took the damn thing off at the end of the day, after ten hours of being Spanxed, and that drove home to me how stupid and uncomfortable I was. And most strangely of all, the shapewear cami actually made me feel angry at my midsection. WHY ARE YOU SO STUBBORN, MIDSECTION? Why do you make me punish you? It was quite sickening. And all of this, just to wear jersey wrap dresses.
Let’s break this down: I weigh over 300 pounds. I generally wear between a 24 and a 26 in women’s plus sizes. My shape is galaxies away from being an hourglass, and no amount of compression (spanx-style or via the more effective but now outdated corset) is going to give me a curvy waist. Eventually I wondered what the hell I was wearing this crap for. Its effects were no doubt only noticeable to me – 99% of the folks who see me every day think “Fat!” and go no further; they aren’t thinking, “Wow, if she only had some minor smoothing effects over her midsection, she’d look 150lbs lighter!”
Nothing, short of amputation, will make me look 150lbs lighter. And frankly I don’t want to look 150lbs lighter. I decided those jersey wrap dresses looked fine without the shapewear, and any garment that didn’t, I could easily live without. Because I’m pretty opposed to shaping my body to fit an article of clothing – that simply reinforces the idea that my body, or your body or anyone’s body, is defective or misshapen, when really it’s the responsibility of the clothing to fit me, not the other way round.
The simple fact is, that’s not my body. It’s not my shape. And my shape is fine as it is. Stuffing my body into shapewear felt too much like abusing it, restraining it, depriving it of air, simply for not having certain contours. The very concept of finding shapewear comfortable would seem to indicate to me that I don’t find my normal body, in its natural state, comfortable. Which I do.
Now I’m not going to go so far as to say that you can’t be fat positive and also be a Spanx-lover. I know many fat positive folks who are also committed to shapewear in one form or another. However, I do think employing Spanx and its ilk on a regular basis does make being fat positive more difficult. If for no other reason than, logically, it’s hard to accept one’s body and even love it for what it is while simultaneously trying to reshape it to fit a certain standard (or dress). Even subconsciously the paradox is going to have an effect. My Shapewear Experience, I’m sure, is far from universal, but it’s all I have to work with. I tend to think that fat activism is most effective when we can normalize fat bodies – and to me, that means going out without Spanx, without giving a cursory nod to cultural standards, without compromising. I don’t judge those who do, but it’s just not my way.
So I’m off the shapewear for good, and besides any broader activist implications, on a more intimate level my skin and my fat are much happier for it. My name is Lesley, and I’m an unapologetic anti-Spanxite. Burn your Spanx and join me.
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