Darlings! This time around I want to talk about body image from a slightly different angle. This is, at the very least, a controversial topic and for me personally it is a difficult one to take on. Body image has been a constant conversation in my life, probably since the age of ten, which is when I first thought I needed to go on a diet. Thus I am very tired of having said conversation with myself, but having it with others might spark change at the very least, and that is worth it. Let me summarise my experience for you a bit, so that we are all on the same page. I grew up in Colombia, and felt out of place throughout my entire adolescence because I was not a size small. At that point I wasn't even the size large I am at the moment, I was a size medium (you can imagine how harsh beauty standards can get here). I have always loved pop culture and fashion but didn't have much luck in feeling represented there. I admired actresses like Emma Watson, Jennifer Lawrence and Keira Knightley… you get the picture, very Eurocentric beauty standards. That's what I strived towards, still do at times, but now I can catch myself before I go down the rabbit whole. As a consequence I dealt with a couple of eating disorders, which is a story for another time, and had some issues feeling comfortable in my own skin. As you can see, even in this condensed rendition, it has been a long and exhausting journey, one that I am still trying to figure out. However, let us get back to the task at hand, shape wear.
I came up with the idea for this article one day as I was scrolling through my Instagram feed. I was startled by this sickening image of model/goddess/all round inspiration Paloma Elsesser @palomija in which she was only wearing shape wear and IT LOOKED AMAZING. In case you have no clue who Paloma is, google her immediately because she is killing it in every shoot and teaching the industry a thing or two about diversity and why it’s so amazing and necessary. In her post, Paloma talks about how this concept came to be and explains her personal relationship with shape wear, which is a constant in her life. When I saw this picture, it struck something in me. The matter of shape-wear felt like something incredibly personal and even taboo, especially in my culture, where you literally must hide by any means necessary that you are wearing a faja. Consequently, I started to question my own relationship with shape wear and why it was so strongly defined by shame. So here I am screaming it to the entire world that yes, when and outfit requires it, I WEAR SHAPE WEAR (Spanx to be exact, but this is not sponsored, it could be though ;) @spanx, call me).
I don’t exactly know how I first became aware of the existence of shape wear, fajas if you will (shoutout to the Spanish speakers). All I knew was that they were meant for adults and occasionally you would hear a promotional ad about them in the radio. I also have this very vivid memory from primary school, when some of the kids got a kick out of hugging the teachers and feeling if they were wearing any shape-wear or not. Which is a) very problematic to me in so many levels, and b) it created this whole culture of shame around it. Apparently women are supposed to be perfect by all accounts; and if their bodies are not perfect, don't you worry there are a bunch of products for you to buy. Which you then are made to feel ashamed about buying. It’s astonishing how deeply embedded in our minds these conceptions are. Most women spend a considerable amount of time trying to reach “perfection”, whatever that means, thus feeling the need to purchase said products, and yet feeling like a fraud for “faking” something that is not natural to them. Basically, that is what Spanx were to me growing up, some way of pretending to be something you were not, but wanted to or were supposed to be. People weren't openly talking about their shape-wear and it's only been a recent development in pop culture and the media. Sometimes it makes a comedic appearance in films like How To Be Single, or its use is plainly acknowledged in shows like KUWTK or the MFM podcast. However shape-wear has been a staple of women's undergarments for decades. Some may say they were part of the oppressive patriarchal society of the fifties (looking at you girdles and corsets). But when you think of “female” undergarments you don’t necessarily think shape-wear, yet so many of us wear it. So why is it still such a controversial theme to bring up, why is it still shocking to find out that a celebrity wears it, how come it still works as comedic relief? Well let us discuss.
I would like to address the controversial aspect that is tied to shape-wear, thus the opinion that condemns it as an oppressive garment, designed to please the male gaze and to uphold unrealistic and unhealthy beauty standards. This echoes the discourse that has surrounded bras for a very long time. To that I respond: I don’t wear Spanx or any type of shape wear because I feel that society is asking me to, or because I want to appear more appealing to certain people. I wear Spanx if my outfit benefits from it, if the lines of the dress seem to flow better when I am wearing it. It has become part of my under armour with time, and although it might be uncomfortable, it is also hugging and reassuring, like a good bra. We shouldn't feel judged for wearing Spanx, in the same way that nobody should feel ashamed for wearing something they choose and feel comfortable in. However, we have to acknowledge the complicated and often pernicious history of female undergarments. Because even if I am at a place where I feel comfortable making the decision about whether or not to wear something, the conversation around Spanx and underwear in general, is very much pervaded by toxicity. There remains the idea that wearing shape-wear illustrates a desire to please someone other than yourself. I think is time we changed that, don’t you?
Now, regarding my other questions. I think that shape-wear offers comedic relief in the media because of all the shame surrounding the topic. It alternatively works as a self-deprecating skit or a demonstration of overt and unprecedented self awareness. A scene from the film How to be single comes to mind, in the scene one of the characters is reading a story to a group of children at a bookstore where she volunteers. The story is a fairytale which ends, as they tend to do, with the prince saving the princess and them living happily ever after. The character, Lucy, goes on a rant to the children about the grim reality of dating and how exhausting it is to adhere to beauty standards. She then proceeds to show her Spanx and start cutting them in an act of rebellion. It is all very relatable and terribly amusing. And fair enough, such mentions of shape-wear can spark a conversation, but they don’t take the sense of shame away from it. Whether this is shame from feeling that you need to wear it or if it’s from choosing to wear it and feeling like a fraud of some sort (hey Bridget Jones). Once this starts to change and the element of shame is taken away, people can start to have a healthier relationship not only with shape-wear but with their body image, which is ultimately what fuels this whole argument from all sides. Really what it boils down to is to try to be conscious of the societal bias imbedded around the topic and to own whatever decision you make regarding the usage of fajas, but most importantly, not to judge anyone about their decision regarding this. There is simply no point in being a hater and worst, part of the problem. I am trying to spark a conversation and I will keep doing so every chance that I get. I am done hiding and more importantly I am tired of feeling like a fraud, so what if I wear Spanx? I am at a place where I am comfortable with my body with or without them and I won’t let anyone make me feel any differently, and hopefully you wont either darlings. So let’s demystify it, share with us your thoughts on shape-wear, do you choose to wear Spanx? Do you not? What has your journey been like? We would love to know.