The first time I wore shapewear, I was 10 years old. It was my First Holy Communion, and someone must've decided that my belly was a little too fat to be eating consecrated bread without some sort of apology. The last time I wore shapewear was over a decade later. I was 21, I was having a great time dancing with new friends in Prague at a fabulous hole in the wall club, and the bodysuit-like contraption I was sporting underneath my dress was digging into my back boobs with the fury only a bitter slimming device could ever bestow.
When I got home that night, I discovered that the friction created by my sweat rubbing against too-tight, lycra-esque material had left me with peeled skin and sore wobbly bits. Although I knew that not all shapewear would cause this, I couldn't help but ask myself, "Why?" Who was I even wearing it for? My friends? Myself? The public, and all those innocent eyes that'd no doubt bleed at the sight of a chunky girl's dancing rolls?
I wasn't really sure, but something told me enough was enough. By this point, I'd started reevaluating the pressure I had always felt to suck my fat into the sausage-like fabric casing known as a faja. And in the four or so years since, I've come up with enough reasons to never wear shapewear again.
1. Beauty Standards Aren't Real
Most of us can agree that beauty standards are ever-changing. One minute, the hourglass pinups of the '50s with their voluptuous boobies and booties were in. The next, it was all about the heroin chic look Kate Moss arguably popularized what with that whole, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels," thing. But if the things we, as a culture, deem "beautiful" are ever-changing and ever-malleable, then how can they possibly be anything but unfounded?
The truth is that beauty is subjective, and wearing shapewear because you think it'll allow you to look like someone else's definition of beauty is an insult to your own definition of beauty. If you haven't defined the standard for yourself, based on what feels good to you, then it's a standard you needn't worry about following.
2. I Value Representation Of Fat Bodies In All Their Forms
No Wrong Way To Have A Body Photographic Print, $9.63, redbubble.com/glorifyobesity
Even as body positivity becomes more of a mainstream topic of conversation, the fat bodies we see most often are undoubtedly the hourglass ones on the smaller end of the plus spectrum. In a way, we've ended up deviating from the trope of beauty that says "thin is aspirational," only to end up at the trope of beauty that says "fat but hourglass" is aspirational if you're already fat. So to be fat and beautiful is now to look like Ashley Graham or Denise Bidot. And shapewear is a way for fat women who don't naturally look that way to try their best to anyway.
I don't want the kind of "body positive" world where only one main "fat" body type gets visibility, though. I don't want the kind of "body positive" world where squarer figures or top heavy ones or ones without definable waists still aren't deemed worthy enough. But if I suck myself into shapewear, my actions aren't mirroring my politics. And that's just not something I'm comfortable with.
3. I Don't Want To Squash My Organs
No Shame In My Belly Game Photographic Print, $9.63, redbubble.com/glorifyingobesity
In a panel that Huffington Post ran in 2014 featuring a gastroenterologist, a dermatologist, and a chiropractor, it was found that restrictive clothing leaves several key organs compressed, like your stomach, intestine, and colon. As Bustle's Erin Meyer reported on the subject, "This can 'worsen acid reflux and heartburn' as well as 'provoke erosive esophagitis,' complicate digestion, and limit the movement of the diaphragm essential to respiration." If that sounds shitty, it's because it definitely is.
As someone who already has irritable bowels and is prone to stress and anxiety-related ulcers, doing anything that has the potential of worsening my stomach in any way is best avoided. Shapewear can join the ranks of spicy food and dairy (that one remains tricky) in the list of things I am better off without.
4. Because Comfort
Of the things that make me feel most comfortable in this world is dressing for myself. It's something that can change day to day — on Monday, a princess-like tulle dress in hues of pink and purple. On Tuesday, stretchy leggings and a tatty flannel — but my physical comfort almost always correlates to my mental comfort.
Besides the fact that shapewear is usually too tight (and, for me, too tight usually means physically uncomfortable), wearing it often puts me in a bad headspace. I become anxious about whether it's riding up, or whether it will show through my outfit. I worry that I'm wearing it for the "wrong" reasons. I worry that this isn't really me. When something doesn't really feel like you, it's a good indication that you're better off without it.
5. It Doesn't Boost My Confidence
For a lot of people, shapewear is all about confidence. It slims down the bits that ~need~ slimming down. It softens shapes that ~need~ softening. It supposedly gives off the illusion of a smaller body overall. I'm not about to tell such people that they're doing something wrong. If something makes you happy, go for it! But I'm just not someone who values those particular qualities. My body feels at its best when its allowed to exist peacefully in its fatness.
I have been thin at many points in my life — something always achieved through abusing fitness and eating very, very little. But during those moments, I never felt quite right. I never felt beautiful or confident, because I was always aspiring to be even smaller. Even better. Until I ultimately realized that thinness was never my dream, of course. It was someone else's. All the while, it was being in a fat body that had the potential of giving me joy all along. I guess I don't love shapewear because it takes that away. It implies that my body needs fixing, when in reality, my body is the best it has ever been.
6. Internalized Fat Shaming Is A Thing I'd Rather Avoid
Happy Fatty And The Generous Thighs Photographic Print, $9.63, redbubble.com/glorifyobesity
Like all humans, I have days when I wake up and am absolutely not feeling myself. These negative feelings are usually about my complexion or my bad hair or my crummy eyelashes. But sometimes, they are about my weight. Just not in the way you might think.
As any fat posi person can attest, being a visible fat human on the Internet or IRL who is vocal about liking their fat isn't a seamless existence. Between relentless Internet trolls, body shamers, stares on the street, subway ads telling you that your body is broken, and social norms at large, the messaging that there is something wrong with you can be a lot for anyone to handle. There are days when it's exhausting, and I contemplate taking a permanent hiatus from media to live in a log cabin in West Yorkshire.
But I sometimes wonder if all those things wouldn't be as difficult to deal with if I were truly 100 percent comfortable in my body. Maybe being "100 percent comfortable in your body" isn't actually a reality for anyone, because we're all victims to the body shaming inherent of our culture. But I can do my best to grow as comfortable and self-actualized as possible, and one of the ways I find useful for doing so is by spending time with my body exactly as it is — without molding it into shapes and figures it doesn't naturally want to be in.
7. There Are Other Ways To Protect Against Chafing
Jockeys Skimmies Slipshort, $20, kohls.com
Street Smart Biker Short, $21, jeweltoned.com
Personally, I think there's something of a difference between shapewear meant to slim down a body and shapewear-like products meant to fight chafing. For a lot of humans, chafing can be a real problem. For instance, I love my fat legs, but I don't love it when they rub against each other in the summer heat so much so that they are left peeling and bleeding. Of course, I've perfected the duck walk. But the duck walk is just not the fly-est of movements.
If chafing prevention without all the sausage-like encasing is what you seek, I highly recommend Jockeys' skimmies. They're ultra lightweight, so you won't even feel like you have anything on. Yet somehow they're durable enough to survive even the most thunderous of thighs. Indie brand Jewel Toned also produces some rad biker shorts that are equally lightweight but amp up the chicness factor.
8. The Retro Vibe Is Achievable Without All The Suction
I love a good vintage-inspired look, especially as it pertains to lingerie. Give me some lacy high-waist briefs and a bullet bra any day, and you'll have yourself the happiest fatty in town. But I don't love how constricting high-waisted lingerie has the potential to be. Oftentimes, it feels like shapewear disguising itself as knickers — and that's just not my cup of tea.
Luckily, it's not at all difficult to find the same retro looks without the lycra feel. Embroidered, lace, or silk panties are aplenty thanks to the wonders of the Web. One of my favorite places to shop them is Secrets In Lace, where all options tend to be available in sizes S through 4XL. Feel free to become a vintage vixen without being sucked into a modern day corset.
9. People Need To See Fatness More Often
I sometimes wonder whether part of the reason it's taken so long for folks to discuss how horridly prevalent fat shaming really is comes down to how hidden many of us have allowed ourselves to become. Of course, we started hiding because society told us there was something inherently flawed about our existence. But then we stayed hidden. Personally, I don't think I even looked at my stomach properly between the ages of 11 and 20, always hiding it beneath tunics and A-line silhouettes and garbage bag-like dresses. And I know the same is true for a lot of fat individuals. But if people never see our bodies — and if they see us actively hiding said bodies — the idea that there is something deserving of being concealed will only be perpetuated.
There's nothing scary or gross about fat rolls, no matter what you might have heard to the contrary. It's all just flesh. We just have a bit more of it than our straight size counterparts. Visibility arguably starts with being proactive, though, and refusing to conceal any part of yourself that you want to celebrate. And who knows? The more people see the thing they've been taught to hate, the more they might begin to question where that hatred actually comes from.
10. No One Actually Gives A Shit
Fat People Don't Owe You Shit Photographic Print, $9.63, redbubble.com/glorifyobesity
Here's the thing: No amount of shapewear will ever make your body look that different to what it actually looks like. If you're a fat person, you're still going to be a fat person, skintight body-shaper in tow or not. This means that the people who will actively judge and look down upon your body will likely still do the same when you put on your control top tights. I don't personally believe such people are worth dedicating any time or otherwise useful brain power to. And like I always say, having a fat body is basically an automatic deuchebag detector. Thank your rolls for showing you the assaholic nature of the bro in the bar, and move on.
As for the people who matter? They're not going to care whether your rolls are tucked into a bodycon skirt shaper or not. They're probably not even going to notice, honestly. Because we live in our bodies, there is no other person who will notice the details of said body as much as we do. Our insecurities are often in our heads and no one else's.
11. I Don't Actually Give A Shit
Here is me, not giving a shit. I'm a fat woman who loves leopard print coats and faux fur and bright colors and who smokes on occasion and who spends far too much time checking emails on a cell phone when in perfectly good company. And who truly loathes the kind of shapewear designed to tell me that my body is flawed, and that happiness lies in a spandex-like garment that promises to make me two sizes smaller.
I'm not here to tell anyone that their love for shapewear is wrong. It's simply not a product that's right for me. And I'm willing to bet that it's a product rooted in a whole lot of body shaming for a whole of people. So I'm just here to say, you don't ~need~ it. Your body is already spectacular.
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Images: Marie Southard Ospina (2); RedBubble/Glorify Obesity (4); Courtesy Brands