The Ordinary Body

“I’ve tricked my body into thinking it’s thinner. Spanx.” – Miranda, Sex and the City 2 (2010).

The concept of shapewear indicates that we need to shape ourselves in a certain fashion. Yet, it has not stopped me from wearing a pair when I need to look less bloated at an event when I also have my period. The debate around whether shapewear should be considered anti-feminist, or not, was sparked again when Kim Kardashian launched, Skims, a company that sells solutionwear. It is hard to deny that shapewear has proven to be problematic. With the introduction of “solutionwear”, the fact that there is a solution suggest there is a problem to begin with, and this problem is our bodies.

I consider myself to be a feminist. I stress the importance of celebrating our bodies. However, are feminism and shapewear mutually exclusive? Historically speaking, women have had to turn to shapewear as there has always been a particular body shape women should conform to. There were the lace corsets in previous centuries. There are waist trainers in this century. All of this is to achieve the ideal figure. Previously, shapewear was not an obvious garment in the fashion industry, they soon became popular and sales have been increasing since. Spanx continues to be the leading brand, but other brands are popping up to fill in the gaps in the market and capitalise on the contemporary values that are constantly shifting. These brands are selling the perfect silhouette. They are also putting inclusion and comfort at the forefront, thereby revolutionising the shapewear options for women. 

Ultimately, shapewear is another choice to be made by the modern woman, and there are many who criticise women for exercising that choice. After the first search, it was easy to find how women are regularly shamed for wearing shapewear.  You can even find it in Bridget Jones’ Diary when other characters, even herself, make fun of shapewear. There is a fundamental conflict in this debate around shapewear, we should be able to enhance the way we look, but that should not be the entirety of one’s identity. Perhaps we should pose different questions. Maybe shapewear is not the issue in the grander scheme of things, but the body shaming that comes with it, especially when women exercise the decision to wear it under the duress of being asked to look a specific way. 

In 2018, Heist Studios created a seamless pantyhose when they branched into shapewear, their campaigning focuses on shapewear being a choice and is a garment that can bolster confidence rather than a garment that is worn out of conformity. Their campaign encourages others to discuss shapewear, too. In the Skims launch campaign, women are asked why they have chosen to wear shapewear and how it makes them feel, they even address the symbolic power of the garment they are wearing in these campaign videos. Both brands offer alternatives, choices and sizes for a variety of women. 

instagram: @skims

Shapewear is about having the choice to alter your appearance to how you want it to be. These garments can enable a woman to go on with her day, as can make-up, or heels. If you gain some confidence or feel empowered when you wear shapewear, shouldn’t that be enough? The purpose of shapewear is to provide support, it is there to ease consumers in their clothes and provide comfort. You can disagree with me, some of these ranges are work against comfort and easing women into their clothing, but the main point is that it is about choice. It is hard to ignore that this garment stems from corsets and that the product is in this grey area that can prey on insecurities. The ideas of self-expression and personal choice are fundamental in this discussion. Now, I’m not saying that shapewear is going to achieve equality, but personal choice is an important part of feminism. Ergo, a woman should be able to wear some shapewear with some peace and quiet, then.

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