Oh Scarlett Harris, I hope you were being serious because you’re about to hear a lot. The wonderful writer of The Early Bird left the above comment on a recent Panther Responds column about feminism and weight, and it was just too good an opportunity to let go. I don’t want the Panther (that’s right, third person. THAT awesome) to become All Fat Acceptance, All The Time, but I’ve got a story for this and its a good ‘un. I have had encounters with control underwear. And by encounters, I mean, well, traumatic events.
For those not familiar with control underwear, they are precisely what they sound like. Basically a pair of spandex bike shorts, that reach alllll the way up to your belly button. They aim at ‘controlling’ one’s wobbly bits. Bum. Thighs. Tummy. You know, those unsightly bits. Womanly bits.
They are often sold as one of the ‘secrets’ of the hollywood stars, used to get that smooth look all up and down. That’s right ladies, even Gweneth Paltrow wears control underwear. Magicknickers.com.au says
“Hollywood loves them! Here are some slimming underwear ranges that can change your body shape in seconds. Lift, flatten and shape your body – These knickers are truly magic.”
So initially, one thinks, hey even skinny chicks need a bit of ‘moulding’. That’s good, right? To know that everyone feels pressure to look different to how they do? And that there’s magic about to help me?
I get the appeal of control underwear. Because when one has some extra junk in their trunk, when they have a little additional jiggle in their wiggle, when the can rest their tea mugs on their bellies (just me?), one faces a particular danger in being in public. Some people are disgusted and revolted by pot bellies, or chunky arms, or spreading thighs. And they make no bones about this. They will sneer, or pretend to smother the laugh; sidelong glances and raise eyebrows make me crazy. And let’s be clear, I am not seriously overweight, in fact I’m basically right on the edge of the ‘acceptable’ (what great vocab) weight for my height; I cannot imagine the kind of bullshit people larger than I must cop. But people have been grossed out by my size before and for all I can stand here and say “sod off you moronic sack of crap and get a real hobby”, it hurts. So I understand why these products sell well – because when I’m glammed up, and I get one of those glances? The bottom can fall out of me, and all I want to do is go home and stop offending the senses of the normies.
So. I tried Control Underwear.
A big night out was planned; a friend had rented a stretch Hummer limo for an hour, and we were going to have a big night out in Melbourne town. I’m not a big dresser upper, but this seemed to be a night that gave me a chance to get dolled up to the nines. A friend had recently left the country and given me her green dress, which was, um a little too small. Not way too small, but just a size smaller than normal. Thing is, though, in a dress, my tummy stands out a bit. It jiggles when I stand up. Normally, my tummy’s not that noticeable. Well, ok, yes it probably is, but I tend to wear clothes that fit so its not like, in your face. In a dress, on a night when I wanted to feel fantastic and sexy, eh. Felt like maybe a thing to think about.
So having asked around, it became clear that lots of my friends use control underwear, even (in fact, especially) those who I think of as very slim and very fashionable. So I trotted along to Target and handed over 35 bucks for my Very Own Pair. I pulled the buggers on in the change room and by golly they really did minimize my tummy! And de-dimpled my thighs. And, bizarrely, lift up my bum by a fair few centimeters. (I’ve spent some time being fascinated by the engineering and physics involved in that.)
Anyway so it came to the night and I got all dressed up in my new pants. And I looked amazingly good – all straight up and down from my knees to under my boobs. Amazing. I thought I might wear these bad boys more often.
Then I headed out of the house and started walking to my friends place, a 20 minute walk away.
Yeah. I got 10 minutes into that walk before I started feeling a little grumbly in the tummy. And then I started to feel a little like I was going to vomit. And THEN I started feeling like I was about to vomit and then evacuate the other end. By the time I got to my mates place I had to RUN to the toilet and peel off underwear. My tummy had these bizarre marks where the flesh had been folded over under the spandex.
After I got them off, I got a few wines into me and felt much better (though I did have to visit the bathroom another two times before midnight. Overshare?) And I gotta tell ya, my jiggly belly didn’t bother me after that AT ALL – if the choice is possibly grossing out some people with my additional falooperlyness (technical term), or spending the whole night vomiting and pooping, dude. Easy decision.
That’s the thing about control undies, isn’t it? They are worn because we are embarrassed about our unacceptable bodies. And we can be convinced that squishing out internal organs into a pair of spandex pants to the point we can’t sit down is PREFERABLE to grossing out some random stranger, or unfortunately, our friends and family. And the more acceptable and ubiquitous such shannanigans become, the MORE people are going to stare and point at my tummy. The more we accept the judgement of fat as shameful, as something to be hidden by any means possible, the harder we make it to ever fight against it.
Health is worth fighting for. Being fit makes me feel strong and sexy and helps me get through work on the days I want to throw the darned computer out the window. And I will take the effort to increase and maintain my fitness. Sometimes. But I also like cheeses and steaks and chips and drinking with friends. And up until a few weeks ago, my income didn’t really stretch to a whole lot of fresh food; and when I can get a packet of pasta for 80 cents, and a can of sauce for a buck fifty, well, yeah. I’m going to be eating too much of that. But I still feel like on the balance, I am healthy. I’ve gone from the kid in high school who couldn’t run a single lap of the 400 meter oval to jogging 5 kilometers without dying. And that achievement will always make me feel better, stronger, and sexier than wearing a pair of underpants that introduce my lower colon to my liver in an unprecedented way. However big I am, however uncomfortable I feel, this is me. This is my body. Whatever it looks like, however it may offend and irritate you, its me and I love it. It lets me run and jump and work and fuck and drink and enjoy my life. I can’t do any of those things if I’m wearing control undies.
Still, I’m going to keep them. They should be helpful if I ever get constipated.
Photo taken from Flickr user X-Ray Delta One under the Creative Commons license.