An open letter to Spanx

jantzen 56


Dear Spanx,

As someone who considers herself "fashionable" and "stylish" and "having a vagina" and "possessing the nearly uncontrollable need to bind her wobbly bits into submission", I suppose I should love you. Lord knows a lot of women do. The shapewear industry is worth $812.5 billion, and annual retail sales grew 10.6 percent to $848.3 million from March 2009 to February 2010. Women are now building shapewear wardrobes of basic and specialty pieces like control camis, waist cinchers and all-in-one body shapers, much in the same way as they’ve made bras and tank tops wardrobe staples.

Spanx, your seemingly magical ability to smooth and slim is the stuff of legends. Women yank you on and feel, well, better about themselves. They speak of your power to their friends in enraptured voices, gushing over the way you make five pounds mystically disappear from their hips. It's no lie that I, too, have fallen prey to your seductive siren call of smoothing and shrinking. Frankly, I'm somewhat stunned by the way you concealed my food baby from last night's pad Thai dinner. That, my friend, is nothing short of a miracle, much like those visions of Mary people occasionally find on their toast. Sometimes I even look at my reflection in the mirror when I'm wearing you and think, "Damm, girl, you look good." (Most of the time my reflection says things like "You should really get on the treadmill today, fatty", or Maybe you shouldn't of had that second glass of wine last night, eeeehh?" because my reflection tends to be kind of condescending and bitchy.)

But here's the thing, Spanx: you hurt. Oh my God in heaven, do you hurt. You hurt like the wrath of a thousand white hot burning suns. Your godforsaken sucky-inny undergarments are no picnic to wear. Octavia Spencer, stunningly gorgeous Oscar winner and style goddess, wore THREE PAIRS of you to the SAG awards, a torture tactic I wouldn't be surprised to see at Guantanamo. Octavia told Ellen DeGeneres all about her painful experience:
"I could not party that night because I was being pinched in places that I didn't know it was possible. I ran into Melissa [and] said, "Oh my God, Melissa, I'm about to die. My Spanx are killing me." She said, "I just went to the bathroom and took mine off!""
Been there, done that Melissa. Spanx, I too have heaved a sigh of relief upon peeling you off at the end of the day. And when I do, I wonder why so many women are now flocking in hordes to shapewear. Is it because more of them are struggling with obesity than ever before? Are fashion trends dictating the need for the smooth silhouettes shapewear creates? Or is vanity sizing, and a lack of sizing guidelines in the United States, the source of your success? There is definite confusion among female consumers regarding what clothing size they are, as it is nearly impossible to accurately determine what size one needs to wear to guarantee optimal fit.

So what is it, Spanx? Why are you so damm popular? You're a modern day girdle who is so mainstream that middle and high school athletes are donning you underneath their uniforms and doctors are reporting an increase in stomach and digestive trouble as a result of your medieval constriction. Women are putting themselves in pain all for the appearance of a flatter stomach and smoother hips. Personally, Spanx, when I wear you, I often feel fatter than when I leave you in the drawer. It's the truth. You are a reminder that I wish I looked differently than I do.

There's something about you, Spanx, that makes me have a lot of questions and wonder why women like me wear you despite the pinching and compression and stomach ickiness and low self-esteem. Are you really worth all that? What is the point, after all? So we can pretend to have the figures we dream of having and hold ourselves up to an unrealistic standard? That's messed up, Spanx. It really is.

Until I figure things out I'm going to just go ahead and keep you off my body. I hope you understand. It's not you, it's me. Well, actually, it is you. You're just no good for me, Spanx. No good at all.

Sincerely,

Elissa Stern

(Do you wear Spanx or other shapewear? If so, do you find squeezing into it painful and humiliating, or does it boost your self-image? What do you think is behind the popularity of shapewear?)


37 comments:

  1. I've honestly never worn Spanx or shapewear, but I've considered it each time my hips and booty outgrow my clothes a bit, so that I can still wear my favorite pieces, lol. However, I've just bought new pants and skirts instead, partially because I love shopping, but also because they don't seem like the most comfortable contraption. I heave a sigh of relief when I take my bra off at night, lol, so I can't imagine the relief my friends and loved ones feel when they take off their Spanx or other shapewear! So, kudos to you Elissa my dear for writing this post and leaving your Spanx in the drawer for a bit, I'm sure your body will appreciate it :-).

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  2. I was born in 1938. From age 12 to 18, I wore corsets. No, I didn't need them. I was 5ft 11in and 165 pounds, a good weight for my height. So why did I wear the old-fashioned version of Spanx? Because I was at that time a Good Catholic Girl and that is what GCG did then. When I was 18, I left home for college. I remember rolling up my corsets in newspaper and finding a trash bin on the street to drop them into. {I couldn't dispose of them in the college trash because this was a GCG College!} Now at 77, I am proud to say I have never EVER worn a a corset or another version thereof in my whole life!

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  3. This is a great letter, Elissa! It made me laugh out loud at my desk at work (oops!).

    I personally love shape wear, but I buy the cheap version of Spanx at Target called Assets. I think they're made by the same company, but about 1/3 of the price. And I can actually breathe and move while wearing them. They don't "quite" suck me in as much as traditional Spanx, but they also don't make me feel like I'm going to die while wearing them ... I just feel comfy and streamlined.

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  4. I love that comment above about throwing away her corsets! It's so true....they are painful. I really don't care what they make me look like....it's really not worth it and no one notices anyway the very slight difference they do make. Thanks for sharing such insightful truths! :)
    -Kristen

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  5. I purchased one pair of Spanx from a shoe store and I don't know if wasn't their high-hold'em shapewear or what but it didn't do much...I think they make other less-constricting hosiery so that must be what I have purchased since it wasn't as good as regular ol' control top hose.

    Ya, I've heard the horror stories! I think sometimes it's worth having a lil jiggle if it means enjoying the event and being able to breath without pain. lol.

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  6. I wrote about this a couple of years ago. I was having mysterious GI problems and other pains (probably nerve compression). I stopped wearing Spanx (or their cheaper Target cousin, Assets, at any rate) and most of those issues went away. I feel smoother in the nonconstricting knit silk camisoles and split slips that I replaced them with.

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  7. I enjoyed this. I once bought a Spanx cami to smooth out my back bulges, and I've worn it exactly once. It wasn't that uncomfortable, but I just find myself not wanting to put it on. I bought it to wear under thin, sheer fabrics, and then I realized -- "Huh. Maybe thin, cheap fabrics are the problem!" But I can see how women who love clingy knits would find Spanx helpful. Turns out I'm not one of those women. And maybe having an absolutely flab-free back isn't that important to me. I would never try to tame the belly pooch -- too painful for me.

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  8. I don't own any shapewear. I heard an interview with the woman who started Spanx on NPR last week.
    Did you hear the interview ? I prefer to workout and do yoga and wear clothes that look good on me. I have to say that I am devoted to thong underwear because I hate panty lines.

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  9. A good friend, and possibly the most stylish women I know ($500 shoes!), said to me once, "I don't want to feel my clothes." I tried Spanx on once and they just seemed to move my blub to different places. Like you said, they made me feel fat. I do like no-waistband tights, which smooth me out a bit and don't constrict, but that's as far as I go.

    Also, I'm old enough at 52, to have that feeling of "we don't HAVE to wear girdles anymore!" For all that Spanx are supposed to be comfortable, they seem like a step back to me.

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  10. I gave up Spanx. I was the only one who even noticed a difference when I wore them (which should have told me something long ago). Plus, they do hurt, they're hard to take on and off, and I would squirm when my husband put his hand around my waist, lest he feel them. (Like he didn't know? He saw me struggling to pull them on!) i'm happier with the supposed extra inch, breathing, with my husband's arm around me. Great post!!

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  11. I have no experience of spanx, so i can't really comment specifically, but I think there are clothes you wear to be photographed in and clothes you wear to move in. and i will always priiorities the latter. when I tried on Vivien of holloway dresses for my wedding reception (background and photos: http://www.oranges-and-apples.com/2011/10/thrifty-wedding-outfits-pt-2-reception.html) I tried on a dress that was very very very restricitive around the waist. it oloked great, the best out of all the dresses i tried on. but i wore it for maybe 5 minutes, I hadn't eaten anything yet that day, and it was already uncomfortable. the shopgirl was all 'ah, you'll be fine' but i went with one that wasn't as tight (and hence didn't have the same va va voum efect) in the end and i'm glad i did. And based on that decision, spanx is not something i even want to try.

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  12. Here's the thing. I am the only one who notices a difference when I wear Spanx. No one else notices one way or the other. And! They DO hurt, and, when I wear them, I squirm away when my husband tried to put his hand around my waist, since I know he will feel them. (Like he didn't see me struggling to put them on?) So I've - only very recently - come to a point where I don't wear them.

    But really, does anyone else notice AT ALL if we are/ are not wearing Spanx? If we are the only people who notice / care, why do we bother?

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  13. Here's the thing. I am the only one who notices a difference when I wear Spanx. No one else notices one way or the other. And! They DO hurt, and, when I wear them, I squirm away when my husband tried to put his hand around my waist, since I know he will feel them. (Like he didn't see me struggling to put them on?) So I've - only very recently - come to a point where I don't wear them.

    But really, does anyone else notice AT ALL if we are/ are not wearing Spanx? If we are the only people who notice / care, why do we bother?

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  14. Oh my do I adore this! After having my son, I bought a faux pair of Spanx and started wearing them. Then I couldn't stop wearing them. And I hated them. Oh did I despise them. So the following year I began to "wean" myself off the wearing of shapewear. Then two years ago I purchased a cocktail dress for a formal occasion and needed a strapless bra (which is darn near impossible for someone with my bust size). So I caved and purchased the super-strong suck-you-in Spanx that attach to your own brassire. They made me look like a new person. And my dress looked fantastic over them. Since investing in the actual Spanx brand I can honestly say I've only worn them about 15-20 times-typically when wearing formal wear. But I am not a huge fan. And if I can get away without them, I do!

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  15. Great post Elissa! I only wear Spanx as needed because of the "squeeze" (and pain) and our annual 6 months of Texas heat. Not made in Texas I can tell!

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  16. It's so interesting to see everyone's perspective on this. Personally it never even occured to me to wear shapewear. I only heard of Spanx recently from other body image blogs! I guess I'm kind of clueless about women's fashions.
    BUT I can tell you that I have never been good at sacrificing comfort for beauty. Just can't seem to force myself to do it. It's not because I'm so self-confident (I'm not), I just can't stand being uncomfortable. Plus if I'm uncomfortable it makes me feel awkward and unattractive. So I just try to wear comfortable clothes that are also flattering for my particular figure. It took me quite a while but I think I finally understand what works for me.

    Great post!

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  17. You should seriously try to get in touch with the people at Spanx. They seem to be a responsive company that's only now just starting to grow, at least from a report with the owner that I heard.

    Honestly, I have my "problem" areas--I've always felt self conscious about my stomach, but it's not enough worry to put on a pair Spanx for shapeware. Honestly, I just don't care enough to wear them. I considered it for my wedding, but saw absolutely no point since my dress was an A-Line.

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  18. Puts me in mind of the scene in Eat, Pray, Love where Julia Roberts and her girlfriend are eating pizza in Napoli and the girlfriend says she can't eat it cuz she has already gained 10 pounds. And Julia Roberts says something like . . . "in all the years you've been undressing in front of a man, has he ever once asked you to leave? No, because he's in a room with a naked woman! He's won the lottery!"

    Nobody notices when we put these silly things on. We are beautiful just as we are. Your man (or woman) loves you just the way you are! Didn't 70s feminism teach us anything?!

    Great post! Thanks for sharing!

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  19. I wear them, but I buy them a size too big. That way, I get smoothing, but I'm not suffering the torments of the damned. My stomach hurts even thinking about buying them in my actual size.

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  20. I tried to give Spanx a go. Thought it would be the best $36 ever spent.

    Nope. It seemed to not do the job at all; made my belly seem worse instead of tucked in like I thought it would do. Stopped wearing them soon after. I don't need the torture.

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  21. I wear Spanx with evening wear. Never found it painful. Are you wearing the right size?

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  22. I refuse to wear Spanx. I had to wear girdles when I was young to hold up my hose -- my Mother would'nt let me wear garter belts. I thought they were torture back then and I still think so. Anything to tight around my middle makes me physically sick. People will jsut have to be grossed out by my wiggly bits. I am a woman, not a sausage to be stuffed into a casing. That is my thought.

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  23. I do not wear Spanx. I find with age that I value my digestion more than my appearance. I wondered about this several weeks ago when the media was giving the founder such props for making her fortune on this product. Send this letter to Spanx.

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  24. Amen to that! I really hate shapewear and find that unless it's one solid vacuum-sealed body wrap, there's always a line somewear. I'll just stick with sucking it in :)

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  25. I bought a shapewear cami I'm not even sure what brand it is. I actually like wearing it, so it was a good investment. Of course I bought a pair of spanx also...I do not like to wear pantyhose at all, so I have NO idea why I jumped on the spanx bandwagon.

    It was the most uncomfortable pair of nylons I have ever had to wear. I actually changed out of them into a pair of regular nylons. they were too restricting. I thought maybe it was just me, I am kinda happy to learn I am not alone in this.

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  26. Exactly! That pesky fat goes somewhere, and usually it's trying to escape from the other side causing you to look even more ripply, but in a very strange and unnatural way! I guess if you wrapped yourself up top to bottom, but then you may risk an unusually large nose and big toe...ha ha!

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  27. Ummm. My mother wore spanx in the 60's. She called it a girdle.

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  28. I remember when Spanx first appeared on the market. It's just another name for a girdle, so why don't they call it that? Because of the negative connotations associated with wearing girdles and suppression of females many years ago. My mom made me wear a girdle at the age of 11 or 12 because I was fat. I guess she thought it would help. It just made what was there feel firmer to the touch. Let's all admit as women that we have parts that jiggle. Men love women that jiggle a little (or a lot). I say you can wear what you want. I haven't worn a girdle since I was 11 or 12 and don't plan to. Freedom of movement in my clothing is an imperative to me.

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  29. I wear Spanx in the summer. I want to wear all my adorable, cotton skirts with my ballet flats - no tights. BUT!!! I am a large girl. If I don't wear the spanx, I get horrible rubbing and rashes inbetween my thighs. It hurts and lasts forever. Spanx has solved this for me. Hurray for Spanx! I just can't be a Spanx hater, when it allows me to wear my favorite clothes minus the pain.

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  30. Clicked over here from Already Pretty. I agree with you about Spanx completely. I kept hearing how great they were and bought some to wear to a special event about five years ago. That was the last and only time I wore them. They did not make me look smoother, and in fact they actually made me look like I had a spare tire as all the excess was smooshed to the top of my Spanx and pooled there, instead of being evenly distributed on my Spanx-free body. I don't get the attraction at all, and I also agree with those who say it's just another name for a girdle and feels like a negative step back in time. No Spanx for me!

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  31. I wore Spanx under my wedding dress. Two and a half years ago. That was my first and last time wearing them.
    They're still sitting in my underwear drawer in case I feel the urge to wear my adorable little black wedding dress, but I would never just wear them. I remember all too well the feeling of being stuffed into them and not being able to bend or move naturally!
    No more Spanx for me.

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  32. Ha! The interesting timing of your post. I haven't worn my Wonder Unders for months, but pulled them out today because I'm wearing one of those stretchy dresses that show every wiggle and jiggle. Now it's the end of my work day, and the waist band is pinching and the side of fries I had with lunch are begging for freedom of movement.

    Love the silouette... hate the side effects. Viva la dilema.

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  33. I like my Spanx Higher Power shaper and tights. I like the fact the band fits right under my bra instead of binding my waist. I like the longer legs that keep my thighs from getting chafed here in the south. I have even layered the tights to keep warm. But I am not wearing anything to fit into some else's view of how I should look! And the higher band stays snug around my rib cage, not compressing my soft middle. It really is quite comfortable.

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  34. I have one pair that is technically too big. I bought them a few dress sizes ago. The funny thing is now I wear them if I want things to be held still and they are pretty comfy. They help with the jiggle but don't pinch. I still don't wear them often though. I love their new line of bras though.

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  35. I tried on a pair of spanx once and they were to uncomfortable I never wanted to try again. I thought it might be because I'm a plus sized girl, but if they pinch thin women I really do wonder why so many endure the torture.

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  36. Found this thru Already Pretty and I love it. I dispise all shapewear! I've tried a few different kinds, my first was a corset style from Fredricks of Hollywood. We had a wedding to go to and I thought it would be cute to wear that underneath as it also had garters and it would make me look and feel even better. Did the exact opposite! All night all I worried about was if there was a bulge stickout out here, or, oh I think a hook came undone gotta go to the bathroom to investigate.
    The next try I bought a softer slip-on version that went around the stomach area...that one was even worse then the corset style! I am large chested and not exactly skinny and have always had backfat in the back bra area and this shaper wouldn't stay hiked up to my bra and would create an even worse back roll then if I had went without it, not only that but it would constantly roll up or down and again spent more time worrying about how it looked and making adjustments in the bathroom then having a good time.

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  37. I think it's silly everybody gets so worked up about the Spanx. It just an option; nobody is making you wear them. I say this not having actually worn them for more than 5 minutes because the one time I tried to buy a pair (to wear under a dress for a fancy-schmancy wedding) I went to three stores but they didn't carry anything smaller than medium. What's up with that?

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