(Un)Feminist Guilty Pleasure: Spanx.


I know this is a bad (un)feminist guilty pleasure. And I don’t even have a good excuse, like Miriam did in talking about reggaeton and feeling some kind of cultural affinity to it. But ever since I discovered spanx (recommended by another feminist blogger actually) I have been addicted to them. What are they? Basically, a girdle, a “power panty” if you will, something that holds in all in so you can put those super ultra tight unforgiving dresses on.
Alright, full confession. I think I am sexy with or without spanx. But feeling sexy everyday is sometimes difficult. I have things to do, like go to work, blog, eat, hang out with my friends, etc. What I don’t have time to do is obsess over how I like in this or that which I do my best not to do as a feminist, but it is hard when you are constantly inundated by images of thinness, whiteness and richness. And frankly, if you saw me on the regular you wouldn’t think I give it that much thought, I dress pretty casually. But when Friday night rolls around and I want to go out on the town, sometimes I like to look extra fancy and sometimes it feels better to wear something that holds it all in. It just gives me that ounce more confidence. So I go from “damn I look good” to “DAMN, I look HELLA good.”
According to this post on Gawker, I should stfu and go to the gym. But you know what? I go to the gym. Mainly for stress reduction, but I go and it doesn’t make me look like a super model. It just makes me look like me. Which is fine. But I don’t appreciate the insinuation that I am cheating or eating too much and as a result I need spanx. What I am doing is functioning in a world that hates fat people so much that young girls don’t eat and even a woman as strong as me, sometimes doesn’t feel like she looks super. It is normal and I don’t hate myself for it, one bit!
So yeah, I wear spanx. They are simple, they are comfortable and they avoid giving me that thigh chafe us thick legged gals get when our thighs rub against each other all night long. I understand why it is not perfect that a strong, beautiful woman such as myself has days when I don’t feel fully fab about my body, but shit I am human.

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51 Comments

  1. revsolcialist
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Damn right, Samhita!
    A few more reasons to love spanx (and their brethren):
    1) I can wear them, go biking in a skirt, and still feel completely comfortable (not personally into exhibitionism…).
    2) I teach 2nd grade. When my students are sitting on the carpet and I’m on a chair, I need something under my skirt.

  2. Posted August 5, 2008 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    rock on. that’s a tough thing to admit to, especially about having thighs that touch. god fucking forbid.
    i like spanx, too.
    thanks.

  3. wickedwench
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I love spanx! I too find them helpful in the battle against chub-rub. And I find they are really the most comfortable panty hose you can get–despite their tummy-holding-in properties.
    I like that it’s a woman who started up the business and made it a huge success. And you can tell–they have a variety of different products for different things you might “need.”
    Of course there’s that whole push-pull of feminist values vs. looking how I’m “supposed” to look. But you know what? It’s like makeup or even your favorite outfit–I know who I am, and no product I can buy is going to change that.
    But I also feel good when I look good, so why not?
    There is a line between taking care of yourself and being obsessed with your image, but I guess I put spanx in the category of enhancing my natural beauty instead of substituting for it.

  4. Tiffany
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

    I only wish I could afford real Spanx. I’ve been living with the generic stuff.
    I have a flabby belly that no amount of exercising will get rid of, because it is a big stretched out lump of skin [thanks, kids!]. It presses uncomfortably against the waistbands of things, and looks not like fat but a really weird pouch underneath of clothes. Right or not, I think about it, and when I have the whole thing reigned in with my generic spanx, I don’t think about it.
    So I wear the stuff, and I never equate it with what others think of me. If I didn’t wear it because it would piss off my feminist friends, I couldn’t really say that I live for myself and not for the approval of others, now could I?

  5. anthrosciguy
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

    I don’t know if you watched the Richard Branson reality show a few years back but the second place contestant was the woman, Sara Blakely, who started and runs Spanx. (It was a “work with Branson million dollar prize” show which involved stunts and world-wide travel and such; we liked it.) She was impressive, showed good judgement and overcame some major phobias, like climbing a rope ladder to the top of a hot air balloon (for tea) even though she has a major fear of heights. Branson liked and was impressed by her, and the fact that she was doing a foundation to help others, and even though he picked another for the winner he gave her $750,000 for her foundation.

  6. Logrus
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

    What do you all think of men who wear “compression belts” (euphemism for man-girdle)?
    I’m not saying that I’ve thought of doing that, but I have a friend who asked me to ask you folks.

  7. fourthwavef
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    Yeah it is pricey. There are some high-waisted Spanxs under $30 if you really really look.
    Speaking of thinness, whiteness and richness I like the Spanx woman too actually. Now that’s a guilty pleasure :) But she had me when she gave a million to Oprah’s school in South Africa.
    And what’s crazy? She getting married to rapper Jesse James. How random.
    PS Samhita? You’re human and awesome. :)

  8. marilove
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

    It’s gonna be 105 today. That’s NICE. It was 115 the other day.
    Spanx? No thanks! I don’t even want to wear underwear!

  9. Posted August 5, 2008 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    I like this post much better than the last one. I see no problem with caring about your appearance, as long as you’re doing it to please yourself and not others.
    And Spanx rock! They’re totally worth the price since they seem to be made of titanium and last forever.
    Thanks for talking about thigh-chaffing, I always thought I was the only one dealing with this and it’s a huge source of embarasment.
    Logrus: I wouldn’t have a problem with a guy wearing one, if it’s what he really wanted to do.

  10. Holly
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Oh, Samhita. I thought I was the only feminist to occasionally rely on Spanx. Thank you!

  11. nerdalert
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been a vocal dissenter of this topic, but I have to thank Samhita for the 2nd and 3rd paragraphs. You never to fail to point out things like white privilege, classism, and sizeism, which I think are extremely important to the dialogue of feminism.
    Also, I feel you on the thighs rubbing together. Monistat makes Fat Girl Thigh Rub Cream, which I recommend. I think it’s called Chafing Relief, and it’s in the Vag section of the drugstore with yeast-y and bleed-y things. It’s a cream-to-powder type deal, and I find it helps a lot because I wear skirts almost every day.

  12. Meggy B
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    The Spanx inventor was at V-Day to the 10th in New Orleans. I saw her speak and she was a very, VERY funny feminist entrepreneur. That said, I don’t think you need to feel guilty for indulging in her product line.

  13. Mamasquab
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    @ anthrosciguy: when women no longer have to justify what they wear on the grounds of gender politics, that will be the day women are no longer living in a misogynist culture. I can see why Samhita feels the NEED to justify, but it makes me sad. Also, you can’t just flip a power imbalance as a test for whether there’s something funny going on: how you or your friends would feel if they wore something like this tells us nothing at all about whether it’s okay or not okay to expect it of women.

  14. Posted August 5, 2008 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    wow, those are expensive…

  15. everybodyever
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 3:11 pm | Permalink

    revsolcialist, couldn’t you also just wear biking-style shorts or short leggings under your skirts? i tend to carry around short cotton leggings that i can throw on outside whenever i plan to bike in a dress.

  16. SueDoc
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    >> I understand why it is not perfect that a strong, beautiful woman such as myself has days when I don’t feel fully fab about my body…

  17. Posted August 5, 2008 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Spanx aren’t even un-feminist to me. Unless maybe you’re wearing them for some reason that would scream anti-feminism. I can’t think of one, but I’m sure they’re out there. Something to do with wanting to conform to an ideal or wearing them only to please men or something. But if you feel better both about how you look and how you don’t have searing inner-thigh pain, rock on.
    I love them.
    And the Power Panties (that come in a cardboard envelope) are $25 and lightweight enough to wear in the summer in a lot of places. If you’re bigger than a size C or D, go to Lane Bryant, they carry sizes D through G. Most size-fascist department stores only carry A through C and occasionally D.

  18. BabyPop
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 4:10 pm | Permalink

    I’ve seen these at clothing stores and stayed away from them b/c 1) they are pricey and 2) figured they were just another thing to convince women they are too fat. I forwarded this Feministing article to a Spanx-loving friend and reading it, and her response, and checking out some before and afters on the product site, coupled with the fact that I have a lot of work clothes that I need to start waring after a future job change, and they’re a tad on the snug side, and I might just order a pair!

  19. jf
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    antiperspirant (the soft solid oozy kind you dial up through a pierced lid) is awesome for avoiding thigh chafing.

  20. uplate6674
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    I don’t wear Spanx bc I can’t afford them (and I don’t like ‘compression garments’ bc they are uncomfortable to me), but I have a non-binding underthing from Kohl’s that’s basically like a bike short but (my, white person) flesh-toned so it doesn’t show under my clothes. I, too, bought it to prevent inner-thigh chub rub.
    It makes sense that a woman would start a company that offers such a product because, well, how many men are aware that a lot of women’s thighs chafe when we wear skirts?

  21. Posted August 5, 2008 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    from here it seems that the way to shift the cultural delusion about bodies is to love ours with wild abandon. i am no longer hating my rounder parts. i am welcoming them into my heart. they are soft and wise and when i slow down and feel into the actual vibration of them, they are joyful and bubbly. they love life. they love me. i will not squish them into anything or be ashamed of them anymore!

  22. adminassistant
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    I love this feature so much. It never fails to generate internal conflict about what is and isn’t “real” feminism.
    Who decides, “Whoa, spanx are an un-feminist product, ergo anyone who wears them are inherently un-feminist.”
    But why, on the other hand, is it ok to purchase something from a company headed by someone who “seems” like a feminist, although her product is aimed at helping to slim women down to fit into a tiny number on some pants? I don’t get to decide for anyone, and I would hope no one would presume to decide for me.

  23. Miriam Heddy
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    I get wanting to deal with chafe. But a company that sells its products by offering to make me disappear while separating my butt for the benefit of “those in my wake” who might be offended by a flat or fat rear is not even worthy of a guilty pleasure much less my money.
    Actual text:”Go undercover with the SPANX Slim Cognito Mid-Thigh Bodysuit! This shaper comfortably shapes problem areas, accentuates your waistline, minimizes your tummy and thighs, lifts your rear, and makes inches seem to disappear! The detachable straps attach to your bra to keep the bodysuit in place and allow you to wear the bra that’s best for you – and your outfit! And to avoid the flat, uni-butt look that many shapers give your backside, Slim-Cognito offers “The Great Divide.” You won’t feel the subtle butt separator, but the natural perky shape won’t be lost on those in your wake!”
    Where’s the product that’ll minimize problem areas like a lack of adequate, affordable childcare, or the product lift women out of poverty, or the product that’ll make those pesky rapists disappear?

  24. meganaut524
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    Since we are confessing things here, I think I should discuss my one issue with spanx. I can’t stop wearing them. I started wearing them like you, Samhita, only occasionally. Somewhere along the line I started to feel SO jiggly and unattractive when I wasn’t wearing them, that now I have to wear them any time I leave the house (unless I’m just running to the store or the gym). I am a feminist and I am a fat woman, and even though the spanx don’t make THAT much of a difference in my perceived “size,” I have become utterly dependent on them. Especially since everyone I work with and all the people I know think this is how I look now. This is SO bad, I know. I can’t stand my dependence on these neo-corsets, but I do wonder if any other women have the same issue.

  25. SadieWest
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    For the ladies with the thigh rub, I have one word for you: BodyGlide. You can buy it at runner’s stores, and it ROCKS. It’s my new favorite thing.

  26. teacherwoman
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    Whew! Try living in South Louisiana and wearing a skirt when you have that chafing. I try to explain it to my skinny friends.. sheesh I practically have scars between my legs! I used to wear biker shorts, but that just makes your ass/vag sweat even more! If I knew for sure that Spanx would cure that problem, sure.. I’d buy a pair or two!

  27. everybodyever
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    Miriam, that text is horrific. Likewise, while peeing the other day, I was flipping through a Victoria’s Secret catalog addressed to my ex-roommate and gawking at the jeans it hawked with a promise of special ass “uplift technology.” Um, what? Is my ass so damn droopy that it takes advanced technology to make it tolerable? How about just selling some flattering pants? Oh, right — you can’t mail-order flattering pants, you have to try them on in person.
    However, “subtle butt separator” sounds like the gentlest agent of anal sex ever.

  28. Samhita
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 6:31 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm, I would suggest for spanx dependence full detox for a few weeks and naked mirror stances reciting “I am fly” at least 20 times? Because you are fly.

  29. RedPersephone
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 7:09 pm | Permalink

    teacherwoman: That’s my main issue w/ Spanx (aside from the “Contain your disgusting flab!” issue), because the biker shorts-style Spanx is even worse than a lot of regular biker shorts, because they’re basically like thickly-knit pantyhose tops. Very little breathability, which is the opposite of what I want when I’m wearing a skirt in the 90-degree sauna that is Boston in summer.
    If anyone has any other ideas for solving modesty/chafing problems for us big girls wearing skirts, I’m dying to hear them!

  30. MLEmac
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 7:25 pm | Permalink

    I have never thought of spanx as reducing size. I really don’t think I could fit into any size smaller when I wear them. They just smooth out my muffin top a bit and makes me a little less self conscious while wearing hip-huggers.

  31. Sara
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 7:43 pm | Permalink

    You know, there’s nothing wrong with that.
    I work in retail, in the Lingerie department, and I am a fan of shapwear. Except, I prefer Body Wrap over Spanx. It just hugs me better. *lol* And it’s cheaper!

  32. moonfall
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    I always thought body shaping clothing looked uncomfortable. I can’t even stand wearing “shaping” jeans because they squeeze my stomach. Can you feel that Spanx are there?

  33. Lainapox
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    Now I’m excited. I was considering getting spanx because the pants of the suit that I just got are a tiny bit too tight, but I was having all sorts of inner battles re: beauty standards/social pressures to have a tight-looking ass/clothing/etc. I feel better now. (Kidding. Wasn’t really a big deal at all. Most of the conflict was about the $30+ price tag)

  34. revsolcialist
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    everybodyever-
    Yup, I use a mix of things. Spanx-type stuff, bike shorts, longer leggings, etc. Depends on the outfit.
    But I LOVE biking in skirts. Glad to hear you enjoy it as well. See you out there!

  35. MzBitca
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

    Megan,
    I agree with Samhita, full detox. I go through this every once in a while with make up. I go on splurges where I like to where full make up but if I catch my self feeling that I look hideous without it I will restrain myself to just a little mascara and maybe some powder as I have oily skin. It usually takes a few days but then I become happy and content with the way I look naturally.
    My litmus test for if I am doing something for patriarchal reasons…If my attitude or confidence changes dramatically. LIke with make-up, if I feel myself feeling self-conscious without it then I realize I am walking the line of wearing make-up for others and not myself and I go through my detox. I want to be the same person at the same level of confidence whether I’m in high heels, make-up dress that I am when I go outside in sweats, baggy t-shirts and no make up

  36. anne_jumps
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 10:46 pm | Permalink

    MzBitca, I like that way of looking at it.

  37. Courtney
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    Samhita, you’re fucking hilarious. I think that as long as you’re engaged in an ongoing struggle to counter the beauty industry, you deserve to do the things that make you feel like you can just go out and do that thing. It’s feminist to feel yourself, with and without spanx.

  38. lemon
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    Wear whatever you want, but lets be real. Do we really wear these for ourselves or others? How can one even separate the two?

  39. MzBitca
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 11:20 pm | Permalink

    Well, say you put on a little weight so that clothes are slightly uncomfortable. You don’t want to buy all new pants so you buy Spanx so that your pants are comfortable again? Would that qualify? or the women who use them to prevent thigh chafing?

  40. MzBitca
    Posted August 5, 2008 at 11:22 pm | Permalink

    Well, say you put on a little weight so that clothes are slightly uncomfortable. You don’t want to buy all new pants so you buy Spanx so that your pants are comfortable again? Would that qualify? or the women who use them to prevent thigh chafing?

  41. Posted August 6, 2008 at 12:27 am | Permalink

    teacherwoman, RedPersephone, –I’m wearing some spanx right now. I live in sweaty, hot as hell GA and I find them super comfy. I’ve got on the higher power panties (addressing your issue RedPersephone) to deal with the aching thigh rub and they’ve got a great cotton crotch that OPENS. So, if you need to go to the bathroom, you wouldn’t have to pull ‘em down (if you didn’t want to).
    So uh, they’re way more than breathable.

  42. wax_ghost
    Posted August 6, 2008 at 1:02 am | Permalink

    Erm, I’d like to point out that even us “skinny” girls can have thighs that rub together. I’m fairly skinny but I have big thighs – always have and always thought it was normal for any woman of any size besides the model-thin.

  43. Posted August 6, 2008 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    Yeah, I realize that wearing support garments meant to smooth out unsightly bulges is not for my own “empowerment,” it’s because I have been programmed to believe my body should look a certain way.
    As a participant in amateur wrestling, I often wear vinyl and as I’m sure you can imagine, vinyl is not the most flattering material. I wear generic spanx (can’t spare the cash for the real deal) under my costume and I just feel more comfortable with myself.
    The whole thing comes down to the philosophical issue of choice and why we make the choices that we do. Yes, it is my choice to wear control tops, but what factors caused me to make that choice? Either way, I’m not gonna feel too guilty about it.

  44. MaggieF
    Posted August 6, 2008 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I have dresses that I only fit into when I’ve cinched 4 inches off of my waist with a corset.

  45. Posted August 6, 2008 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    I’m with MzBitca – I wear them, but not because I’m afraid of looking unskinny. I wear them because I bought most of my work wardrobe about a year and fifteen pounds ago, and a tight pair of shorts underneath helps them fit. A $30 pair of Spanx ($17 at Target, I’ve found, although they’re not quite the same) is a lot cheaper than an entirely new wardrobe.

  46. manifestadestiny
    Posted August 6, 2008 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    This advertisement for a confining product of the beauty industry brought to you by feminists. If it has the feminist seal of approval, it’s a-okay.
    Seriously, I just wanted to say that Samhita, I’m proud of you for breaking the patriarchal rules of body size for women. Why walk around confining the tissues and disallowing them precious oxygen? Fuck it! When it comes to fighting fascist beauty standards, Erykah Badu says, “Don’t you give up, keep going, keep going…” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MW5gU-tATNc

  47. molly
    Posted August 6, 2008 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I bought a Spanx product (forget exactly which one) to wear during the unfortunate my-belly-looks-like-it-will-never-include-abdominal-muscles-again phase of the few months after giving birth. It helped my non-maternity clothes not look silly in terms of where THEIR waist and MY “waist” hit. It helped me feel like a human being who could happily go to work and see friends and so forth even while my body was completely postpartum and almost 100% dedicated to breastfeeding and otherwise taking care of my son. While I realized that my sometimes-intense self-consciousness about the belly overhang on my otherwise skinny frame was Not-So-Feminist, finding a simple way to make myself forget about it was empowering for me during an exhausting time.

  48. jessilikewhoa1981
    Posted August 8, 2008 at 2:50 am | Permalink

    whoa, so since the paxil i was on made me gain 10 pounds and my belly did some expanding, i can wear spanx and my jeans will fit again without having to do that thing where you slit each side of the waistband with scissors then wear a belt to cover the slits?
    or am i the only one who does that?
    the reviews here have me so on board, besides the paxil weight gain i have a large scar from a kidney surgery when i was 13 that for some reason gathers fat, so if i wear tight clothes i have a weird lump on my right side.
    i gotta cash in my piggy bank and get some spanx, preferably the ones with the opening crotch, those sound sweet.

  49. Kat
    Posted August 8, 2008 at 3:06 am | Permalink

    “If anyone has any other ideas for solving modesty/chafing problems for us big girls wearing skirts, I’m dying to hear them!”
    Specialty running stores sometimes sell sticks and creams designed to prevent chafing for long distance runners. It’s usually a deodorant like stick. I don’t know where to purchase modesty sticks though.

  50. Kat
    Posted August 8, 2008 at 3:07 am | Permalink

    “If anyone has any other ideas for solving modesty/chafing problems for us big girls wearing skirts, I’m dying to hear them!”
    Specialty running stores sometimes sell sticks and creams designed to prevent chafing for long distance runners. It’s usually a deodorant like stick. I don’t know where to purchase modesty sticks though. Maybe a Purity Ball would have some available?

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