The first time I put on a “body shaper” I didn’t even need it. I was in good shape considering I had a toddler and a slightly older toddler. I had not been on a red carpet since having children but my body actually looked ok in clothing. Naked? Not so much. But in clothing? Pretty ok.
The body shaping technology hit the ‘mainstream’ for us actor types somewhere around 2010. The dress the stylist wanted me to wear to an event was form fitting, and so it was suggested I try on this “magic” thing that would “smooth out any bumps” that might show in a clingy fabric.
My solution would have been to not wear such a form-fitting clingy fabric, but I indulged the stylist who suggested it. A body shaper is like a girdle but made of very thin, very sleek material, so that when worn under a tight dress, it barely shows. You step in and them shimmy it up; it typically rests under your bra line. There are all sorts of body shapers: one just for the tummy area, one for “back fat” to prevent rolls of flesh from spilling over the top of your bra (come on, you know exactly what I’m talking about!), even body shapers for men to tone their tummy area under tighter clothing.
Body shapers are supposed to be tight and restrictive. It’s how they work their magic. I don’t much like to be uncomfortable, but that’s sort of the deal with these undergarments. And if you need to pee, plan to pee on your hand and the fabric of the crotch which supposedly “opens” to let the urine stream out but mainly catches the stream on its way out and manages to trickle onto your lovely delicate hands. Very lady-like.
I felt simultaneously freaked out and thrilled to wear a body shaper at first. It made me look like those models we are supposed to claim we don’t want to look like. I had no bumps where my hips showed their evolutionarily preferred curve, any cellulite (yes, of course I have plenty) was smoothed over, and my waist was defined by the squeezing. It can really make for beautiful lines. Stylists I have worked with consider body shapers a must; the standard has been set for us all to look smooth, flawless, and lacking the many curves I have. There’s no looking back.
Then I heard about a designer names Carrie Hammer who uses real women as models, including some who are physically handicapped. She studied both advertising and women’s studies in college and is a smart fierce amazing woman. I met with her about possibly designing me a dress and picked her brain a bit. She does not believe in making women wear body shapers. What!? She believes that women’s strength comes from believing they are beautiful as they are. And what would the world be like if women did not try to look like those models who only represent a teeny tiny fraction of what normal grown-up women’s bodies even look like?! What if the notion of a curved belly in women post-childbirth was not seen as something to hide? What if we found clothing that suited us as we are, not as someone wishes we would be? I think it would be amazing.
What if the notion of a curved belly in women post-childbirth was not seen as something to hide?
I stopped wearing body shapers that day 3 years ago. While I have made a few exceptions and felt fine about those exceptions, I am pleased with looking for dresses that fit me as I am. Sure, I could stand to lose some weight. I’ve been eating poorly and not exercising and lo and behold, my body is showing it. But in the meantime, I get to find clothes I feel good in. Clothes that fit me when I wear them and make me feel good about getting into them. Thinking about getting into a dress that requires a body shaper is infinitely less appealing than thinking about getting into one that doesn’t.
Do I hate that some clothes get rejected by me because my hips are not “smooth” enough without a body shaper? Yes. Have I seen pictures of me in my daily life with my kids taken from behind and have I been astounded that you can see cellulite through my skirt!? Absolutely. Do I need to check my outfits from behind before leaving the house? Apparently.
I am glad body shapers exist. I also am sad that they exist. I think I will end up wearing them less rather than more but always with an awareness that even if I look “good,” the real me who needs to feel good is the one who doesn’t wear body shapers. I sometimes need to look a certain way for photos and jobs and such, but I can’t wait until I don’t need to squeeze myself into the equivalent of a sausage casing to meet the standards established by the fashion industry, the acting world, and the world of judging women by the dimples on their tush.