Can shapewear be body positive? I know some of you have already decided that you know the answer and don’t need to read this, but hear me out for a second. Isn’t the desire to stop wearing shapewear exactly why body positivity was created, or at least one of the reasons why? Wearing it can’t possibly be body positive right? But is it really that simple? Given the body positive movement is so closely associated with feminism we need to prioritize freedom of choice for all people, but especially for marginalized people. We need to ensure that all women are allowed to make all the choices they want. So while for some, body positivity may mean ditching shapewear, for others it may mean giving it a try for the first time. Still, hanging this complex issue on the choice argument is not good enough. We need to look deeper than that.
Ultimately, yes, shapewear can be body positive, but only with a few caveats;
You can’t feel like you have to wear shapewear or you don’t look good. You need to know that you are beautiful completely naked or with your visible belly outline showing through your dress. To be honest, this may not even mean you have to go without your shapewear on a regular basis but you do have to feel beautiful without it. I’ll compare it to high heels, I know I look good in flats, I love that look, to be honest, but high heels feel better. When I wear flats my arches hurt by midday but heels quickly solve this problem, so I know I look beautiful both ways but I prefer to wear heels. I also acknowledge that heels were designed to alter a woman’s body for the male gaze, to make us look curvier because of the way we walk when we wear them. I also know they reinforce the myth that height is beautiful, but that is not why I personally wear them. So for me, the same applies to shapewear.
Which leads me to my second point, you need to know the misogynistic roots of much of fashion for women. My main reason for wearing it is that I like the way shapewear feels under a dress, like a slip they keep my outfit from riding up or folding in places as I move around. For me they make me feel as though I can do more physical activity in a sexy outfit. I feel that I am less limited by my femme-ness because I know my undergarments are secure and I won’t be accidentally flashing anyone. But I also know that’s not why shapewear and other undergarments like corsets were designed, they were designed to reinforce the beauty standard of the smooth hourglass shape, one unattainable to most women and one I am already privileged to sort of have. I acknowledge the unpleasant and sexist history behind shapewear and all of its fashion cousins like the corset.
My final point is that you should never lie about wearing it. In the interest of body positivity, I have always said that I would be upfront and honest about my use of anything that alters my body in anyway. I’ve never photoshopped my body to remove weight or cellulite but if I did I would be explicit about it. Same goes for my use of body modification garments like shapewear and corsets. As I’ve written about before, in order for them to be feminist they need to not be a secret. When these tricks are kept secret other women can be led to believe that they too should look like that but that they should somehow achieve it naturally. By being upfront and honest about the modification garment other women can have realistic expectations for their own bodies and that is body positive. Plus, women supporting other women is one of the most beautiful things, so let’s all do more of that.
This shapewear was provided to me by SexyPlus Clothing as a part of our collaboration agreement. You can see it under a gorgeous bodycon dress in my upcoming post for the brand Unique Vintage.