In February, modern shapewear will have officially been in the marketplace for 20 years. Modern shapewear was first introduced to the mainstream during an era when a woman’s beauty was dictated by very rigid ideals. Everyone was wearing peek-a-boo thongs, low-rise jeans, and skintight body-con dresses. The goals were to look as smooth, tight, toned, taught, and often sexual as possible. For women who struggled to meet the ideal, shapewear represented an instant fix.
Nearly two decades have passed since that era and beauty standards have evolved. But, body issues are still a big problem for many people. There is no denying that the body positivity movement has made inroads when it comes to getting women to embrace their natural bodies. But, even those who appear ultra-confident often don’t like looking at themselves in the mirror. Since its introduction into the marketplace, shapewear has been aggressively marketed as a fast solution to all our frustrations with our bodies. The marketing has definitely made shapewear brands like Elle Courbee and Shapermint a lot of money.
So, what exactly passes as shapewear anyway? According to Precious Lee, a famous model who featured in SKIMS’ campaign launch, both shoulder pads and bras are certainly shapewear. Lee explained that she doesn’t see a difference between wearing spandex bodysuits under a thin dress or shoulder pads to make your shoulders appear broader in the suit. The model wants on to say that she thinks all beauty standards are “bullshit” and is tired of hearing about them.
Without emotional and mental comfort, being physically comfortable means nothing. And, when shapewear is involved balancing the equation is not easy. Are being a user of shapewear and a fan of body positivity mutually exclusive? Why did Kim Kardashian call her new shapewear brand “solution wear”? There are so many questions to ask about modern beauty standards.
When you don’t have to worry about the slinky material of your dress clinging to your stomach, you might feel more confident. However, Lee described a time when she went bra-free in public for a whole day and said she felt amazing. What a woman wears should depend on the occasion, the accompanying garments and the preferences of the wearer. Undergarment choices don’t have to be make-it-or-break-it decisions.
Allowing women to wear whatever they want, whenever they want without having to deal with any criticism is an ambitious thought. In practice, however, what would that look like? Can women continue to wear items of shapewear without being part of the propagation of unrealistic beauty expectations?
Huntsmans confesses that even though she believes there’s no wrong type of body, practising what she preaches can be difficult — especially when the world is constantly reminding you of all the things you need to change. It seems we might be waiting a long time for a definitive solution to the problem of unrealistic beauty standards. Do we even want a solution?