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By Sasha Fastovskiy

If you’ve seen Bridget Jones’s Diary, you already know. You know those scenes hold the most weight in being the least sexy yet most accurate description of women’s undergarments of all time. “Scary stomach holding-in panties.” “Enormous panties.” P.C.-put: shapewear. No longer a modesty issue, it’s panties and other Lycra contraptions carefully, seamlessly (literally) stitched together with synthetic fibers that women cleverly stuff themselves into like sausage casings in hopes of concealing imperfections so they can trick the naked eye ~ er, technically it’s the un-naked eye ~ that they look more taut and tiny than they actually are. Today’s Lycra offerings can stretch from our ankles to our wrists and are such convincing garment optical illusions that we women fiddle and finagle for every inch of fabric and every inch on our waists. Given the artificial effect on our figures, we start to barter sizes when we resign ourselves to wearing particular underclothes. While it’s normal to vary between say, 6 and 8, or 10 and 12, the way we vary in half-sizes for shoes, is it normal to vary between 6 and 12 so long as we solemnly swear on shapewear?  That is where, my ribcage-crushed friends, we encounter the problem. When we conceal a little here, and pad a little there, we forget what size we really are. And let’s not negate the stress and popularity of online shopping, where we must guesstimate how our bodies will look in clothes from different retailers that, naturally, size differently. Considering trick-clothing, when push up comes to suck in, do measurements really measure up?

The mechanics of body-clothes contorting isn’t by any means novel: recall the bustle, hoop skirt, the corset, the girl, the bullet bra. Upon surveying my own closet inventory, I noticed a range in sizes that I can only attribute to industrial strength underwear. Like most, I prefer to wear a smaller size, but it will only happen if I don killer underwear. When shopping, I have to try on two sizes to check if I can get away with the smaller one, keeping in mind that I then become contractually obligated to wear underpinnings. Sure, I can buy the larger one, but at the core of the issue, I don’t want to feel or look larger. Brawear? Same. If I wear a strapless/multiway bra, my goodies don’t sit as rightly in the dress as they do in the plunge/wireless/underlined/whatever one. I could wear a padded bra, but it gets hot and bulky. Shapewear is as tricky to maintain during the day as it is to maneuver into at the beginning of the day. Women have to be mindful of how they sit and stand. It’s a pain to get into and out of. It’s hot and itchy. Heaven forbid anyone touch me and feel the steel plated panties, forget ever see them. They are just not sexy. Damn it, sometimes a girl just wants to breathe.

Alright, while there certainly won’t be a foreseeable end to hide-and-go-lycra innovations, and we will only find more ways to conceal our congealed wobbly bits, maybe we’ll just get more comfortable in them. Maybe retailers’ sizes will become obsolete. Maybe sucking in won’t be all that sucky for long. And remember, there IS such a thing as sexy, supportive undergarments…nay, lingerie…that do offer a BIT of support and (if they’re ever viewed by someone other than the wearer) a bit of sexiness ~ minus the whole cutting off our ability to breathe thing. We just have to be smart enough to choose those items. We don’t all have to take a page out of the Steel Magnolias handbook: “…these thighs haven’t gone out of the house without Lycra on them since I was 14.”

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