Does Shapewear Contribute to Body Snark?

Today’s guest post is by Petra Bellejambes, hosiery editor and regular contributor to the lingerie blog, Guilty Pleasures. In today’s guest post for The Lingerie Addict, Petra asks if shapewear’s popularity helps create a body snark prone climate. I thought the essay was extremely thought-provoking, and I’d love to hear what you think in the comments. ~ Treacle

I love it when Treacle posts something a little contentious and an avalanche of reader comments follow, tumbling all the way down the page, scrolling and sprawling and sometimes brawling. Lingerie can inspire all sorts of passions, and passionate opinions too.

Things really light up here on The Lingerie Addict when the chitchat gets around to discrimination. This comes, I suspect, from Treacle’s simple conviction that women are beautiful, full stop. No ifs, ands, or commentary on the size of our butts about it. I share this conviction. You too I hope.

Discrimination comes in many subtle and slap-in-the-face forms here in Lingerie World. Models lack diversity in size, shade and shape. They are primped and preened and photoshopped into hyper-idealized settings. They seem to live in mansions and penthouses always within tottering distance of a canopy bed. And for the most part they are thin, pale and young (and too often incapable of smiling).

When we don’t see people that look or live remotely like us, how are we supposed to feel about … us? Unimportant? Unattractive? Undesirable? Invisible? All of the above?

The discrimination creeps on to the shop racks. Small band/big cup, big band/small cup girls have a devil of a time finding pieces that fit, last, and feel beautiful. The rest of us are encouraged to abandon our natural silhouette and pad up or minimize down a size or two. And what on earth is nude? Nude to who? A perfect nude on me would have random breakouts, blotches, and blemishes, and come complete with bad tan lines.

Great environment for Body Snark. The world throws it at us. We bounce it on to others. Mirrors reflect it back at us. And the Snark never sleeps. If you are not all up to speed on The Lingerie Addicts views on Body Snark, take a fast master class here. And then hurry back here for my little question for all of us.

Is shapewear Body Snarky?

I am waging a battle against a growing waistline lately and pouring myself into nippers, cinchers, control slips, and full body briefers to hold the line. I walk the dogs and try to eat right, but time has time on its side. All of us face our body battles sooner or later, hips and thighs, pooch and bum, boobs and back, you name it. The assortment of miracle shapewear “solutions” seems to grow daily and promise to help us push the line back.

The very word solution presumes a problem though, yes? So again, I ask: When we suit up with the Spandex Squadron are we helping out Team Snark?

I will quickly take pro and con positions here:

Pro: I have a wardrobe that I want to wear to death. A pinched inch or two helps keep borderline small skirts and pants ready to wear. I save money. Hurray! Moreover, many of these things hang better and look more like they are designed to with a smooth, uniform coat of paint on my lumpy frame. Some of my more structured shaping pieces straighten me up and remind me to keep my shoulders back. I walk a little taller, and good posture is good manners in its own way, yes? Lastly, in defense of Shapewear, I have to admit that a good piece makes me believe that I look better.

Better than what I suppose is the question. Now over to the prosecution.

Con: It is hot in here dammit, and if I move too fast my glands will kick in and ruin another blouse. And comfort… well this one is more comfy than that one, this other wicks well, and that one digs in where is shouldn’t, but regardless of how good the piece feels, the two best moments of the day come before it goes on and the second it comes off. And all the fuss in the bathroom, straps and clasps and putting yourself back together after a quick pee. Too much body armor and you can be tempted to just hold it in and run the risk of another UTI.

Beyond these inconveniences though lurks the bigger issue. Who are we fooling and why do we try?

By going the extra distance to “fix” our figures and look better (again, better than what??) do we contribute to the idealization and objectification of women? Do we subtly weigh in on the with discriminatory forces? Does the new packaging not faithfully describe our beautiful contents? And do we, you and me, find in these garments a barrier to better recognize and appreciate beauty in all of its gorgeously, naturally, womanly forms?

Much of what we look like is inherited, and the rest of it comes from how we behave or misbehave. And the longer we live, the more things change. Our shapes too. When we obscure those changes and fight futilely against them do we close our minds just a little bit to the beauty we all have?

And does that make the world a little Body Snarkier than it could be, should be?

Hopefully we will all get some new thoughts from your much desired comments here.

Mad Mimi Form


Cora Harrington

Founder and Editor in Chief of The Lingerie Addict. I started TLA in a small studio apartment in 2008. Since then, it's become the leading lingerie blog in the world, and has been featured on the websites for Forbes, CNN, Time, Today, and Fox News. I believe lingerie is fashion too, and that every who wants it deserves gorgeous lingerie.

43 Comments on this post

  1. Thursday says:

    My interpretation of “body snark” is that it is one person judging the body of another, policing what is “right” and “wrong” in shape and size. So is your question, are we body snarking ourselves by wearing shapewear? If so, I think there are as many reasons for choosing to wear shapewear as there are bodies. Yes, some women may choose to don some skin-tight spandex because they feel that their body needs changing or taming, but some women may just prefer the way they fit into a certain dress when they don a body suit. If a woman feels she MUST wear shapewear in order to fit an ideal, then I’d say she’s feeling the pressures of societal body snark, but we cannot assume the reasoning behind a woman’s choice to wear shapewear to be only negative.

    Personally, the only lingerie items I own that might be considered shapewear are retro style girdles and suspender belts. Their shaping effect is pretty much the last thing on my mind when I don them. I am more interested in the overall aesthetic of the piece, the retro look, and the hold-up-my-stockings functionality! I want them to look good under my clothes, but I don’t buy them to change my shape. If someone else likes to see that change when they put them on however, who am I to say it’s because they feel negatively about their body?

    • We agree on the definition of Snark. Really use of the term in this essay was perhaps a rhetorical flourish too far… Yes, there are a lot of motivations behind what we wear, and for the most part, they are fun and positive. Thanks!

  2. This is quite the well thought out article addressing both sides of the argument, which I greatly appreciate! It’s always good to see all sides of the box so to speak. Personally, I’m torn; I know woman have body issues due to society and their ‘ideal’ of the perfect woman. I don’t condone a ‘quick fix’ like shapewear if that is ALL you plan on doing to make yourself healthy, however I do believe that if a little tummy tucking or leg smoothing piece makes you feel more beautiful, go for it! Just as long as you don’t RELY on the shapewear to improve your looks and use it to make yourself feel good inside and out while you continue working on being healthy, I think shapewear isn’t a bad thing.

  3. KathTea says:

    This is something I always end up debating with most when it comes to corsetry. “But you’re beautiful the way you are!” Oh dear. I believe the “shapewear” that I love most really are only pretty girdles, suspender belts, high waisted panties (which I have yet to invest in) and of course corsetry. I love them mostly because how pretty they look on their own, the “shaping” aspect is just an additional plus! My argument to most would be this, if wearing push-up bras to enhance ones bust size is considered ok, then why is shapewear suddenly “evil” or “deceptive”? Then there’s body modification aspect of corsetry, I always ask people to think about tattoos and piercings and how they’re a bit more permanent yet more widely accepted in this time and age.

    • Lily says:

      I think you’re right to include push-up bras in the category of body/shape altering, but I would argue that while it is debatable what the reasons that someone chooses to wear shapewear is, you can say almost with certainty that the reason someone chooses to get a tattoo or piercing doesn’t have to do with their size or shape – as generally tatts/piercings do not have any “shaping” abilities. Though people do get them for other types of body unsatisfaction, I suppose..

    • Interesting and thanks so much. Yes, body mods like tats and piercing are interpreted broadly as statements of independence, creativity, and etc. Why not how we shape ourselves? Thought provoking … (love your blog btw m’dear)

  4. kirsten says:

    As a designer/maker of custom clothes for years (I had my atelier in a lingerie shop for a time, which gave me a great education), I want to say I hope not! Shapewear and bras for that matter have place in giving a desired silhouette, but should be used to work with your body not against it! Ideally, it is for a little lift, or smoothing lines (and I love wearing corsets for a nipped in waist), but shouldn’t be used as torture devices to force your body against its will into being something it is not. There are so many choices out there for flattering on any body shape or size. I know not everyone can afford custom clothing, but having ready to wear pieces tailored for better fit, choosing flattering lines, and shutting out negative voices in favour of your own personal style that makes you feel more like yourself.

    I have my own body issues too; who doesn’t. When summer came around, and I was on my second season of not fitting into my beloved sundresses of years past, I considered corseting myself into them, but I decided that the better route would be to let them out. It felt like a bit of a concession, and was totally depressing, but you know what? I can wear them without feeling uncomfortable (or looking like a stuffed sausage), because they fit. I love love love wearing shapewear for some things, but I don’t want to wear it as a denial of the way my body is, I want to wear it because it is sexy, and gives me that little push (and I mean little) to the line and silhouette of the era I am going for. Personally, I feel most confident in clothes that fit. If I am uncomfortable in my clothes, it shows, and it draws attention to me trying to force myself into something I am not.

    • Amadea says:

      ” I want to wear it because it is sexy, and gives me that little push (and I mean little) to the line and silhouette of the era I am going for. ”

      And therein, I think, lies the difference.

      If a person is wearing a girdle etc because some magazine told them to hide their “unsightly lumps and bumps” then that would most definitely be considered a form of body snark. If a person is wearing the same girdle because it makes them feel sexy then it wouldn’t be.

    • Kirsten …Similar tale for me… only just recently, and as a result of finally admitting that I have changed shape, I took a few beautiful things to a consignment shop. I have outgrown parts of my wardrobe. I will look better, shapewear or no, if I realize that.

  5. sierra says:

    Embrace the lumps ! Be free from your spandexy bondage. If your main motivation for wearing shape wear is because you gained a few extra pounds and is piece is uncomfortable don’t make your s elf miserable. It is really hard for women as a whole to admit to ourselves that we have gone up a size or two. I remeber having a complete meltdown in the fitting room at sears when I realized I was a Seven and not a three any more (silly am I right?) Cloths that fit look better and feel better and would allow you to have freedom of movement. I understand shapewear can be sexy. I would personally save those pieces for special occasions and not torture myself and boil alive in the heat (I live in TX) I would also add that even with bigger clothes or shapewear it is important to make some time for light strength traing is important not for weightloss but for well strength for now and so that you will be stronger ant more independent when you are elderly : )

  6. Lily says:

    I suppose it really comes down to how you feel when you look at yourself, after taking all the shapewear off. Is it “ugh, back to my ugly old self” or do you smile and think, “hey, I still look really great without all the bells and whistles!” But ultimately, I do think we find the look that shapewear provides so appealing partially because of societal conditioning and such. Even as aware of it as you can try to be, a lot of it is ingrained into your mind.

  7. Jess says:

    Great post!

    You raise some really interesting questions and concerns, what an interesting topic. I see both sides of what you’re saying.

    In my opinion, I blame a garment if it requires shapewear, and I just won’t buy it. I’m very thin and have no cellulite, but if I buy something made from a slinky fabric, it makes me look lumpy! Why should I have to buy shapewear because the designer doesn’t consider how something will look on an actual person? I try to buy items made from high quality fabrics; I just feel like I don’t want to wear 2 garments to make the top one look good. It’s uncomfortable! Clothes should be flattering on their own, and they definitely can be.

    If my budget allowed, I would definitely look into corsets and retro shapewear that was actually really beautiful, but just because I like the style, not because I feel like I need to be shaped.

    By the way, there are some very famous, beautiful photos of Marilyn Monroe in bathing suits where she has what some people call a “pooch,” that not-so-flat area of your lower belly. Forget slimming swimwear; I think she looks great.

  8. Ina says:

    I’ve asked my husband about this stuff before as I have pondered purchasing it. I decided against it because he told me he loves me the way that I am and when I pour myself into something he sees it as “false advertising” (he is against padded bras for this same reason) He also pointed out the hassle one has to go through to peel themselves out of it. (He wonders how on earth some of that stuff can be comfortable, lol) He wishes women would just present themselves the way they were and not worry so much about what other people think.

    The reason why I have considered buying shapewear is because I am worried what other people will think/say about my appearance. I work hard every day to not ponder what that persons expression meant as I walked by, so I do think it does lend itself towards “body snark” I’m not anti-shapewear as some of it looks pretty darn sexy to me, and lord knows I love my corsets. I think it’s a fine line between making you feel sexy and making you conform to what society deems beautiful. It’s also a debate that will continue on infinitely, we are constantly changing what our idea of beauty is.

  9. Catherine says:

    My chronic pain is bad enough to put me off wearing clothes, full stop, a significant portion of the time, but I don’t feel particualrly opressed when I wear shapewear, mainly because I view it more as temporary body art. I’m not sure how its different to changing the way your face looks with a haircut or makeup or your shoulders with a suit jacket. Everyone messes about to a certain degree with how they look, and you are allowed to have fun!

  10. Elegy says:

    Yes: a lot of mainstream shape wear markets itself using the problem-solution formula. Shape wear has a strong history in this.

    No: I wear shape wear because I love it and it’s beautiful, not because I want it to make my body look a different way due to shame as a result of snark. My shape wear, as a result of this blog and many body-positive environments- serves to remind me that my body is as it was meant to be, and shape wear should only be there to enhance what I have. It won’t make me look like someone else (those models in the example), and I don’t need to want it to. I just need it to feel right for me.

  11. I’m personally against shapewear and although I own some (got it for free) I have never worn it. I like to wear clothing that makes me feel amazing, and if I feel like I have to put on a constricting under layer in order to get into a dress, that dress doesn’t make me feel great, it makes me feel like crap. My favourite clothes are ones that I put on and they totally work with the body I actually have, not the body I will have if I smooth it down.

    I’m not keen on criticising other women for wearing shapewear, however. For me, the issue is just like removing body hair. There’s no real reason that body hair on women is considered unattractive, it’s just part of our current society. If women find that they prefer to remove body hair for their own enjoyment, that’s nice for them. I don’t find being hairless more enjoyable, so I don’t remove body hair. In the same way, I don’t find being “smooth” more enjoyable than being “lumpy”, so I don’t wear shapewear. If some women do prefer it, they can wear shapewear.

    It should be a totally personal choice, just like any other appearance decision. Like makeup? Wear it. Don’t like makeup? Don’t wear it. Like shapewear? Wear it. Don’t like it? Don’t wear it.

    If only society actually allowed us to make those decisions without persecution!

  12. Annmarie says:

    I found the article and the comments that followed quite fascinating. Yes, I read them all. And look how many are here in such a short time! If anyone wants to write an instant bestseller their subject as well as the title should be “The Politics of Lingerie”.

    As for myself… It’s hard for me to judge others; after all I’m not an authority and really have no opinion as most previous commentators stated. I do think though that advertisers are preying on our weaknesses and insecurities. Female self-body image is not the only issue under constant attack, though it may be one of the top targets. And if they show us unrealistic images in unrealistic locations they do so only to enhance that message while also attempting sell a fantasy in the process.

    As for the subject…I was quite blessed to be more or less the same weight as I was while a high school senior for a long time. Recently I started developing a belly of some sort and decided to look into different shape wear. So far my experience has not been that positive. The stuff is often itchy though I admit my skin is easily irritated. And some pieces I’ve tried have literally made me “boil alive in the heat”, as Sierra wrote. And mind you, as opposed to her I don’t live in Texas- I live in Seattle for Moses’ sake!!!

    So instead of suffering I decided to acknowledge my size have changed and now purchase my clothes accordingly. That said, if shape wear works for you and you enjoy it, then by all means go for it!

    • Thanks for your stamina Annmarie. We share an issue. I too had my high school figure (more or less, not quite so tight and firm, but the same shape and weight) deep into my 40’s. It honestly came as a shock to outgrow rather than outwear things. I have been scrambling ever since.

      Recognizing what ones real size is changes things, and can diminish the “requirement” for shapewear greatly. When we shop for the right silhouettes in the right size, the garment and our natural shapes are typically as beautiful as we can be.

  13. Ksenia says:

    I only wear bras so my breasts won’t hurt as much. Support. Corsets for the back support.

  14. Loved this post. I have been arguing with myself about this for awhile now and did a post here in Australia regarding it.

    I feel the advertising used by these companies pray on our weaknesses. And as a woman it is about lack of time, not looking the way we want to and quick fixes. So seeing shapewear constantly advertised as making you look better you start to question whether it will actually make me look better. When before hand I didn’t even realise there was anything wrong with me.

    I have decided against it. We are falling for more and more body changing garments and products that prey on our insecurities. Be it makeup, creams, push up bras, waxing….it’s a never ending cycle and I don’t want to add another one to the list I already prescribe to. Im trying to cut that down as it is! If people want to wear it, wear it. But personally I see it as not being secure in your own skin and I would prefer to work on my insecurities than buy shapewear. It won’t help me in the long run…. It’s like when you wear makeup, it’s hard to see yourself as attractive when you stop wearing it.

    • The pressures do prey and are pervasive and persuasive. All of us have to stop be consumers of things, and start being producers of ourselves at some point though or we just become fully objectified, even to ourselves. You are so right. Working on insecurities is a great place to start. Thanks so much for your thoughts.

  15. CE says:

    Shapewear makes me look a bit better, but it makes me feel a LOT better. What’s the point of lingerie? Oh yeah….

  16. Amaryllis says:

    But, all lingerie is aimed at changing the way you look – from stopping your breasts drooping down to the waist or flapping about side to side, to providing fake fullness, flattering vertical lines… if you wanted to completely avoid conforming to an ideal of beauty that isn’t true to you as you are, you would have to walk around naked, make-up free, hair uncut… Personally, living in Blighty, it’s too damn cold most of the time to walk about naked.

    I’d definately agree that there are issues in how a lot of mainstream shapewear is advertised, but only in the way that there are issues with the way cosmetics, face creams, anti-wrinkle creams… actually, most adverts. And there are certainly people who are preyed upon by these kind of adverts, who spend their money desperately on miracle cures for their lack of self esteem. There are also many people who do the same, only with cars, or lottery tickets. I would be very wary to blame a product for the way that it is sold, or the quick fix that a person projects onto it.

    As a lady with tattoos, who wears corsets and shapewear and food-deforming shoes, loves make up for it’s ability to change the way I look, and has more clothes than it would be sensible to admit to… I consider it a part of my identity, to be able to change my identity and play with my shape and my body – not because i don’t like what it is, but because I want to mould what I have to my will, (which is ever changing) and present and play with as many aspects of my personality and vison of beauty as I can.

    I don’t think that the interest in beauty, in stamping a mark on the way they look, is something that women got from the system. It’s something within all humans, pretty much, and more strong in women than in men. I’m all for embracing our natural desires (where they’re not ones about mass murder, anyway!).

    • You are at the very heart of it, yes Amaryllis. What a wonderful gift we have, to adorn, embellish, change, surprise, beguile, lure and etc. Believe me when I say that I love the transformation that I can achieve for myself with a little paint and a pinch and a push or two. I also love the effect on others. What a privilege, what fun, and how so much more rich the lives of women in this regard, than the lives of fellows.

      It does come from within, it is very much a part of us, and very much to be celebrated. I only raise the question here in this post because that desire within us to adorn and delight can be manipulated, and exploited. It does have negative outcomes in many lives. And so it is important to evaluate motivations from time to time, like you and many readers have done today.

      Thanks so much.

  17. Lori Smith says:

    As others have mentioned, there are many reasons for wanting to wear shapewear of any kind. The problem comes when, like you say, brands/retailers promote shapewear as a ‘solution’. Suggesting that we are somehow wrong the way we are. I prefer pantygirdles to briefs these days because of the fit on my slowly softening body, and the smooth lines they give under clothes. I like the look of larger retro lingerie. But if anyone told me that I *had* to wear it because I’m big, I’d tell them where to go!

  18. Lily says:

    I think we all contribute… And not just when we buy shapewear. What about make up? Waxing?… I think most will be agree that there are a lot of cons when it comes to hair removal, and to be honest I think the only reason most people remove it is because it’s somehow socially unacceptable to the point where it can be shocking to see a woman with say, underarm hair.

    I do prefer vintage shapewear because it’s very functional but still pretty, these days we seem to favor very dainty designs – I often find bras that go up to a G cup but have tiny little straps – that’s just not going to work. Anyway. I find that modern shapewear doesn’t look beautiful or feel beautiful to wear…

    At the end of the day I have a problem with anything that is painful, uncomfortable, unnecessary and only done for someone else’s benefit. Do it because it makes you feel beautiful. At the same time I’m not sure we’d even know or recognize that anymore.

  19. katydid says:

    Just a small thing … do we really have to consider all women beautiful, as if that were THE be-all-and-end-all of female existance? Isn’t that just reductionism and goes a long way to creating a vicious circle? Men may be piqued at being called fat or ugly, but I think it is seldom earthshattering. We need to move beyond wanting ‘pretty’.

  20. […] it this past week in a great article at the Lingerie Addict (where she has also hosted interesting shapewear discussions), and Rampaige over at Busty Girls Comics wrote some wonderful responses to questions about corsets […]

  21. Grace Nolan says:

    I think that shapewear is great for women who want to wear it but if you don’t want to then that’s up to you. Don’t wear something you’re not comfortable with wearing just to please other people with how you look. Be yourself. If you want to wear shapewear then that’s up to you, if you feel comfortable in it and it makes you feel good then that’s great! But don’t wear it if you don’t want to!

  22. Sundal says:

    Great article. And I have to say, the one thing that I don’t like about this blog is all the corsetry coverage. To me, corsets are a HUGE symbol of female oppression and I think it’s high time we all moved on from them. Shapewear does not disable women’s internal organs in the same way a corset does, I think it’s a minor. I hardly ever wear shapewear, but it’s nice to know the option is out there if I want to wear a slinky dress for a special occasion and look all smooth and toned underneath.

    • Cora Treacle says:

      Hi Sundal!

      I disagree with your interpretation of the corset in modern times, and if I had to zero in on aspect of women’s underwear that remains a locus of ‘female oppression,’ it would not be the corset. Unlike corsetry of centuries past, women who wear corsets now choose to do so, and I believe that choice is the critical and transformative element in modern corsetry. Bras, cosmetics, high heels, shapewear…these can all be symbols of ‘female oppression’ today, especially if women feel forced or obliged to wear them (and many do); it makes no sense to me to single out an anachronistic item of clothing that has no place in anyone’s daily life anymore as that one ‘HUGE symbol of female oppression.’ It was once, I know, but no longer. And as someone who owns and enjoys corsets and who knows quite a few people who enjoy wearing corsets, claims that they “disable women’s internal organs,” are more than a little dramatic and inaccurate nowadays.


  23. Maria says:

    I do not believe that body shapers in and of themselves contribute to body snark. I believe, as a feminist, that everyone has the right to bodily autonomy, and that extends to looking the way YOU want to. If YOU want to wear body shapers of any kind, do it – do it in good health and a life of happiness! We all have things that we don’t like about ourselves. If you would rather wear a body shaper, that is your choice and yours alone. I do not believe it is body snark to say “I do not like this thing, so I will do something to change this thing.” The body snark element comes when we begin using the word “should”, imposing one opinion over someone’s bodily autonomy.

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