This is the second piece I have written in honor of the NOW Foundation’s 15th annual Love Your Body Day taking place on Oct. 17th. If you are interested in participating in a two week NOW fundraiser in honor of Love Your Body Day visit About Curves and find out how you can help!
Many years ago, I received a gift from a new lover. I opened the box and nestled inside clouds of tissue paper was an array of lingerie. I breathed in the sweet aroma of vanilla that wafted from the red silk and lace and panicked.
“I will look like an idiot. No fat women wear lingerie. Nothing will fit.”
And underneath it all,
“I don’t deserve to feel sexy.”
As I examined the dainties piece by piece a card fell out.
“Darling, if something doesn’t fit it is my fault, you are perfect.”
Grateful that I was alone and more grateful for the insight behind the note, I burst into tears of joy and relief.
Discussing lingerie may not seem like a complicated subject. You either wear it or you don’t. You either like it or you don’t. But once you start stripping away the outer layers of the topic you may be surprised at the complexity underneath and how lingerie, frequently blamed for over-sexualizing women, is also an arena for two of the most classic of all feminist tenets, equality and the right to choose.
For the next two weeks, a plus-sized lingerie company, About Curves, is sponsoring a fundraiser for the National Organization of Women (NOW). The paradoxical beauty of this “marriage” between a lingerie company and a historically feminist organization is not lost on me. As a child of the ’60s, I didn’t literally burn my bra but I cast it aside and occasionally bra-zenly bared my upper body at public protests to point out the discrimination between men and women. Why did men have the legal right to go shirtless? Unfortunately, being a redhead, that was not one of my best decisions. And after a few horrible sunburns, I opted to wear t-shirts with slogans that communicated the injustice that women didn’t have a choice and it had something to do with our breasts.
Our clothing became more androgynous during those years calling attention away from our bodies and directing the focus to our skills and abilities. I believe it was Madonna and Cyndi Lauper who eventually emerged on the scene and introduced the right to be sexy and still be a feminist. They introduced a style that allowed us to wear our unmentionables over our clothes and the message was we could be strong, powerful, and smart yet still be playful with our clothing. Unfortunately, we still had to be thin and predictably the proverbial pendulum swung too far in the other direction and that stance of sultry, smart, and strong began to spiral out of control. Throw in a pair of stilettos and women once again became objectified and lingerie items became a symbol of sluttiness and self-degradation.
Today, I believe we have reached a saner middle ground when it comes to the place that lingerie has in a woman’s world (or closet) and women are choosing to wear lingerie for a variety of reasons. Personally, I celebrate diversity in my clothing as I do in my social circle and political beliefs. I like the feel of silky slippery fabrics on my skin and they have an equal place, next to my flannels, in my underwear drawer. No matter what motivates a woman for slipping that little lacy something on from time to time, a crucial element is that it is her choice. Ask any woman who has repeatedly laced up a corset or battled with a pesky garter belt for the sole objective of meeting someone else’s expectations and she will tell you that it can become oppressive and completely UN-sexy when it stops being her choice. That choice is also taken away if you are told that you should not wear lingerie because of your body type or there is no lingerie available in your size. And no, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to elevate this argument to the same level as Universal Health Care, but if the media and clothing manufacturers are saying that only thin people are allowed to wear bathing suits in public and lingerie in the bedroom, that just interferes with my sense of justice and fairness (which is one of the reasons I am an ardent fan About Curves).
Their mission statement reads,
“Women are beautiful no matter what shape or size they come in and no woman should be made to feel bad about the body they were born with.”
They believe that curvy women should,
“Fight back against the industries that promote unhealthy/unrealistic standards of beauty and that it’s time to boost women’s self-esteem and remind the world we don’t have to be a certain size or look a certain way to be beautiful!”
That sounds a great deal like NOW’s position on how the media’s tyranny of slenderness results in low self-esteem and contributes to the increase in eating disorders.
According to NOW:
“Hollywood and the fashion, cosmetics and diet industries work hard to make us believe that our bodies are unacceptable and need constant improvement. Advertisements reduce us to body parts – lips, legs, breasts – airbrushed and touched up to meet impossible standards. The media tell women and girls that cosmetic surgery is good for self-esteem. Is it any wonder that 80% of U.S. women are dissatisfied with their appearance?”
And in case you wanted more facts, according to Do Something.org
- Twenty years ago, models weighed 8% less than the average woman. Today, they weigh 23% less than the average woman.
- The average American woman is 5’4″ tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5’11″ tall and weighs 117 pounds.
- One out of every four college-aged women has an eating disorder.
- In 2007, there were about 11.7 million cosmetic procedures performed in the U.S. Ninety-one percent of these were performed on women.
- A study found that 53% of thirteen-year-old American girls are unhappy with their bodies. This number grows to 78% by the time girls reach seventeen.
Facts are facts and no matter what your personal opinion about lingerie may be, it is an indisputable fact that the media bombards us with images of predominantly one physical type of woman wearing lingerie and labeled sexy. This lack of diversity and excessive commercialized depiction of women was looked at in a study that demonstrated that college-aged women who were exposed to Victoria’s Secret “Angel” commercials reinforced their belief that they should measure their self-worth with their appearance, and negatively affected their body satisfaction (Strahan et al., 2008). This is not surprising when you consider that the “Angels” in the ads are surgically and digitally altered and are selling women the promise of power and self-confidence for the price of a push up bra.
Conversely, here is the way About Curves advertises their merchandise:
“Every product offered by About Curves is personally approved by a team of discerning shoppers and modeled by plus size women in About Curves’ very own photo shoots. About Curves owners pride themselves on their insistence that women should not be made to squeeze their bodies into outfits that are uncomfortable, disrespectful, or poorly made, as is often the case across the apparel and lingerie industry.”
At this point you may be asking yourself, “how can this so called self-proclaimed lingerie-loving feminist Dr. Deah person support one lingerie company while simultaneously be trashing another?” I told you it was complicated!!! And no, this is not a paid advertisement for About Curves. It’s just that I know that I am not the only woman who has grappled with her conflicting feelings about sexual exploitation, body image and the place that sexuality and beauty holds in her life. I am just impressed with how well this company has synthesized what are typically ideological polar opposites and that although they may seem like strange bedfellows, along with NOW they are supporting the right for women to feel good about their bodies, choose how they want to adorn their bodies, and yes, to know that we are more than what we look like. Whether or not a person “approves” of the role certain unmentionables may have in the bedroom or the boardroom, women of every size should have the choice to fill their drawers with silky drawers. I may be biased, but it seems to me their underlying message is:
“If something doesn’t fit, it’s our fault. You are perfect.”
And that works for me.
‘Til next time,