Underwear: A Reckoning (Part One?)

There comes a point in life when lingerie is less about how your body looks in it and more about how your clothes look over it.

It’s still all about showing your body to its best advantage.    But as we cruise into the over-40 stage, many of us find that flimsy straps, lacy frills and peek-a-boo cutouts are no longer the way to go (if, in fact, they ever were).  Suddenly, we can appreciate the power of well-made garments that do some heavy lifting — in more ways than one — in the figure flattery department.

I started down this path at 30, when I gave up “feels like no bra” bras and moved to underwires for every day.  At around 35, I added molded cups for shaping and started fiddling with the straps, realizing that I needed to try a little harder to hoist those babies up!

But now, I have reached a new frontier.  After years of denial, hoping the problem would go away, the time has come for a Back Flab Intervention.  That’s right, ladies.  We’re talking about shapewear.  (Cue horror movie soundtrack).

Unfortunately, I hate the very idea of shapewear.  I’m almost old enough to remember when women wore girdles.  Well, at least I remember the “I can’t believe it’s a girdle!” commercials on TV.  And I know they lied.  These were torture devices, by all accounts, eerily echoing the bad old days of corsets in the pre-feminist age, constricting women both literally and figuratively.

Or so I’ve been told.

But things have changed!  Shapewear is sexy now!  This is not your mother’s girdle!  One of the top-selling brands even has a nudge-wink sexy name, Spanx. And Spanx are practically a status symbol — just ask the gals on Sex and the City, or look to see how many times Spanx are mentioned in hoity-toity trendy fashion circles.

Of course I find it very un-sexy that I don’t need Spanx to reign in voluptuous hips and an ample, womanly behind.   Oh no, not me.  I could actually use a little more jiggle in those areas.  What do I get instead?  Back flab.  Nothing womanly about that.

At least I’m not alone.  Apparently my body type is common enough that it actually has a name.  They call me a  reverse triangle — marked by big shoulders, a broad back and substantial torso that tapers downward to small hips, butt, and thighs.  My body type is not exactly new to me, and neither is the back flab.   I love-handled many a knit top even in my teen years.  But like many physical and personality traits, I think it has become more pronounced with age.

Avoiding tight knits and thin fabrics is no longer enough, it seems, because I suddenly have seemingly normal shirts in my closet that act as Back Flab Magnifiers.  To say nothing of the Lumpy Bumpy Visible Bra Straps.

It makes me feel sloppy.  Unkempt.  In a word, frumpy.

I’m not going to jump on the self-hating, poor-body-image bandwagon.  I don’t have to be a teeny-tiny supermodel.  I don’t want to look like a wisp of a girl.  I like my broad shoulders, thank you very much!  I might even be willing to accept my (strong!  unyielding!) back, which cascades gently downward in little rolls that start right below the bra strap and end somewhere near the hips.  But does everybody have to see every single roll?

Suddenly, after years of not really paying attention, I’ve learned that we can buy shapewear to address this issue.  Upper body Spanx exist!  (Well, ok, they are not all manufactured by the Spanx company, but you get my drift).

I’d read that one could buy such things, a year or so back, in one of my favorite fashion publications.  But I dismissed it, thinking, “Ah, that’s too much of a specialty item; I won’t find it in the stores around here.  And besides, shapewear is too expensive!”

Whenever I had seen shapewear in the lingerie department, the emphasis always seemed to be on girdle-type, lower-body focused garments or — even worse — long underwear-type things that covered the whole body from boob to knee.  And they cost more than I like to spend on clothes that the world will actually see. Who wants to spend a lot on underwear? The un-sexy kind?

However, more recently, in the dim murk of my peripheral vision, I’ve been noticing garments that look like upper body shapewear.  I don’t know what they’re called, but I’ve seen them hanging on various racks, here and there.

They even seem to be available at a variety of price points.  For example, the last time I was in the lingerie department at Kohl’s, I saw some camisoles that looked….. well, more substantial than camisoles.   I kept walking (denial, you know), but it registered.

A couple of weeks later, I was in a fancy boutique, and I saw some undershirty looking things hanging right next to the trendy, fun clothes!  Hmmmm, I thought.  Could that be an upper body shaper?  I felt the fabric.  It felt quite substantial, yet soft.  It might actually work!  But I was afraid to look at the price tag.  I didn’t want to try it on.  Plus, it was a beautiful, early summer day.  I wanted to look at sunny, flowing,  feminine clothes that put a spring in your step and a gleam in your eye.  I sure as hell didn’t want to think about my back flab, let alone address it.

Then, about a month ago, in another boutique, I saw another one.  My God, they’re following me!  Are you trying to tell me something?

The time has come.  I am ready.  Right now, the knit top that is the worst offender in the back flab department is sitting in my car.  It is waiting to accompany me on a shapewear shopping trip.

But I am just so much dreading it!  That’s probably why it’s been in my car for 3 days now, and no shopping has occurred.  But my intentions are good.  Really, they are.  So if I post this, right now, I will be forced to post again with an update in a week’s time, right?  Or maybe in a couple of weeks?  How about sometime within the next fiscal year?

In the meantime, maybe some kind readers will send a little inspiration my way.  Was your life changed by shapewear?  Tell your story.  If you get involved in my intervention, maybe recovery is in sight!


About Anne @ The Frump Factor

Reflections on beauty and style, for women who weren't born yesterday. Bring your sense of humor and "Fight the Frump" with me!
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21 Responses to Underwear: A Reckoning (Part One?)

  1. Grace says:

    Wow. Can’t help you on this one. All my extra weight goes directly, as Forrest Gump would say, “in the buttocks.”

  2. Erin says:

    Unfortunately I can’t help either, but I can relate. I’m 27, but when I go shopping with my mom (49), she hates how everything looks on her. She hates “tight” and “clingy” but honestly, I think everything looks fine on her. Maybe it’s less about shapewear and more about how you carry it?

    • Anne says:

      You do raise some good points there. If I don’t find something that’s fairly comfortable, I will probably decide to just rock those little lumps and not worry about it! Thanks for visiting.

  3. Annie Joy says:

    I’m ready for “spray on” shapewear! No struggling to get it on or off and you can put it where you need it. Is that too much to ask? Love your blog — visiting from LBS tea party. Annie

  4. I think I need to try shapewear….of course one area that doesn’t look the same that it did pre-kids is my buttocks…maybe shapewear will help?? Stopping over from the LB Tea party.

    • Anne says:

      I’m sure they’ve invented something for that — I’ve already started my shopping and the array of options is pretty unbelievable. I can’t say that I’m loving any of them yet, though…. I should have realized that I don’t like the feeling of being constricted!

  5. ZippyChix4 says:

    I too remember those girdles….my mom use to wear one. She was in her early 30’s at the time and certainly did not need it, but I think that the commercials were powerful. I always said that I would NEVER use those torture devices. I have the same body type as you do and let me say that back fat is very annoying as are the love handles. Gotta say that the personal trainer that I have been using has helped with the back fat….I am a “large framed” girl, and noticed that the shirts “were” looking much better until my trainers vacation and my vacation collided and I missed a month of workouts…oh yeah and I went on a cruise within that time frame (not helpful for reducing fat). Well it is back to the gym tomorrow to try to get rid of some of those bumps and rolls:) BTW I have tried spanx and prefer if possible to be “spanxless”!

  6. YES! I wear it ! I have not tried the ones for the upper body, but will wear the tights with it included and the long below the boobs, to the knees , sausage casings. After three kids and being in my mid 40’s now, and things shifting daily no matter how hard I try, I have given in. There are still times I just embrace my lumps and bumps….but other times I just really want to WOW ‘EM , so out comes the sausage casing , and let the wiggle commence to get into it!

    OH and thanks for the recent comment! :o)

    • Some of the skinny jeans with spandex work well, and as a matter of fact, have you ever heard of Not Your Daughters Jeans? They were featured on Oprah and have Lift and Tuck technology,lol! I bought a pair, a little pricey for my taste, but my hubby likes ’em!

  7. Java says:

    Omg this post is hysterical! I can relate right there with you! Thanks for stopping by the Over 40 Bloggers I added your blog to the list!!

    Thanks for joining the party!

    See you on Friday for the Over 40 hop!!


  8. Gen says:

    For me a good bra is really important (you can’t let triple D’s sag. It’s bad.) but I hate shapewear and prefer to camouflage problem areas with a cute top cut just right.

  9. Annette says:

    I’m not ready to go there yet! I need to go there but I’m not ready!! I’ll just follow you and see how it goes!

    Stopping by from FF40.

  10. Manzanita says:

    Thanks for stopping by my blog. Love your comment. You are one funny lady and you put it down so well into a story. I’ve found that when I push it in with something tight, it just pops out some other place. I’d have to have the full body suit, like a full body cast, including arms and legs. 🙂

    Fun blog. I’ll be back
    Wanna buy a duck

  11. Laury says:

    It’s so good to hear honesty about our 40% + year bodies. I’ll have to check out some shapewear. I lost some weight and am just getting used to showing my bodies’ curves a bit. A new thing for me, weird, I know. It takes a friend to point things out sometimes. Thanks for this article. It was entertaining and enlightening!

  12. Uyen says:

    After I gave birth to my 2nd daughter in June 2009, I wore a pair of spanx high-waisted tight-as-can-be underpants everyday for 1 month and my belly snapped back to normal so I LOVE my spanx! thanks for stopping by and following me! following you back!

  13. Gail says:

    I love your blog, glad to have found it on a blog hop! I am also a reverse triangle and know all too well the problem you describe….and Spanx and other solutions have come to my aid!

  14. Pingback: Part Two: Underwear, Revisited | The Frump Factor

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