There's a quote in the introduction that has provided me with food for thought for days. While discussing the way the ideal body shape has changed at whim throughout fashion history, author Eleri Lynn writes:
"It is only since the 1960s that women have been expected to embody the fashionable ideal by way of diet and exercise and without the aid of foundation garments."The reason this idea struck me so much is that as feminists, it's very easy to equate restrictive foundation garments with gender oppression—to the point that many now think of girdles as anti-feminist. In fact, every time I've written about my fascination with retro lingerie—particularly of the New Look variety—at least one commenter has asked me how I reconcile this enthusiasm with my feminist ideals. So the quote above is rather compelling in that it's probably the first time I've seen the decline of foundation garments interpreted as having an adverse effect on women.
Historically, it's easy to see how there's some sense in this. We currently worship the ideal of the perfect body obtained through diet and exercise, yet we still seem to be coming up short. Indeed, the decades since the 1960s (when traditional foundation garments fell out of favor) have been particularly bleak in terms of our relationship with food and exercise, seeing a massive rise in cases of eating disorders and poor body image in general. Is it possible that there's a direct connection between this crisis and the fact that women have traded their girdles for the gym?
I'm sure it's not quite that simple. But I do think there's something to be said for the idea that fashion is really about a quickly-changing silhouette; it seems we swing back and forth between ideals like Kate Moss or Christina Hendricks fast enough to give one whiplash. If you rely on an article of clothing to help you achieve this silhouette, you're probably bound to be happier than if you're futilely trying to change your very body shape through punishing crash diets and exercise routines (not to mention plastic surgery), right? Plus there seems to be a moral judgment on the use of body shapers now; there's a somewhat commonly held belief that Spanx are for people who haven't been hitting the gym hard enough.
But on the downside, any restrictive garment is just that: restrictive. And not being required to wear these garments on a daily basis has, arguably, improved our the quality of our lives in many other ways.
What do you think? We've certainly gone 'round and 'round on this topic before, but I so love the way the quote above frames the issue that I just had to write about it again. Whatever your opinion, it's certainly an interesting discussion for this time of year, with the deluge of "New Year, New You" get-thin-quick offers! (I'm so sick of those already, aren't you?)