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Maybe we should all stop pretending Lizzo’s new shapewear brand is actually good for women

Shapewear affords women the illusion of freedom as they show off their whittled-down forms in body-conscious clothing. But this, in turn, makes many of us even more body self-conscious

Rachel C. Weingarten
New York
Thursday 14 April 2022 08:06 BST
Lizzo shows off cut-out leggings from new shapewear line

This week, Lizzo launched Yitty, a new line of shapewear in collaboration with activewear brand Fabletics. You may be familiar with Fabletics, the brand co-founded by Kate Hudson, and previously best known for body-conscious yoga and athleisurewear. As for Lizzo, the “Good as Hell” singer is well-known for embracing her bountiful curves.

Earlier this week, the star of the reality show Watch out for the Big Grrrls posted on Instagram about an upcoming song release. Fans went wild at the news. But it was the visuals accompanying the post that made them take notice. In a short video, Lizzo makes her way to a private jet, while strutting in a pair of butt-baring leggings from her new line. But wait. Isn’t shapewear meant to boost your bottom, not leave it exposed to the elements? According to Yitty, that’s entirely up to you.

Named for one of Lizzo’s childhood nicknames, Yitty declares itself a brand committed to inclusivity regardless of size or shape. In press materials, Lizzo said, “I was tired of seeing this sad, restrictive shapewear that literally no-one wanted to wear.” Later on, she added, “I decided to take on the challenge of allowing women to feel unapologetically good about themselves again.” Which left me a bit confused.

Shapewear on the whole doesn’t tend to make women feel good about themselves — quite the opposite. Shapewear generally compresses who we are into something other. It’s meant to tone, tighten, and otherwise wrestle a woman’s jiggly bits into submission, so she can present a more traditionally acceptable silhouette under her tightest clothing.

And shapewear is big business. During the worst moments of the pandemic — and perhaps as a result of many of us eating our body weight in Cheetos daily — Kim Kardashian’s Skims brand doubled in value to $3.2 billion.

Earlier this month, Skims launched its Icons campaign, featuring Kardashian posing alongside supermodels Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum, and other Victoria’s Secret alumni. Fans were quick to criticize what appeared to be heavy photoshopping in the campaign photos. But isn’t photoshopping just a visual representation of what shapewear aims to do? These form-fitting, shape-changing undergarments fool the eye into believing someone’s proportions are more proportioned or that their waists are smaller, their bellies flatter and their curves more “acceptably” confined to their hips, butts and breasts – something women have attempted for centuries.

As a professional beauty historian, I study the ways in which our perception of beauty evolved through the millennia. I also lecture to groups about the ways in which what we think is new and innovative could actually be centuries old. So here’s a speedy and wholly incomplete look at the evolution of shapewear.

During the Bronze Age, Minoan women on the island of Crete wore corset-type garments to achieve a classic hourglass figure. In the 1800s, women really suffered for beauty and started wearing corsets with painful metal stays to achieve a tiny waist. Eventually, corsets fell out of style entirely. During the Jazz Age, flappers favored less restricting undergarments worn under looser clothing. A few decades later, fashion during the Second World War was heavily impacted by rationing, when metal used in restrictive undergarments was instead directed to the war effort. Post-war, women who had had a taste of freedom working in the factories while men were at the front lines were once again deemed mostly decorative. Along with that came the idea that you weren’t fully dressed without your girdle.

A dizzying few decades passed, taking women from the freedom of the ‘60s to the low-key ‘70s, from the over-the-top ‘80s to the advent of Spanx in the ‘90s, and the proliferation of shapewear brands in the 2000s. What’s changed mostly with shapewear now is that it affords many women the illusion of freedom as they show off their whittled-down forms in body-conscious clothing. But this, in turn, makes many of us even more body self-conscious. Therein lies the rub.

While these new brands preach inclusivity no matter your size, they really are variations of glorified girdles. And if you claim to stand for acceptance of bodies exactly as they are, it seems odd to then try to smoosh them into swaths of tight-fitting spandex that contort them into something else entirely.

When seeing Lizzo’s launch of Yitty, then, I was filled with questions. Is this line a celebration of women’s bodies simply because it offers extended sizing? And how does a new line of shapewear — of all things — move us forward to greater body acceptance? And let’s face it, how practical is butt-less shapewear for most of us anyway?

While I applaud Lizzo’s capitalist nous — clearly she realizes she should market her brand offshoots while she’s professionally white-hot — I take offense with the idea that these products change women’s lives in any measurable way. After all, a waist-trainer by any other name is just as restrictive.

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