Spanx? No Thanks.
Oh, Carrie Denny. Where do I even begin with your Philly Post piece yesterday, in which you belittle feminists like Orit Avishai for claiming that Spanx body restricters set back the cause of women’s liberation? How dare she! you huff, singing the praises of what you call “one of the most magical products on the market,” as if it did something really important, like cure cancer or even warts. You feel good when you’re wearing your Spanx. “Really,” you write, “I’m a big fan of whatever makes a woman feel beautiful and confident and strong before stepping out her front door.”
But why do you feel “beautiful and confident and strong” in a pair of $30 elasticized underwear? You feel that way because those overpriced panties allow you to conform to our culture’s unrealistic, shame-inducing, infanticizing image of the perfect woman: no visible panty lines, no wayward jiggles or wobbles, toenails and fingernails immaculately shellacked, hair straightened if it’s naturally curly and curly if it’s naturally straight. And speaking of hair, you’d best make sure your nether regions are as artificially and expensively stripped clean of it as those of an eight-year-old girl—or the porn stars we have to thank for that trend.
“But I feel powerful in Spanx,” you insist. Can’t you see you’re just buying into the corporate line? Do you think Spanx founder Sara Blakely is some sort of feminist hero? She’s made herself rich playing off women’s insecurities about their bodies! You made her rich, Carrie—you and every other woman desperate enough about “feeling better” when you look in the mirror that you’re willing to bind and squeeze and squish the natural, less-than-perfect state of the normal female body into someone else’s conception of what it ought to be. Bravo. Those silly ol’ feminists! And how about that cute name? Really, what woman doesn’t like being Spanked?
You write that those who complain that Spanx are oppressive presume “that any woman who goes this extra step to look the way she wants to look is doing so because she thinks that in order to, say, get a man or land the job, she’s simply got to shake that ass, and that that ass had better look good while she’s doing it.”
Well, you take that extra step because the patriarchy has told you in a hundred million ways, from your first Barbie doll to the wafer-thin models in Vogue, that to be considered worthy and valued, a woman must present herself in a certain way. It’s got nothing to do with ass-shaking. It’s more about head-shaking: How much could women accomplish, create, read, write, do, rule, if they threw off the false idols of Hollywood and Madison Avenue? And what exactly is there to celebrate about a concept of “beauty” that marginalizes the millions of women who don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of ever meeting it—the old, the disfigured, the imperfectly formed who, when they look into a mirror, see only what society reflects back at them, which is horror and disgust?
You’ve spent your whole life taking advantage of benefits that women who came before you fought for. You have a wonderful career, and credit cards in your own name. You’ve got Title IX. You’ve got serious female contenders for the presidency of the United States—and un-serious ones too, just like the guys. Thanks to the feminists you scorn, you have the freedom to spend your own time and money having your hair highlighted and your eyebrows threaded and your thighs wrapped in spandex shorts. But I’m here to tell you—that isn’t what we had in mind when we tossed those girdles away. We were hoping—fighting—for a world in which men wouldn’t judge women by their appearance before all else, and where women wouldn’t, either. Thanks for the wake-up call. Until I read your post, I hadn’t realized how thoroughly we’d failed.