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The Latest in Girdles Is Still an Old Deception

August 11, 1994|CINDY SKRZYCKI | THE WASHINGTON POST

I was at in a department store, stocking up on cotton underwear and minding my business, when something unsettling caught my eye.

Displayed on the racks nearby were pair after pair of some product that for all the world looked like underwear. These things had control panels of Lycra and other stern-looking synthetics engineered to--let us put this delicately--squeeze back into the body vast adipose rolls of jiggling flesh.

What were these things?

I started reading the labels. The Shapewear Smoothie Firm Control Body Briefer had a hidden panel for extra tummy control. Or, as the small print said, "Does what your diet doesn't."

I moved on to the Vanity Fair Shaping System, a sort of mini-slip with a little stretchy thing under it. Its tag: "Shaping the body, mind and spirit." This was a very sexy black number.

But for "sheer power," Bali suggests the "Waistnipper," a contraption descended from the whale bones of the Victorian era. It offered a color code of tags so the woman who wanted her waist nipped could choose light control (blue tag), moderate control (fuchsia) or firm (purple). "Firm" resembled a hot-water bottle.

For those who want to go whole, er, hog, and maybe even have a few garters, there were bodysuits ($39.50) that allow you to pour everything in there from breast to butt. It must be tough to breathe in one of those things, not to mention what misery it must be in the summer. And how in the world would you go to the bathroom? There were at least a dozen hooks and snaps barring the way.

Then it hit me. These weren't underpants. These weren't control anythings. These were girdles.

Not that they called themselves girdles. Not one of these garments, from the smallest of panties with panels to the biggest mother of all controllers, breathed the word "girdle."

This is because, in the ethos of the 1990s, girdles are bad. Girdles are something frumpy and fusty, something essentially dishonest. Something our mothers wore.

In the late 1960s, girdles began to suffer their deserved fate. It had something to do with the decision to renounce all things restrictive. Which was easy to do when one was, say, 23 and still could respectably wear a two-piece bathing suit because one's belly resembled the surface of a kettle drum and not the surface of a kettle.

Which brings us to today.

It is amazing how the protocols of the 1960s have been belly-bumped out of the way by fleshy imperatives.

Women are wearing girdles, just so long as no one calls them that.

What is wrong with a little benign self-deception? This is what is wrong: Girdles are not about fixing problems, but hiding them. And not calling them girdles just aggravates the insult.

If you have a stomach or a big back porch it is OK to display it proudly, on the theory that if men can have huge guts hanging over their belts without social penalty, then by God, women should have that right too. And if you have a stomach or a big back porch and decide you do not want it because it somehow diminishes you or threatens your health or feelings of self-worth, then it is fine to fix it through rituals of self-denial and frenzied activity.

But not this.

The rows and rows of control garments and underpants with funny panels in the front are proof that women have seized the unseemly middle ground.

Let's be honest here and call a girdle a girdle.

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