Shapewear sells toxic beauty standards

Shapewear and body positivity don’t go hand in hand
Image by: Herbert Wang
Shapewear isn’t the body positive tool we think it is.

I can’t go two seconds on the internet without being advertised some form of shapewear.

From bodycon dresses with built in spandex shorts to bras that cover half my torso, my Instagram feed is covered in curvy women wearing different types of fabric to “emphasize” those curves.

It seems the Instagram algorithm has caught on to my body insecurity and my interest in fashion, and keeps telling me about all the different ways I can make myself look “slim thick.”

Shapewear isn’t a new phenomenon. For much of history, women’s undergarments have been created to “enhance” figures. Though corsets were previously popular due to their practical use in supporting women’s busts and helping improve posture, it became popular in the 19th century to use corsets to make your waist appear smaller.

As time marched on, our society shifted away from corsets to bust-enhancing bras, before circling all the way back again to corset-like garments like waist trainers, arriving at the shapewear we know today.

This clothing is advertised as a universal tool to improve everyone’s figures. They’re meant to make plus-sized women feel comfortable in tighter clothes, and help skinny women have even smaller waists.

By advertising shapewear to all types of bodies, waists trainers and sculpting bodysuits are passed off as “promoting body positivity” and “size inclusive.”

The only positive thing about shapewear is how they make consumers positive that there’s something wrong with their bodies no matter what size they are.

Though shapewear marketing insists the garments only “enhance” one’s figure, this is simply a marketing tactic to hide the disturbing truth that shapewear simply reframes fatphobia by creating an acceptable view of what being plus-size is like.

Instead of embracing all shapes and sizes, shapewear sells an ideal plus-sized body, one with perfectly wide hips, a small waist, and a big bust. It’s designed to hide the parts of the human body that our society’s toxic beauty standards can’t stand, such as cellulite, bigger stomachs, and smaller chests.

Shapewear doesn’t enhance anyone’s natural beauty because natural beauty doesn’t need enhancing.

If anything, this messaging is actively dangerous. By marketing the “slim-thick” body type as the only acceptable body type for those who are plus-sized, shapewear perpetuates more toxic beauty standards.

This isn’t to say the technology isn’t useful. A built-in bra means those with larger chests can freely wear sleeveless dresses without having to endure the strapless bra, and built-in shorts can make many dress or skirt wearers feel more comfortable and mobile in their clothes.

Despite this, by advertising shapewear as something meant to make people—especially plus sized people—more attractive, it can’t exist hand-in-hand with body positivity.

People come in all shapes and sizes, and whether it be athletic ability, varying diets, or simply genetics, we’re all shaped differently. Though most people don’t have the perfect diet and aren’t athletes, their appearances are worth respecting and appreciating.

Body positivity should be about discarding toxic beauty standards and accepting everyone as they are instead of making plus-sized people feel lesser for their bodies. It shouldn’t be about finding “acceptable” or “palatable” ways of existing.


Fashion, fatphobia, instagram, shapewear, Social media

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