Is shapewear anti-feminist?
Updated: Oct 15, 2019
Originally posted in October of 2019 for Catcall.
Venus Libido is one of my absolute favorite Instagram accounts. It’s sex-positive, detailed cartoons of women in everyday, not-so-pretty situations convey the reality of how difficult it can be for women to exist in this “picture-perfect” world.
But one of the account’s recent posts divided women in a way I have never seen before by posing the question, “Is shapewear anti-feminist?”
“If you guys knew the history of shapewear and corsets, you’d understand why it’s a question in the first place,” one Instagram user wrote.
“I don’t think it’s any worse than makeup, it’s a choice,” I commented. “I understand the history of body constricting has killed countless women, but the makeup they wore back then was also made of poison. It’s evolved since then, and the original ideas were sexist perhaps but if it makes women feel comfortable and happy in modern context, I don’t see an issue. Also I’d hate to make women who do choose to wear these things have to think about whether they’re feminist or not based on what they need for their self esteem.”
Don’t get me wrong: no one’s body needs to be “corrected.” Fat-phobia is another way of telling a woman she’s not good enough or healthy enough and needs to look a certain way despite genetics that simply make some girls heavier than others.
Makeup shapes and contours the face to present an overall “prettier” image, but it’s also an artful practice and hobby. So many women make their livings in the beauty industry and to discount them, in my opinion, and tell someone what they can and cannot wear is—in and of itself—anti-feminist.
In a way, those who oppose women wearing shapewear have a point. Overall, beauty standards have been set by men and are restrictive to how women feel comfortable. If a woman has natural curves or extra body fat, she’s told she takes up too much space. If she wears make-up or tight fitting clothing, it is an “invitation” for men. And worse—it’s what makes a woman succeed. Studies have proven that women who look stereotypically “better” make better salaries, earn more leniency from their peers, and have an overall “healthier” lifestyle.
Those beauty standards are toxic, but are also inescapable.
From the day a woman is born, she’s told to fit into a box, to use whatever resources available to make herself fit that mold. Women obsess over it, sometimes going as far as getting implants and injections to alter their appearance.
But that doesn’t make someone anti-feminist, and that’s the issue at hand.
It is inherently anti-feminist to (A) tell someone that what they do to survive in daily society is “anti-feminist” and (B) to be exclusionary by having a high set of standards as to what “feminist” means. Additionally, the term “anti” means “actively opposed to or against.” By calling anything “anti-feminist,” you’re telling women they’re knowingly sabatoging an idea out of opposition or spite.
Feminism is equality for the sexes. Period. Today, this means getting rid of the pay gap, representation in government and other power positions, and, finally, the ability to break free of the beauty standards we’re forced to conform to.
This does not mean we tell women who enjoy wearing makeup or feel more confident wearing shapewear that they’re “hindering the cause” and inherently “anti-feminst.” This is, quite simply, a superiority complex; a way for some women to feel better than others for “trying harder than everyone else” for the cause.
It has been pointed out to me that the makeup industry has been linked to cancer and child slavery, forcing young women and children to mine for the minerals used. This is an issue feminism needs to address. But it is a human rights issue in the same way companies like Nike or H&M use slave labor to make cheaper clothing.
Wearing something from Forever 21 doesn’t make you anti-feminist because slave labor was used to produce it. It just makes you a capitalist, and that feeling is really shitty, but it’s not “anti-feminist” behavior. Classifying it as such is only a way to put other women down for being either uneducated or unable to shop somewhere else due to their monetary status (again, restricted by the pay gap).
Makeup may be a luxury item, but it’s used by nearly every woman I have ever met in my life. The idea of telling every woman I know that they’re “anti-feminist” for using beauty products is ludacris, especially in the context of real issues. My freedom of expression should not be compared to the inequalities that so many other women face.
The question we should be asking isn’t whether participating in the beauty industry is “anti-feminst,” but instead why it is we’re arguing over something so trivial in the first place instead of focusing on domestic violence, the pay gap, sexual abuse victims, representation, reproductive rights, legal restrictions based on sex, etc.
The question “is makeup or shapewear anti-feminst” is trivial and divisive. It is, at its core, still telling women what they are (and are not) allowed to do and judging a woman for the way she presents herself.