I'm a Fat-Positive Activist Who Wears Spanx: Here's Why I Refuse to Apologize

Marie Southard Ospina
Courtesy Marie Southard Ospina
It was 92 degrees Fahrenheit and I was already sweating without stepping one foot outside. As I have done every summer since 2012, when I first discovered body positivity and fat positivity, I arrived at a familiar conundrum. To spanx or not to spanx?

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I could feel my thighs rubbing together from the moment I got out of bed that day. They were big and sticky and they were clearly reacquainting themselves with one another after a 50-degree-and-under, sweat-free winter. I knew I'd start chafing soon. I also knew that if I didn't take any preventative measures, my upper-to-mid thighs would be raw and bleeding within a couple of hours. This was never especially pleasurable.

Although chub rub affects folks of all sizes, it tends to be the plus-size, thigh-gap-less humans who are especially susceptible to it. I have no qualms with this fact in my own life because, at the end of the day, I'm far happier in a fat body than I ever was in a thin one. I do have qualms with the aftereffects of chafing, though. Even post-childbirth, my pain tolerance remains poor and I just don't enjoy looking down at my beautiful tree trunk legs and seeing blisters and boils.

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In my 26 years, I have tried a myriad of anti-chafing lotions and potions. The Curvy Fashionista recently put together a list of 10 products to battle chub rub and I realized that I've experimented with most of them. From talcum powder to Monistat's Chafing Relief Gel to coconut oil, nothing has ever worked for me. I personally know many folks, plus-size and otherwise, who swear by one or all of these items. But my propensity for profuse sweating in the heat means that most of the time, I need something a little more heavy-duty than Vaseline.

MARIE SOUTHARD OSPINA
Courtesy Marie Southard Ospina

This unfortunately leaves me with shapewear as my prime anti-chub-rub option, or some kind of spandex-like under-short that will cover my thighs. The trouble here is that many (if not most) of these kinds of garments are built with one purpose in mind: "flattering" the figure. Or, in other words, slimming it down.

Spanx, both the brand itself and its counterparts from other brands, are generally designed as slip dresses, bodysuits, or shorts. The former two will suck and tuck most of the figure underneath your clothing, while the latter will theoretically protect your thighs against chafing. They'll do this by tightly sucking said thighs into the fabric of a mid-to-high-waisted garment that, as a little "bonus," will also suck in your belly. When sporting such wears, it's not uncommon to feel as though your body has been shoved into a very narrow sausage casing. For me, it's not uncommon to feel as though by wearing them, I'm perpetuating the false ideal that fatness is deplorable, ugly, and a problem to be solved.

Marie Southard Ospina
Courtesy Marie Southard Ospina

I'm not here for body shaming in general, let alone body shaming for cash. When a brand or company says "something about your body is inherently flawed and you need to buy this product in order to fix it," I retreat immediately. Take Spanx marketing, for example. One advertisement promises that its product will "keep in" everything from "post-pregnancy weight" to "guilty ice cream" to "menopause." The suggestion here is clearly that, as women and femmes, we should be embarrassed when our bodies change (especially if the number on the scale increases), when we eat food, and when we grow older. None of this is shameful, of course, but the ad (alongside general sociocultural conditioning) still insists otherwise.

Another ad promises that customers will achieve "a celebrity waistline without the dieting, detoxing, and removal of a perfectly good rib." This one not only tells potential shoppers that celebrity waistlines (read: generally tiny waistlines) are aspirational and necessary in order to feel and look good, but it arguably trivializes weight loss actions that can be (and often are) extremely dangerous. This is why I avoid Spanx, the brand, at all costs.

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Of course, Spanx isn't the only anti-chafing or shapewear company to utilize body shaming, and fat shaming especially, to sell stuff. Clovia swears that its products will help you "lose up to two inches instantly." Jockey wants you to "drop a size without breaking a sweat."

Personally, I would never want to be a billboard for weight loss or otherwise fatphobic propaganda by putting such garments on my body, but that still leaves me with the chafing issue and the fact that there aren't yet readily available anti-chafing shorts (my preferred anti-chafe garment) out there that aren't also designed to minimize the appearance of fatness.

Marie Southard Ospina
Courtesy Marie Southard Ospina

With the rise of body- and fat-positive rhetoric in the mainstream, however, some brands are luckily trying to fill the void. Bandelettes are sexy little thigh bands that cover and protect only that area of the legs. They are available in sizes 2 to 24, approximately, and they don't serve any suck-and-tuck purposes. Although I love the idea, my Bandelettes tend to slip down often. I can likely blame the aforementioned sweating for this.

Then there are old-school bloomers. These babies tend to protect one against chafing and are generally looser-fitting and airier than classic Spanx. Only problem is that in the dead of summer, they can make one feel extra hot and bothered.

Marie Southard Ospina
Courtesy Marie Southard Ospina

I was recently introduced to Thigh Society, a brand of anti-chafing shorts that doesn't self-identify as a shapewear brand at all. Thigh Society products (available in sizes 6 to 24 so far) aren't sold by fat-shaming potential customers. Instead, part of the retailer's mission statement reads:

"We're on a mission to help women everywhere dress confidently, comfortably, and free of body shame [...] Shapewear brands have tried to convince us that we need to transform our bodies by squeezing into gut-wrenching undergarments, but we believe that confidence emerges from being comfortable from the inside out."

Although its styles are also mid-to-high-rise, not unlike most self-identified shapewear brands, the fabric is indeed light and cool. It's certainly light enough that I don't feel like I'm being forced to squeeze anything in, or like I'm wearing a sneaky slimming tool. Most importantly, I don't chafe when wearing them.

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Undersummers made it onto my radar very recently, too, though I have yet to try these rash-guard shorts. Its products are available up to a size 30 with many styles coming in lower rises, so experimenting with these gems is at the top of my priority list. The brand does not self-identify as a shapewear company, either, noting that it is actually "an anti-shapewear company"; per its site, the "shortlettes have ample stretch to grow but not squeeze. They are made to feel good and let your clothes hang nicely on your body."

Marie Southard Ospina
Courtesy Marie Southard Ospina

Although it infuriates me that anti-chafe shorts like those by Thigh Society and Undersummers are the exception and not the norm, I'm trying to be hopeful that, someday, this will not be the case; that wanting to protect one's legs against chafing won't automatically translate to "wanting to protect oneself against looking fat" in the eyes of so many retailers and people alike. I'm also hopeful that the perfect cream or ointment or gel will one day exist for me so I can avoid the extra layer altogether.

For now, finding alternatives to Spanx that feel more body- and fat-positive is unfortunately still not as simple as hitting up your local shopping mall or Target and picking something up off the rack. This is generally the case when it comes to all categories of plus-size shopping, of course. And hell, maybe this'll just have to be one sartorial arena that doesn't make it into the list of "things that make me feel bold and radical."

At the end of the day, though, anti-chafe shorts are undoubtedly the chub rub option that works best for me and my sweaty-ass legs. Today, I can browse a site or two and find them without also stumbling upon a "lose your belly fat in 1-2-3" slogan on the website. So, no, they still don't feel like the most fat-positive style choice I've ever made in my life, but maybe that's okay.

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