Is Shapewear Going out of Style? Spanx Tries On ‘Feminist’ Slogan for Size

The undergarment company’s new products come with a message about shaping the world.
Spanx. (Photo: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images)
Apr 26, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

Spanx, the women’s shapewear brand touted for its slimming and sculpting abilities, is attempting an image makeover that’s not so...constricting.

The brand recently introduced a line of looser-fitting bodysuits, and beginning this month, each package of the lingerie will come with a message card signed by founder Sara Blakely, The New York Times reports. “Don’t take yourself or the ‘rules’ too seriously,” it reads. On the back of the package is a slogan that frames underwear as a kind of social force: “Reshape the way you get dressed, so you can shape the world!” The company dubs it “feminist inspiration,” according to the Times, although no mention of the term can be found on Spanx’s website.

The new strategy comes as the shapewear industry—worth an estimated $678 million, much of it owed to Spanx—faces slumping sales amid increased competition from the athletic apparel industry. The shapewear industry’s 3 percent decline this year could be related to changing attitudes that have many brands embracing inner rather than outer beauty.

Lane Bryant’s “I’m No Angel” campaign, unveiled earlier this month, was one of the most high-profile jabs at the uniformly thin and toned supermodels of Victoria’s Secret. Before that, the specialty-size bra company Curvy Kate and the sporty-panty retailer Dear Kate debuted campaigns that recast Victoria’s Secret’s controversial “Perfect ‘Body ad with women of all shapes and waist and bust sizes.

Sure, some of these campaigns might be capitalizing on the message of body acceptance while cashing in on a bottom line that’s no different than Victoria’s Secret’s—selling underwear—but much of Spanx’s branding appears downright regressive in comparison.

No matter the “feminist inspiration” behind its latest products, Spanx on its website still peddles spandex bodysuits and high-waisted shorts with punny names like “thinstincts,” “slimplicity,” and “skinny britches.” There’s even a pair of “power mama” spandex shorts specifically made to accommodate a pregnant belly. The underlying message: Thinner is better. The Times’ Hiroko Tabuchi calls it “thinly veiled fat-shaming.”

Tabuchi’s article came less than a week after another piece of bad news for shapewear: a Los Angeles Times article that suggested the form-fitting spandex undergarments might not just be bad for body image—they might also be bad for the body.

Doctors have linked constricting products like Spanx to conditions such as meralgia paresthetica, which causes a burning sensation when too much pressure is put on nerves in the groin area, and gastroesophageal reflux disease, which could be triggered by pressure on the abdomen.

That’s another reason why Spanx could be banking on its new line of less-constricting bodysuits and bras and yes, even a men’s line of casual tanks, tees, and boxers.