Feeling Tortured by Your Wardrobe? Does Your Body Image and Self-Esteem Beg for Relief?
As a clinical psychologist and—more important—as a woman, I know the vital importance of a healthy body image, good self-confidence, and super self-esteem. As a result, being tortured by myself–or anything–is something I strive to avoid. Of course, torture comes in all levels and forms. In fact, there’s a certain torture in the occasional self-critical voice or a sharp jab by a “friend.” There’s torture to be found in feeling disrespected, devalued, or unworthy. There’s the torture of being physically abused, emotionally abused, or under chronic stress. In fact, we can be tortured by many things in life—so much of which is out of our control.
So…this leads my wondering mind to ask, Why do we sometimes choose to wear garments that hurt and can feel like a form of self-torture? How does this affect body image, self-confidence, and self-esteem? But, before I go off on my little rant, let me say that the opinions about to be expressed are not meant to judgmental of what others–of any gender–might prefer. I simply feel the need to express my confusion, irritation, and downright claustrophobia when it comes to certain “female” garments.
Do We REALLY Feel Free to Dress as We Please?
An innocent observation offered by my younger son prompted my deeper pondering of this issue. His brow furrowed in confusion, my son commented, “It seems that girls—women—are not wearing bras so much. I guess it is part of women expressing their freedom. It seems bras are uncomfortable. It makes sense, but it can be a little distracting–if you know what I mean.” I smiled, glad that another freedom-oriented trend was in the works. “Men are lucky,” I responded. “When I think of what women have gone through historically, it’s frightening. Whale bone corsets, bustles, girdles, and figure-crushing bras. I’m glad we’ve left that rubbish behind us. Thank goodness for feminism. We’ve certainly come a long way.”
Yet, Are Women Still Pressured to Strive for a Certain Body Type?
It wasn’t long before I realized—with an unsettled spark of irritated concern–that my rejoinder wasn’t exactly true. As far as today’s women have come, we often feel pressured to reshape our figures to achieve a certain body type. As the universe tends to do with me, little red flags began to litter my path to prod me into deeper thought. One such moment occurred at the end of a yoga class, when I overheard a woman talking about how she loved yoga but hated her overly tight yoga pants. Not much later, I noted a woman in the locker room struggling to pull up her body-tightening undergarment. I quickly looked away, only to see a gray-haired woman in a 1950s-style girdle searching her locker. “Hmmmm,” I said under my breath, “Maybe we haven’t come as far as I thought. Women’s rights and the #Me Too movement surely have helped in certain areas, but we still have a quite an interesting journey ahead of us.” Walking to my car, trusty yoga mat under my arm, I wondered, “How many of us feel pressured to strive for a body type that is not what we really want–but something that our culture tells us we should have?”
That very evening, I shook my head as a trim movie actress lamented about the need to pull on her figure-shaping spandex undergarment (well-known products that shall not be named but generally referred to as BCA (Body Crushing Attire)) to feel self-confident. “If she really thinks she needs one of those to look good,” I laughed to my husband, “the world’s in a scary state.” Smart man that he is, he was quiet—not offering a wisp of sarcasm or hint of a wry smile.
So How Does What You Wear Affect Your Self-Confidence?
Now my heightened sense of awareness had me on the lookout for body-crushing undergarments. Donning my researcher’s hat, I decided to investigate further. Sure, I’ve seen BCA in my lifetime—my dear mother felt the need to wear a girdle to reform the lovely figure that had been a bit tortured by bearing ten (yes, ten), children, yet somehow the idea of BCA has never appealed to me. Perhaps it’s the recollections that persist in my mind—the thoughts of a precocious child—number nine in the brood of ten—that had me thinking, “Why is mommy wearing that awful thing? I hope I don’t have to wear one when I grow up—it looks like it hurts!” And, to this day, you’ll find me naturally eschewing tight jeans, figure-hugging yoga pants, and—you guessed it—any form of BCA. Instead, you’ll find me teaching (and taking) yoga classes in loose yoga pants, wearing dresses that give me plenty of room to breathe, and slipping into the littlest and lightest undergarments possible. I feel most confident in clothes that give me ease and freedom—this somewhat wild woman does not like to be constrained.
But, being a researcher at heart, I wanted to (pry) open my mind a bit. With a determined smile on my face, I decided to face my fears and explore BCA in the flesh. And, with that virtuous goal in mind, I took a detour to the local shopping mall on the way to my office. Knowing I had only a few minutes to spare, I trotted directly to the lingerie department. “Where can I find BCA?” I asked the smiling young clerk. “BCA?” she responded in confusion. Momentarily flustered, I fumbled for the appropriate words and said, “Oh, I apologize—I mean your body-shaping undergarments.” “It’s my second day here, but I think they are right over there,” she noted while pointing to several racks of black and beige items.
How Threatening Can Spandex Be?
Sauntering over as if I knew precisely what I was looking for, I eyed the ominous display of assorted spandex attire. I lifted up one item at a time, gingerly poking and stretching the various threatening-looking garments. I could feel my face scrunching up with a mixture of irritation and confusion. One item, reminiscent of my childhood memory of my mother’s girdle, left a flare of sadness and anger running through me. “You’re the researcher,” I told myself, “keep an open mind. Take a deep breath in and a deep breath out.”
Researcher hat back on, I continued to assess the items one by one. Some were short, and some were long. Some seemed fairly friendly in a gently constricting sort of way, and some had all the give of a death grip. A scant few had frilly edges with a bare hint of shaping power. Others bore firm bands of rubber and tags that proclaimed the capacity to shape the life out of a figure—from chest and stomach to waist, hips and thighs. “Ooooh,” I said to myself in my most clinical researcher voice, “this is pretty serious stuff.”
Confident and curious, I moved to the next rack of BCA. The researcher in me laughed out loud. Holding up the most foreign-looking item yet, I cocked my head to figure out what went where. “Oh, I get it,” I giggled. “This smocked part here—that lifts up your butt and shapes it. This opening here—thank God—lets you pee without taking the whole thing off. This here, well it’s clearly the front because the butt thing is on the other side, but where do your breasts go? Under it? Over it?” I looked at the tag to investigate the verbiage referring to the well-toned figure wearing the BCA. “Oh, I see,” I laughed again, “You need a bra with this one. For the price, it should come with one—or two.”
Oh, How Body Image Suffers from a Craving for Perfection!
Inching over to the third rack, I smiled as I eyed a BCA that looked somewhat wearable. This display of fairly harmless-looking BCA seemed to whisper to me. “Try, us!” they called. “You’ll like us! We’ll give you a pert little lift, a gentle little hug, and that tiny shaping you secretly desire. In fact, we come in various forms…belly-flattening thongs, short slips, and little midriff wraps.” Intrigued, I lifted the thinnest slip to inspect it further.
“You’ll achieve perfection,” it promised with a tempting purr. Pulling at the thin, stretchy material, I thought, “This isn’t so bad. I might even try it on as part of my research—it doesn’t look too bad.” I inspected the size tag and yelped, “It’s an extra-large! No wonder it doesn’t look too intimidating!” I returned the garment to its place and grumpily looked for my appropriate size. There it was, hanging on its frail plastic hanger—the same lightweight BCA but in a substantially smaller—and therefore substantially more terrifying—version. “I can do this,” I murmured to myself. My anxiety was mounting; I was feeling less and less like a researcher with every passing moment.
Black BCA dancing on its hanger, I dawdled to the counter feeling strangely defeated. “May I please try this—thing—on?” I asked in a pseudo-perky tone. “Of course, go just over there,” the salesgirl chirped as she pointed toward the dressing rooms. I trudged over, feeling as if I were about to face a dark enemy. Me, with a BCA in hand. What was my world coming to? My self-confidence was slipping. “You’re the researcher!” my inner voice screamed. “Get with the program. Be objective and give this BCA half a chance. You can do this.”
I adjusted my attitude and smiled to myself as I walked into the cramped, mirror-plastered dressing room. Unzipping my wispy dress, I looked in the mirror. Every pound of my 5-foot, 4.25-inch frame stared back at me in irritation. “Are you crazy? What are you doing? This isn’t like you!” the woman in the mirror warned. “I’m a researcher,” I retorted with pride. I want to know what it feels like to wear a BCA. And—besides—maybe the tiny curve of my stomach will finally be flattened after all these years. Maybe I’ll like the feeling of a BCA. With an open mind, maybe BCAs will come to have a place in my life. So there.”
Dressing Room Anxiety–Seriously?
Anxious, I stared a bit longer feeling more like a gawky pre-teen than an adult researcher. What to do? Do I take off my bra? My panties? Do you wear anything under a BCA? Determined to do it right, I read the tag for instructions—but no such luck. So, bra and panties stay on; BCA will be pulled over top them. And, I did it. For the record, I really did it. Pulling the BCA over my head, I struggled to pull it over my shoulders. Mild dressing room claustrophobia was setting in. Deep breath in, deep breath out. I wrestled the BCA over my chest. Panic and panting result. I feel hot. I feel smothered. Serious claustrophobia is taking hold. I yank the BCA down over my hips. Whew. Now over my thighs. Good God. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. Bra is sideways. Panties are smothered and scrunched—just like my breath.
I look in the mirror. I turn sideways. Gentle curve of belly remains. Breasts are smashed. I turn forward for a final inspection. The mirror shows a woman wearing a too-small-skin-tight slip—rather, a tortured woman who can’t breathe wearing a too-small-skin-tight slip. I huff and puff, praying that I’ve sufficiently completed this leg of my research project. As if swimming to the surface from the bottom of a too-deep pool, I gasp and struggle to free myself from the torturous confines of the BCA.
Finally, it’s off my body, dangling like a limp octopus in my hand. I gasp for air as I fling the offending BCA on the chair in the too-hot, too-small room. Deep breath in. Deep breath out. With a smile of relief, I retrieve the now-harmless garment and gently tuck its straps into the delicate notches on the hanger. Stage one of my research is certainly over. BCAs are most definitely not for me. This is one woman who—researcher or not—doesn’t take very well to even the gentlest forms of undergarment armament. I’ll be joyfully sticking with my free-flowing style from now on—in truth, it simply suits who I am.
When You Tune In to What Feels Right for YOU, Your Self-Esteem Thrives!
Now, I’ve no judgments about those who don’t mind wearing spandex undergarments and like—it’s just not my cup of tea. If someone likes how they look and feel with BCA at work underneath, that’s a wonderful thing. If the goal is to look good in the mirror—to really like the image that the body-shaping garment reveals—then a bit of constriction may feel well worth the result. And, if the goal is to feel great about yourself—to find joy in feeling beautifully shaped—then BCA could be well worth any pangs of torture. If wearing a BCA gives your self-confidence a boost, then embrace the array of BCA with joy. But this particular woman, well, she’s definitely finding her joy going through life in her imperfect, au natural way.
Treat Yourself Well: If you’d love to discover how to create a healthier body image, stronger self-confidence, and super self-esteem, I invite you to pick up a copy of my new book, Joy from Fear.
Please note: This blog is the sole property of the author, Dr. Carla Marie Manly, and may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the advance written consent of the author.