@kimkardashian / Instagram

Is shapewear an anti-feminist buy or purely about personal choice?

12 Aug 2019

Kim Kardashian West is no stranger to controversy and her new shapewear range attracted a ton of criticism. The badly thought out Kimono Solutionwear launch name quite rightly kicked off a cultural appropriation conversation back in June, with social media users urging Kim to change it. #KimOhNostarted trending and following this widespread uproar, she announced a week later that the line would be renamed simply as Solutionwear.

But alongside all the branding backlash, another argument has been reignited too. With shapewear in the headlines once more c/o Kimmy, the spotlight shines brightly on whether it undermines feminism. The Guardian ran an article about why shapewear is so problematic, writer Phoebe-Jane Boyd succinctly highlighting “Solution, after all, suggests that there is a problem. If only Kardashian West and her competitors would realise that reinforcing and making money from our restriction is the real obstacle.”

And I agree with the above words wholeheartedly. Because the very concept of shapewear does imply, we need to tweak ourselves into an alternate form, and there’s no denying that. Full disclosure: I’ve got a pair of cycling shorts-esqueshapewear pants and do appreciate the option for certain occasions.

Yet here’s the thing - I’m a proud feminist and believer in the importance of celebrating our bodies. Here at GLAMOUR HQ, we’re asking whether shapewear and feminism need to be mutually exclusive?

Just because I want to create a smooth line under my dress for a wedding or pull the mum tum in during a night out, doesn’t mean I don’t passionately believe in women’s rights. I love my body and celebrate all that it’s been through. But I still like having the chance to wear support pants from time to time. I also am a fan of popping on a slick of red lipstick, to brighten up my day, and that’s definitely not a natural look either. It’s my body and if I fancy donning something bizarre-looking (and let’s face it, pretty uncomfortable) as underwear, surely I can and I will.

The point is, shapewear is my choice, in the same way somebody criticising me directly for wearing it would infringe that. As shapewear brand Heist’s VP of marketing Hannah Craik says: "To date, headlines have shamed women purely on the basis that they wear shapewear - which is entirely reductive. The reality is, we're all a product of the society in which we live. And what we're seeing at the moment is the tension between often wanting to enhance the way we look, without wanting that to be seen as the extent of our identity."

What I do have a serious problem with is body shaming, and the expectation on women to look a certain way. And I’m acutely aware of the fine line we walk between that and this discussion.

On Kim’s Instagram most comments were directed at the name nightmare, but some added their thoughts on her advertising shapewear in general. @miranda_kelly17 posted “shoutout to all the times growing up people saying it’s okay to look different…apparently not. If you don’t look like here, buy her shapewear…makes total sense. We want everyone to look the same in 2019.” Others argued that Kim’s new line should feature women of all shapes and sizes, rather than those all with a similar figure to herself.

Interested in finding out Heist’s take on it all, Hannah explained to us: “We started the discussion about whether shapewear is anti-feminist in the office because there are media outlets that refuse to run our shapewear advertising; often publications that we respect and feel we have a lot in common with. What has been particularly noteworthy is that there are policies in place that are so black and white."

She continues: "We are often asked whether shapewear is anti-feminist, and for us, just like with make-up, it's about having a choice over your appearance." Which is undeniably true, but when shapewear is targeted at trying to sculpt us dramatically into a different size altogether that’s a worry. And I think Kim’s line does insinuate this to a degree, as her images imply certain identical body-forms being the ultimate product goal.

Hannah does admit: "We can’t ignore the symbolism of a garment directly descended from the corset, or the fact that shapewear firmly belongs in a category of products that has, to date, preyed on our insecurities. That said, we innovate to remove the physical and societal restrictions associated with the category. This is a shift that has also been seen in the beauty industry which, in the last 15 years, has become a category primarily about personal choice and self-expression. This change started with make-up that is actually safe to use (unlike its lead and arsenic-based 16th century counterparts) and the democratisation of products and branding."

But she finishes: "Let's be clear, we don't think that wearing shapewear is a feminist act akin to fighting for equal pay or challenging gender representation. But it is everything to do with personal choice."

And surely, with feminism being primarily about freedom of the aforementioned, if you fancy popping on some shapewear that is completely your own prerogative?

Heist's campaign aiming to encourage people to join the shapewear conversation launches today for two weeks.