For one day, my body looked totally unreal.
Middle age, so the quip goes, is when your age starts to show around your middle. By that measure, suddenly I'm feeling its hard onset at 40. That's why I've been going to the gym daily and attempting to employ a modicum of restraint when it comes to food and booze. Has six weeks of this made a dent in my burgeoning dad bod? Perhaps. But progress is happening at a glacial pace—a consequence of both a slowing metabolism and lying to myself about what restraint actually looks like.
Now, I'm a relatively slim dude, which makes the burgeoning chungles rearing up over the waistband of my slim-fitting pants all the more conspicuous and lamentable. But as I demurely unbutton them mid-meal at my favorite ramen joint, I know that I have a choice to make: Abandon the size I've had since I was in high school, or buy into the brand that made Sara Blakely a billionaire at my age—Spanx.
If you're a man, you probably know what Spanx are and, if you're a woman, you almost definitely do (don't blame me—blame the patriarchy). So here's the skinny at tweet length: Spanx are foundational shaping undergarments designed to smooth out wearers' silhouettes making them appear svelter than they actually are.
Blakely launched the company in 2000, and since 2010, Spanx have had a men's line. If any of my male friends have taken advantage, they are keeping that information tightly under wraps. My female friends, on the other hand, responded to my Facebook inquiry about their Spanx experiences full-throatedly and en masse.
There were two main camps: those who said that they primarily wear or wore Spanx to "hold them in" so that they appeared thinner, and those who mostly wore them to smooth out lumps and bumps, make their curves appear sleeker under a figure-hugging dress.
I received plenty of anecdotal intel on Spanx to boot. One friend told me that all I needed to know about them is that they proved Archimedes' principle of fluid displacement. "If you put a fat ass into a small tight garment, the fat doesn't go away," she explained. "It just overflows the top it and spills out at the bottom."
Another talked about putting on a Spanx body suit at a clothing swap, hoping that it would cinch her body into an hourglass shape. It didn't. "[It] basically pushed all of my curves into my waistline so I looked like an overstuffed, lumpy sausage." She added that it took two people thirty minutes to eventually pry her out of it. "We almost resorted to cutting it off."
I asked a few other friends how they dealt with ridding themselves of body scaffolding when on a date. One said that she preferred to head to the bathroom to discretely peel herself out of her Spanx first while another friend said that while she had no qualms about revealing her figure-morphing exoskeleton, she would normally not wear them on a sex date with someone, as "men tend to ruin them and stretch them out when they are taking them off of you."
Given that so many of the women I casually polled love these things, I'm genuinely excited to unbox the press samples: a crew neck t-shirt and slim-waist trunks, when they arrive in the mail. Excitement gives way to confusion as, once unfolded, the former looks as though it might fit a medium-sized Jack Russell. The shirt is so small, in fact, that the box also comes with illustrated instructions for how to get in and out of it without incident. The bottoms resemble something worn by somebody who is convalescing from thoracic surgery.
Without consulting the instructions—I am a man, after all—I try to pull on the shirt and endure a moment of wide-eyed panic as I get stuck halfway through the maneuver. In the ensuing struggle, I fall over, my head narrowly missing the corner of my bed. I imagine the ignominity of the emergency services breaking down my apartment door to find me incapacitated while Porky-Pigging it. I finally get into the shirt which, being tighter than a dolphin's asshole, demands that I sit bolt upright on the edge of my bed. I pull up the bottoms so that the top of the thick waistband sits above my navel and gingerly walk across the room to assess my new profile in the mirror.
Sure enough, from every angle, I looked remarkably more aerodynamic, if faintly ridiculous. The point of Spanx of course is that they are not meant to be seen. When I put on a shirt and pants over them I immediately see that my mini-muffin tops are conspicuous by their absence. But then, to my horror, so is my butt. The whole point of this was to experience the benefit of a shapewear on my profile but if looking trimmer comes at the price of negating all those squats, lunges, glute bridges, and even a cosmetic intervention, I'm frankly disappointed.
While Spanx actually does offer padded constricto-knickers for their female customers, the same can't be said for their more limited men's line. I decide to buy some padded men's briefs with butt pads from another company and, two days later—I love Amazon Prime—I have the components of for a trimmer, fitter, more bootylicious-looking me. With the bright blue and red, generously-padded briefs over my Spanx layer, I look like some sort of facacta superhero, but once concealed, my undergarments are really doing the trick. I'm standing taller, looking trimmer, and appear to have the ability to crack golf balls betwixt my glutes.
Of course, women don't wear Spanx to mince around the house fancying themselves, and I'm not about to either. I arrange to meet my girlfriend at an oyster bar near my home and she's uncharacteristically late. Thirty minutes late, in fact. By the time she arrives, I'm out of my winter outer layers and am down to a long-sleeved thermal shirt, rosy cheeked and sweating. My friends had told me that these things could get pretty toasty and they weren't kidding. The upside of my stripping down is that my girlfriend now has an unobscured view of my suddenly more Justin Trudeau-like trouser region as I take every opportunity to stand up and walk around for her viewing pleasure. After my third unnecessary sashay to the bathroom, I throw her a bone.
"You okay?" she says, as I retake my seat with a painful wince, a clearly audible groan.
"Just sore," I say. "I've been doing a lot of squats lately."
"Y'know, I was going to say that your pants are fitting differently lately," she says. "That tush, it looks...unreal."
Unreal? Is my girlfriend that perceptive? Is she clued into the fact that the bodacious buns I'd been clumsily tantalizing her with are largely foam? Or is she using the term "unreal" in a more figurative sense?
"Can't wait to get you out of those pants," she says as we make a beeline for my apartment, indicating that my sartorial subterfuge has yet to be rumbled.
I can't wait to get out of them too, I think, as I begin to overheat. But there's a sudden change of plans. She wants to eat dinner at a little Vietnamese place near my apartment before we head back. Somehow I muscle through the meal and, once we're through my front door, I immediately initiate sexy time. Typically, part of this involves quickly undressing myself as I invite my girlfriend into the bedroom. But wanting the full Spanx experience, I encourage her to get me out of my clothes and then, when the jig is finally up, shuck me out of my elastic casing.
"Are you...are you wearing….Spanx?" she says as she runs a hand over the taut, seamless garment pushing my vital organs snugly together .
"I was going to say that you were looking particularly tight and trim today. And...that ass! It is unreal! I was thinking that it couldn't have grown that quickly!"
"Oh yeah," I reply, trying not to be fazed by her reaction to what could be accurately described as false advertising. "Why don't you take them off?
What follows is more reminiscent of a greco-roman wrestling match than a preamble to love making. Breaking me out takes several minutes leaves us both tousle-haired, red faced, breathless and exhausted though I'm revivified by a sense of body freedom. My little love handles were right where I'd last seen them, of course, but then so were my hard earned buns. The garments weren't all stretched out and ruined, as my friend said they might be. But then, it was a woman who was removing them; a woman who owns Spanx herself, it turns out.
The instruction card that came with the top—the one I neglected to consult—includes a tongue-in-cheek warning that says: " Side effects of wearing shirt include increased confidence and decreased waistline." I can attest to this, and I can see why so many of my female friends employ them, downsides and all.
I expect that men would be more inclined to wear shaping undergarments if male business, evening, or formalwear meant thin, slinky, figure-hugging dresses, skirts, and blouses. Instead, we wear blazers, shirts, ties, and pants that are pre-designed to make us appear taller, trimmer, and more broad-shouldered. Suiting, it seems, is already a type of shapewear for men—a kind that seeks to gently camouflage our bodies, and not reconfigure them through brute force.