Is Shapewear Worth The Health Risks And The Pain?

Confessions of the damned: Last week, I wore shapewear so tight that into my third hour of wearing them, I was in so much pain, I thought I was having a heart attack.

RELATED: Self-Compassion: The Importance Of Being Kind To Yourself

And I’m not even kidding; I had severe shooting pain and cramps in my abdomen and chest only relieved when I took the damn compression, “suck-in pants” off and promptly threw them away with a flourish into the garbage, where they belonged.

The health risks of wearing super-tight shapewear made famous by A-list celebrities and power brokers such as Oprah and the Kardashian clan are well documented by gastroenterologists and doctors alike, so why on earth do we women do this to ourselves?!

shapewear, compression pants, health

Previously that night, my husband and two toddlers were highly amused when I unashamedly strutted around the house, not-so-resplendent in my special torture device: boned shapewear pants, as I prepared for a date night with said man. “Why on earth do you do that to yourself?” he asked, sincere and aghast in his concern for my well-being at wearing said extremely unattractive suck-in pants.

Why indeed?! I know wearing shapewear for long periods of time can’t be doing me (or my internal organs in particular) any good, but yet still I wear them, from time-to-time. Is it dumb vanity to blame? Living in the past? I’d wanted to wear a sexy, designer dress that night and have the sleek, flat abs I once sported – pre-babies – so I guess it’s both, in my case.

“Beauty is pain,” I’d quipped, unmoved in my quest for a flat tummy, as my beloveds made cute, but annoying jokes at my expense about how I looked like I was going scuba diving. Hmmph.

And in case you hadn’t heard the news, here comes the serious part; medical experts now believe shapewear like Spanx, or Nancy Ganz, for example – though there are many other brands out there in the marketplace – which compress the abdomen, bum and thighs, can cause a wide range of unpleasant side effects and health ramifications.

shapewear, compression pants, health

Due to its tight and restrictive design, shapewear literally squishes your vital organs, leaving your stomach, intestine and colon compressed. This can cause pinched nerves; reflux and heartburn; vaginal yeast infections and bladder infections; digestive problems; abdominal discomfort, bloating and gas; bowel disorders; decreased circulation and increased risk of blood clots and more.

It’s quite a long list isn’t it? Eek. And the pressure to look slim, svelte and sleek doesn’t just affect us women; there’s even various shapewear brands available for men now. What’s more, pregnant women don’t even escape the clutches of dastardly shapewear and fashion hosiery marketers; yep, you’ve now got to grow a tiny, healthy human and still smooth your normal, natural lady lumps! Personally, I find this extremely distasteful, but then if Spanx for pregnant women boosts their confidence, who am I to judge?

shapewear, compression pants, health

Despite the dire health warnings, people – like me – are still buying and wearing their beloved Spanx, but there is some doctor’s advice we can all heed: don’t wear your shapewear for too long.

Restrict the evil, compression undergarments to special events, but then take them off ASAP. NB: shapewear is not designed for everyday wear, medical experts say. And finally, as any fashion stylist will tell you; shapewear fit is very important. Find the right size that actually fits you now – not the size you want to be. Ask yourself: “Is it cutting into me? Do I feel short of breath and/or like my vital organs are being constricted in manner of a snake who’s swallowed a possum?”

Ah, the things we women do in the pursuit of so-called beauty and high fashion. It’s not a very kind thing to do to ourselves, is it? And would you really want to encourage a man to do the same? I don’t think there would ever be a good reason for a man to don these Manx (men’s Spanx), unless of course you wanted them to experience the idiocy, unfair societal expectations and pain associated with being a woman.

shapewear, compression pants, health

What do you think? Is wearing shapewear worth the health risks?

Images via Huffington Post, Pregnancy. The Fun Times Guide, The Hoopla, Cosmopolitan,, 

The Problem with Spanx

Women pay 200 dollars to wear a beige body suit under their clothing. Basically it sucks the fat in or as women tell themselves, ‘smoothes out the skin’. If you put your arm around a woman wearing one, it feels like there is a thick bandage under her dress. That’s when her head spins round, because she knows the jig is up and she blurts out, “I’m wearing Spanx!”

I don’t care what women do to their bodies if it makes them happy. But Spanx denies us the pleasure of seeing what real bodies look like and that is too bad. Have you ever had a man tell you he thinks the fat around your belly is delicious? He wasn’t lying to you. I remember the first time I saw a woman with a little pot belly on screen was in the French film, Betty Blue. I was a teenager who thought only perfect beauty makes sex ‘sex’. A man had his head between her knees and as she gripped his hair, I thought ‘she’s got fat on her stomach and he hasn’t thrown her off the bed in disgust and walked out. How can that be…?’

I once had a boyfriend suggest I do something about the little mound of wobbly flesh on my stomach. He wasn’t lying, either. That’s the thing I’ve noticed about men, if you asked ten of them if your bum looks big in those jeans, you’ll get the same response, ‘of course not’, but they are having ten private thoughts. Based on the various things I have heard men and lesbians say over the years, I can only conclude people’s preferences are based on a kaleidoscope of memory/mummy/media-images…and how they feel about the words coming out of your mouth.

‘I like a woman with fat on her arms…I am not a boob man…I like it when they are so ripe, they’re bursting out of their clothes…Large breasts intimidate me…She has to be skinny, because I’m fat…She has the most beautiful breasts I’ve ever seen and I’m not a boob man…She has great glutes and over-developed trapezium…’ Okay, this last comment was said to me as I walked in front of a perfect stranger. I said thank-you, because the attention to detail seemed flattering. Then I went home and looked up ‘over-developed trapezium’. Not really a compliment.

If you’ve ever been to a Korean baths, then you have seen the moving tableaux of what women really look like. Hips and breasts and cellulite and flesh everywhere, dipping in and out of the pool. I remember seeing a woman with so much hair – it looked like a black Pomeranian had bitten her pubic bone and stayed there. We don’t get to see these shapes in magazines or on television because actresses wear Spanx. Every single one of them. Yes, even her. And her. They are moving product and they understand the job description. They can also be found at charity events liberating women from the oppressive Hijab, whilst shallow breathing in their Spanx.

My concern is – could Spanx bring the animal kingdom to its knees as people take home a skinny and find out she’s a boom-boom? The banging and wrestling sounds from the bathroom, as she tugs the body suit off and stuffs it into her purse might be the give-away. The problem here is the guy who went out looking for a big-bottomed beauty walked home empty-handed and now boom-boom is in the double-bind of having to pretend she’s a skinny, without any clothing on. I believe you can ‘think yourself thin’ but not five self-hating minutes in a dude’s bathroom. She fudged the details a little and hoped he wouldn’t mind. But in that fudge, denied herself the chance to find someone who loves her body as it is.

Instead of thinking the entire sexual mating game is getting played out on your torso – I hope women realize the pre-occupation with perfection is a much bigger turn off. It might be the moment he put his hands on your hips and discovers the surgical bandage. What we really respond to in other people is their self-esteem. We see them as they see themselves, for the most part. And self-esteem is one of those things that is hard to get and easy to lose. Personally, I have found the very best way to develop self-esteem is to reduce those moments in the day where you hate yourself. I’m going to go ahead and suggest flailing around on a bed, squeezing loose flesh into a body-length corset, isn’t a self-loving moment.

When I look at a woman’s body, I look at how she gets in and out of a chair; her core strength. You’re noticing it, too. If a person heaves forward and grasps the table to get up, either they are nursing a back injury or have zero core-strength. Unconsciously, I think I’ll have to let this one die by the side of the road, she won’t make it.

I don’t really think that, but my issue with Spanx is it does nothing for muscle tone and injury prevention. It’s like the guys at a gym wearing weight-lifting belts. These belts reduce their intra-abdominal muscles and unless they are representing their country in the Olympics, make them look like a numbnut. I guess they look in the mirror and see Mike Tyson winning the heavy-weight division but if you need a belt to squat the weight – it’s too heavy for you. It’s also impossible to flirt with a man wearing one and I have tried.

I heard a story about a woman at a wedding who drank too much, went to the bathroom and as she wrestled out of her Spanx, fell over and knocked herself out. Her sister had to escort her through the wedding reception, blood pouring down her face. That kind of walk of shame can echo through the next decade. The other problem I have with Spanx is they now come with a pee-hole, which seems worse.

Vivienne Walshe is an Australian playwright and screenwriter. Her plays have been highly awarded and published by Currency Press. As an actress she appeared on The Secret Life of Us and many other television shows and performed in plays at the Melbourne Theatre company, Sydney Theatre company and Queensland Theatre company.

What do you think about Spanx – friend or foe?

December 31, 2013