The Spandex Tsunami

Am I the only person perplexed by the staggering popularity of Spandex? Why have so many women decided that tourniquet tight legwear is a wardrobe must? And not just slim women; women of all shapes and sizes pry on their pants each day and head out into the world, defiant as new parolees.

I don’t care if you have a rockin’ body, I don’t care if you don’t. I’m just tired of seeing so much of you. I never signed up for a free subscription to your ass.

“They’re super comfortable,” a friend assured me, beaming at her thighs, which were shrink-wrapped in a dark gray material splashed with giant yellow daisies. “They move with your body,” she explained. Indeed your body cannot shake them; you’ve eliminated the option.

Yoga pants. Compression wear. Training tights. Leggings. Designers have worked hard to come up with fetching names. Still promoted/justified as sportswear, the distinction has become meaningless.

There are a handful of competitive sports that benefit from tight uniforms. When winning is measured by a thousandth of a second, a second skin is the way to go. The rest of us have options, especially those who don’t know they do, who believe that compression tights and skinny jeans are tickets to freedom.

Every time I see a girl in tight jeans—which is every day, many times a day—I cringe a little, imagining the difficulty involved in sitting, bending and walking. A fashion that limits movement, impinges on circulation and inhibits healthy breathing is not a product that favors liberation and empowerment.

Remember Grunge? I do, even though it last just half a minute back in the early 90s. With origins in the Seattle area, Grunge fashion—for both men and women—was characterized by durable and cheap clothing often worn in a loose, androgynous manner to de-emphasize the silhouette. Make-up and excessive grooming were shunned; the whole point was to disavow the pitfalls of conformity and capitalism. Decades later, men are still wearing easy-fitting clothes; women, sadly, are not. I guess Doc Martens, roomy jeans and flannel shirts did not contribute to the objectification of the female form. If a women’s body is de-emphasized, who will want it? Who will care? What is it worth?

What I miss most from the Grunge period was the way women carried themselves. The sureness of their movements, the nascent confidence. Women were realizing at last that they owned themselves, or could. Who needed to measure up? For a brief period in our evolution, the female body was under autonomous rule as women adopted a brave new world of non-fashion and individuality.

A style that celebrates personal freedom is not a style that can be easily re-packaged by clothing designers, and so Grunge died out. Hoping to monetize the attitude, the fashion industry has tried at intervals to echo the lost look, offering distressed garments at high prices, but these attempts do not illustrate what Grunge was all about. The mainstream cannot adopt a subculture without losing its grassroots nature.

So far, I’m not seeing any sign that women are ready to peel off their Spandex and slip into something more comfortable. I’ve been waiting for that sea change, for some daring designer to introduce loose-fitting jeans for women. Imagine the culture shock, millions of females moving freely through their days, empowered by the anonymity of modest, comfortable clothing. Of course, there is still the matter of make-up, hair dye and Botox, but we have to start somewhere.

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Inner Critics

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It was the 70s.
No one had cell phones,
and cameras were for
travel, holidays,
bigger things.
“Selfie” wasn’t even a word.

So when you came across
that ancient photo
tucked in a book,
your stomach jumped.

There you were,
sitting on your dorm bed
hunched over a small typewriter,
looking up, surprised.
Younger, prettier—
that’s to be expected.
It’s the details that fascinate.
The blue eye shadow—too blue,
and eyeliner—too much.
You’re wearing jeans and one of those silly
peasant blouses—all the rage for half a minute.
Long straight hair parted down the middle,
same as the rest of the herd.
A poster on the wall of naked lovers,
red satin sheets. Good god.
A really ugly desk lamp.

STOP!
You can do that now,
tell your censor
to shut up,
leave this innocent alone.

She dogged you then too,
that old nag;
nothing you did
pleased her.
She was with you
from the start,
braiding you with doubt,
cloaking you with dread.
Not anymore.

Age has carried off
what you no longer need,
left you something
to fight with instead.

Now you have your critic
pinned against the ropes.
Let her rail all she wants,
you don’t need to listen,
you slow walking,
white-haired champion.

Face Value

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Sometimes while shopping, I experience a flush of satisfaction as I cruise past the items that don’t pertain to me: baby food, condoms, curling irons, hair coloring kits. Ignoring all that energy and advertising confers what feels like power. I also snub the cosmetics, aisle after aisle of them (though I do brush a little color on my cheeks each day to appear more alive). I did use makeup when I was a young woman—mascara, eye liner, eye shadow, lipstick—the whole mob; even streaked my hair. Ironic that now, with my shrinking eyebrows and gray hair, I have turned my back on the props.

In a culture that values youth and beauty, aging is not easy, particularly for women. As toddlers we begin to perceive the sovereignty of Barbie and Cinderella, and woe to little girls who are not conventionally pretty, who will be molded by this knowledge in ways they will not understand. I like to think that compensation awaits these girls, that having less to lose, getting older will be a bit easier.

Stopped in traffic one time, I looked to my left, at an elderly woman behind the wheel of a Mercedes coupe. For a moment our eyes met and she tried to smile—perhaps she thought she managed it; what I saw was a  grimace, the skin so taut it appeared to be covered with cellophane. Her eyelids were drooping under the weight of false lashes, her mouth was a fire red gash and her hair—the color of cantaloupes—was elaborately rigged on top of her head. She was fierce, this woman. She had time in a stranglehold and she was not giving up an inch. She was losing, she knew it, but she was not giving up.

I don’t have that kind of fight in me, don’t want to battle the years I have left. As far as I’m concerned, the only practical response to aging is forgiveness, excusing each new erosion as it appears. What can we do with our body but love it, love it all the more for its diminishing street value.

In arming themselves for public view, women in the United States spend more money than any country in the world, yet rank 23rd in the “Satisfaction With Life Index.” Japan comes in second in cosmetics spending, with a satisfaction ranking of  90.  Two countries that spend the least on cosmetics and hair care — Netherlands and Sweden — have the best rankings in the SWLI.

From an early age, we receive the message that we are not good enough, and the volume only increases as we get older. Accepting this notion, we harness our lives. We spend our days hiding from ourselves and each other, never imagining there might be a better way to live. The cost of accepting our natural selves? Nothing. Nor does it take any time. Wake up, slip on some love, and walk out the door.

 

Photo credit: Foter.com