The workshop for humor writing, human interest writing, networking and getting published

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

Shrinking from the truth

The average woman will spend any amount of money, suffer any discomfort and believe any ad that promises to make her more beautiful.  Leading today’s trend are “shaper garments.”

Reducing garments are not new. In great grandma’s day, a fashion-conscious woman clung to the bedpost while another adult planted a firm foot in her back and heaved on her corset strings as though a quarterhorse anchoring a maverick for branding. The goal was a figure nipped at the waist like a vinegar cruet, even at the risk of an attack of the vapors.

In 1957, Playtex introduced a two-way stretch latex rubber girdle with molded garters that clung comfortably as a second skin yet left no panty line. Tiny perforations in daisy designs allowed rubber to adjust elasticity and trapped flesh to breathe. And trapped flesh certainly was.

Once on, bridging from hipbone to hipbone, allowing no hint of tummy bulge, it was painless so long as I swallowed not a single extra bite. Otherwise…agony.

I recall after a lunch that included raw carrot strips I was in such pain that for 30 minutes I lay on a hard bench in the women’s cloakroom with my girdle rolled down below my hipbones before I returned to my desk.

Because a Playtex girdle cost roughly half my week’s salary, I could afford only one. Every bedtime I hand-laundered it, patted it dry with a towel, and spread it out to dry overnight. If it was the faintest bit damp, such as after sweating (and in New York most summer days were humid), no amount of baby powder would ease it on. So I wore it all day like a prosthesis, removed it at bedtime or after I was certain I would be staying home.

Toward noon of a humid day, the dampened powder clumped, acting like rosin, chafing beyond belief at waist and thighs.

The latex was powerfully elastic yet vulnerable to fingernail puncture. The tiniest nick could outrun a snag in a sheer nylon stocking. Thus, it had to be rolled down, every inch liberally sprinkled with Johnson’s baby powder, stepped into, and gently unrolled toward the waistline a little here, a little there.

Though pink and sweet-smelling as a freshly bathed baby, over months of wear it gradually turned gray and adopted the odor of stale air leaking from a tire — until the day it would split and fall off taking along nylon stockings.

In 1961, I made the acquaintance of pantyhose and my future husband. He hiked my Playtex girdle to the nearest garbage can and forbade me to replace it. I happily complied.

Inexplicably, after decades of pantyhose convenience and comfort, as well as the acceptance of bare legs in the office, now women are rushing to adopt the latest torture device — Spanx — advocated by fashion and Hollywood’s red carpet.

Essentially a tube of industrial strength elastic, Spanx have two improvements over the Playtex girdle — they won’t split, and they let skin breathe. Just pulling them on gives a woman a strenuous full body workout.

In one Youtube video, a slim young woman grapples with her Spanx as she strives to stretch them up to her waist. Midway through her protracted contortions her buttocks project like a shelf over the Spanx waistband. By fancy manipulating, she trapped flesh into a semblance of womanly charm without dislocating a wrist or elbow. By contrast, wriggling into tummy-control panty hose is effortless.

Then last week I saw a TV ad for arm shapers, sheer elasticized sleeves to be worn under regular garments to “reduce unwanted arm flab while providing a smoothing and compressive effect.” Velcro tabs attached to bra straps at the shoulders hold the sleeves in place.

Don’t ask me to believe arm shapers stabilize batwings, or Spanx appear to reduce excess pounds.

But it’s worth a try.

—  Claudette Sandecki

M. Claudette Sandecki, 77, began as a writer by penning letters to the editor of various newspapers. In 1988, she was invited to write a weekly column, “Through Bifocals,” for The Terrace Standard in Terrace, British Columbia. She aspires “to write funny like David Sedaris or Dave Barry.”

Reflections of Erma