Underwear: Tools of objectification or foundations for confidence?
Abby OReilly // 13 September 2008
My wardrobe isn’t particularly diverse, and it would be difficult to define my dress-sense. I like bright colours, prints, but am not averse to the odd bit of tweed and corduroy. I wear jeans, trousers, a-line dresses, wrap dresses, and more recently purchased a number of 50s-style blouses and black patterned tights in pursuit of a more retro look. But I wouldn’t describe myself as well groomed. I loathe using the iron. My ruffled clothes usual clash rather than match, and being in possession of a scalp full of curly hair no matter how long I spend trying to craft it into a carefully coiffured masterpiece, I still look like I’ve either just got out of bed after a particularly rough night, or spent the afternoon rolling around in the hay somewhere, pivoting my entire body around my head. So, I usually don’t bother. My socks don’t match, and more often than not contain more holes than a good Swiss cheese, and having short legs, it’s not uncommon for my trousers to fray as they drag along the ground, getting licked by concrete, puddles (and substances I’d rather not think about), as they snake behind me. But they’re comfortable, which is what I like.
However, I discovered the secret to feeling great and confident no matter what I’m wearing when, aged about sixteen, I was given a blue and pink matching knickers and bra set as a Christmas present. It wasn’t particularly sexy, nor was it from a lingerie shop. Sexiness wasn’t even anything I factored in to my assessment of it as the prettiest underwear I’d ever had (it was from my mum), and having been something of a prude for the vast majority of my life (who can sadly still blush at the slightest hint of sexual innuendo if caught off guard), I felt it looked nice. Until that point my underwear draw had overflowed with nothing but plain cotton knickers and ordinary white bras, functional but not particularly aesthetically pleasing. This was something that made me feel good, and was never motivated by the desire to want to look sexy for another person. Even now, dressing up in what’s considered to be sexy underwear for the sole purpose of offering titillation for a man is something that doesn’t appeal to me. After all, presumably every layer of clothing is going to be removed anyway, so why wear my nicest underwear when it’s going to just end up in a heap on the floor? (Not that there’s anything wrong with it, as long as the woman in question feels comfortable and it is something that she has chosen to do in order to fully embrace her sexuality and gain personal gratification, rather than being told that’s what she has to do in order to be desirable.) I indulge this for my enjoyment and pleasure, and until today this was something I had never discussed. Nobody else can see, after all. Plus, my penchant for nice underwear has always rested a little uneasily alongside my feminist sensibilities, but maybe this doesn’t have to be the case?
This is something I have been considering since reading about the new underwear range designed by Queen of burlesque Dita Von Teese, and manufactured by Wonderbra. I have been a fan of Von Teese for a long time. She is a strong, independent woman, who has fostered a lucrative career for herself in an industry that is traditionally considered to have oppressed women. But what intrigued me more recently was Von Teese’s philosophy on the adornment of fancy underwear:
Lingerie shouldn’t be something you just put on for your lover; you should do it for you. It’s not about seducing men, it’s about embracing womanhood.
Yes, I realise that Wonderbra is the same company that brought us the ‘Hello Boys’ campaign back in 1994, featuring a beautiful Eva Herzigova gazing wistfully down at her bountiful breasts, held firmly in place by the Sara Lee bra. The campaign was supposedly so powerful that male drivers were distracted to the point of accident, which is believable. However, what it didn’t do was represent the idea that a woman’s choice of underwear is purely subjective. Rather it confirmed the notion that women are playthings to be dressed-up for male gratification, with this particular poster campaign promoting the idea that if a woman wants to be considered sexy by the male population then she needs to try an emulate Herzigova’s sexy pose.
The premise behind Von Teese’s new lingerie range, however, if different. While womanhood is, of course, about more than wearing a pair of sexy scanties, what she does centralise is the idea that it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to embrace her erotic side, and see celebrate her status as a sexual being, without firstly being in a relationship, and secondly having to express her sexuality in a way that is considered distincly attractive by others. So, is this not a feminist act?
The reason why I spend a great deal of time on choosing matching underwear is because I feel happier when wearing nice undergarments. It’s hard to articulate the reasons why. I think in part it emanates from the fact that it’s not something that’s visually apparent to the people I meet everyday, it’s a personal choice not influenced by anyone else and, as I have got older, it has (in all honesty), helped me appreciate my body more, and understand that, while I may not be traditionally attractive, that I am still a sexual being. Plus, considering the fact that I do not dress sexually on a day to day basis, I like the contrast, something about which (until now) only I knew about.
But what do you think? Does anyone else enjoy wearing whatever undergarments they like, for no purpose other than self-pleasure? Do you enjoy the power of knowing, on a daily basis, that no-one else knows what’s underneath? Is this not just a simple issue of choice? And surely, if one does feel more confident wearing sexy underwear, regardless of what clothes they are wearing, then shouldn’t we perhaps pay more attention to what’s underneath?