Aside from fine lines and dark circles and loss of muscle tone, there’s one thing that really deflates my over-40 self-esteem: the underwear choices for the typical middle-aged body.
Gone are the days of itty-bitty pretty things in bright colors, accented with lace and beads and bows. Now, it’s all plain and dark and thick. Now, it could double as body armor in a combat zone.
More than anything else about this age, I’m embarrassed of my underwear drawer.
A few weeks ago at a picnic with a friend — who has not yet crossed the threshold into fortysomething — we cursed our big appetites and what it does to our bodies. Then, she revealed a secret to me. She raised the hem of her pink ruffled sleeveless blouse to reveal a heavy-duty bustier that stretched from her rib cage to her hips. She made a fist and rapped her knuckles against the reinforced siding to demonstrate its figure-controlling power.
I was floored. I assumed her smooth lines were the result of genetics. Some women are lucky. But for us, pregnancy turned a slab of granite into a bowl of mush. She bought it, she whispered to me over a bowl of Sun Chips we were sharing, because someone had asked her if she was pregnant again.
I feel her pain. As a former member of the itty-bitty bikini club, the crop top and low rise pants club, middle age has forced me to relinquish my membership. I hang with a different crew now, the ones who shop for what at worst can be called granny panties and at best are called figure shapers.
I have discovered some things that make this transition tolerable: Spanx, or anything Spanx-like.
Shopping for this type of underwear, however, is a different experience. No longer can I go to the cute lingerie boutiques and grab a handful of candy-colored “fundies” in my size and pay for them. Now I need to go to stores that have senior discount days to buy something to return my body to what it once was, to smooth and redistribute flesh, to conceal and reshape.
So imagine my horror on a recent shopping trip when the dressing room clerk plucked the Spanx out of the bouquet of try-on items in hand and waved them overhead.
“No. No. No.” She admonished, shaking her head to and fro rapidly for added emphasis. “You aren’t permitted to try on undergarments in a store!”
She used words like exposed crotch, and hygiene and public health threat. Suddenly I felt like Borat in his man-thong.
Well, I wasn’t going to take everything off and put them on, I retorted. I was going to put them on over my own underwear and see how they worked with this rather clingy dress I just bought.
More nos from the dressing room monitor. More head shaking. More talk of dreaded diseases and H1N1 and health department crackdowns.
I know I’ve tried on these body shapers before at other stores. In fact, I clearly recall a dressing-room attendant at a very upscale shop helping me find one to wear with my wedding dress. I’ve tried on bathing suits in stores countless times.
I’m not a germophobe, so much of what this attendant was talking about flies under my radar. I’m also not a shopper. I do not enjoy it. Least of all do I like trying on clothes or having to return them if they do not fit properly.
I looked at those Spanx waving over my head like the flag of doom. I talked of the price tag. I suggested that it was a lot to spend on something if it didn’t fit.
The attendant offered a solution: Buy the underwear, try it on at home, then return it to the store for a refund.
Then — and get this –she said with great pleasure that if the underwear is returned to the store, employees will have to put on protective gloves, render the garment useless, and ceremoniously dispose of it.
Do they have a HazMat team on duty for underwear and bathing suit returns? I ‘d love to see that in action. Do they use big tongs and drop them in airtight biohazard drums? Do they set a granny panties fire behind the store?
I suppose this all makes sense. I know it does. But something about the way this moment played out seemed hysterical and over the top. And now I feel as if I’ve been living in a cave on this matter. After conducting a bit of online research, it seems that this is a health code rule. It turns out that people are pigs and do horrible things in dressing rooms and to clothing.
There are a lot of Borats out there.