‘Empowering’ has turned into an advertising buzzword – if you look at the advertising landscape over the last few years, you’ll see that self love and empowerment have been hugely monetised, whether the brands are selling soap or designer clothing. I find it troubling that so many things are said to give women power when essentially they’re just trying to separate women from their money without ultimately bettering their situation or women’s rights in general.
With that in mind, I always try to be critical of things that claim to empower women. While there are obvious things like easy and cheap (or free) access to birth control or equal representation in politics and within boardrooms, empowerment can be more subtle and offer the confidence for individual women to reach their full potential. The question is whether lingerie can claim to do either of these things.
I think that good lingerie does far more than just make women feel sexy – I’ve never thought that simply feeling sexy is particularly powerful, given that women are told from a worryingly young age that they have to be sexy/beautiful/alluring to have worth.
Lingerie does far more than just affect how you feel about yourself; it can provide a creative outlet, it makes it easier to carry out certain tasks, and it means that women can go beyond worrying about their physical appearance to do what they want to do.
Sports bras are a key example of that – Goldie Sayers (the 11-time British javelin champion) once said that if she forgot her sports bra, she just wouldn’t compete. She has no doubts that her lingerie not only helped her improve her performance, but also had an impact on her sporting achievements throughout her career. She isn’t the only sportswoman to explain the importance; Beth Twiddle (one of Britain’s most successful gymnasts) said the her sports bras let her focus on her sport rather than what her body was doing without her input. Paralympic equestrian rider Natasha Baker said more simply that a properly fitted bra changed her life.
When 46% of young women say that their breasts are a barrier to doing sport, it’s clear to see that lingerie can be genuinely empowering. Without proper underwear, how many women would be willing to even try high-impact sports, never mind competing or pursuing a career in sport?
As much as we might love our breasts, they can seriously get in the way. Women who work physical jobs can feel awkward at work and perform at a lower rate because of poor fitting lingerie too. The Lingerie Addict has a fantastic post on how women in physical jobs have to make these decisions for the sake of their confidence and career.
Even women who may not excel at sports or work physical jobs see the impact that good lingerie can have. Common stereotypes say that we only wear lingerie to please our partners or to please the male gaze, but increasingly women are making choices for their own comfort and tastes. As a hidden part of the wardrobe, lingerie is where women can really express their tastes and creativity regardless of the dress code or activities. For many, looking pretty is a far second to self expression. That’s why so many new brands now focus on catering to women’s individual tastes rather than an overly sexualised image – whether those priorities are based on comfort, impact on the environment, or buying ethical products.
Putting the advertising aside and ignoring buzzwords, lingerie can be genuinely empowering in a way that helps women express themselves or pursue careers and hobbies they’d find difficult or embarrassing to partake in otherwise – giving women more control over their lives. And surely that’s where real power lies?
(Header image from B Tempt’d)