Can shapewear be body positive? Lizzo's Yitty is trying — but experts are dubious.

Can shapewear be body positive? (Photo: Yitty)
Can shapewear be body positive? (Photo: Yitty)
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Shapewear is seemingly being revolutionized by celebrities who have launched brands — Kim Kardashian with SKIMS and Lizzo with her new Yitty — promising to bring a more modern look and feel to the category. But the most recent launch from the About Damn Time singer, who is known for speaking out about body acceptance and size inclusivity, is prompting some to wonder if the line could really be all that different from its predecessors.

Lingerie expert Cora Harrington tells Yahoo Life that "shapewear, as a category, has been around for centuries," pointing to petticoats and girdles as early iterations of the undergarments meant to alter a person's figure. When it comes to a more modern understanding of shapewear, however, the seamless and smooth silhouette that became popular with the rise of Spanx in the late 20th century is likely more familiar.

That's when the materials used to create shapewear, such as Lycra and knits, and the way they functioned, were "transformative" in comparison to what had existed on the market before. "That really ties into modern conceptions of beauty, where essentially, we've gone from taking up space through these garments [widening hips, for example, which was fashionable at one time] to not taking up as much space," Harrington says. "The trend now is to have more of a toned body, more of a muscular body. We often see a lot of bodies that are perceived to have plastic surgery, as shapewear today is about giving the silhouette of such, which is a very different conceptualization of shapewear than it might have been in like the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s."

Throughout the evolution, the messaging has remained the same. "It was still about the idea of giving you a figure that was more in line with beauty standards of the time," Harrington explains. "It will transform your body and will smooth your silhouette under clothing."

With the launch of Yitty, however, Lizzo says she aimed to create something new. She told The New York Times, "I'm trying to revolutionize shapewear and our relationship with it and with our bodies." She even talked about inspiring a new "mentality" of bodily autonomy and "liberation."

Wording on the brand's Instagram page even works to align Yitty with the body-positive movement, quoting Lizzo saying, "Remember, your body is the TREND. Your body is BEAUTIFUL. You ARE the body positivity movement."

According to fat activist model and speaker Saucye West, however, "There's no such thing as body-positive shapewear."

"[Lizzo] coined it as a love letter to Big Girls. But your love letter to big girls is shapewear?" West questions in a conversation with Yahoo Life. "We're always told that as women we have to always be smoothed out, we've got to have on proper undergarments, we have to be presented in a certain way. We don't want things jigglin', you don't want your boobs sagging. We have all of these things that we have to conform to when it comes to our bodies. But as you get further along the spectrum of fatness, it gets worse. If we're going to be fat, we have to be acceptable. And if we go outside of those parameters of acceptability, that's when we become offensive. That's when we become disgusting. That's when we become, you know, not worthy of having respect."

To her, the shapewear line is Lizzo's reinforcement of that, simply by the nature of the category. "Why couldn't we just get a solid athleisure line that was extended to a 6X?" West wonders. But even with the hype surrounding the inclusivity of sizes that Yitty seems to offer, from an XS to a 6X, West expresses disappointment in the actual numbers behind that.

Yitty's current size chart represents 6X as a 26-28 in US sizing. (Photo: Yitty)
Yitty's current size chart represents 6X as a 26-28 in US sizing. (Photo: Yitty)

"Going to the size chart, they have a 6X as a size 28, and a 6X is not a size 28. 6X is a size 32," she explains. "So that means that both 5x and 6x are going to be sized out of this collection. That means that we're not included in this collection, which we were supposed to be."

West is not alone in her critique of Yitty, according to Twitter.

Yitty's parent company Fabletics didn't immediately respond to Yahoo Life's request for comment. However, a press release for the brand maintains, "Stylish silhouettes have been fit on every size and body type — not merely scaled up (or down) for convenience."

Meanwhile, the brand has also received countless positive responses and reviews since its launch in April, including praise for serving "big girls."

West claims that a portion of that support is a result of the perceived inclusion of diverse and plus-size bodies. "Because we're so used to, as a community, cheering for whatever anyone gives us, even if we can't fit it," she says, "everyone is going to support it."

Harrington points out that there is something to the marketing of a brand like SKIMS or Yitty that make them seem "unique" or "different," as they work to appeal to a younger audience.

"For more corporate lingerie brands or older lingerie brands, legacy brands, something that they haven't caught up to is the notion that people want more diverse imagery. That even if you're carrying a lot of sizes, if all of your models are thin and white, then people are just instantly a lot less interested," Harrington says. "That's where brands like Yitty really stand out. They're like, 'Yes, we carry shapewear up to this certain size and we're going to show you that shapewear on people who are that size.'"

Needless to say, the singer's existing star power and influence also contribute to the idea that Yitty provides "younger, more fashionable, trendy or hipper types of shapewear," although Harrington explains that "every generation" has created a version of shapewear thought to be cooler and younger than the last. "That's definitely not peculiar to this time or to this generation," she says.

As for the attempt to create body positive messaging out of a modern shapewear brand, West maintains, "We deserve better."

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