Racked is no longer publishing. Thank you to everyone who read our work over the years. The archives will remain available here; for new stories, head over to Vox.com, where our staff is covering consumer culture for The Goods by Vox. You can also see what we’re up to by signing up here.
When I first heard about Spanx for men, I experienced the same 'That sounds horrifying, I really want to experience it' emotional roller coaster that accompanies every new Nic Cage movie.
My weight has fluctuated wildly since then, and there's been times when it was really bad and times when objectively I might have looked okay. But mentally I have never come to a place of acceptance. No matter what I weigh, how strict my diet is, or whether I'm going to the gym or not, I look in the mirror and think: I'm so, so sorry, world.
I understand that how I feel about my body is not rational. I don't like it. But I've gotten used to it. You can diet and exercise to address physical things to varying degrees, but how do you fix the mental thing? That was the problem.
Spanx has grown very quickly over the last few years to become a standard component of women's fashion. When I first heard about this fashion-accessory-slash-torture-device that somehow magically smooths and shapes the unshape-able, I experienced the same That sounds horrifying, I really want to experience it emotional roller coaster that accompanies every new Nic Cage movie.
But it was just for women. While my wife and many of the women I know online mention their Spanx all the time—no big deal, just a part of the uniform—I have never met or even heard of a man wearing Spanx. I've never seen them for sale at Target or Kohl's or Macy's or any of the typical stores where men in my demographic buy clothes. Spanx for Men exist, so someone must be buying them, but it isn't something men talk about. I felt no small amount of shame for how desperately I coveted them.
It's a slow process of wriggling and tugging it over your torso, an operation that feels like pulling a condom down over a cupcake.
And price is a major factor. Spanx are not cheap and I hate spending money on myself. I would check the prices on Amazon and add them to my cart and then shut my browser, sighing wistfully at the email reminder that I had unpurchased items sitting in my shopping cart.
Then one day I got an Amazon gift card for my birthday and I sprinted to my laptop and put one medium black Spanx t-shirt in my cart and hit Purchase before I could second guess myself for the millionth time. I felt wild and wanton, leaping recklessly into uncharted men's fashion territory.
When my Spanx arrived I was immediately taken with the fabric—stretchy, with a resolute, sinewy tension. It feels oddly synthetic, the material covered in some kind of space-age layer of science that presumably solves all your problems. Getting the shirt physically onto your body is a multi-step process. First you screw your head through the neck hole. Then you think: Literally how is this going to get on my body? Without the give of a regular T-shirt your limbs have to do significantly more contorting to fit within its confines.
You fold one arm up through and then just kind of stand there and breathe for a few minutes, committed now, realizing that the only way out is through. You bend your other arm back and up behind your head and then the shirt is around your shoulders. Then it's a slow process of wriggling and tugging it over your torso, an operation that feels like pulling a condom down over a cupcake.
And then suddenly it's done. The Spanx is on. It is a part of you. And it feels A M A Z I N G.
I felt myself beginning to understand the appeal of corsets, and thunder shirts, and maybe even kinbaku, the Japanese art of rope binding.
Everything is tucked in and bound fast. Wearing Spanx didn't magically turn me skinny; the law of conservation of mass still applied to my corporeal form. I definitely was in no danger of wolf-whistling myself in a mirror. But when I finished getting dressed, my clothes magically fit for the first time ever. I felt transformed into a newer, slightly less blobby version of myself. I felt confident about how I looked, in a way that was more like stepping into a new skin than merely cinching up the old.
It was as though I had been grasped firmly but gently in the soft hands of a loving giant and transported to a vivid new landscape. The shirt held me, had dominion over me, and I loved it. I felt myself beginning to understand the appeal of corsets, and thunder shirts, and maybe even kinbaku, the Japanese art of rope binding.
As I left for work I wondered if I should pack a backup t-shirt in case felt I myself suffocating around lunch. I could breathe, but for how long? But I forced myself to commit. Women do much more in the name of fashion every day. I could do this.
And I was glad I did, because as confident as I felt all morning, lunch time, it turns out, is the Spanx Magic Hour, when the beauty and majesty of Spanx truly unfolds and you learn how transformative it truly is.
Normally after lunch I feel gross. I can feel my salad or my gigantic sandwich distending my stomach and ruining the lines of my look for all those unfortunate enough to cast their gaze upon me. But nestled firmly inside my Spanx, my stomach stayed as tucked away as ever. I felt just as amazing after lunch as I had when I first put it on. This was the waterfall moment, when I went over the cliff, falling deep into a serious long-term relationship with Spanx.
I spent the rest of the day learning to appreciate the new me, who stood tall and smiled at strangers. I felt like the type of person who could possibly be fun at parties. I was already starting to forget the old me, the lumpy and misshapen me who never stood up straight and whose shirt buttons continually puckered, and who prayed daily the castle wall of his jeans could withstand the attack of his encroaching waistline.
But by the time I got home that night, I was like: okay, this thing has to come off. My body felt tired and longed for release. I said to my wife: "I get it now! When you get home and immediately have to take your bra off! I understand!"
She rolled her eyes. "No, you do not," she said.
As I changed into a regular T-shirt, I wondered if you miss prison, on your first day back in the real world.
Getting the shirt off was even tricker than getting it on. I've never done yoga but I imagine I have a basic sense of it now. The stretching and bending and controlled breathing, the use of muscles you didn't know you had. I shimmied the shirt up over my chest and nearly dislocated my shoulder getting my arms to the necessary angles. But at last I pulled it up off my head and was free. Free to contemplate the horror of my old body. As I changed into a regular T-shirt, I wondered if you miss prison, on your first day back in the real world.
The Spanx transformation is as much mental as it is physical. I was definitely still me. But it was like those bumper stickers that say "Let go and let God." With Spanx I could let go of my worries about my body. I didn't have to suck in my stomach because it was being done for me. All the mental energy I spent each day worrying what people thought of me was freed up. I used it to wonder if people noticed anything different about me, if they thought my outfit was cute or not.
I still only own the one Spanx, which is a problem. When I'm wearing regular t-shirts all I can think about is how much I would rather be wearing my Spanx. Having only the one shirt guarantees that I always have something to look forward to, a day when I'll feel slightly better about myself than I do every other day. If I wore Spanx every day, would my self-confidence become permanent? Would I become too confident? Insufferable, even? I think I could live with that. More easily than I could learn to accept my body, anyway.