Sunday column: Thanks to Spanx

“I want to write a column about control pants” I announced to the editor a few weeks ago. Silence. “Please, can I?” Silence. Then this: “Mia, what is wrong with you? Are you having some kind of early life crisis? First you write about grey hair and now control pants? What’s next? Walking frames? Incontinence pads?”

Fortunately, I’d carefully prepared my argument before calling her. “No! You see, control pants aren’t old and daggy anymore!” I blurted. “That’s the whole point! Sophie Monk wears them and she’s young and hot and really, really thin! She hasn’t even got a baby or a muffin top! Everyone wears control pants now! They’re the new Wonderbra!”
Strained silence. Followed by a deep resigned sigh. “OK” she said wearily. And with that, I scurried off to K-Mart to embark upon my journey to the promised land of fat-sucking underwear.

I’m rarely late to a trend. I may no longer be the earliest adopter but I like to consider myself one of the sheep at the front-end of the flock. Still, the whole control pants movement managed to whoosh past me unfollowed until a few months ago. That’s when I went to a black-tie charity dinner and found myself table-hopping over to talk to some media colleagues I hadn’t seen in ages.

As we crouched around each others’ chairs admiring frocks, one girl discreetly lifted up her hem to reveal what looked like tight black bicycle shorts. “Spanx!” she announced triumphantly. “Spanx!” everyone nodded, pinging their own undergarments through their dresses. Out of five women aged 25-45, I was the only one Spanx-less. “It gives you such a smooth line under your clothes,” raved one. “You feel all tight and held-in” enthused another. “It’s like sausage casing for lumpy mince!” insisted a third.  I took mental notes. And visual ones. It was true. Their silhouettes were impressive. Curves in the appropriate places. No lumps on these ladies.


It seems going-out undies have officially morphed from fancy-pants-g-strings into bicycle-short-sausage-casing. But how did control pants go from embarrassing to cool? When did the term “performance underwear” enter the lexicon?

Well, it started with Spanks. Yes, I know it sounds like the name of an S&M brothel – that’s the point. ‘Spanks’ sounds a bit naughty. A bit sexy. Flirty. Modern. More go-girl than ‘girdle’ or ‘step-ins’’ or “foundation garment”. Gwyneth and Oprah and Beyonce and Tyra and a hundred celebrities called Jennifer and Jessica all wear Spanks. I know this because I watched a Spanks infomercial on youtube one sad Friday night while researching this column. Yes I did.

Eva Longoria in Spanx

I also know that Australian actress, Isla Fisher, discovered Spanx after giving birth to daughter Olive in 2007 and wore them under every outfit in Confessions Of A Shopaholic . She admits it was impossible to breathe or go to the toilet but that her Spanx Power Panties (sorry, I hate that word too but they’re actually called that) made her waist “skinnier than it was before I was pregnant”.

It seems the Spanx phenomenon has dragged the whole genre of control pants into the fashionable future and renamed it “Shapewear”. $720 million of the stuff was sold in the US last year. That’s a lot of sausage casing.

The next instalment in control pant enlightenment came when I posted a photo of Jennifer Lopez on my blog that showed her dress blowing up to flash some very large fat-sucking-undies. The comments went ballistic with control pant confessions and recommendations. I learnt that they have many nicknames: Muffin Shifters, Squeezy Knickers, Bridgets.


I also learnt that K-mart has a well-priced range. So off I went. For around $60 I emerged triumphant an hour later with three of the strangest looking garments I’ve ever bought. There was a sort of stretchy tan mini dress, a pair of very high-waisted black bicycle shorts and a beige g-string with a very wide bit of elastic on top. They all looked like the love children of big knickers and compression bandages. This is apparently modern.

The thought of wrestling them on in a small hot change room was abhorrent. “Can I exchange them if they don’t fit?” I asked at the checkout. Yes. This was good news for me although slightly alarming to consider someone else may have returned them already. Ick.

I’ll cut to the chase because all you want to know is: “How good are they?” The short answer is Very. Very, very good.  A bit like taking someone else’s body for a spin under your clothes. Like Miranda Kerr’s. Or that shouty female trainer from Biggest Loser.

My fat-sucking undies have been an extremely happy addition to my knicker drawer.  There, they mock my other non-performance underwear with their magic powers. However. What sucks in must flop out. And so it is with shapewear. They may well shrink your waist, thighs and bum by a size but at the end of the day or night, extracting yourself from your magic pants can be a little, well, demoralising as far as acts of undressing go.
You must also beware the “Christmas Bon Bon” Effect -  where your control pants simply shift your fat upwards. I have one friend who complains her high-waisted shapewear moves her muffin from waist to underarms which is certainly not ideal.
I bet Miranda never had that problem.