You may not immediately understand why an article about the rise of spandex in the past 50 years is framed as a story about the obesity problem in America. After all, the fabric is used in everything from bras to jeans to leggings, and those are hardly items reserved for larger people. However, many people bemoan the prevalence of spandex because it allows fatties to wear comfortable and stylish clothing just like normal people. How will they be shamed into weight loss if they don't hate every outfit they own?
As NPR lovers this is painful, but its report on the "wonder" fiber is pretty appalling. When spandex debuted in 1959 is was mainly used in underwear and workout gear, but now it's present in 80 percent of the clothing Americans buy. Though it rose to prominence at a time when the nation was generally more slender and required form-fitting suits for leisure and one-piece catsuits, NPR repeatedly suggests that when it comes to the obesity problem, spandex is an enabler.
The article notes that the fabric became particularly popular in the past decade thanks to a price drop and the fact that blending even a little with other fabrics can enhance, "fit, performance, shape and function." That seems like something anyone would want, but for some reason NPR goes to a suburban Maryland mall and asks several women (and no men) what must have been some Glamour-like question about whether spandex is a "do" or a "don't." Their dress sizes are included with their answers, and there's this gem from Brett Godwin, who's a size 4 (read in your most condescending voice):
"I think that spandex is made to accommodate people who are overweight. I've seen some terrible sights. They are overweight, and they would put on the tightest spandex things they can find, and they just look absolutely awful."
This woman has been traumatized by looking at overweight people in spandex! Nobody wave a pair of jeggings at her or she might have an awful flashback.
Ed Gribbin, president of the clothing size and fit consulting firm Alvanon, says that despite the many benefits of the fabric, "many wonder whether spandex is encouraging people to be bigger. A lot of people ask the same question of the industry. I don't think that's the case at all." But plenty of people do! Martha Paschal, a "youthful-looking 50-year-old financial consultant with what she calls a 'muffin top'" excitedly describes being able to buy a pencil skirt for the first time thanks to the inclusion of spandex. Yet she says, "It's dishonest. It lets you get away with wearing things that you probably shouldn't just because it expands to fit. I think it is deceptive."
Paschal's comments are just sad because it's clear that she's just echoing back an awful societal message: That you're only allowed to look attractive and feel good about yourself if you're thin. If you find a flattering outfit in a plus-size, it doesn't mean you look great, you've just created the illusion of a beautiful body through trickery. Despite the lies inherent in spandex, NPR notes that she continues to purchase the fabric, but "forces herself to look in the mirror before heading out." It can be tough sometimes, but before venturing out into the world you really should "force" yourself to look in the mirror to make sure your body size isn't too offensive to others.
Image via prochasson frederic/Shutterstock.