From poking wires to digging shoulder straps, to the flurry of tags in the middle of our backs, bras can be really annoying. Even when they fit perfectly, a garment designed to hold one's boobs aloft just isn't designed to be comfortable. After all, those babies were designed to hang down. So, for decades women have told menfolk how lucky they are that nobody asks them to wear anything so binding.
Well, that has all changed with the advent of the pec enhancing Funkybod undershirt, which is designed to give men the appearance of well-defined pecs - without all those pesky upper body workouts. Beyond the fact that men are apparently as invested in their looks as women are (Funkybod costs $50), the product also begs a few more questions. Is this a step forward for fashion? A step backward for body acceptance? Or is men's "shapewear" just another brilliant scheme by the fashion industry to prey on men's insecurities as well as they do women?
There's a classic "Seinfeld" episode where George's father and Cosmo Kramer decide to get into the men's support-garment game. The deal eventually falls apart due to a bitter feud over whether the product should be called a "Bro" or a "Mansierre." It's been almost 20 years since the episode aired, and I still can't decide which is the better name. But apparently, a few companies have decided it's a good business venture.
As it turns out, men have the same doubts women have about their bodies, and they have them about the same body parts - just under different names. "Boobs" become "pecs," while "butts" become "glutes" and the "tummy" becomes the "abs." Of course, this also subtly reinforces the idea that women's and men's bodies are deigned to live under entirely different standards. The latest in men's undergarments is touted as a shape-improving confidence builder that compresses "unsightly" man-boobs into a more muscular appearance. Put another shirt over it, and voila: A guy's perceived shortcomings are hidden from view. The undershirts are designed to be very snug, and to create what they call "a natural looking enhancement" when worn under other clothing. I imagine that can get warm, and Funkybod undershirts don't appear to come in sleeveless styles. Is there a male equivalent of a dress shield?
Pecs aren't the only so-called "problem areas" clothing designers are aiming to fix. Spanx-inspired garments like waist-cinching briefs and ab-compressing tank tops are available for men who worry about their bellies enough to spend $74 on a single pair of boxer shorts. Padded underwear appears to be all the rage with men's shapewear enthusiasts, and may even feature removable pads for shapelier derrières and more impressive bulges. Deluxe undies from - and I'm not making this up - Bubbles Bodywear offer a little more variety. With different sizes of insertable pads, men can now shape their behinds to their preferred level of roundness, and walk around with a package that's just large enough to seem remarkable without going for the full John Hamm.
Me? I'm a fan of giving cute butts a playful slap on occasion, so I think a butt should feel like a butt, and not a Nerf ball. The same goes for pecs. And boobs for that matter. Most importantly, what happens when it's time for all that padding to come off?