Ten days ago, Lizzo wore a thong to a basketball game. She was sitting courtside as the Lakers played the Timberwolves and her song “Juice” started to play on the stadium’s sound system. So, as Lizzo does, she got up from her seat, turned around, bent over and twerked, revealing a cutout in the back of her t-shirt dress that showed off her underwear. The crowd cheered, but when Barstool Sports tweeted a clip of the momentary dance party, it sparked a backlash. One person wrote: “Not too many people want to see a fat women [sic] let alone a fat women [sic] in a thong. That’s not body shaming, that’s just biology.” Many more comments debated the appropriateness of Lizzo’s attire in front of children, whether or not it mattered considering that cheerleaders wear next to nothing at sporting events, and so on and so forth.
Her response? “Who I am and the essence of me and the things I choose to do as a grown-ass woman can inspire you to do the same.” This isn’t the first time Lizzo hasn’t caused online debate surrounding the body shaming of women and it certainly won’t be the last. But in a forward-thinking light, Lizzo’s thong reveal, and her sex- and body-positivity, represents a cultural shift that, at the close of the decade, one can only hope will continue to have forward momentum in 2020.
Over the last year, we’ve seen big advances made in the lingerie business—not just in the ways women are buying, but in the kinds on styles on offer. There is still a long way to go, but several benchmark moments have repositioned the underwear conversation. Take, for example, Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty show, which was filmed for Amazon video back in September. The collection was modeled by women of all races, shapes, sizes, and by those with disabilities, too. They catwalked and crawled and strutted around the stage, reveling in their differences. This is lingerie made by a woman for women. If it attracts the male gaze that’s great, but it’s no longer the main point. We also saw the release of Hustlers, a movie about strippers who form a sisterhood and steal from (rich) men who more or less deserve it.
Most significantly, Victoria’s Secret announced that it would cancel its 2019 holiday fashion show, the one that for two decades, millions tuned into and watched as if it were the Super Bowl. Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands explained that it wanted to “evolve the marketing” of the label, which is no surprise considering how much negative press it received when then-marketing chief Ed Razek told Vogue that trans models didn’t quite fit into the VS mold. In the interim, the VS name and branding has been overshadowed by intimates game-changers. According to Lyst, there’s been a 39% rise in searches for “diverse” underwear brands this year, with Savage x Fenty leading the charge. The searches for bodysuits have increased as well, by around 42% year-over-year. Kim Kardashian West’s new shapewear label Skims tends to sell out with every drop, all while championing diverse sizing and different skin tones and the idea that Skims is meant to enhance, not constrict the body.
“We really are seeing a lot of women creating intimates brands for women,” says Shira Wheeler, co-founder of the organic, health-focused underwear startup Oddobody. Her business partner Abigail Gerow adds, “maybe this shouldn’t feel revolutionary, but it does to us. It feels like there’s a new focus on shape, color, form, and simplicity. Basically, fewer bells and whistles! Women are looking for functional basics that are also flattering.” That doesn’t mean the new lingerie is sexless. Wheeler and Gerow have taken notice of the recent runway trend, where underwear is more “exoskeleton,” or worn on the outside, whether it’s a bra top or a slinky lace slip dress. “We think it’s all about feeling embodied,” Gerow says. “And with everything that’s happened since 2016, like #MeToo and Trump, women feel like warriors. We’re opening up about the things that were once taboo: sex, motherhood, coming of age, sexual assault. There’s power in that.”
Heidi Zak, co-founder and co-CEO of Thirdlove, a major Victoria’s Secret competitor, agrees. “Over the last year, women have started buying bras and underwear for themselves because they believe that they deserve to feel comfortable and beautiful,” she says. “For too long women have been told what is sexy by bra and underwear companies that depict a single type of sexy, often from the male perspective.” Zak believes these empowering attitudes will continue to grow. “I don’t think inclusivity is a trend, it’s a movement that is here to stay.” She adds, “women are no longer interested in being sold an unrealistic and unattainable body image and are pushing for representation. Women deserve to see themselves reflected in the images they see all around them, they deserve to be represented in the brands they support.”
In 2020, let’s build women up with the messaging behind these brands, even if that means they decide to strip themselves bare for all the world to see.