If you spend much time following lingerie brands or blogs on any social media account, then you will have noticed the creeping of negative and hateful comments by people both within and outside of the lingerie community. It seems that pictures of women in their underwear bring out the worst in some people.
I think understanding human behaviour is the first step to changing negative interactions over lingerie into a learning space for all involved. Below, I explain some of the primary reasons some people hate women wearing lingerie and a few ways we can help change those views.
Cognitive dissonance occurs when we hold inconsistent and often competing beliefs, thoughts, etc. It can also be used to describe situations in which our actions are non-congruent with our belief system(s). I see this play out in conversations on social media in relation to the body positive movement.
There are people who hold competing sets of beliefs: a) that everyone no matter what size should love their body and b) that skinnier is healthier and thus more desirable. You see this conflict rear its ugly head when plus-size women model lingerie. Check out this comment on Hopeless Lingerie’s Instagram image:
The commenter is experiencing cognitive dissonance: she does “want people to love themselves” but at the same time thinks “it’s misguided to pretend obesity is harmless”. Those ideas compete because loving yourself is accepting your state of being and that does not mesh well with ‘obesity is harmful’, as people are expected to reduce harm i.e. lose weight. These comments are often seen as fat shaming or hateful.
Self-worth plays an important role in how we treat ourselves and how we treat others. Those with low levels of self-esteem will often lash out or tear someone else down as a way to build themselves up.
This ties in very closely with feelings of jealousy. Jealousy is, in many ways, a product of low self-esteem. We might see someone modelling lingerie and think she is white, skinny, has great cleavage, beautiful hair, etc.: we think she is beautiful. We do not have those features and we want them too.
These are two of the main driving forces behind marketing mainstream lingerie: you are not supposed to see yourself reflected in the lingerie model but rather see her as an ideal. Feeling inadequate and desiring to be like her, you buy the lingerie – you buy the dream.
The problem is: you keep buying a dream and no matter how many sets of lingerie you purchase, you will never get that ‘perfect body’. Many women will hate their own bodies for not being perfect, hate the company for making them feel inadequate, and hate on other women’s bodies that are closer to that so called perfection.
Inequality & Injustice
Privilege is when you have something that others don’t and it helps you get ahead in life whether you realise it or not. For example, white skin is a privilege. Natural beauty is a privilege. Being thin is a privilege. Having disposable income is a privilege. People will regularly treat you better if you are white, pretty, rich and thin than if you are black, average, poor and plus-size.
This experience is felt from the quality of customer service provided by brick-and-mortar lingerie stores to the availability of lingerie for your specific size, shape, budget, race, etc. For example, medium+ women are rarely ‘sample size’ so pretty much all sample sales exclude anyone not thin. Until Nubian Skin, there were very few nude bra options for women of colour but a myriad for white women.
Recently, I was asked about 32H androgynous bras and – after hours of searching – tossed my hands in the air and told the girl “sorry, there are none.” Even when there are items available for more marginalised groups, these items may be too expensive – creating an interesting combination of emotions including guilt, frustration, anger and embarrassment.
Inequality and injustice rears its head in different ways. For women who take lingerie selfies, you may never see your picture shared by the brand if you fall outside the ‘white, thin, young’ trope – say, if you are woman of colour, plus-size, transgender, old, disabled, etc. Yet, these same companies will happily share pictures of others.
This is further indicative of the disproportionate representation currently prevalent in lingerie ads, in models, in social media, and in lingerie blogging itself. Your average model is thin, white, and tall. There are substantially more upper-middle class, white, thin women writing lingerie reviews than there are any other race or size (though full-bust blogging is substantially growing). It is understandable that people get angry when they are never represented by a market they continually sink money into.
We don’t often think of bullying in relation to lingerie but it happens. A lot. Recently a lovely blogger I know had the following comments left on her Instagram by someone else in the lingerie community who worked for a big brand:
That, my friends, is bullying. That is being mean and saying nasty things without any provocation to do so. I do not know this individual’s reason for being a bully; however, bullying is often a battle for power. People who have little to no power in their personal lives try to reclaim power through bullying others.
Power dynamics revolve around control: a person lacks, or feels as if they lack, the ability to control their own life and so they try to exert control over other people’s lives. Insults, personal attacks, hate speech, intimidation and threats are all bids for power: the power to make the other person feel bad.
Lingerie tends to be an easy target: for most women it is deeply personal and ties into self-image.
Reaffirmation & Protection of Values
When people feel their values / rights / privileges / comfort levels are being attacked, threatened or challenged they often lash out as a defence mechanism. Lingerie bloggers are often targets of ‘hate mail’ or derogatory comments, especially when taking pictures of yourself in lingerie does not adhere to societal standards for modesty or societal understandings of lingerie as inherently sexual.
People lash out at women with lingerie selfies calling them sluts or attention whores. In doing so they are attempting to rationalise their own beliefs about values (modesty) and force ‘deviants’ to adhere to their personal values through social pressure.
People who write articles like this fail to notice the double standard; they have no problem with professional models posing in revealing and sexy lingerie but they have a problem with non-professional women posing in the same lingerie. Oddly, the women for whom this lingerie is meant for are ridiculed and demeaned.
The reaffirmation and protection of values, thoughts, beliefs, etc. all stem from one place: fear. We fear change and we fear that which is different. The way we are raised is often the only way we see the world. Some people’s views are challenged by a voluptuous woman wearing a bikini and their response can vary from just ignoring her to verbal or physical harassment.
There are other reasons that people hate on the internet. There is a gap between actions and consequences, which results in people being able to say anything and suffer minor to no repercussions. Other people truly are mean – they like to hurt people because they get some form of emotional or psychological reward from it. Frankly, any one of the issues I’ve just raised could truly be explored in much more depth.
What Can We Do?
When I talk about negativity, I always want to balance that out with something positive. So, what can we do about all this negativity in the lingerie industry?
Understanding why someone is negative or speaking hatefully can go a long way towards creating a reconciliatory environment. Rather than reading just what people say, try to see beyond their words to the emotions and societal contributions leading into those negative and hateful attitudes.
I am reminded of when Nubian Skin first started out; there were a lot of negative comments. Women of colour had been without nude bras for so long and now and, whilst they were finally getting nude bras, the size range was limited and many women outside the range lashed out in frustration. Nubian Skin reached out to them with a survey for which bra sizes outside their initial release were in demand with the promise of further size expansion in the future.
Similarly, Chrysalis Lingerie received enormous backlash from the trans community because they did not feel represented. While many reactions were rather harsh, Chrysalis reached out to the trans community to better understand what fuelled this negativity so they could serve the community better.
Take small moments to educate those who are angry or hateful. It may be that their comfort zone is challenged by your bra showing or that harness you are wearing. A simple explanation and/or example will do far more to expand their comfort zone than a harsh word.
It can be really hard to hold your tongue when someone perhaps thinks that you’re asking for sexual advances because of your lingerie choices, but you can explain why lingerie is not inherently sexual and, in the end, may have broadened their mind rather than reinforced its closure.
The worst thing you can do is fight hate with hate – it just results in more hate. Never make personal attacks even if the person is attacking you or someone you care about. It may be they have low self-esteem and your response, however merited, will simply reinforce their poor self-image and thus their behaviour. A logical argument supporting your position will do more to further your argument than yelling, screaming and cursing someone out for being narrow-minded.
The simple act of acknowledging that we do not all start from the same place in life and that, despite hard work, some people will simply never be given the opportunities others have goes a long way in repairing inequality and injustice.
Acknowledge your own privilege and find ways to help others who do not have the same privileges in life. Fight for equal representation (modelling, blogging, advertisements), equal access (darker nude lingerie, androgynous styles, affordable options), and equal opportunities within the lingerie industry.
Do you have any suggestions for how to combat negativity in the lingerie world?