The other night, actress/comedian Tina Fey stripped down to her underwear on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Ostensibly, it was to “honor” the talk show host ahead of his imminent retirement. But what Fey really did was show the whole world just what it takes for some women to wear a form-fitting dress and look good — or perhaps good enough to be on television — while doing it.
Thanks to Tina, the world now knows it takes two kinds of shapewear — both shaping shorts and an open-bust body suit — to smooth the lumps and bumps of the female body enough to be presentable. (Although, if Tina was also wearing a bra by a shapewear company like Spanx, that would make three kinds of shapewear.)
Strangely, most of the mainstream coverage of Tina’s performance doesn’t even mention how amazingly subversive it was:
“Tina Fey Strips Down to Her Spanx in Honor of David Letterman,” trumpeted ETonline.com.
“Tina Fey had a special surprise for David Letterman,” reported Zap2it.
“Ahead of the late-night-show host’s final show on May 20, Fey decided to literally give Letterman the clothes off her back,” said Business Insider.
I’m sorry, what? Those headlines all make it sound like the important/scandalous/funny takeaway from the other night is that Tina Fey was on TV in her underwear, whereas IMHO it’s the visual of what her underwear has to look like — of what she has to go through — in order for her to wear a contemporary, sexy dress that we should all be talking about.
Read about Sara Blakely (the founder of Spanx) on the company’s website, and you’ll be drawn into a story of “empowerment,” “problem-solving,” and helping women “find their potential.” And I guess shapewear is all those things in our current reality. But given Tina’s awesome new hashtag (#LastDressEver) and her on-camera, zealous vow to give up the “contraptions” needed under certain clothes, I’d argue they don’t make her feel giddy with power and fulfillment.
Does that mean the end of restrictive undergarments or dangerous waist training? Sadly, probably not. We’re just not there yet.
But that doesn’t make what Tina did any less radical, important, and awesome.
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Audrey D. Brashich is the author of All Made Up: A Girl’s Guide to Seeing Through Celebrity Hype and Celebrating Real Beauty. She writes regularly about trending pop culture issues for The Washington Post, Yahoo Parenting, and other national news outlets.