Dear Mr. Smith: What do you think of guys wearing body-shaping underwear?
The idea behind slimming or otherwise enhancing undergarments is that they are invisible and no one will ever know about them. So why would I think anything of them? They can be your secret.
I suppose there is a conservative view that men should be above vanity or never resort to deceit - after all, if you use your artificially modified shape to seduce a romantic partner, you will at a certain point be forced to shed your attractive shell and your real body may disappoint. You may even be accused of false advertising.
But there are other reasons to look svelte besides seduction. It might just make you feel better about making a public speech. And there is a long history of men in the politest of society using all kinds of padding and constraints, from stuffed codpieces during the Renaissance to false calf muscles in the Augustan age to whalebone corsets in the Victorian, to obtain an ideal form. And these were the most conservative of men. It is not surprising, in an age when we seem to be always on video somewhere, that an insecurity about our bodies is making a comeback.
The most powerful player to try to create a new market here is Spanx, the company best known for making women's "compression garments." It has just launched Spanx For Men, a line of very constricting undershirts designed to push in your pot belly. They are about $60 each and can be bought online at www.spanx.com. They're not selling butt-lifting underpants just yet, but those are surely around the corner. (I once tried a brand of padded-butt underwear, designed to give you a more prominent posterior, and I found they made all my trousers too tight and felt like giant diapers.) Indeed, another company, Australia's Equmen (www.equmen.com), isn't only selling similarly shaping undershirts, but a line of underpants said to be "streamlining and defining." And their spokesperson is a genuine jock - a punter for the Washington Redskins.
These companies are still insisting that they're selling athletic wear, claiming men will use the slimming tees to provide back support as well as hide a gut. But if you're not afraid of calling a corset a corset, you can find all sorts of hardcore super-restraining girdles for guys online. Look, for example, for the Underworks line, available at the Canadian site www.mensgirdlestore.com.
I suspect that these clothes will gain in popularity. And there is nothing morally wrong with altering your appearance. The only disadvantage to corsetry is discomfort. But then working out is uncomfortable, too.
Russell Smith's new novel, Girl Crazy, was recently released.