Cut The Leggings-Shaming, Already

by Brenda Pitt

Debbie Harry Sports Striped Leggings


We’ve all read or heard some variation on the “leggings are not pants” speech. And although everyone’s views on fashion are valid, a lot of the discourse surrounding leggings centers around subtle body-shaming. In well-meaning articles on clothing “dos” and “don’ts,” bloggers use language that can be harmful. Of the garment, one writes, “how to avoid the dreaded sausage-in-too-tight-casing look? Aim not to think of them as trousers. Which means never ever wearing with a short or tight fitting top and, unless you are at least 5ft 10” and “[some] versions [tend] to go baggy around the knees and the seat, two areas nobody needs any extra sag.” Other articles name names: “They even make beautiful actresses like Anne Hathaway look terrible.” One image broadcasted over the internet shows a woman wearing a pair of leggings that accidentally reveal her maxi pad; how cruel is that?!


I think she looks cozy and awesome!


Awesome blogger Kath of Fat Heffalump took issue with an article entitled “Leggings Are Not Pants and Other Values for Your Kids,” and although its author, Mia Freedman, has since explained that her leggings commentary was meant only as tongue-in-cheek humor, Kath does have valid points about the concerning ideas behind our culture’s obsession with judging leggings. 

First, she implies that our aversion to leggings stems from the troubling idea that less expensive clothing (like leggings) cannot be fashionable, that women who cannot afford more pricey garments are classless: “Leggings are often seen as ‘tarty’ or ‘cheap.’  This is about slut shaming, policing women’s sexuality and how they clothe their own bodies,” she writes. Think about it: how many times have you worried about the dreaded panty-line? Somehow sexuality and class always become involved in discourses on the stretchy garment. And that’s not okay.  


Um, I need these


The despicable People of Walmart, a website devoted to humiliating individuals who shop at the inexpensive store, features not only photographs of exposed thongs, naked buttocks, and soiled clothing, but also images of completely respectable looking women wearing leggings. Since when is a women wearing leggings the same as someone wearing only a thong and no pants?

Sizeism also plays a role in the way we think about leggings. Kath’s argument is convincing: “Leggings are stretchy and have lots of give to fit any body shape.  Short or long legs, high or low waisted, thick or thin legs, no matter what the shape or size of your legs, thighs, knees, feet, ankles etc – most people can get leggings to fit them.” Pictures of women of all sizes, intended to ridicule the female form, abound on social media, and a lot of them feature women in leggings. It doesn’t seem like a coincidence that one the most versatile and comfortable articles for women ends up facing so much of our society’s condemnation. 

Finally, Kath claims that ableism plays a role in legging-scolding: “Leggings are flexible to bodies.  If someone is in a wheelchair, on crutches or a scooter, or has a body shape outside the norm, or perhaps wears incontinence pants or other medical aids, leggings may fit those things better than pants made of heavier, more structured fabrics and designs.” 


Kath In An Adorable Pair Of Pink Leggings


I don’t like the way people throw the word “shame” around; it often degrades the power and importance of the serious idea. But after reading Kath’s work, I am confident that her use of the word is justified.  The problem isn’t “leggings-shaming;” it’s the deeply ingrained prejudices that, consciously or not, inspire people to judge women who sport them. Everyone is welcome to his or her own clothing preferences (I personally don’t like how socks look with flip flops), but the moment we allow the way we discuss fashion to pivot around ideas of class, size, or ability, we’re in trouble. 

What do you think? Is it a problem that people wear leggings as pants? Or is too much emphasis placed on the harmless garments?


Thanks to Fat Heffalump, Eco Salon, Buzzfeed, and Swap and Hop

Images via Eco Salon, Fat Heffalump, Buzzfeed

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