I come from zaftig Eastern European stock, petite women with clearly defined waists, rounded bottoms, ample bosoms and prominent hips that look best with a child's legs wrapped around them like a sash. Often, women like us, women who sashay when they walk and whose décolletage unintentionally escapes from blouses, have fleshy thighs too. It comes with the package. Take my mother. Here and there on her otherwise slender frame are fat deposits that bulge like the cheeks of a rodent hoarding food for winter. While breasts and bottoms are supposed to be round and squeezable, the only thighs I've ever coveted are sleek, muscular and smooth. And while hips, breasts, bottoms and waists are all tacitly erotic, marbly thighs just aren't sexy, no matter how many "Love Your Body" workshops you attend.
So while I am not exactly at peace with my lower half, I do try to be comfortable -- if not in my own skin, then in the clothing and fabrics that I choose to wear. That's where Chafe Protectors come in.
I discovered them (well, actually a friend and I coined the term) a few years ago when I was working in a conservative Washington office. I walked two miles to and from work every day, and before leaving the house, I would put biking shorts on under my dress for the trek. With my stomach, butt and thighs tucked in neatly and comfortably, I was on my way. No chafing, no irritating red skin rash. And the added bonus: no jiggle. Unlike oppressive control-top stockings, my Lycra shorts kept me cool through the nauseatingly sticky Washington summers. I kept my flesh collected without having to suffocate my entire leg in hose. I decreed my shorts my Chafe Protectors, since that's exactly what they were. Pretty soon I stopped taking them off when I got to the office. Some women get a thrill from wearing lacy, barely there underwear (or nothing at all) underneath their power suits. Me, I felt subversive in black Champion biker shorts.
When I told my mother about my discovery, she said, "Oh, so you're essentially wearing a girdle." A girdle? No no no no no. I wasn't a girdle wearer. I was too sporty, too modern, too cool. I was not reverting back to the oppressive fashions of yesteryear. I was not strapping myself into a veritable harness. My thighs weren't silenced, they could speak! My Chafe Protectors were liberating. They freed me from a lifelong bodily irritation.
When my biker shorts started getting gnarly I went to the lingerie department at Bloomingdale's to investigate the more official, uh, chafe protector offerings. And in fact there were dozens to choose from. They came in staple lingerie colors -- beige, white and black -- and had names like "Body Hugger" and "Second Skin" and "Slenderizer." (Not "girdle," mind you -- never "girdle"! "Body Hugger" has a nice ring to it. Almost as good as "Chafe Protector.") I liked these fancier versions, the ones made of nylon with a dash of Lycra. They felt like a cross between a slip and a wet suit. I tried on a black pair and stared at myself in a three-way mirror. My ripples were smoothed, my silhouette sleek. Who cared if I looked as if I had waded into an oil slick?
Which brings me to the caveat about Chafe Protectors. They're not pretty. Not even close. While I could write jingles about their utility and body image-enhancing potential, let's just say you should only wear your Protectors in front of those whose opinion of your body you truly don't care about. There is nothing elegant about a pear-shaped lower half squeezed into an elastic vice.
A few of my friends have been utterly horrified when I've lifted my dress to show them my Protectors. "You look like you're 75 years old and living in the old country," one said. "You might as well wrap Saran Wrap around your ass," said another. But a couple of them -- those who understand the sensation of cottage cheese flesh clashing together like cymbals -- have been converted.
One of those converts is my voluptuous friend Becca. She's decided to go to Prague as a courier at the end of the summer, one of those deals where you get free air fare in exchange for delivering an overseas parcel. The catch is you can't bring any luggage, only a carry-on bag. When I asked her how she planned to clothe herself for three weeks with the contents of one backpack, her reply was matter-of-fact and delivered in a tone that said, Duh. "I'm bringing two flowy dresses and four pairs of Chafe Protectors."