My Struggles with Lycra
by Lucy E.M. Black
Although I consider myself a fairly accepting person, my views on the wearing of Lycra are perhaps best reflected in the following statement: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”
I confess to muttering this under my breath, hopefully not audibly, when viewing (or having imposed upon my view) middle-aged men in black Lycra bicycle shorts and women “of a certain age” in black Lycra leggings. There are very few people, in my opinion, who ought to be wearing Lycra outside of the privacy of their homes or gyms. Now I admit to owning and wearing Lycra workout gear, and I’m pretty confident that it looks as bad on me as it does on many other people. But I only wear it in the gym—not while lunching with friends or shopping or attending social engagements. I confine the apparel to designated and purposeful places. And please believe me when I say that it’s not some Victorian sensibility that so directs me, but rather a more delicate objection: I just don’t want to see the outline of people’s personal bits while enjoying a latte on a café patio.
What I find interesting is how much Lycra has become a part of our everyday lives. In the mid-eighties, manufacturers started adding Lycra to pantyhose and tights. “Control top” pantyhose, in particular, promised to smooth our bulges and hide panty lines. Generations of women struggled to squeeze themselves into these stretchy engineering marvels with the belief that our anguish and suffering would be rewarded by smoother tummies and bottoms. Many of us will remember the particular torment of sitting down in those things, attempting to breath normally, when all of a sudden the Lycra (with a mind of its own) decided to roll itself down, binding us with an ever-tightening grip until we politely excused ourselves to find a ladies room in order to yank the stuff back into position. Woe to those who yanked too hard however, because a slip of a finger could easily poke through the nylon, causing huge holes, which spread rapidly across the garment and created a series of spidery runners down the leg. If, as I admit to trying, you bought them a size too large in order to minimize the binding affliction, you were treated to a particular Hell, which was walking around all day with the Lycra crotch hanging down and chaffing your thighs.
The Lycra built into today’s bras is another source of ongoing difficulty. The shelf life of a bra is intended to be less than six months. (No kidding!) Manufacturers believe that, with regular wear and laundering after every use, the elastic that contains the dreaded Lycra will become sloppy and fail in its main objective, which is, to use an older expression, to “lift and separate.” I personally like my bras at the six-month point, because it is only then that they finally begin to feel like an almost-comfortable piece of apparel. But, like a well-trained consumer, every six months, I regularly purchase new bras. However, as the development of science and technology has continued to march inexorably forward, I swear the Lycra has become tougher and more resistant to stretching.
When I buy exactly the same size bra, in exactly the same model that I have worn for several years, I can’t get the flipping thing done up until I have run it through the laundry and given it the “encyclopaedia treatment.” This involves a lot of washing and the repurposing of those encyclopaedias left over from childhood. The bra comes out of its package and is thrown into the wash cycle for at least a week—washing it every time you run a load. Then, while trying to ignore the ridiculous price paid for the item, it is strapped around the back of a chair, with the hooks and closures facing the seat. Every couple of days, first one, then another, and then a third volume of the encyclopaedia is placed on the seat inside the bra, forcing it to be stretched slightly. In my case, and . . . ahem . . . for my size, I have found that three volumes and two weeks of treatment gives me the desired effect. Again, you might wonder, why not simply order a larger size? Because, once you’ve worn a larger-size bra for a couple of weeks (after you actually manage to get it on) and washed it ten or twelve times, it becomes so sloppy that it needs replacing before the six-month mark.
In the final analysis, as I have “matured.” I find Lycra to be very much like so many other things in life that I have had to learn to be realistic about. Despite its wonderful properties, its benefits are really only short-lived and come with side-effects. And, I might add, Lycra should come with warning labels for bras and other undergarments: “CAUTION. Use at your own risk. May cause shortness of breath or strangulation.” For externally worn products like yoga pants and bicycle shorts: “CAUTION. Please check mirror. Are you sure about this?”
Photo by Tony Woodhead (UK).
Lucy E.M. Black is the author of The Marzipan Fruit Basket, a collection of short stories (Inanna Publications) and Eleanor Courtown, a work of historical fiction (Seraphim Editions). Her award-winning short stories have been published in Britain, Ireland, the US, and Canada in literary journals and magazines. She is a dynamic workshop presenter, experienced interviewer and freelance writer. She lives with her partner in a small lakeside town north-east of Toronto. Her new novel, Stella’s Carpet (Now or Never Publishing), will be released in October 2021.