Free buffing, going commando and riding au naturelle are all ways to describe something I am, as I write, currently doing. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but two years ago I made the decision to stop wearing underwear entirely. Although I’m fairly certain John Green was talking about the throes of falling in teenage lust when he said “It happens slowly then all at once” that quote neatly describes my abandonment of briefs. I went for the mother of all phase outs over the course of about a year, and haven’t really looked back. Seemingly innocuous at the time, there have been several invisible steps guiding me to this pantless place I now rest my hat.
Let’s start with the practical inconvenience. On average, I’d spend approximately 90 seconds a day scrabbling around in a drawer trying to find ones that were comfortable, an acceptable level of nice and not VPL inducing. Multiply that with all the days in my adult life and that’s a lot of 90 seconds, and actually is just quite fucking boring. So I stopped. Intellectualising this apparently accidental decision is surprisingly easy. There’s a large volume of issues that go hand in hand with wearing underwear that, until now, I didn’t realise really get on my wick.
A phrase that’s seemingly synonymous with mums ‘wear matching underwear in case you’re hit by a bus’…or something. There’s obviously a lot to unpick there, but let’s start with addressing the fact that in the event that I’ve been ploughed over in a potentially fatal road accident, the last thing on my mind will be “Oh lordy I hope they think I’ve got my life together enough to match the colour of my bra to my knickers. Please save me from dying?” It’s also wildly unfair to assume that the good folk of our emergency services will in actual fact be rotten perverts dying to see what little number I’ve slipped into underneath my engine charred clothes. I can’t imagine that whilst a stranger resets my tibia and simultaneously hoists me onto a gurney my overriding thought will be “I hope he’s noticed my thong.” I remember when I first heard someone say it, and that instilled in me this idea that the purpose of what you put on your body is to impress others. That if you were going to be maimed, you might as well use the opportunity to knock people sideways with your sex appeal.
It’s like that part in 10 Things I Hate About You, where Bianca finds some black underwear in her big sister Kat’s room. This apparently is a clear indicator that Cat is sexually active because ‘you only wear black underwear when you want someone to see it.’ Kat Stratford was one of my teenage heroines and I deeply resent the thought of her dressing for the male gaze. She just wouldn’t, she shunned popularity for a life of angst and listening to The Raincoats. It’s a blemish on what is arguably the best romantic comedy of the era.
I remember watching America’s Next Top Model years ago, and they’d just stepped into the room of doom where one girl would be eliminated, and would have to go back to their home town which the producers had invariably depicted like the village from Little House On The Prairie. In this episode, for reasons unknown, Tyra Banks has projected a life size portrait of herself in gold bejewelled underwear. The contestants are suitably impressed. One girl seamlessly transitions into super fan girl status by asking “How the hell did you get so in shape gurrlll?” Tyra is pleased, armed and ready with an explanation. Apparently the muddy secret is that all you have to do to look so smoking hot is wear underwear that is a size too small and somehow your body looks….thinner? “Just buy underwear a size lower than normal and boom, you’ve dropped 10 pounds!” And with that pearl of wisdom she’s single-handedly blown the roof clean off the entire health and fitness industry. I always remember her saying that, and it’s become more important as my life has morphed into being one that is entirely sans underwear.
There’s something that doesn’t sit well with me about the idea that pieces of material can affect how we see our body so much to the point that they can help us delude ourselves about how in shape we are. Tyra Banks looks in impeccable shape in that photo because she is in impeccable shape. At this point I think its best to just be honest about it, and start questioning why I was even considering placing any of my self-esteem in inanimate pieces of material. The union of profit and confidence is uncomfortable, and considering the global lingerie industry is valued at $28 billion, it’s safe to say this dynamic is working for some. But where does that dynamic end? Cutting out the middle man, and just paying someone to tell you how hot you look on a loop until one of you dies?
Whilst tiny-underwear-Tyra-gate has lingered in my mind, there are countless films in which female underwear is used pretty divisively as well. Bridget Jones for example – that scene resonates with so many women because its either actually happened to them or at least it’s their own worst nightmare. There’s something annoying about one of the first films I saw that showed a woman wearing relatively normal underwear portraying it like one’s own personal mortification’s magnum opus. Hugh Grant even says “I’m sorry, I have to have another look” in a weird hybrid of glee and horror, as if despite the fact he’s desperate to bonk Bridge the prospect of her wearing something for comfort and practicality has blown his mind and simply cannot be ignored. The irony is that she was wearing those massive pants to shrink and flatten her body into her “silly little dress” to actually impress Hugh, and then he chivalrously points and laughs. I take umbrage with comfort and self-consciousness being a source of ridicule.
Compare that to the counterpart humorous male underwear scene, Tom Cruise in Risky Business and the impression left of the character is somewhat different. Bridget’s scene plays into the narrative of her feeling fat, not good enough and constantly making a fool of herself. Whereas Cruise, whilst albeit looks ridiculous, is in control of the joke, and it is very much with, not at, that we are laughing.
There are too many gratuitous female underwear scenes in both TV and films to comprehend, but something in the (slightly dubiously plotted) 1958 science fiction film Attack Of The 50 Foot Woman has always stood out to me. If you haven’t seen it, the somewhat on the nose title should give you some pointers. So sure, the release date sits in a facet of time when gender equality was famously a little bit murky, but there’s one thing (bar the glaringly obvious) that’s never made sense. Why is it that when Nancy swells up to a 50ft sexy giant is she wearing nothing but her bloody underwear? She’s meant to be seeking revenge on her money grabbing husband and all the haters and doubters who said she hadn’t met an alien (I’ll repeat: dubiously plotted). This is about retribution and reprisal, not giving the town folk a glimpse of her now monstrously big breasts and bum cheeks. Surely if her original normal woman sized clothes had ripped in her paranormal growth spurt, the underwear would also be fired clean off by the sheer force of her huge derriere? It’s just not realistic and Nathan Hertz has a lot to answer for. He’s directed a film that will have frankly misled teenage science nerds on how dressed (or undressed) female giants will be, and they’re all in for a barrel load of disappointment when the revolution strikes. It’s important to note, however, that in some ways the film is hailed as the B-movie embodiment of girl power – Catherine Mayer (a co-founding member of the WEP) has just released a book of the same title, hailing the giantess as a symbol of strength, which she is. I just believe there’s more practical things to wear whilst smashing up your marital home.
I’m not saying there is some sort of non-underwear wearing scene, but the examples above, plus many, many more have lead me to believe that maybe my decision to enrol in commando living wasn’t all that subconscious. And if there is a scene (there definitely isn’t) it’s not for me. To quote Annie Dillard, how we spend our days is how we spend our lives and I really don’t know if I’ll be happy with a significant portion of my life being tossed away to the thankless tasks of underwear searching, and pretending to like something that I don’t.
Whilst it started as a time saving decision of convenience, it’s come to signify a whole lot more than removing the elasticated thorn in my side. It’s me eradicating a societal norm that actually doesn’t really feel normal to me. This isn’t a wake up sheeple moment, I’m not suggesting there is a global conspiracy to keep us all shackled in underwear, destined for a life of controlled and dutiful pant wearing. I’m just suggesting that it isn’t necessary, and that choosing not to is nothing to be embarrassed about either. Wear underwear, don’t wear underwear, either is fine.
But I’ll be over here livin’ da vida loca at the no pants party and everyone is welcome to join.
Written by Ianthe Jacob