Rhea is on vacation this week. This column originally ran in December 2010.

Are my eyes deceiving me or are girdles making a comeback? Somewhere in the not too distant past I remember seeing mention of “body shapers.” I didn’t really pay much attention then, but when something called a “tummy trimmer” popped up uninvited on my computer screen yesterday I finally sat up and took notice.

“Good grief,” I thought, “how can this be? Are the bad old days of squashing and squeezing trying to return, albeit under euphemistic new names?”

I realize that some of you out there may be too young to remember when girdles were de rigueur instruments of torture almost universally worn by women of all ages, sizes and shapes. If memory serves me right, they were also referred to as “foundation garments,” no doubt because they had about as much give to them as the concrete foundations found under most houses.

They came in a few basic styles. There were heavy duty commercial strength woven elastic ones, with or without “stays” (flexible metal rods guaranteed to keep the fat in line and poke you in tender places if you moved wrong), or with panels of thick fabric strategically placed over the tummy for added control. You could get them in tubular form that came to the waist, a bit above the waist (and guaranteed to roll uncomfortably), or with a built-in bra that came up to cleavage level. There were also panty girdles that went on like underwear, but with much more pulling and tugging. All had garters hanging from their lower edges with which to anchor your stockings in those pre-pantyhose days of old.

Then you had your solid rubber Playtex models with vent holes in them.

Scuttlebutt had it that if one of the Playtex ones ever developed a nick or tear you’d better jump clear if you were anywhere in the area because under all the stretch and pressure, once they started to let go it was like a giant rubber band snapping. This is all hearsay, mind you. I never wore one, nor had I ever had one rupture in my presence, but hey, girls talk – you hear things.

Whatever the make, model, size, or style, however, they made bending over a breathless and uncomfortable experience, always supposing you were able to bend at all. They also made the skin under them itch and sweat. Delicacy prevents me from going into further details, like the contortions they necessitated when nature called, as nature occasionally must.

I can remember as a young child, watching my mother scratching with both hands like a thing demented, a look of sheer relief on her face when the girdle finally came off at the end of the day. I wondered even then why people wore them.

There was also the fact that back then, when I reached young womanhood, I was really thin. I weighed under 100 pounds and would probably have needed suspenders to hold a girdle up had I elected to wear one. But a neighbor strongly advised that I wear one anyway.

“Women need them to hold their insides in place,” I was told.

Say what?!

With my overactive imagination I could just picture the dire consequences if such a thing were true. Don’t wear a girdle and all hell would break loose. Innards would become outards, tumbling in disarray, maybe even spilling out onto the floor, and wouldn’t you just be good and sorry then!

Long story short, I took my chances. I opted for comfort, let my “insides” take care of themselves, and lived to tell the tale.

Rhea Bouchard Powers is a writer from Cumberland.

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