Delving Deep into VPL: Are We Crossing the Line?

Posted by Susannah on Mar 27, 2012 in Girlfriends, Men |

I will admit that a few years ago, I didn’t even know what a VPL was.  That’s when I heard two of my friends discussing the issue with the kind of seriousness reserved for topics like the national debt.  After that brief yet impressionable experience, it was all over for me.  Ignorance gone.    Naiveté shattered.  I was faced with the stark awareness that I had long overlooked the power of this small V-shaped indent.

I’ve been confused about it ever since.  Women really think about these things?  I soon had to admit there is a time and a place for everything.  And visible panty lines are no exception.  After all, there’s nothing like a well-coiffed woman dressed in a curve accentuating frock, with puckering lines on her tailend interrupting her sexy lines.

And there are times, particularly when I’ve got a little extra on my hips, that I’ll succumb to wearing pantyhose or other cellulite firming contraptions under a pair of dress pants.  It gets ‘em zippered and avoids the panty lines that seem to be sinking a little deeper into my padding that week.  I guess I’m avoiding SVPL—super visible panty lines perhaps?

My concern is the over-obsession with panty lines.  I was recently shopping with a friend, and she was buying ‘anal floss,’ as she calls it—to wear to the gym.  She literally has specific gym panties.  I thought about how uncomfortable and sweaty I am to begin with at the gym, hemmed in with a tight sports bra and trying to keep my new stylish half-bangs from dripping sweat into my eyes. Then I cringed at the thought of having a permanent thong weggie.

Who cares if I have a panty line at the gym?  I don’t have much make-up on, and I probably vaguely stink of the underside of the gym mat.  Is it actually possible that someone is looking at my backside?  In the off chance that some guy would check  me out under these less than ideal circumstances, might I venture to say that a panty line would hardly make a difference?

This begs the question, however, as to why we have to wear panties at all.  I can understand that with a pair of ‘dry clean only’ dress slacks, another layer between my nether regions and my lined wool pants is totally legitimate.  And definitely in a pair of jeans.  Imagine the chaffing.  But in a pair of Yoga pants?  I’m wearing them for three hours and then tossing them in the laundry anyway.  I’m trying to shed my stress and elevate myself to a higher level of being.  Maybe panties are what’s been hindering my success in reaching enlightenment?   I guess I’d also like to simply offer up the notion that VPL or not, perhaps it’s a bit redundant to have another sweaty layer between me and a breath of fresh air.

Of course, hot and sweaty or not, I still tend to fall on the side of the fence that fully endorses VPL at the gym, as it means that P’s are being worn.  This reminds me of the unfortunate view I had of the woman in front of me at the gym as we were doing quad stretches, derriere extended.  She had chosen to go commando, maybe concerned with VPL? Unfortunately, her pants had gone through a few too many washings and were wearing thin.  Sorry for that mental image, but in the interest of full disclosure, such a fashion faux pas must be acknowledged.  Heck, even with a pair of thong panties, this could be an issue.  Lesson here, gals?  Always check the fabric durability of your workout gear.  Just like changing the oil, be sure to check those pants every 3,000 miles.

I’ve done a little research on the source of VL, and after sorting through the unmentionable riff-raff that came up on my Google search, which would have made Mr. Klein blush, I found an interesting article which cited a book by John Esten called Unmentionables: A Brief History of Underwear.  In it, he claims that panties were developed, in part, “as a Victorian attempt to control and hide genitalia and physique.”  Hmm….

The difference between these Victorian ladies and us is, of course, that they didn’t have an issue with VPL, as most of their lines were well padded, pouffed, hemmed-in, and laced up.   But I’m not so hidden from view. Even modest clothing today leaves very little to the imagination.

The economics of this issue is a whole other side.  In an article printed in The Los Angeles Times several years ago– “The Road to Profit, Paved with Panties”– Leslie Ernest states that the intimate apparel niche is a $9.1 billion industry in America.   We’re spending a lot of money on something that few people see.  It reminds me of the LensCrafter commercial where the old couple is glasses shopping.  After she slips on a pair of glasses, the old woman’s husband is instantly transformed into a svelte, sexy young man.  The voiceover says, “Unless your glasses are this good, you’re paying too much.”  Can I be so bold as to offer the same premise up for panties?  I think we’re paying too much, buying into yet another beauty myth.  Unless it’s taking ten pounds off, we’re being duped.  I would never go so far as to say that there’s not a legitimate time and place for smokin’ knickers.  It just seems like, as a culture, we’ve bought into yet another advertising lie that a few flimsy pieces of nylon, cotton, or lace really do provide an edge.  Sexy skivvies can give change in attitude?  Perhaps.  And yes, sexy is how you feel, not necessarily just how you look.  If panties give you that edge, go for it.  But I’d have to return to my initial gripe—sexy is not the vibe I’m interested in giving off in my mid-morning Body Pump class with a bunch of stay-at-home moms, gay men, and aging mavens.

When I brought this topic up to my trusty bus stop council of moms, there was no consensus.  Some women were legitimately concerned with VPL, and also VBL.  Yes, yet another line to worry about.  Interestingly, in our age group (well over 30), the greater concern was the back-fat induced bra lines (VBL).

I realized it was time to poll the guys. Did they notice VBL, VPL?  Did they care?  One woman went as far as to contend that our concern about VPL is just another example of “Girl on Girl Violence.”  That got me thinking.  Is our obsession with panty lines really just another way that we are undermining each other as women, fearing catty comments and less-than-approving glances at girls’ night?

My next panel included a group of professional men over, well, 40.  Maybe not exactly men on the prowl, but all my girlfriends are married to men no longer in their twenties.  (My other issue with twenty-something’s is that it’s a tough topic to casually drop into conversation with young men—I thought of asking the ruggedly handsome young barista at Starbucks this morning, and it crossed my mind as I was walking the kids to the bus stop and a lawyer-type twenty-something smelling of aftershave wafted past me on his way to the metro.   I’m sure my husband is relieved to know that I held my tongue in both cases.)  So in the interest of what little modesty I can say I have, I hired my friends to bring  the topic up with their husbands.

To our surprise, we found men do, in fact, notice panty lines.  And to them, it’s generally not a value-add for the whole image.  The consensus was that it was all about context.  In the work place and at the gym, it was generally not an issue. These nice men asserted convincingly that they were not really thinking along those lines in either place.   But these happily married men did say that a VPL on a woman in a more sexually charged environment, like a bar, club, or party, was definitely a negative distraction.  They went so far as to say that a VPL on well-dressed woman could over-ride the whole picture.  When we dug a little deeper with these guys, they asserted that VPLs are often correlated with other problems, such as an outfit that fits poorly, inferior fashion judgment, and even hint at a less than classy or even a ‘trashy’ stereotype.  They suggested that a woman who shows her lines is often missing the boat in other areas, too.  They read all this in a VPL? And they think we over-analyze….

Alas, we’re back to my original assertion that there is a time and a place to worry about the VPL.   But I’ll have to retreat on the suggestion that it’s another example of women setting an unrealistically high standard for other women.  If the guys I talked to admit to noticing, then it’s clearly not gender self-imposed.  Although we then have to ask if a married woman needs to worry about looking attractive to a man who is not her husband.  I’ll save that for another blog. Perhaps on Burkas.

So today, in the interest of research,  I’m game for the challenge.   I’m heading out to the gym, panty-free.  I’ve checked the durability and opaqueness of my pants, and I’m ready to buck the system.  I’m saying “no” to the lingering Victorian underpinnings still latent in our society and the rampant commercialism that’s feeding the fire.  And I’m saying ‘yes’ to anyone who happens to be checking me out from behind.  So if you are among the mid-morning crowd at the Ballston Gold’s, please don’t hesitate to notice.  You’ll see I’m ‘line-free.’


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