The untold truth of Spanx

Sara Blakely may not have invented shapewear (women have been using corsets to manipulate the way they look for hundreds of years before Spanx came along) — but Blakely and Spanx made it okay to acknowledge that corsets and girdles were not only a thing, but that it was okay to talk about them in public. 

Spanx came at a time when shapers were bulky and left lines and bulges everywhere. In fact, sometimes going commando seemed like a better option (even though putting a stop to wearing underwear isn't the way to go). Then, Blakely, who was then a fax machine salesperson, decided to cut the feet off of a pair of control panty hose to wear under a pair of trousers — and the decision was life-changing.  "I threw them on under my white pants, and went to the party. I looked fabulous, I felt great, I had no panty lines, I looked thinner and smoother, but they rolled up my legs all night. And I remember thinking, 'This should exist for women,'" she said during the Inc. Women's Summit in 2011.

Blakely launched Spanx all on her own

Nothing Blakely did to start up Spanx was conventional. Because she only had $5,000 in her bank account, she couldn't afford a lawyer and had to write her own patent papers. She found just one hosiery mill in North Carolina who agreed to help make her prototypes, which she tested on family and friends. She even created her own packaging. "I knew that I wanted my package to be red, and bold, and different because everything on the market was beige, and white, and gray, and had the same half-naked woman that had been on every package for the last 40 years. So, I said, 'I have no money to advertise. When I get my chance for this product to be on the shelf, it's gotta scream, I'm new, I'm different, check me out,'" Blakely says (via Inc.).

When it launched in 1998, Blakely's Spanx was ready to make waves. By 1999, revenues hit $4 million, and she was able to get Neiman Marcus to stock her product (via Fundable). The product really hit the jackpot in 2000, when Oprah gave it the ultimate endorsement by calling it her favorite product of the year. Soon, many women were wearing Spanx every day.

Shapewear may trigger some medical problems

The chatter surrounding shapewear like Spanx hasn't been all positive. While the garments may smooth out the bumps, doctors have told Cosmopolitan that the tightness can also lead to a shortness of breath, because some shapewear can keep your diaphragm from dilating properly. Shapewear also can create the conditions for a urinary tract infection, because the difficulty in getting in and out of it may might you delay visiting the bathroom. Plus, it compresses the wearer's tummy, intestines, and colon — making it likely for gas and bloating to happen. Beyond digestive issues, doctors warn that wearing restrictive underwear can also trigger pain, tingling, and numbness in the lower limbs because it can compress a nerve that leads to the thighs. The pressure can also cause blood clots and varicose veins, although Cosmopolitan spoke to a doctor who said that this condition is rare. Just be aware of these possible risks, and always talk to your doctor if you're concerned you may be experiencing any of them.

Spanx is changing with the times

Spanx's greatest challenge has come in the last few years. As New York fashion editor Jacqui Stafford told The New York Times, "Women today just don't want to be squeezed into something uncomfortable. And they're more comfortable with real bodies." As a result, the brand has had to change direction. Instead of tucking in and lifting, Spanx underwear began to offer more comfortable underwear which does what it calls "everyday shaping." As Spanx chief executive Jan Singer said: "We kept offering reduction, and we heard stories of women coming home at midnight on Saturday and throwing their Spanx out in the garbage. But the whole world's changed. Now women think: 'I don't need to change my shape so much. I just want to be comfortable.'"