Discipline is the practice of altering and adorning the body in order to reach an established goal. One form of alteration is the form fitting, body-contouring faja, a popular shape wear garment among Hispanic women. The word faja means to “wrap”. Some women feel the need to wrap up their tummy until it’s flat for a night out dancing with their husband or boyfriend. Others are told by doctors they need to wrap up their “embarrassing” loose skin post fat reduction surgery. Whichever the reason, this practice is accepted among women and begins as early as age 15 in the Hispanic community, with the celebration of their Quinceañera. This tradition marks a woman’s journey from childhood into adulthood. Girls wear puffy large skirted, lace up bodice ball gowns that resemble what a Disney Princess might wear to her royal ball. Mothers encourage their daughters to “suck it up” and “suck it in”, as these bodices are tight and uncomfortable. Girls may wear shape wear underneath or the bodice alone may do the trick, but nevertheless as they reach womanhood, they are taught by the older women in their family to aspire to keep their childhood flat stomach and small form. Why? Because girls need to eventually find husbands and they “obviously” can’t do that without aspiring to today’s beauty standards.
This unrealistic goal stays with women from their teen years to when they have granddaughters of their own. It is reinforced by the men in the family, who want their wives and daughters to not only be desirable, but constrained. This form of discipline is passed on in a continuous cycle by both sexes and doesn’t show signs of stopping anytime in the near future. “Agreement on bodily adornment reinforces common consciousness and a common course of actions that holds people together in a closely knit group” (Roach & Eicher 118). I like this quote from the “Language of Personal Adornment” because it works nicely with the idea of shape wear holding a woman together in a close, tight way. For some women, it’s all about “fitting in”, quite literally, as the spandex material holds in “unflattering” love handles and excess weight. A woman doesn’t do this for her health; some studies even suggest that this is a hazard for women’s organs. Ultimately, she does it because it is an accepted practice reinforced by her family and friends to want to be slimmer and as a result, more attractive to men.
Shape wear is today’s modern form of the corset: trying to achieve a tiny waist through a garment that literally takes the breath out of its wearers. But today, you not only need a tiny waist, but large breasts and a large butt. This expectation is again unrealistic, as most women do not naturally have that Barbie shape which women are told is attractive to men. Just as the Barbie is a plastic mold, women make their body docile and moldable. “A body is docile that may be subjected, used, transformed and improved” (Foucault 136). A disciplined body is one that produces “proper” behavior, as Foucault tells us in his chapter “Docile Bodies”. The philosopher does not specify women, but has been taken up by many feminist writers. The female body is taught to do what is necessary to in order to improve itself, not for itself, but for other men. A body that wears this garment prescribes to the internalized notion that women need to self-contain themselves, both physically and morally. This proper behavior stems directly from corset, which is possibly one of the most anti-feminist garments.
“The Corset is an ever-present monitor indirectly bidding its wearer to exercise self-restraint: it is evidence of a well-disciplined mind and well-regulated feelings” (Nelson 22). In “Dress Reform and the Bloomer”, it’s explained how corsets were viewed as garments linked to morality, worn by wealthy women with status. They were expected to stay at home in their lavish sitting rooms wearing these impractical garments that limited their mobility and threatened their health. If women did not adorn their body through this form of constriction, they were socially condemned as men did not want women to challenge their subordinate status to them. A woman “needed” to be disciplined and this discipline came through uncomfortable alteration: women’s appetites and resulting waist size became smaller and smaller, reducing the woman to a fragile, weak form.
Why do women discipline themselves this way today? Why do they do any of the ridiculous grooming habits they are told to do to their bodies by the advertising and entertainment industry? If you guessed to be attractive to men, you are correct.“The disciplinary techniques through which the ‘docile bodies’ of women are constructed aim at a regulation which is perpetual and exhaustive—a regulation of the body’s size and contours, its appetite, posture, gestures, and general comportment in space and the appearance of each of its visible parts” (Bartky 107). In “Foucault, Femininity and Modernization of Patriarchal Power” Bartky discusses how women have to discipline their bodies in order to reach a near impossible physical ideal. Dieting and exercise, exhibiting self control, being sexually available but not too sexual can drive a woman crazy. And when she realizes that one hair is out of place or her tummy isn’t as flat as it “should be”, she feels inadequate. She brushes the hair back in place and puts on a faja in order to “fix” herself.
These corrective measures go beyond fajas and the Hispanic community. Wanting to take up less space and be physically smaller is a desire that is so natural that women not only don’t question it, but also work to make sure other women correct themselves. Family and friends will suggest they go on a diet and do exercise, and in the mean time wear shapewear to make themselves look “better”. This policing and bullying starts at an early age by mothers who were policed as a child by their mothers and so on. The discipline is supposedly justified by mothers who want to make sure their daughters will be attractive to men in the future. Discipline is supposed to be a good thing, but what’s problematic is how it makes women feel inferior when they ultimately can’t reach perfection.
Bartky, Sandra Lee. “Foucault, Femininity and the Modernization of Patriarchal Power”. Feminism and Foucault: Reflections on Renaissance. Print.
Foucault, Michel. “Docile Bodies.” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Print.
Nelson, Jennifer Ladd. “Dress Reform and the Bloomer.” Journal of American & Comparative Cultures, 23: 21–25. Print.
Roach, Mary Ellen & Joanne Bubolz Eicher. “The Language of Personal Adornment”. Fashion Theory: A Reader. New York: Routledge, 2007. Print.