Thursday, November 10, 2011

Leggings as pants: What I want to teach my daughters

I have something to say that may not sit easily with some people, but I've decided to say it anyway. (That's what the Internet is for, isn't it - at its best, it can be about being brave and speaking our truths in a somewhat less confrontational arena than the breathing world).

So what I want to say is this:

The "leggings are not pants" assertion / meme / battlecry that has been infecting Twitter lately really, really bothers me.

I was trying to pin down exactly what I dislike so much about it, and I think I've worked it out.

It's not that a lot of people seem to agree that leggings as pants are not fashionable. This may be a true statement, and as a fashion null zone myself, I am unqualified to comment on it and won't. If the assertion was "leggings as pants are not in fashion", it would not raise my hackles.

It's not that some people simply don't like leggings, and don't find them comfortable. If the assertion was "I don't really like leggings", then what could anyone object to in that? I myself do not really like high heels, but making that statement doesn't imply a universalised condemnation of high heels or other people's wearing of them.

No, what I find so uncomfortable in the "leggings are not pants!" thing is that I cannot see how it is not both deeply classist and a form of thinly-veiled body policing, especially of fat bodies.

Almost all the "leggings are not pants!" rhetoric stems back to one of two ideas: either the body-snarking idea that some bodies shouldn't be displayed or visible in the figure-hugging way that leggings enable; or the classist idea that leggings are somehow "trashy", "poor people's cheap clothes", or, as I saw one person label them, "the marker of a feral". (Don't even get me started on my utter hatred of the term "feral" to describe a human being).

If you subscribe to the view that "leggings are not pants!", on what basis other than disapproval of certain bodies being visible, or distaste at the perceived class marker inherent in this clothing choice, do you sustain this view?

For me, I think, it comes down to this: I want to teach my daughters that all bodies - ALL bodies - are acceptable. That no body should have to be hidden (or indeed displayed). That bodies are the carriers of human beings, each of whom should be treated with dignity no matter how they talk, or what they wear, or how they look to your eyes.

I never want my daughters to look at someone and dismiss them or think less of them because they are wearing leggings without a top covering of some kind. I never want them to feel humiliated by their own clothing choices, to feel judged (I know I cannot prevent this for them entirely, sadly, but I hope to set up a basis whereby they have the foundation to at least see this for what it is).

Ultimately I do not give a fig whether anyone wears leggings (as pants or under dresses) or not. I just wish it was less of a rallying point for people to express their body policing or class issues in a socially sanctioned way.

(Disclaimer - I wear leggings, sometimes, yes, as pants. And I'm fat. And middle class.)

This post is part of NaBloPoMo. 10 down, 20 to go!


  1. I don't think leggings are pants. For me it's neither a body issue nor a class issue, it is simply the issue that legginging look like longjohns or stockings and therefore are classifed as underwear. So, for me, personally, a person out on the street in their tee or blouse or singlet top or dress jacket and leggings, without either a skirt or shorts or pants over the top looks as if they left the house before fully dressing. Do I think it looks funny? Hell, yeah I do, just as I would if the same person went out in just french knickers and a top, or they bonds undies and a top. Are they allowed to do that, hell yeah, they are... i'll still snigger at the thought they forgot their pants :).

  2. This is a really great post and such a great perspective!! Thanks for sharing and getting me thinking this arvo :)

  3. I wear them too! Huzzah! People can be such prats! If they really think it's a class label then shouldn't they be happy about the distinction already being made? Not further trashing the "trashy" people by saying they shouldn't wear them?

  4. Sorry if this is a repeat comment - the comment window ate my first comment (maybe I should take the hint!)

    When I lived in Melbourne, I had a pair of leggings that I wore till they literally fell apart. But where we live in Sydney, I've seen leggings maybe once in the past 2 years. Women often wear long (ankle-length) skirts and dresses, due to the heat (leggings = sticky and horrible and hot in the humidity.)

    So now, the first thing I think when I see a pair of leggings is exactly what Sif said: they look like long-johns or stockings to me now! I do a double-take when I see them. I'm sure lots of people do say "leggings are not pants" in a classist/body image way, but it might also just be a comment about what looks 'normal' in a given place.

  5. My biggest issue with "leggings are not pants" is that it means people are paying far too much attention to what other people are wearing. Is it clean? Is my ass covered? Am I warm/cool enough for today's weather? Good enough!

    ps, found you through the NaBloPoMo blogroll. Nice to "meet" you! :)

  6. I couldn't help actually *looking* at people now, doing the school run this morning. We pass several hundred people on the run in the morning...out of all those people, there were only 3 wearing leggings - all of them under skirts/dresses. Leggings really are considered 'stockings' or underwear round these parts.

    That said, I doubt anyone would bother to comment in an area where bodies of every kind are on display all the time on the extremely busy beaches, and people shop at the supermarket in our street in bikinis. I must admit the leggings/pants comment, when I've heard it used back home in Melbourne, generally does have quite nasty/classist overtones.

  7. Interesting perspectives all, thanks for sharing them.

    Sif and Fi, I do see what you're saying about the underwear / outerwear issue, and I acknowledge that that may be part of some people's doubletake on the issue. I still would tend to say that a) not everyone classes leggings as underwear in any case and b)if they are underwear, I believe there is still a particular kind of judgement that happens in finding someone wearing underwear publically a cause for comment.

    Perhaps, as someone on Twitter suggested to me (hi Elizabeth!), there is a yet a third strand of subterranean commentary going on - the whole slut-shaming dialectic that revolves around women wearing clothes that others define as "too revealing" or "underwear". I'm not sure.