Honey, does this make me look thin?

For the man who has it all—a little too often: the butt-cinching, gut-squeezing male girdle

090914_spanxThe wife actually notices it for once. This poor woman, who has seen the behind in question for nearly a decade and is long numbed by its familiarity, looks twice when her better half is getting dressed. She’s a modest type not given to excess adjectives, so they must be coaxed out of her. Round, firm, uplifted? Is that it? “Tighter,” she says finally. “I don’t know. Use your imagination.”

As ordinary-looking as can be, though, “Precision Underwear,” manufactured by Australia-based Equmen and released this month, is a gluteal exclamation point, sucking and pulling and hiding unsightly bits. In an era where teenaged boys wear eyeshadow and grown men wear leggings, perhaps the idea of a girdle for men isn’t that surprising. Equmen, which also produces gut-disguising T-shirts, has a proposition: if men can stand a constant cinching feeling in the rear end (and a $65 price tag), its skivvies will do for them what Spanx’s “slimming intimates” do for women: fool the eye of the beholder into seeing StairMaster rather than a summer’s worth of beer, BBQ and sloth. Oh, and they will also flatter the front porch, thank you.

“We call it subtle support,” says Equmen’s Michael Flint, a B.C. native who has spent much of his career thinking about men’s underwear. The drawers, he says, “give you a perkier bubble butt—an engineered butt.” And what about up front? “We’ve engineered the pouch as well,” he says demurely. “If you make the package look bigger,” he adds, “a gentleman is more confident.”

At the Hot Pink Party for breast cancer research earlier this summer, fashion designer Michael Kors said he wished there was an equivalent of Spanx for men. The market has spoken. Equmen is one of several purveyors of “men’s shapewear,” a nascent fashion category that’s taking the metrosexual male’s propensity to primp, moisturize, sculpt and pluck to its next logical step. Both Spanx and Yummie Tummie, best known for holstering the female form, recently introduced men’s lines. Calvin Klein now sells briefs with “hidden support for a sexier silhouette,” while the clothier Tommy Johns sells a $39 undershirt that promises to eliminate “the dreaded ‘fake love handle’ appearance.”

Equmen makes no mention of bubble butts or enhanced private parts in its marketing. Rather, the underwear has “helix-mapping technology” that “supports gluteal muscles for improved body mechanics”—an apparent nod to the average male’s appreciation of techno-jargon. Similarly, Equmen T-shirts, which sell from $89 to $129, are marketed as posture-enhancing “built-in physiotherapy,” and not as a way to bluff away unsightly love handles and flabby man-boobs. “It’s more than a one-dimensional product,” Flint says.

No gender has a monopoly on body consciousness, it seems. “Vanity, insecurity and exhibitionism are equal-opportunity delusions,” says Toronto fashion writer David Livingstone. “There are differences in habits, like makeup and high heels, but I think we are seeing that there’s actually very little difference between women and men.” Both sexes will suffer for the sake of appearances. Wearing Spanx’s Shaping Bodysuit, one of the company’s biggest sellers, is akin to “wearing a full body medical bandage wrapped around you by a masochistic nurse,” as a friend put it to me recently. Similarly, getting into an Equmen T-shirt is like trying to don a trampoline. Once you manage, your chest is constricted and your love handles, which normally live a free-spirited existence, are pulled taut behind a layer of polyester, nylon and spandex. Strangely, the long-sleeve T-shirts stretch to the upper thighs, making the wearer feel empathy for any Hollywood starlet who has had to get out of a limo in a tube dress. All for a half-inch off your waist.

The discomfort, it turns out, is intentional. It “will help raise your core awareness,” says the company website, making you literally feel the consequence of overindulgence. In other words: lose weight, fatty, or that expensive shirt will be all the more uncomfortable.
Which poses one problem: what happens when the butt-cinching, package-enhancing, chest-improving products come off, and everything that should be smaller becomes larger and vice versa? Flint laughs off this inevitability. There are other tricks of the trade—like booze, indirect lighting and marriage. And after all, the second impression doesn’t matter nearly as much as the first.