Someone once told me that you can't change the body you were born with. If you're prone to having a bit of a belly, ce'st la vie. You might as well love the shape you're in. Despite the fact that this is patently true, I have never been able to accept the fact. Well, not for much longer than a minute or so. Bar liposuction and giving up alcohol forever, I've done everything to flatten my front, from gruelling abs classes to Pilates, yoga to spinning, water aerobics to step sessions. Under my stairs there's a pile of products I bought after being brainwashed by late night infomercials that promised to flatten my midriff in just ten days. Ten years later, I'm still trying. And staying up late to watch those bloody infomercials. I've spent weeks wandering around the place wearing electronic equipment around my waist that sends sickening pulses into the musculature with all the relentlessness of a medieval torturer. I've done Atkins, South Beach, GI, Cabbage Soup, Macrobiotics, Dr Gillian Keith and Dr Phil diets. I've bought every issue of Men's Health that promised me a fresh route to a six-pack in six days, which let's face it, is every issue of Men's Health. And nothing -- and I mean, nothing -- has worked.
So, imagine how delighted I was to be asked to try out the T-shirt from the brand new Marks & Spencer Bodymax shapewear range, an undergarment that promises to "support the torso, giving a slimmer, smoother silhouette". I jumped for joy when it was delivered and wasted no time in trying it on. The result? Well, it's complicated.
At the outset the Bodymax T-shirt works a treat. Tight as a Kylie's hotpants in the Noughties, it is "engineered" with shaped seams and a hidden support panel that targets unseemly roundness, with a view to holding it all in. The problem for me, however, is that it felt more like it was all being pushed up. I was instantly reminded of the adverts for Playtex 24-hour girdles that fascinated me as a child, the ones that promised to "lift and separate". Although my partner assured me it was in no way visually apparent, I felt like I had suddenly grown a pair of man-boobs, or 'moobs' to the fat-friendly.
Taking those assurances at face value, I popped a form-fitting jumper, which had been languishing untouched and unloved at the back of my wardrobe for years, over my Bodymax top and headed off to work. I was hoping against hope at least one of my colleagues might say, "OMG! Like, what diet are you on? You've lost so much weight, like, overnight!" No such luck. The only person who commented on the new, possibly, slimmer me was myself, when after about an hour desperately holding it in (in more ways than one), I blurted to all and sundry, "Do I look like I've grown moobs?" The person opposite me shuffled some papers on his desk and everyone else in my sightline concentrated hard on their computer screens. Eventually someone muttered: "No more than usual."
So I have moobs? In real life? I see an opening for another item in the Bodymax range. But then again, if they create a top that pushes your belly up and your moobs to the side, where will it all go? Will I end up looking like a shoo-in for a job ringing the bells at Notre Dame?
As the day went on I tried to become comfortable about the new, larger-moobed but flatter-stomached me, but it became more and more impossible. While there's no doubt the Bodymax top provides flattening and flattering results in the tummy zone, it comes with another side-effect. On a day-to-day basis as I meander through my mundane life, I rarely remember that I am actually carrying my belly about. Sometimes on exiting the shower I might catch a shocking side view of it in the bathroom mirror, or I might remember to hold it in on seeing an attractive man in the street, but, otherwise, I'm generally unaware of it's presence. Bodymax allows no such misconception. As the hours slowly passed, I was unable to concentrate on anything other than my curvature. The feeling is one of being 'gussied up', and it doesn't go away.
Going for pints after work was a big mistake. Lager tends to make me larger. That is, the wheat and yeast content involved gives me a bloated look. Two pints down the hatch and my body was fighting tooth and nail against the Bodymax in a battle of the bulge that felt so uncomfortable I had to go into a toilet cubicle to lift the whole kit up, so I could let it all hang loose. Just for a blessed minute of relief. Then I packed it all up again, went out and ordered another round.
The job of the T-shirt and other Bodymax products is, I assume, to make your body look more attractive. But therein lies the rub: your body shape won't really have changed at all. Even if you remove your clothes in the pitch dark, there's always going to be a moment when the person you attracted with your slim look cops a feel of something they thought was a lot smaller before you both got down to business. You'll have no one to blame but yourself for the consequences. HQ
Bodymax T-shirt, €20, and vest, €16, both @ Marks & Spencer