London, France, let’s talk about underpants!

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Graphic by Alan Li

I have some breaking news for you, so you better sit down if you’re not already.

Women wear underwear.

Along with the cultural obsession with bra straps, another worst-kept-secret seems to be underwear — namely, visible panty lines.

“It’s very strange that underwear and the idea that people have to wear underwear is sexualized,” Alicia Hall, assistant coordinator at the Centre for Women and Trans People said.

Let me just clarify this further. It’s not that you can even actually see a woman’s underwear — it’s the imprint of her underwear through her outer clothes.

Absolutely scandalous.

“If you’re just looking at the cause [of the sexism] … you’re never going to solve anything because whatever the cause is will always be changing,” Hall continued.

This is the shaming of women for wearing something so unnecessarily sexualized. To even see the mere outline underneath ones clothes is a sight that raises eyebrows.

“You should be able to wear whatever makes you feel good about yourself and that shouldn’t be related to how other people are going to view you,” Hall continued.

This is something that’s a universal female experience. No matter the age, body type, assigned birth sex and gender identity, etc., all women are at risk of people seeing the outline of their underwear.

The sexualization of young women starts exceedingly young. Even elementary students are worried if people can see their underwear.

“[A visible panty line] is something that’s been on my radar since around grade seven,” Hall explained.

And it’s endless from there. I had to have a whole conversation with a friend in high school about why I don’t wear thongs because she could see the outline of my underwear through my uniform shorts.

But the stigma involving visible panty lines represents a deeper problem in our culture. Hall explained that society purports that women’s bodies are not their own and they are made for someone else.

“Panty lines and bra straps are just the tip of the iceberg,” she explained. “Especially with guys … you have that ‘bro’ culture and — because of toxic masculinity — one of the ways they bond is through the putting down of women.”

Because of a culture that passes judgement on women as sexualized objects, things like underwear begin to take on a new meaning.

“By demeaning, sexualizing and objectifying women, it becomes more normalized,” she continued.

Hall encouraged men in situations like these to be allies for women instead of buying into the culture of toxic masculinity.

“If men are objectifying women, they’re not always going to be listening to women, so having allies from different groups speak out against it is very, very valuable.”

But as the culture continues, we all have to monitor how to shut it down.

“There’s never, ever going to be a right way for anyone, but I think that, if people are capable, challenging sexism and that type of behaviour in their daily lives … is very important,” Hall said.

Two tips that Hall has for women in a situation where a visible panty line has been brought into conversation are either to ask someone to explain what they mean by their statement or to simply tell them to fuck off.

She also encourages women to act on the situation and to make sure that they always feel as safe and comfortable as possible.

“If you’re just looking at the cause [of the sexism] … you’re never going to solve anything because whatever the cause is will always be changing,” Hall continued.

“Culture is constantly evolving, so if you don’t get at the root … then it’s just going to be some new thing.”

Even if you can’t stand up in the moment, there are resources — such as the Centre for Women and Trans People — that are willing to listen, help and empathize with everyday sexism.

Frankly, if you’re looking that closely at my butt — close enough to notice where my underwear starts — you’ll probably be looking regardless of what I’m wearing, and that has nothing to do with me

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