Self Esteem and Underwear: 3 Things Every Woman Should Know

Underwear and self esteem

I finally have the strength and energy to do some things which are long overdue. Things that have been weighing me down for ages. Things like cleaning out my wardrobe and throwing away old clothes and underwear.

I have some success although I mainly get rid of clothes people gave me that I thought I might wear but never did, things that don’t fit and clothes I haven’t worn since 1998.

But I fold and put away a few items of exercise clothing I bought in 1993 and wear almost every week noting with satisfaction that sometimes it pays to buy quality.

Finally I move on to the worst area of my wardrobe, the part of my life which is the most neglected, the most shameful and the most sordid: my underwear drawer.

My underwear is in a shocking state. I don’t know what the normal number of knickers and bras for a woman to own is but I probably have around 20 pairs of undies and even more bras. Sadly most of them have seen better days.

If your underwear is any reflection of your self esteem then it’s no wonder my self esteem has been running low so here are three things you need to know:

1. Eliminate anything that could lower your self esteem

The wire-free cotton bras I wear just about every day for exercise are grey and saggy, the elastic as worn out as I feel. I throw away the worst offenders but only because there are so many I still have plenty left.

Meanwhile most of my knickers are throwing up their hands in surrender too. There are some baggy old things I can’t bear to chuck out because I don’t want to ruin good knickers when I have my period. I stuff them all back in the drawer noting that most of them were given to me by my mother. Noting how wrong it is to be in your forties and still wearing underwear your mother chose.

But some of my underwear isn’t too bad. There are a few bras that are perfectly good but have never really worked for me. Black silky numbers that make my tits look even smaller than they really are and a red lace bra that creates strange bulges under everything. My mum did not buy these items. I did because I thought it was my duty as a good wife to wear sexy underwear. I put them in the charity shop bag but hang onto the red knickers I wear to bring me luck when I play poker even though I haven’t played for ages.

Then there are two matching sets of underwear – a green and orange spotted set of bra and knickers I bought when we got married six years ago and have never really worn since and another green set which  is more sporty and practical. It’s even older and I do wear that occasionally but never as a set. Still I keep both sets and vow to wear them more often.

Pulling out a pair of saggy, flesh coloured knickers in the morning and putting them makes me feel depressed. But I can’t tell what came first – the baggy knickers or the low self esteem.

2. Notice how often you lie to yourself

Nor can I bear to spend money on something no one will see. I even entered a competition recently to win two pairs of knickers and won them, probably because I was the only person who bothered to enter.

Nifty Pop and Go knickers

Nifty Pop and Go knickers

They’re a new design called Pop and Go with poppers on the side for women who travel and need to change their undies wherever they are without taking off all their clothes. The branding material mentions camping, festivals and hiking. I wish I had the need to change my knickers somewhere other than in the privacy of my bedroom.

I feel confused. I’m not sure if new knickers will help me feel better or if I’m just hoping they will because going shopping for underwear, as traumatic as that is, now seems like a fun option compared to hours of therapy and months of navel gazing.

Give me a badly lit changing room, a pushy shop assistant and a hundred bras to try on any day compared to telling people the truth about depression and a gruelling search for self esteem and self-realisation which always seems to be hiding round the next corner.

But here I am in my wardrobe looking for an easy solution that doesn’t exist. Here I am duping myself into thinking new knickers are the solution to all my problems.

3. Proritise self esteem for your personal wellbeing and don’t get distracted by less important issues

So I turn to my guru, my life coach, the one thing I can rely on to provide answers to all those hard life questions: Google.

It turns out I’m not the first woman who’s wondered about the link between her self esteem and underwear. Of course the underwear manufacturers spin is that new knickers and bras will make us feel better about ourselves.

I agree new underwear might give me a temporary boost of self esteem but deep down I know nothing can change the way we feel about ourselves except how we feel about ourselves.

Still, we’re blessed to  live in this modern age with everything we need and more available at the click of a mouse. You can even buy the knickers pictured above here with positive mantras to get your day and mentality off on the right foot for £13.50 which makes therapy seem like a royal rip off.

Best of all there’s a woman in England at Leicester University (strange coincidence – Leicester’s my home town)  who’s written a 308 page PhD thesis called Consuming Underwear: Fashioning Female Identity all about, underwear and self esteem. Seriously. I always wanted to be a doctor but it would be phenomenal to be a doctor of underwear like Christiana Tsaousi.

Being research shy I haven’t read the whole thing but the thesis argues that:

“underwear can be seen as a technology of the self and as embodied cultural capital. It functions both as a support for outerwear and the body, and as a tool for self-fashioning and self-improvement due to the intense sensations it can produce for the wearer.”

Tsaousi goes on to say:

“The empirical data indicate that underwear is used for the construction and reconstruction of various feminine identities, including worker, mother, sports player and sexual partner.”

I get lost at the bit where she talks about “internalised social imperatives around female identity” though.

It sounds interesting but there are too many long words for my aging brain to decipher. Still, I do understand from what I read that women are buying more underwear and being made to feel wrong for not wearing attractive underwear. That sounds dangerous.

But on the other hand taking pride in how you look is an important part of self-identity. Unfortunately one that I resent right now because getting dressed at all is a nuisance when you’d rather stay home in bed.

Still it seems like I could be right to wonder about the link between underwear and self esteem and it’s good to take some pride in how you look. But I guess there’s a limits to that and I know this is all just a distraction, a chance for me to think about how I look rather than the big issue of how I feel.

The real issue is this. I have low self esteem. I need more of it and you can’t buy self esteem online or anywhere else.

But since there’s only so much self-investigation you can do in one day I might just go and buy a new pair of knickers or two sometime soon. It’s a distraction but you have to do whatever it takes to get you through hard times and low self esteem takes a heavy toll.

What do you think? Does the state of your underwear reflect the state of your self esteem? And what do you call your underwear anyway? Knickers, pants, panties, briefs or undies? Bloomers is a wonderful word but I don’t suppose anyone calls them that anymore…

Update: After writing this I went to an underwear shop and a department store and spent a long time looking at the undies. There were so many gorgeous bright bras and knickers I was overwhelmed by the choice. But I did buy four brightly coloured vests (or undershirts because winter is coming here in Australia) and this lovely pair of pink fluffy bed socks because I’d like to spend a lot more time in bed.

underwear and self esteem

Fluffy bedsocks from the Target undewear section – probably the best $5 I have ever spent

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  1. Sandra Pawula May 13, 2013 at 9:12 am - Reply

    Dear Annabel,

    While I sincerely hope you find underwear that helps to lift your mood, as I shared in Google, I think that this whole notion our self-esteem depends on our underwear is ridiculous. It just shows you how screwed up we are as a modern culture that someone writes their thesis on a topic like this. Of course, external things (possessions) can make us happy for a short time, but it’s not very long last. Go for the gusto: self-realization can be fun. :)

    • Annabel Candy May 13, 2013 at 10:04 am - Reply

      Hi Sandra,

      Your comment was great. We are living in a crazy world so no wonder I can’t get my head round things lately. I’m so glad you’re here to help me make sense of it all and help me reconnect with my inner self and self esteem – which I agree probably isn’t in the underwear department ;)

  2. Sara Hawkins May 13, 2013 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    Annabel, it’s quite interesting how our much our underclothes say about us. I remember doing laundry as a kid and noticing the drab and basic colors of my mother’s underclothes. My kid panties were pink and had designs or days of the week or were covered in frogs or, you name it. Not so much for my mom. So it becomes part of our young psyche of what how motherhood is clothed.

    But it’s long before motherhood that the change from happy-colored cotton panties to “basics” and “neutral” comes about. We first say we don’t want to have to think in the morning. Then it’s one time putting on the zebra striped panties followed by the white shorts/skirt/trousers that sends us in a tailspin and to the nearest shop for bland.

    Many underwear makers tell us we should wear bras with names beginning with wonder and miracle, yet the only thing I wonder is why it’s so uncomfortable or it’s a miracle I don’t get fired for looking like a tart.

    We’ve forgotten that we’re allowed to feel pretty for the sake of feeling pretty. We’ve forgotten that the clothes we wear closest to our body are equally an extension of our passion, our love, and are respect — for ourselves.

    • Annabel Candy May 13, 2013 at 2:06 pm - Reply

      Hi Sara,

      Great to hear from you and so true about the kids undies being fun. You’ve come up with a great reason why we end up with the boring underwear and also why we eschew the glamorous stuff as we get older. Life’s too short to wear uncomfy undies!

      But how hard could it be for someone to make comfy underwear in fun colours? Maybe it’s the manufacturers that have forgotten what women of a certain age really want.

      I love the sound of those zebra undies!

  3. Maureen May 13, 2013 at 8:04 pm - Reply

    It’s funny. I did underwear shopping last week. I was afraid that if I didnt, the panties I own had a better chance of getting into heaven than I did. I’m not nearly as “holey”. Not sure about the self esteem. I’m just too cheap to spend $70 on a bra. I need the industrial variety. :-)

    • Annabel Candy May 13, 2013 at 8:39 pm - Reply

      Hi Maureen,

      Seems like we all have those unholy holey undies – so glad it’s not just me. I agree, some of the prices are ridiculous and since undies have to be washed so often they usually don’t last that well either… hence the saggy elastic and grey tones…

      As for industrial bras I think we have opposite needs in that department… mine need less support but lots of padding!

  4. Hi Annabel, I ordered 8 new pairs of middle aged motherly undies before I left for the UK…. shouldn’t they be here by now?? I buy them from Intimo cos I love that brand. Love the word bloomers by the way.

    I’ve been clearing out my bathroom drawers and have all my beloved earrings sorted out at last. It’s good for the soul. I’m sure that our earrings and undies are a reflection of how we feel. So that makes me ‘lost in the post’ right now!

    • Annabel Candy May 14, 2013 at 3:11 pm - Reply

      Hi Seana,

      Intimo, I’ve never heard of it. My problems are also exacberated because I still like to buy my undies from M&S in the UK even though I haven’t lived there for 27 years!!

      Chucking things out does help. I hope you’re not lost in the post too long though :)

  5. Martine@themodernparent May 14, 2013 at 8:13 pm - Reply

    I keep reaching for the same pairs all the time despite probably having 20 or so I cant even get to as they just get pushed to the back. Maybe that represents me as a creature of habit….or maybe I am pushing something into the background and not taking risks by rehashing the same ones over again…..or maybe I am overanalysing…….

  6. Martine@themodernparent May 14, 2013 at 8:54 pm - Reply

    I keep going to the same few pairs all the time despite having many more to choose from. Maybe I am a creature of habit, maybe I am hiding behind the familiar and not prepared to take risks, maybe I am refusing to embrace the unknown or maybe I am just too lazy to sort through them and see exactly what else I have pushed to the back of the drawer!

    • Annabel Candy May 14, 2013 at 9:40 pm - Reply

      Hii Martine,

      Me too to all of those… especially the overanalysing!

  7. Barbara May 21, 2013 at 6:18 am - Reply

    Annabel…here’s a great secret to REALLY boost your mood…Go to a good lingerie, or dept. store with a nice lingerie dept., and get a bra fitting!

    You will not believe how you will feel afterward!

    I was always pathetically flat chested. Barely an A cup. I rarely wore a bra until I was around 40. No need! But everything started changing later in my 40’s. I couldn’t believe I was needing a B cup! However I never felt comfortable in a bra and did whatever I could to avoid one.

    Well, as is often the case with middle age, I gained a little weight. Not a ton, but about 10-12lb. over time. And, yes…some of it went to my tits! (not nearly as much as my hips took on, but you can’t have it all.)

    Anyway…after years of continually hating bras, never finding one that was comfortable, a friend insisted I get a proper bra fitting. Guess what!?
    After switching around from a 34B to a C, and still hating them and being uncomfortable, I discovered I am a 32 D!!!!!!!!!!!! Thirty Two D!?! Never in my life could I have seen that coming!

    She said, “Your back is so small, dear, you’ve got to have the circumference comfortable first.” First of all, I wasn’t feeling small anywhere on my body…2nd of all…A DEEEE CUP?

    So, my dear Annabel, hie thee to a proper bra fitting!

    • Annabel Candy May 21, 2013 at 9:06 am - Reply

      Hi Barbara,

      What a great story! It is so important to have the right fit. I can’t stand uncomfy wires digging into me. I don’t think the results of my fitting would be so exciting though but never mind. I am waiting for small breasts to come back into fashion…. surely one day!

  8. Beth O'Donnell May 21, 2013 at 10:19 am - Reply

    Every time I go to Paris, I spend hundreds of dollars on lingerie. I too have a tendency toward melancholy. Pretty lacey things really help. I remind myself what I am wearing and where I got it and the whole world is brighter.

  9. Teresa May 21, 2013 at 11:03 pm - Reply

    This year I admitted to myself that I will no longer wear thongs…I have swapped them for over the belly button knickers…I couldn’t have gone more opposite hahaha I must buy myself some sexy French knickers!

  10. Erik January 15, 2014 at 4:37 pm - Reply

    Hello to all you sexy women and men out there that wear women’s lingerie. I know this is an odd question to be asking but honesty is the best policy right? I am just wondering if there are any women or men out there that have some bras and panties that they don’t want anymore or just don’t fit anymore and if so would you mind sending them to me for I just love all bras and most panties oh and swimsuits too. If you are willing to please write back and post for Erik somewhere In the subject line and ill get back to you as soon as I can thanks and God bless

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