Suzanne Somers and Why We’re So Obsessed With ‘Mastering’ Our Thighs

I was 10 when Suzanne Somers debuted ThighMaster in 1991. I hadn’t yet spotted the first patches of cellulite on my upper legs, but I was keenly aware of the way they expanded whenever I sat down. So I perked up whenever Ms. Somers would promote her fitness gadget on television, telling viewers with a twinkle in her eye, “We may not have been born with great legs, but now we can look like we were.”Ms. Somers, a sitcom actress who died last Sunday, embodied its promise: In commercials and infomercials, she presented her own slim legs as proof of the resistance gadget’s powers. “I used to do aerobics ’til I dropped,” she told viewers. “Then I found ThighMaster.”It was savvy marketing: For decades, women shared a mounting collective anxiety that any set of thighs bigger or more dimpled than a Barbie doll’s was a problem, in need of fixing. “There’s something that’s very unruly about jiggly, fatty bits of us,” said Heather Radke, the author of the cultural history book “Butts: A Backstory.” Society, she added, has long tried to “turn them into shapes that they are not naturally.”The anxiety about thighs persists for many women today. But where did it come from?Until the mid-20th century, women mostly hid their legs under skirts. But as hemlines rose in the 1960s, women’s magazines began advising that readers get to work. “Until now, it was fairly easy to find clothes that helped you hide figure faults,” Ladies’ Home Journal noted in 1965. “But today’s pared-down, knee-baring fashions have you out in the open now, and the only thing to do is Shape Up Fast.”The era also saw the explosion of form-fitting jeans. In 1969, Levi Strauss & Co. released its first women’s wear line, which called new attention to a woman’s thighs.As thighs became increasingly public, they turned into a source of dissatisfaction for some women. In 1968, Vogue became the first English-language magazine to publish the word “cellulite,” introducing it into the cultural vocabulary. And in the early 1980s, the rise of gyms and aerobics classes — where attendees sported skintight workout wear — promised to help women burn their legs into submission. “Thunder thighs” became an insult.We are confirming your access to this article, this will take just a moment. However, if you are using Reader mode please log in, subscribe, or exit Reader mode since we are unable to verify access in that state.Confirming article access.If you are a subscriber, please log in.

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