Fiona McCade: Will the Mansie fit the equality bill?

Cosmo Kramer (L) the original creator of the mansierre or bro. Picture: AP
Cosmo Kramer (L) the original creator of the mansierre or bro. Picture: AP
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BACK in 1995, in a classic episode of Seinfeld, Kramer and Frank Costanza invented a bra for men. Kramer wanted to call it “The Bro”, while Frank preferred “The Manssiere”. Oh, how we laughed.

Fast-forward just 17 years and what was once the basis for utter hilarity is now a serious business. “Controlwear” for men – various kinds of pull-you-in pants, vests and girdles – is easily available in mainstream shops, but now boys can buy the whole caboodle in one, single package. Something has appeared that can contain every lump, bump and wobbly bit a man could possibly possess. Gentlemen, it’s time to welcome “the Mansie”.

George at Asda is trumpeting the Mansie as a leap forward in controlwear because it’s the first, full-body shaper-suit for men. It looks like a 1930s’ swimming costume because, from thigh to neck, its compression fabric gives total body coverage, sucking in any extraneous flesh – bum, belly, moobs, the lot – and holding it firmly in place until the owner strips off, and allows everything to spill out as nature intended.

The Mansie’s designers are very proud of their product, but I’m not so sure it’s such a good idea. Of course, I like to see a nice, manly shape as much as the next person, but I’m worried that this is the beginning of a very dangerous direction for male-kind.

You see, as a woman, I feel extremely restricted by the requirements and ideals of conduct and attractiveness that modern society tries to impose upon me. Always conforming to current standards of acceptability is either impossible, or impossibly expensive.

For example, I’m supposed to look as slim as possible (even if pregnant); I’m not supposed to have grey hair, or wrinkles (even if I’m 70); I’m not allowed to be hairy; I’m expected to paint different bits of my face different colours; I can’t publicly pee up against a wall (well, I can, but it’s frowned on outside Glasgow); and I can’t go topless in town, even when it’s really, really hot. It’s tough on the distaff side.

At least in the 21st century, nobody is binding my feet, or forcing me into a corset, but I’m still largely judged by how I look. For millennia, women have allowed themselves to be shackled by their appearance and enslaved by expectations. We have conformed to the most ridiculous whims of fashion and where has it got us? Seven series of The Only Way is Essex.

Being a woman isn’t easy, but being a man is. At least, it was. Relatively. But now, the boys seem to be intent on sliding down the same, slippery slope as the girls.

Gentlemen, think carefully before you buy a Mansie. Think about what you’re throwing away: the right to be tubby, but snuggly; the right to totally let yourself go and still be roguishly appealing; the right to be Jack Black, Jack Nicholson, Zach Galifianakis, or any of the other lardy lads who happily don’t give a damn.

They don’t call it “controlwear” for nothing, you know. Do you really want to be controlled? The freedom to be fat and happy is perhaps the greatest gift of manhood – don’t trade it in for a bit of Lycra.

Today, it’s elastic underwear, but tomorrow it’ll be eyelash curling, lifting and separating, foundation, epilation, moisturisation and staggering to work in impractical shoes while worrying about how big your bum is, and if anybody has noticed. Believe me, femininity is overrated.

The Mansie is bad news for men, but now I’m wondering – could it possibly be good news for women? What if it’s a step towards some sort of great gender role-reversal? As men start worrying more and more about their waistlines, perhaps woman will worry less and less. Maybe, in the distant future, today’s traditionally female hang-ups will become male ones and slowly, the balance of sanity will shift in women’s favour. Once the men are prepared to suck it all in, perhaps we’ll finally get the chance to let it all hang out. Which would make me very happy indeed.