Nicola Coughlan’s Skims Campaign Is a Pivotal Moment for Shapewear — and the Body Positivity Debate

Nicola Coughlan

With truly spectacular timing, Bridgerton star Nicola Coughlan has been unveiled as the latest face and body of Skims — just a week on from being applauded by women all over the world for her iconic “perfect breasts” comment.

Getting signed up to model for a huge, sexy brand like Skims is a super-exciting development for Coughlan, whose incredible transformation into a Bridgerton leading lady has turned her into a household name across the globe. Who could have predicted that this cute, funny supporting actress from Ireland would soon be getting paid to sell underwear for Kim Kardashian?

Coughlan herself is, naturally, delighted by the surprise collab. “I’m so honored to be in Skims’ latest campaign!” she said in an official launch statement. “I’ve been a fan of Skims since the beginning. It’s been my on set lounging outfit since day one. I love that it’s a brand that makes everyone look and feel amazing. The Soft Lounge styles are incredibly flattering, comfortable, and so soft, and so beautiful. Whether I’m wearing them at home or on set I always feel incredible in Skims.”

Skims co-founder Kardashian is also gleeful that she’s signed up Coughlan right when she’s one of the most talked-about stars of the moment (but wants everybody to know that she basically discovered her). “​Everyone knows I’ve been a huge fan of Nicola and Bridgerton since the beginning,” she said in a company statement. “So for her to star in our Soft Lounge campaign is a full circle moment!”

It also feels like shapewear itself has gone full circle. Women have worn items designed to manipulate their bodies into a perfect silhouette for literally centuries. The big difference is while, during the Regency era that Bridgerton is set in, that shapewear often involved yards of tight lacing and even actual animal bones, these days garment technology has progressed leaps and bounds, so it’s less about hoiking and constricting and more about subtly “enhancing” curves using soft, stretchy fabrics.

Until Skims, though, shapewear still felt like a dirty little secret and wearing it could feel like a punishment. While through the 90s and 00s, millions of women were definitely wearing Spanx and similar shapewear brands to feel smoother under wedding gowns and bodycon party dresses, we didn’t really talk about it. Hands up if you’ve ever complimented a friend on her form-fitting outfit only for her to whisper “I’m wearing Spanx! They even have a special hole so that you can pee!”. And, of course, there’s the unforgettable moment when Bridget Jones’s giant support panties were unveiled. Yes, 20 years ago, normal women wore shapewear, but popular culture made it clear that it was more shameful than sexy.

Kim Kardashian knows sexy, though, so in 2018 along came Skims and its expensive, aspirational underwear that looked good but happened to smooth out your body too. On the one hand, Skims has an inclusive sizing range (XXS to 4X) and does a great job of normalizing the fact that many women prefer to wear shapewear under their clothes. On the other, though, it makes normal women think that they could drop $50 and miraculously get their own cartoonish Kardashian curves — even though there’s definitely a lot more to Kardashian curves than good underwear.

Working with Coughlan, though, is a powerful move when it comes to making Skims work for the normal women that the brand has always championed but never spotlighted in such a high-profile way. Previous spokesmodels like Kate Moss, Lana Del Rey, Megan Fox and Sabrina Carpenter have, naturally, looked amazing in Skims, but they don’t look much like your average woman. However, it’s potentially a tricky campaign to get behind for body-positivity activists who have been singing the praises of Coughlan for embracing her “perfect breasts” — also known as a slightly bigger body than we normally see in sex scenes — and yet are now seeing her make money for Kardashian, a controversial figure (literally) when it comes to body image. As one fan wrote on Instagram, “I adore you and you look amazing, but this partnership is beyond disappointing”.

Coughlan using the word “flattering” in her statement is also a controversial choice. It’s a word that many members of the body-positivity community vehemently reject due to its negative connotations around using trickery to make bodies look smaller. But with it looking increasingly like thin is back in, due to both the 90s/00s fashion revival and the rise of diet drugs like Ozempic — women are feeling more confident to admit that actually, yes, they do like their clothes to be “flattering”. It’s just a shame “flattering” always feels like it’s about making women look a dress size or two smaller, rather than, say, enhancing their great skin tone or bringing out their eyes.

Still, if Kardashian and her co-founders have clocked that women previously negatively portrayed as “chubby” wallflowers can look spectacular on billboards too, wearing Skims or otherwise, it can only be a good thing. More bodies like Coughlan’s appearing unapologetically in the public eye is great news and, a week after shutting down that question about how “brave” she was for baring her body on screen, working with Skims is a spectacular power move from the Bridgerton actress. If anyone should feel flattered, it’s Kardashian!

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