I was thinking about this when I was getting dressed for my run this morning... I have this uneasy truce with Lycra... There are a few instances where it is truly a 'wonder' fiber, such as in my bras, a little in denim to make my jeans extra comfy, and in other miscellaneous things like gloves and socks to keep them from sagging. But mostly, Lycra, when worn in things such as leggings, swimsuits, and workout gear (for those of us who aren't a size 5 or under) can be incredibly unflattering... even to the point of actually accentuating all those features we would normally like to keep discreetly under wraps (go to the Lycra website and you'll notice a distinct lack of unsightly bumps and bulges on any of their models... coincidence? I sincerely doubt it).
Alas, when you are a runner (or take part in any kind of sport with a bit of bounce to it), Lycra in the workout gear is a necessary evil... and this is where Lycra and I have drawn our uneasy truce, with lengthy terms and conditions agreed upon that, I'm sure, would make the Camp David Peace Accords pale by comparison. But since I dawn workout gear almost every day of my life I have learned to deal with, or just ignore the fact that it doesn't show off my body to its best. And still, that extra bit of hold and oomph that Lycra provides in my running pants is something I wouldn't want to do without anymore.
I came to this realization several years ago when I finally got off my butt committed myself to some kind of daily workout... even though at the time I wasn't fit to the point of being able to run. On one of my very first days I was doing an exercise video. The fitness trainer was having everyone do a series of jumping jacks. I started to do my first jumping jack and when my feet landed back on the ground, it was followed by a giant SLAP noise. Well, I was startled. I knew that I hadn't just clapped my hands and there wasn't anyone else in the room. It was then that I realized, much to my absolute horror and embarrassment that it was actually my belly slapping against itself... even though I was by myself, I was positively MORTIFIED and knew that I needed to find a way to put the kibosh on that horrible noise once and for all... enter the Lycra-infused workout attire. Of course, I already owned sports bras... but the addition of sports leggings/pants seemed like a wise investment, to contain and restrain all of the lower parts of me that weren't being held at bay by taut skin and well-developed musculature.
Here I am much further down the road to health and weight loss and I understand the need for Lycra in my life a little more. I still don't necessarily love it for its aesthetic, body conforming qualities, but I do appreciate the more practical aspects of it. And as I am now learning, as I get even deeper into running, there are actually a few benefits of the wonder fiber as well...
What some people may not realize is that many pieces of sports clothing have even more Lycra in them than normal street clothing or even swimsuits. Often these garments are labeled with the term "compression" (pants, tights, shirts) and actually constrain the different parts of your body with an even firmer grip. Compression clothing can have added benefits for some people, such as helping with blood flow (think similar to old-man support socks) and providing additional support to muscles, tendons and other soft tissues... which may help to reduce fatigue or the chance of sports-related injuries and may also improve recovery time after a workout.
For me, a pair of running pants (or shorts) with extra Lycra also helps reduce the amount of skin that has the opportunity to touch other skin and thus reduces the chances of incredibly uncomfortable chaffing/rash and of course, even though there is less of me than there used to be, I still never want to hear that awful slapping noise during ANY part of my workout and the Lycra provides me the confidence that this won't happen.
So, as you can see, I really do have a love/hate relationship with this incredible invention of modern science. Maybe someday I will be thin enough and fit enough that dawning a pair of running pants won't seem like setting up my own little personal demilitarized zone, but since I'm not sure when that day will ever come, I will continue on as I am and know that despite all my apprehensions, this little bit of wonder fiber really is, ultimately, there for my benefit... at least that's what I'll keep telling myself for now.