What if your panties could change the world?

Cherie Amie underwear. Image courtesy of www.besexybuyfair.com.

Cherie Amie underwear. Image courtesy of www.besexybuyfair.com.

Have you ever thought to yourself, ''if only I could buy sexy undies and save the world in one transaction''?  Neither have I. But Tara Smith has. 


Smith is a 26-year-old Texan lass who has spent the past couple of years volunteering in Cameroon in central Africa. A noble thing, to be sure. Upon her return home, her question to the world was this (verbatim): “Why can’t women look sexy to help other women?”

Cherie Amie underwear. Image courtesy of www.besexybuyfair.com.

Cherie Amie underwear. Image courtesy of www.besexybuyfair.com.



To this end, she founded a Fair Trade lingerie business called Cherie Amie. The tagline is, "What if your panties could change the world?" - something I have been pondering since I found her campaign online. She's trying to raise $15,000 for her first lingerie line on a crowd-funding site called indiegogo. If you donate to the campaign, you will receive your own pair of "humanitarian hottie" butterfly-print boy-cut shorts. You may also have the opportunity to "appear as a Fair Lady in the official marketing campaign for Cherie Amie", as Smith tells us in this video update. Roughly translated, this means "donate to our campaign and you too can writhe about in your underwear... for charity".


Speaking of writhing - here's the aspirational video for Cherie Amie:


Now, let's all acknowledge that the word "panties" is icky and should generally be substituted with "undies" or even "bloomers", and move on to the real problems with this slim-fit, push-up poverty solution.


The Case of the Altruistic Panties is complicated. On the one hand, Smith is using a Good Returns business model that promises to reinvest 100 per cent of profits into ventures that create micro-loans for impoverished African women. These women can apply for a loan to start a business venture in their community - just like Smith. The underwear is made in West Africa, under good conditions and apparently with reasonable pay.


On the other hand, it’s a tacky sexualisation of an important issue, casually linking Western excess and sexuality to African poverty. Notice that the African women are invisible in the clip and on the website, leading us to virtually disassociate from the cause. It’s Armchair Activism, with bonus bloomers. The financial contribution Smith intends to make to women living in poverty is admirable, but the way she has gone about it is reductive and confusing. Rather than encouraging women to empathise or understand or directly support African women, it reduces their role to a single transaction: panties for social change.


So the question is, is it OK to sexualise a good cause? Do we forgive Ms Smith for living too closely by the "sex sells" mantra, because she’s being charitable?


In other words, is it OK that the means are sexy, if the end is altruistic?


The simple answer is, “Who cares how she’s raising the money, those African women need our help! Go forth and buy underwear, be a good Samaritan and look foxy while you do!” But that’s just the point - it’s too simple. It’s too good to be true and it’s too easy. The convenience of the whole thing belies the seriousness of the issue of poverty.


The message here - buy naughty underwear, affect real social change - is dangerously naive and misleading. It tells women their altruism quota is filled once they’ve slipped into a g-string. It allows - no, it invites - women to pass off the perfectly indulgent act of buying racy underwear as socially constructive. It is irresponsible to imply that paying for a see-through nightie is all we have to do to cross "contribute to humanity" off our To Do list.


Lingerie enthusiasts, be still - I’m not on a tirade against lacy bras. Buy as much lingerie as you want. I’d just like to keep the two acts - buying undies, donating to charity - separate. To combine them in this altruistic -boudoir way is too confusing. Do we really need to force the nexus between our sexuality and the financial wellbeing of women on another continent?


The same applies to you, Ms Tara Smith. Volunteering in Cameroon for two years is wonderful and commendable. Starting your own line of lingerie is great, too, if that’s what you’re into. But it’s better for everyone involved if you separate your delicates from your good deeds.