I have vivid childhood memories of chafing problems. Growing up in South Florida meant spending a lot of my early years sitting around in a wet swimsuit, at pools and at the beach. Chafing issues always seemed to sneak up on me as a kid; one minute I was perfectly fine, the next I had searing burning pain in the skin under my arms and on my thighs, and I couldn’t think of anything else. (Nor could anyone nearby, as I also remember whining very loudly on this subject quite a lot.)
Back then, I found my most reliable relief in a tube of Desitin: Yes, the diaper rash cream, a fact that 9-year-old Lesley found humiliating. Still, as soon as I started complaining about chafing, my mom would break out the Desitin, and as I got older I learned to use it on my own. Because it worked. This was long before Desitin was making “creamy” nice-smelling options, incidentally -- the stuff I used as a kid came out in stiff blops of almost pure zinc oxide. It had a pungent and distinct odor, and got everywhere on my clothes, no matter how carefully I applied it.
But, it worked. And it was worth the grossness and embarrassment to not be in pain.
What I knew as “chafing” as a child (or “Oh my god why do I need thighs at ALL this hurts so bad”) is today more cutely known as “chub rub,” and usually refers to skin irritation that happens when thigh-meat rubs against thigh-meat, often in hot weather, causing pain. The worst chub rub turns into a painful scabby rash, and is usually brought on by a lot of walking or other activity in a wet or humid environment.
That said, different bodies chafe in different spots -- as I said above, when I was a kid, I chafed under my arms worse than anywhere else, although that doesn’t happen anymore -- and despite perceptions to the contrary, chub rub is not exclusively a problem for fat folks. Anyone with thighs that touch may experience this issue from time to time.
Whenever I talk about how much I hate pants, the first question my fellow fats or otherwise big-thighed folks tend to ask is, “But what do you do in the summer?” Because I wear dresses all season long, without any issues, and given the the generous state of my legs, I must be some kind of thigh-whispering chub-rub-defying wizard.
This year, I decided to attempt a list of chub rub solutions, as comprehensive as I could make it. And I would try everything on it. For an absurd number of years now, my preferred chub-rub deterrent has been my meticulously maintained collection of seamless undershorts that plus-size chain Avenue stopped making ages ago. They’re boring, but they’re comfortable and they wear like iron, a fact I can testify to given that some of my shorts are 10 years old and still in fantastic shape. Still, I figure it’s probably time to expand my thigh-protection game, since they won't last forever.
There will be no shapewear in this list. You know that shapewear exists already. You can wear Spanx in 90-degree weather if you want, and I am not going to judge you. Well, I might wonder about you a little. But if you want to cook your poor legs like human chorizos then I will defend your right to do it. Just know there are non-sausage options out there for you.
Also, there are as many varieties of chub rub as there are bodies in this world, and what works for one person won't for another. I tend to prefer physical barriers like undershorts, but some folks swear by deodorant or special anti-chafing creams. My experiences are mine alone, and your thigh mileage (thigh-lage?) may vary. While I didn’t test literally every suggestion I found -- I skipped the Alberto VO5 and Chapstick options, and Vaseline + thighmeat seems like a recipe for ruining perfectly good clothing to me -- I did as many as I could stand before I started literally dreaming about possible chub rub substances, culminating in a disturbing night in which I woke unsure of whether I'd actually smeared peanut butter on my thighs in real life, or only imagined it.
PHYSICAL BARRIERS TO CHUB RAGE
Bandelettes are cute little lace bands you pull on your legs, held in place with silicone stay-up bands (these will be familiar to anyone who’s worn lace top thigh-highs) and available to fit up to 32” thighs. (Marianne reviewed them before me, but in the interest of being comprehensive, the folks at Bandelettes were kind enough to send me some samples so I could give them a shot as well.)
As an anti-chafing option, Bandeletters are easily the most lingerie-y choice out there. The lace feels sturdy without being heavy or stiff, and oddly enough, they’re very comfortable. The only weird thing is that they feel like they’re going to move, but they don’t. I cannot explain it any better than that. I’ll be wearing these things, and I am constantly convinced they’re falling down or rotating around my leg or whatever, but they’re not actually moving. They just feel like they are. It’s like a trust exercise, with a highly specialized undergarment.
I suspect this perceived mobility is due to the 1-way stretch on the lace, or maybe I should have sized down. Once I accepted that they only FEEL like they’re shifting, and I could in fact trust them to stay put, I really did like them as a fancier form of thigh protection. Maybe wear these if you're going to dinner with someone who might see them later, assuming you're cool with explaining, "Oh yeah those are to keep my chub rub at bay," because that might be weird, depending.
Initial Reaction: They’re moving. Are they moving? No they’re not moving. WAIT THEY’RE MOVING.
Three Hours Later: They’re not moving. Also they work, who knew.
Undersummers are soft, stretchy shorts that come in loads of colors and a few different styles -- I tried the lacy ones, because many of these undershorts options try very hard to be unassuming and invisible and that becomes dull quickly. Several styles are available in plus sizes up to a size 28-30.
These shorts run a bit long, both in the leg and in the waist, so they might work best if you’re on the taller side. (I'm 5'8" and they work for me, but Marianne, who is 5’4,” has tried them as well, and found them too long to wear with some dresses without showing.) I dig the lacy details and the fact that you can get matching camisoles to turn “THAT’S MY THIGH ARMOR” shorts into a cute old-timey matching set.
An unexpected bonus: the fabric used in the lace style shorts is slippery enough that it doesn’t catch on skirts. I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but while microfiber is massively comfortable, I find a lot of microfiber styles tend to “grab” skirts and bunch them up a bit, especially if you’re walking briskly or it’s breezy out. Not a problem with the lace Undersummers, although I can’t speak for the other styles.
Initial Reaction: These really aren’t shapewear in the least. These shorts want you to be comfortable with everything that’s going on here. They practically pet your legs and tell them that everything will be okay. That said, the v-shaped waistband takes a little getting used to.
Three Hours Later: I totally forgot I was even wearing them. I’d mark that a success.
As soon as I started talking about doing a deep investigative report on chub rub, people were on me about these Jockey slipshorts. They’re seamless and microfiber and the closest thing I’ve found yet to the pure reliable functionality of the aforementioned Avenue undershorts, the death of which continues to be bitterly lamented by a certain segment of dress-wearing fat girls (me and like three people I know, anyway).
Here’s the downside: for some reason, Jockey only sees fit to offer these shorts up to a size XXL. Now, they stretch a lot, and I am able to wear the XXL comfortably, but I wouldn’t recommend them for a body much bigger than mine (I wear about a size 26). I hope that Jockey will eventually see fit to expand the size range, as it seems odd to stop there when chub rub is a problem for lots of bigger bodies.
Initial Reaction: Comfort! Simplicity! Boring colors!
Three Hours Later: Comfort! Simplicity! Boring colors!
COSMETIC CHUB PROTECTION
I think it needs a few more words in the name. No but really, from practically the instant this product hit the market, I started hearing people raving about it. (Apparently it's also a popular face primer, but I'll let you Google that on your own.)
I’ve never tried it before because, well, if I’m seriously concerned that the course of my day may see me into rubtown, I’ll just wear undershorts and call it done.
I suspect if you’re someone for whom chub rub is an occasional problem -- and someone who really hates the extra layer of shorts under a dress -- this might work very well for you. For me, I actually didn’t feel like it made a huge difference. I can see myself keeping it in my bag as a backup for those times that I’m out and noticing a bit of friction, but as a first line of defense on hot days of lengthy walking, I think I need something a bit stronger.
Initial Reaction: Huh, no slimy/slippery feeling at all. At all. Isn’t this supposed to make things slip more, though?
Three Hours Later: I entirely forgot I’d used it. I guess this could a positive, insofar as no goopy gross residue hanging around, but also a negative, in that it didn’t seem to make a huge impact as chafing protection. Maybe I didn’t apply enough.
Once upon a time, Bodyglide was a top secret anti-chafing fat girl weapon, spoken of in hushed whispers amongst chub-rub sufferers in the metaphocial dark alleys of the internet. Originally designed to protect runners (I guess there’s an actual thing called “runner’s nipple”?) the Bodyglide folks have since been clued in to the broader applications (hahaha pun) of their product, and today they even have a “plus size” section on their website, right out in the open, and a line of “For Her” products meant for everyday use.
I had never tried Bodyglide before, because I have this habit of avoiding things people say I will love, and because I’m kind of a stubborn ass. However, I’m a big enough person to admit when I’m wrong, and I was wrong. Bodyglide is amazing. It’s not greasy or disgusting-feeling. It works for ages. What else have I been missing out on? Is "Parks & Recreation" really that good?
Initial Reaction: It’s not gross! And it comes in a handy stick form so you don’t need to smear it all over your hands. Neat.
Three Hours Later: I can’t believe how well this works. I even happened to use it on an unusually hot day, and it still held up beautifully. I am so sorry, everyone whose Bodyglide advice I ignored all these years.
Lush’s Silky Underwear ($7.95)
This is one of the only Lush products I continue to buy after my all-encompassing Lush-obsession phase came to an end several years ago. I know lots of folks use this as a main defense against chub rub, but I like it as a backup powder for really hot days -- it’s great to use wherever your bra might irritate your skin in warmer weather. I find it’s less effective for serious chafing prevention in summer heat, but that’s okay, because it smells lovely and is both smoothing and moisture-wicking, somehow. It’s loaded with cocoa butter, so that might be it.
In the interest of science, I gave it a shot again as a primary chafing protector.
Initial Reaction: I LOVE THIS STUFF. Ugh, I feel like a fancy Victorian prostitute with really good toiletries.
Three Hours Later: It actually didn’t do that badly, but I would probably have to reapply a couple times if I was out walking around all day. It was also a bit on the chilly side the day I used it.
WEIRD RANDOM STUFF I TRIED
People have mentioned using deodorant for anti-chub-rub purposes for awhile, and I don’t know, I feel like this might work for folks whose thighs lightly brush one another, but not so much for people whose thighs meet like two bighorn rams fighting over mating rights with a particularly sexy lady sheep.
I used an unopened sample-sized Secret deodorant stick I found under my bathroom sink. I think I got it for free at some point.
Initial Reaction: Eh. It smells nice. I’m out of painfully obvious observations to make here.
Three Hours Later: It had no staying power whatsoever, which is probably not surprising. I think I’d rubbed it off entirely within the first 30 minutes.
Hey, it’s a miracle cure for everything, right? Why wouldn’t it work for this? BONUS: your personal lady-area will smell vaguely like tropical cookies.
Initial Reaction: …. Ew. This might have been a bad idea.
Three Hours Later: My inner thighs have never been so supple and moisturized. However, it didn’t do much against chafing. And I was afraid to sit down and get oil stains on my clothes.
Crisco/Pam Cooking Spray
For real, I read about this online. I wasn’t going to go buy Crisco just to rub it on my legs and then have it rot in my fridge. Sorry. This article also suggested Pam nonstick spray, which was just hilarious enough to me to consider trying it, since I already had some in the house.
Please note that the article referenced sternly advises against using butter-flavored Pam, because you’ll smell like butter all day. I almost wished I had the butter kind on hand because of all the gross jokes that sprung to mind. What is that smell coming from my crotch? I’ve got a Buttersnatch! I’m making popcorn up in there! I could go on.
Initial Reaction: HAHAHAHA I JUST SPRAYED PAM ON MY THIGHS.
Three Hours Later: I mean, it kinda worked as well as the Monistat. I guess if you need something in a pinch this works. And if you need to fry an egg on your hot ass, you’re well and truly prepared for it.
Silicone Sex Lube
During my research, I noticed quite a few of the sports-related anti-chafing sticks and gels were silicone-based. Because I’m not a runner, all I kept thinking was whether silicone-based lube would work, as it’s basically the same thing, right? I mean silicone is silicone, whether it’s for sexing or sportsing.
Trouble is, I’m not that big a fan of silicone lubes -- my preferred Liquid Silk has some silicone in it, but it’s mostly water-based. Fortunately I had a sample packet of silicone lube on hand. (“Sliquid”? Cute.) I’m not going to think too much about where it came from, because I have no idea. So I gave it a shot. I MIGHT have used too much.
Initial Reaction: Ew. Ew. Ew. EW. EW. EW. EW. WHAT. WHY. WHY DID I DO THIS. It’s like I dipped two water balloons in canola oil and strapped them between my legs. My thighs don’t even feel like they belong to me anymore. Maybe they’ve left?
Three Hours Later: I didn’t last that long. I washed it off after like 20 minutes. Still, there’s no reason why this shouldn’t work, given that it’s literally designed to ease friction. Wink, nudge.
I ended the project here, as I realized I was becoming obsessed with the state of my inner thighs in an unhealthy way, and that is really no way to live. Also, I think the silicone lube experiment was just a bridge too far. I’ve recalled it a few times since, and every time, I shudder.
I’m sticking with shorts for now -- they’re reliable and familiar, and they’re also useful if you wear a lot of full dresses in windy weather without necessarily wanting to show off your bum every time your skirt blows up. But I’m sure many of you have closely-guarded secrets to fend off chub carnage in your own lives. What did I forget? Let’s talk about our thighs and how we can all have a comfortable summer together.