From the Archives: A Brief History of the Underpant

Having received a tip-off that this article appeared in the AMT journal back in the day, the blog minions spent hours and days and weeks searching through the archives to find it (OK, so a mystery benefactor emailed it), we thought it deserved a re-airing. Enjoy!

By Rebecca Barnett

Many, many moons ago, I had a telephone inquiry from a male member of the public asking if it would be okay to wear a G-string during a treatment. Seized by an impish desire to “string” this apparently upstanding pillar of the community along, I sought clarification on the grammatical ambiguity of his question.

“It depends entirely on who would be required to wear the aforementioned item of apparel – you or me?”

There was a not insubstantial pause while my would-be client weighed up the philosophical complexities of my response.

“Well, I was referring to myself but, now that you mention it, I’m really not that fussy. It’s just that I used to have a massage therapist who preferred me to wear a G-string because she liked to see my smile while she was working”.

Hmmm, I thought to myself. I had only just seen ‘The Lord of the Rings’, so suddenly the Cracks of Doom took on a whole new resonance.

Regardless, I pounced on this opening in the conversation to read aloud a dictionary definition of the term ‘prostitute’ and embarked on a brief outline of the real job description and qualifications required for professionals working in this field of endeavour. I followed this with a critical analysis of the points of departure between prostitution and massage therapy (the two oldest professions?), explaining these rather marked differences in terms of a Venn Diagram, where the two sets of values do not overlap.

Oddly enough, at this point he hung up … no doubt to take his business and his G-String elsewhere.

An Underpant Timeline

The humble underpant, in all its wondrous shades and styles, is a pivotal part of our professional lives as massage therapists. And yet, they are a relatively modern invention. In fact, on a geological time scale, the brief of the brief is so brief you miss ’em in the wink of a nana-second. The abbreviated time line goes something like this:

Pre-Cambrian: This is so long ago that no-one can possibly remember anything about it. Geological evidence suggests, however, that there were no underpants on earth around this time.

Devonian: (Editor’s note: This time period is known as the “Fritz” or “Luncheon” in other regions) Meat was invented during this era. There were still no humans around to eat it though. Still no sign of the underpant.

Jurassic: Steven Spielberg became famous during this era. He was a known free-bagger from way back.

Pleistocene: A fun era for children. It would never have been possible without the advent of food colouring and Cream of Tartar. Still, apparently, nothing resembling an underpant, so many parents were getting desperate.

Recent epoch: The underpant finally makes it onto the scene a mere fraction of a second before midnight. No wonder everyone feels the need to celebrate the new year so vigorously. Makes you feel humble too, doesn’t it?

The Lingerie shift: Geologists have argued long and hard about whether this era is merely a sub-set of the Recent Epoch or truly deserves to stand in its own right. Plate tectonics, seismic activity and continental drift have been thrown into the debate as arguments for its independent inclusion. Either way, it happens so close to midnight that people are always much too drunk to notice and it might as well never have happened in the first place. It will certainly all be forgotten in the haze of the morning after.

A Bi-Gluteal Nomenclature of the Underpant

Obviously, an article of this length could never hope to encompass the complex array of underpant signals and codes. Over the years, I have learnt that underpants are truly the window to the soul, absence of them even more so.

In ‘Uber and Underpant’, Frederick Nietsche claimed that “the only thing worse than no underpants is a superhero with no underpants. Oh, and there’s also that whole nasty business about the essential nothingness of human existence”.

Many are the times I have headed off for a remedial massage myself and experienced that most dread of feelings – underpant angst. Which tragic pair had I hauled on this morning? Were they pragmatic or whimsical? Plain or printed? Were they acute or chronic; did they have overuse syndrome or degenerative elastic disease?

The imitation leopard skin, the full brief, the flowery cottontail, the boxer, the jock, the lacy bit of nothing, the Y-front, the G-string, the bikini brief.

After much consideration I have decided that, ultimately, there are only two types of underpant, viz, the ones that ride up and the ones that fall down. That is all I know and all I ever need to know.

The rest is silence.

* Yes, we noticed the use of the singular “underpant” too. Frustrating, isn’t it?

About the Author

As Secretary of AMT, Rebecca Barnett has been at the coalface of professional advocacy for 11 years. Her proudest achievements include the release of the AMT Code of Practice in 2013 and the establishment of AMT’s classified massage therapy research database. She’s still not sure whether to be proud of, or horrified by, those nine stressful months of negotiation with Medibank Private back in 2014. The resulting baby was one that only a private health insurer could love. She is devoted to neologism and foodstuffs with the same specific gravity as havarti cheese but is ambivalent about semi-colons.

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