I’m no prognosticator when it comes to the future of disability in general, or paralysis in particular, but every once in a while, I stumble upon a trend a few minutes before it becomes commonplace. A couple of years back I wrote a book about my own encounter with wheelchair living in which I made the following prediction:
“For all of you aging baby boomers with bladder management problems on the horizon, you’ll be happy to hear that they now make these security garments in all kinds of appealing, worry-free shapes and sizes. Soon there will probably be designer ones by Calvin Klein or Ralph Lauren (in a rugged, Wyoming rancher motif), advertised in Vanity Fair …”
Well, as of 2013, the future has hit us square in the face. From the ahead-of-the-game marketing geniuses at Kimberly-Clark, makers of Depends, Huggies, and other fine waste management products, now comes the next generation of stylish undergarments: for the ladies, “Silhouette for Women,” and for the guys, “Real Fit for Men.” Male or female, the bottom line is (no pun intended): this classy new breakthrough “looks, fits, and feels just like underwear.” You’re no longer wearing “diapers,” no sirree. Just like the next guy in line for beer at the ballgame, you’re wearing simple underwear. You now have your own pair of tighty whiteys.
These stigma-busting designs may have already hit your local CVS, but like most things, I discovered them through a TV commercial. And a heck of a commercial, message-wise, it is. A shill holding up a box of “Real Fit for Men” approaches three famous NFL players on a practice field. If you know football — and what “real man” doesn’t? — you’ll recognize these guys immediately. Two are All-Pro asskickers of the first order — Clay Matthews, linebacker, Green Bay, 6 foot 3 inches, 255 pounds, noted for his brutality and his ponytail; and DeMarcus Ware, linebacker, Dallas, 6 foot 4 inches, 260 pounds, the best of the best, fast, strong, and mean. The third player, New England’s Wes Welker, is a nod to the smaller Depends wearers out there. He’s a receiver and only weighs in at 185 pounds.
The shill says to these mavens of macho, “What’s up, guys? I know you don’t need one, but would you try these on for charity and prove just how great the fit is?” The “I know you don’t need one” intro is pretty unambiguous code for “God forbid you he-men would ever have to wear one of these embarrassing things for real.” Instead, they are doing it for charity. Suspicious? Deeply. I’m guessing that they are doing it for more money than you or I make in a month or a year, or at least a huge tax write-off.
They go back to the locker room and put them on, the Real Fits are invisible under their Spandex football pants, and you, the real wearer, is sitting there at home saying to yourself, “Hell, if killer Clay Matthews can wear them and lose not a whit of his manliness, so can I!!”
I’m going out on a limb here to say this is the finest, most effective pitch for adult male diapers ever made. It’s the same thing as a beautiful actress selling your wife some overpriced skin cream. When she puts it on, even if she has sandpaper skin, she feels like a beautiful actress. When you don a pair of Real Fit For Men tighteys, even if you are in a chair and weigh 136 pounds and your ribs stick out, you feel like you’re the behemoth on TV who just slammed that quarterback to the turf and is laughing about it and high-fiving his teammates. You’re a man. A full-grown man. A hoochie-koochie man.
The next step in this evolution of incontinence marketing will be someone like George Clooney or Samuel L. Jackson standing in front of a camera saying, “Yeah, I wear Real Fit For Men. I have to. I have bladder problems. Just like millions of men, both disabled and nondisabled. You have a problem with that?”
And, hopefully, we can soon get them in that Ralph Lauren Western motif.