NEW YORK — Blanca Murillo's morning routine, for the most part, would seem unremarkable to any woman: She washes her face, brushes her teeth, runs a comb through her blond bob and daubs on makeup. Then, as she has for the past seven years, she tugs on her girdle.
Known as a faja, from the Spanish word for wrap, it was imported from Colombia, one of the world's cosmetic surgery centers, where until recently it was used mostly for postoperative wear by recovering liposuction patients to keep swelling to a minimum and ensure that the skin tightens properly. But it has been embraced by young Latinas — and increasingly by other women — as a shortcut to a curvaceous body.
For more than 50 years, U.S. women have largely cast off such constrictive undergarments, which feminists criticized as symbols of repression. The nylon and Lycra underwear brand Spanx has been credited with reintroducing, and reacclimating, women to the concept of extra help for figure problems, but it may have also opened the door to a new generation of young women embracing the faja, which is far closer to the real thing — in all its organ-shifting, curve-exaggerating strength.
Such girdles are a resurgent fashion phenomenon to a growing number of women who wriggle into them each day without a thought of what Gloria Steinem might say. Their newfound popularity is very much in evidence — or at least, the results are — on the streets of Queens, where Reggaeton music accompanies the rumble of the elevated subway, which is largely populated by immigrants from Colombia.
“You see the love handles?” asked Murillo, 33, a trim hairdresser who stands a doll-like 4 feet 3 inches tall, as she pinched a small fold of flesh at her midsection and lifted her shirt to reveal a well-worn faja. “With this, you hide it.”
The comeback of fajas has surprised even those in the business of selling them; they had fallen out of favor before they were adopted for medical use.
“I'm from the '70s; we rejected it,” said Lisa Cipriani, 57, the proprietor of Caralinda Mis Fajas, one of the dozens of stores in Queens that specialize in the garment.
“This is the new generation, and this is an option,” she said.
The demand has been soaring. Colfajas, which manufactures fajas in Colombia and exports them, raised its production by 47 percent last year and exported 60,000 items, thousands more than in past years, said Jean Pierre Velez, who helps run the family-owned company.
Y&K, a small clothing and lingerie shop in Queens, regularly sells out the roughly 4,000 fajas it ships in each year.
Look 'like a Coke bottle'
The fajas comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, from full-body jumpsuits to tight belly bands, for women as well as men. The effects depend on the fabric heft of the fajas; they come in Lycra, cotton, nylon and latex. The less forgiving the material, the more flattering the effect. Prices typically run from $20 to more than $70, depending on the fabric and how much of the body it covers.
“There is a Spanish saying: You want to look 'like a Coke bottle,' ” said Lilliana Rios, 33, who reflects on the faja on her blog ThingsLatinosLoveor Hate.com. “A lot of Spanish songs talk about women with shapes like a guitar, so that's the curved look that Latina women want.”
Getting the look requires some grit. Tugging on a faja can become a desperate bout of woman versus fabric. Flesh must be coaxed inside, battened down by hooks and, finally, sealed with a zipper that can force the air out of your lungs.
“The first day you can't stand it,” Murillo said. “But then it loosens it up.”
Hidden under clothes the results may be sexy, but fajas are not. Most are the color of an Ace bandage and resemble body casts. Some are configured to squeeze certain areas and leave others to jiggle.
At Aishti, his store in Queens, Moussa Balaghi has begun carrying girdles in size “extra small,” because, to his shock, so many teenagers and even younger girls were coming in to request them.
“Only chubby fat girls used to use this; now, everybody is,” he said shaking his head. “If she has the smallest little thing at her waist, she wants to use this.”
Rios, the blogger, said new fabrics had replaced the rubberized material of the old corsets, which were often reinforced with stiff struts called boning. And implicit celebrity endorsements helped popularize the new version for a new generation.
“Fajas to me were something my mother would wear,” Rios said. “Now Spanx came along and you see Eva Longoria wearing it, Jennifer Lopez wearing it. Now it's at a comfort level that women at any size and any age are wearing them.”
At Caralinda Mis Fajas, clients ease their way into tighter and tighter fajas. A seamstress will resize the faja once or twice as a customer's weight shifts downward. And it often does: A faja can hold the stomach so tight, Cipriani said, the wearer loses her appetite.
Not every young woman, even from a culture in which girdles are the norm, is willing to strap in. Although her 16-year-old cousin wears a faja to high school every day, Onelia Rodriguez, 20, said she never had and never would.
“If you want to look skinny, go to the gym, eat healthier,” she said.
“Your body is the way it is,” she added. “When you take it off, your body is still the same. It's like false advertising.”