Chafing: why the pain caused by 'chub rub' is more than physical

Written by Gina Tonic

Some call it chafing and others call it chub rub. Stylist explores how to save your skin and protect your self-esteem this summer. 

Thigh chafing, or as it’s more commonly known, chub rub, is the only reason I don’t run around wearing just a bikini all summer. Plus, I would hate to hurt everyone’s feelings by being more gorgeous than them all. Jokes aside, chub rub causes physical pain – to the point where some can’t walk for days afterwards. There is also an emotional element to chafing that needs to be discussed in detail. The feeling of betrayal from your own body can easily add to any self esteem issues a person may have.

“It used to feel like physical confirmation that being fat was bad,” says Sam, a 25-year-old who has suffered from the soreness of thigh chafing since puberty. “I felt embarrassed andisolated from my peers. As one of the only fat girls in my class already, I didn’t want anything else making me stick out further. So I just spent most of my teens literally gritting my teeth and trying to ignore it, then dealing with the after effects of red raw thighs.”

Thankfully, Sam confirms that they now take more care, using preventative measures to avoid chafing and knowing how to treat chub rub when it is particularly sore.

Daphne has experienced thigh chafing since she was in single digits. Similar to Sam, the skin issue brings up feelings of internalised fatphobia and self hatred. 

“When my partner, who is a smaller guy, told me he gets it too, I felt less ‘weird’ or ‘gross’ – which is messed up,” she explains. “I shouldn’t feel gross about things, even if it’s just me getting it or other things linked to my size!”

Daphne brings up an interesting point. When issues that plus-sized people see as unique to them are revealed to affect wider audiences, it doesn’t always remove the stigma. We can still associate the condition with our fatness.  

Chafing is literally referred to as ‘chub rub’.  Linking chubbiness to the physical pain seeps under the skin, whether or not the chafing itself is happening to a fat person or a thin person. 

That said, there is still solidarity in knowing that chafing in the intimate area affects people of different sizes and genders. Knowing that chafing – in all its heat-filled horribleness – is a commonality anyone with skin can share, it feels even sillier that this dermatological distress is so shrouded in shame by those who experience it.

Let’s remember Sam’s feelings of low self worth due to their association of fatness with chub rub. Daphne’s counterpoint that “thin people get chub rub too” doesn’t prevent the negativity that surrounds fatness. The question of how to solve the issue of associating chafing with fatness remains.

As a fat person who has experienced chub rub for years, the answer seems clear: we need to stop associating fatness with negativity.

Chafing affects people from all walks of life

Of course, this is a big ask. Fat liberation pioneers have been tackling it since the 60s, but Dr Deborah Lee of Dr Fox Online Pharmacy, points out that when it comes to chafing, a focus on the facts can help. 

She explains that dermatologically, chub rub actually has nothing to do with chubbiness at all, and can affect anyone. Speaking to Stylist, she describes it as “two skin surfaces repeatedly rubbing against each other until the top layer of skin cells is stripped away”.

Dr Lee continues: “As you continue to exercise, the skin becomes moist due to excess sweating. Gradually, the skin becomes inflamed and feels sore. Sometimes, blisters may develop, which may burst, bleed, or can become infected.” 

The condition is more common in hot weather, and those with medical conditions such as diabetes and hidradenitis suppurativa (those with the condition regularly get abscesses in their armpits and groin) are more prone to it. 

Contrary to popular belief, the condition isn’t thigh specific either. People can get chafing between their toes, under their breasts and in the groin, the doctor explains. 

Given that Dr Lee warns it can lead to serious conditions such as cellulitis, intertrigo or athlete’s foot, it is worth knowing how to banish the condition from our lives altogether.  

Daphne explains that she has found the only real solution is wearing cycling shorts or specially designed chub rub shorts, like those formulated by size-inclusive brand Snag Tights. She also recommends NOK, a French cream formulated for runners, for days when wearing an extra layer isn’t an option.

Sam is more cynical. They have yet to find a foolproof method to prevent chafing. But in the case of treating already rubbed chub, they suggest a shower to cool off, and wearing soft trousers for a few days, so the skin doesn’t rub. 

Daphne also recommends cold showers. Afterwards, she likes to use repair cream Flamazine (which is prescription-only in the UK) on any particularly sore areas.

Dr Lee says chafing prevention starts with wearing the right clothes, especially if you’re exercising. Proper running shorts, correctly fitted footwear, the right sized sports bra and a loose-fitting top are a good starting point.

“This should be made of a synthetic fabric that is breathable that allows moisture to evaporate, and not be too tight around the armpits,” she adds. 

The doctor also recommends using talcum powder or Vaseline as a barrier between the skin. 

Just like you have to work out the best moisturiser for your skin, you have to find out which anti-chafing method is best for your needs.  

The most important thing, though, is finding peace with this skin problem and not letting it affect your self esteem. 

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