It's Not Lululemon's Pants That Are The Problem, It's Your Big Giant Meaty Thighs And Your Insistence On Wearing Seat Belts, Says Company Founder

Also purses. You're wearing the wrong purse.
Publish date:
November 7, 2013
body politics, size, thigh shame

On Tuesday, Chip Wilson, Lululemon founder, spoke up about ongoing complaints with regard to his company’s pricey yoga pants in an interview with Bloomberg TV.

Basically, his position is that the pants are fine, it’s women’s bodies that are wrong. Or possibly that they don’t know how to wear pants.

Asked by Trish Regan to speak to the company’s significant recall of accidentally see-through yoga pants earlier this year, and new complaints of pilling just recently, Wilson started digging himself into a very unfortunate hole:

“There’s always been pilling, the thing is that women will wear a seat belt that doesn’t work or they’ll wear a purse that doesn’t work… frankly some women’s bodies just don’t actually work for it.“...Even our small sizes will fit an extra large. It’s really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there, over a period of time, and how much use--”

OK, OK, I’m sorry, I have to pause here because I’m laughing too hard. “Pressure,” you guys! PRESSURE. Lululemon, supplying pants for all your thigh gap needs!

At this point, former Lululemon designer Sharon Wilson interrupts, probably because she can see the headlines that are going to result from this strange rambling explanation already, adding, “--What’s the use, and what’s it being up against? Are you sitting against a cement ground?”

Trish Regan takes this logic to its rational end by saying, “Interesting, so not every woman can wear a Lululemon yoga pant.”

But Chip Wilson is stalwart: “No, I think they can, I think it’s just how you use them.”

I’m going to give Wilson the benefit of the doubt and suggest this is a case of a guy having ABSOLUTELY ZERO PREPARED TALKING POINTS on the subject in question, reaching for an explanation that sounds good, and failing miserably. Which ordinarily I’d be sympathetic to, except the quality issues with Lululemon’s pants are well documented, and even if Wilson has no expectation of being asked about them, it’s probably wise to have a reasonable-sounding response at the ready just in case.

But I am not here to bash Chip Wilson in particular, as his reaction is hardly unique to him, nor is it all that uncommon. Indeed, the cultural notion that women’s bodies are a problem is fairly well-established.

What fascinates me about this particular exchange is that it does not seem to occur to Wilson that what he is saying could be problematic. And when the interviewer gently points it out by asking if what he means is that his pants aren’t for everyone, he is careful to correct the interviewer and say, no, they can be, ostensibly so long as “every woman” makes her thighs appropriate to the apparel. He couldn’t be more certain that the problem lies not with the pants, but with the women wearing them.

Women don’t actually need help to believe that their bodies ought to be tailor-made to fit clothes, instead of the other way around. From skinny-leg pants to crop tops, the idea that only certain bodies can wear certain garments is a popular one. I suspect this is really only in the news because yoga pants are… well, yoga pants. They are almost by definition a thing anyone can wear, and while Lululemon pants certainly have a status-y cache that many such pants don’t, yoga pants are often put down as the kind of thing people wear when they don’t give a crap what they’re wearing.

It’s kind of impressive that Lululemon has managed to make yoga pants chic at all, and as we all know, a critical part of something being fashionable is exclusivity. (Also, price, as many of Lululemon’s yoga pants cost over $100 -- which hey, if you like them and can afford them, is totally fine, and as Chip Wilson says, they’re not just a yoga-pants company, “We’re a technology company, and when you push technology something is going to happen every now and again.”)

Honestly, Lululemon pants WON’T work for “every woman” -- actually they won’t work for LOADS of women, because they’re not available in plus sizes, stopping at a size 12, with a 32.5” waist. Lululemon is not under any obligation to make pants in a wider range of sizes, or to otherwise make their pants broadly accessible, but let’s not pretend these pants are intended to be universally appropriate. The truth is you can wear Lululemon yoga pants as intended if you have $100 to spend, if you wear a size 12 or smaller, if you will be standing the entire time you have them on, if you won’t be allowing your legs to touch, if you can keep your thighs to the correct “pressure,” if you don’t wear seatbelts, AND if you don’t carry a purse.

As absurd as this list of requirements may seem, it’s actually perfectly OK that these pants won’t work for everyone. The problematic bit is the suggestion that bodies ought to fit their clothes, and not the other way around, because this backwards logic only further contributes to the vast array of body issues so many women already face, and the lowered self-esteem these issues can create. I would much rather Chip Wilson said, “Correct, our pants won’t work for everyone,” because that’s the honest truth, rather than insist that the pants are blameless and that their wearers are the problem.

And for real, pants that work for “every woman”? Even YOGA PANTS that manage this feat? Impossible. Even Lululemon’s technological overconfidence hasn’t gotten us to this bright future yet. Women’s bodies are in their natural states a marvel of wide-ranging diversity, and I for one prefer that to a series of hypothetical carbon-copy thighs specially shaped to suit a particular pair of pants.