Friday 8 November 2013

Lululemon: fat-phobia, fitness, and why I'm boycotting.

Today the world learned that Chip Wilson, Lululemon’s founder, blames women’s fat thighs for the pilling of fabric in his products. 

In a nutshell, Wilson stated that the fact that Lulu’s pants have been disturbingly see-through and have major pilling problems is all caused by women whose bodies don’t ‘suit’ his product. In short, he’s saying that fat chicks stretch out and ruin the pants.

You might think I’m reading a bit too much into this, except that we’ve heard similar comments from Chip in the past, and past employees have remarked on the fact that snubbing plus-sized customers is part of the Lululemon gig. I’d have a harder time believing this if I hadn’t known some Lulu employee’s in my life, and was also familiar with their rules for employees: for example, employees have to be engaged in a certain amount of physical activity each week and must account for it. I had asked what happens if you sustain an injury or are unable to keep up (because of family responsibilities, school, etc), and the response was basically, “You just have to keep up.”
Indie movements like the Muffin Top Movie work to
counteract body hatred. See the website here.

I’m not saying that fitness is the same thing as fat-phobia, but the line can get very thin between the two. When obsessive exercising is a common symptom of anorexia, for example, one can see why a strict exercise regime can be dangerous, particularly when enforced by the fear of losing one’s job.


Here’s one of the reasons why Lululemon’s fat-phobia really bothers me: size does not equal fitness. A few years ago, my mother and I went into Lulu to try on some clothes. My mom had trouble fitting comfortably into Lulu’s sizes, and found that they didn’t really make her size: she’s at the high end of the size chart without hitting the ‘plus’ category. Meanwhile, I fit their small sizes without complaint. But the kicker is this: at that time, my mom was running 5km a day, lifting weights, and practicing pilates. In comparison, I was rollerderby-ing twice a week, chain smoking, and living off Starbucks lattes. If the zombie apocalypse had broken out right there at Lululemon, my mother would have been safely hidden in the hills while I would have likely had a coronary just before the zombies descended upon me…I’d have died even faster if there had been any stairs involved, of that I’m certain.

So you see, some critics will defend Lulu’s standpoint by saying that they have a right to want ‘fit’ people wearing fitness clothes. We’ll ignore the fact that it’s hard to get fit if you aren’t welcome into the fitness world…let’s just look at the fact that my mother, training for a marathon, felt shunned from Lululemon because the Goddess made her a 5’9” glamazon warrior; meanwhile, her skinny-but-comparatively-couch-potato daughter was invited to wear whatever she liked, because her butt was tiny.

That’s effed up.


I’d like us all to stop equating fitness with size. Our obsession with a person’s girth, both as a measurement of esthetics AND fitness, is irrational. It’s demeaning and it devalues all the hard work put in by people like my mom, who I’m immensely proud of and who I know is gorgeous AND healthy. I’ve heard people today saying, “Lycra is a privilege, not a right”; if I accept that premise, my mother has earned her lycra more than any genetically-gifted 19 year-old who does some light jogging and just has a great metabolism. My mom and her body have:

-birthed a baby in the backwoods of rural British Columbia
-survived 16-hour workdays when she was director of a major corporation
-healed after tearing her shoulder in a jogging accident; healed after a massive hematoma from a biking accident; and healed after downhill skiing into a tree while pregnant (and didn’t miscarry me, by the way)
-quit smoking the same month she found out I’d started smoking at age 18
-prepared herself for marathon-length running
-walked herself out of her one and only surgical procedure, refusing a wheelchair
-taken her dogs on 5km walks every single night, despite a torn meniscus in her knee

…I think she’s earned the right to wear any space-aged material she wants, quite frankly.

So I’m boycotting Lululemon. Mom and I will find some nifty workout wear somewhere else. And if the clothes don’t suit us, I refuse to hear that it’s somehow the fault of our bodies. If the clothes aren’t made to lovingly embrace the superheroine that is my mother, then they’re not something I want to buy.

(And if you agree, and want to support women of all sizes being loved, represented, and accepted, please do check out the Muffin Top Movie kickstarter. Seriously, you can make a difference.)


  1. What a great post. I think what has been so disheartening about the "Lulu debate" is that a lot of people seem to think the angry response stems from a bunch of fat chicks who are pissed they can't fit into the clothes (I'm a fat chick by the way). I'm totally okay with lululemon's clothes not fitting me...I'm not okay with a misogynist asshole blaming his shitty product on women's bodies, particularly when his profit is mired in exploitation.

    You bring it back to the core issues...namely that women's bodies shouldn't be up for debate. For all the feminist theory in the world, I still cannot wrap my head around why anyone would give two shits about someone else's size.

    I'm equally disheartened by the fact that these conversations turn into an assessment of what makes a woman a "real" woman. Let's have a little compassion for ourselves and for others.

  2. I call shenanigans. I've been reading your blog and you yourself have referred to people as chubby. Moreover, seeing as you're SO familiar with Lulu's past, why did you take free stuff from them for your wedding? I see nothing but hypocrisy here and I won't be reading your blog anymore. There's too much: "I don't care about my weight..." but constant references to how small you are. Why the continuous defense of your size? Why mention it? I'll be wearing my Lulus quite happily from here on in. Free enterprise...that's the privilege we have here in Canada. If you don't like body messages, that's fine. But maligning the company that gave you a gift, while saying you don't care about your size, when you're clearly quite seriously concerned, is a bit of a spoiled brat move. (As is monitoring comments to your blog, P.S. It's nice that you can trash Lululemon...but no one can post a comment to your blog regarding your hypocrisy without you "approving" it first. So even if, while reading this, you shouted "well, Canada gives me freedom of speech so if a company is bad, I get to say so!"'re squashing that for people with the whole monitoring post. Nicely done.) You're definitely down this reader.

    1. Look, Anonymous! Your comment is published! And better yet: I've replied:


Might I suggest you copy/paste your comment before you hit 'submit', just in case the internet gremlins eat your first attempt? :)

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