08 November 2013

Even More Brilliant Marketing

Ridiculously overpriced athletic wear company Lululemon had reps bust out with this little gem about how the issues with see-through pants and a decline in quality is probably due to "not all women's bodies working for the pants." First off, let me just point out that I have spent years believing that the clothes were supposed to work for my human body, not the other way around. Thank goodness that insanity has been remedied. Now I know that it is my job to force my body into a certain shape so I can then enjoy the privilege of paying $100 for some spandex that you can see my panties through. Outstanding.

All the usual things need to be said. Discriminating against plus-size women is body shaming and serves no purpose other than boosting egos. Alienating a large market share is probably bad business. Enforcing strict cultural norms of thinness doesn't help people be healthier. You know what? Just read my post on A&F and sub in Lululemon as needed.

The larger issue here though is the seeming rise in athletic companies who do not market clothing and gear for plus-sized individuals. Plus sized-here being defined as anyone over a 12 or a "large." Not only is it size-discrimination, and ignorant of the fact that healthy active lifestyles are not inherently inclusive of being thin, but it serves as a major deterrent to people looking to start making healthy choices. If you decide to workout, or increase your activity level, and when you go to get some clothing discover that none of it is available in your size...are you going to feel really inspired to keep going?

Now, I acknowledge that you don't have to have all top of the line gear to undertake physical activity. If what you want to do is run/bike/dance then you can just do it. In sweats, in pjs, in jeans or in the nude if that is what it takes. Worrying that I don't have the "right" clothes to workout is a flimsy excuse to not work out. BUT, many athletic activities are inherently more enjoyable, and therefore more likely to be continued, when you have some decent gear. Running does require decent shoes and for those of us who have boobs, a good bra. Yoga is better when your clothes stretch and don't billow over your head during downward dog. Bike shorts make the difference between a successful bike ride and one where your buns hurt and you have suspicious chaffing in delicate areas. Not every shiny bauble you see is a must have, but a few quality pieces increase your odds of continuing on this healthy endeavor by entire orders of magnitude.

So now compound this lack of availability with the constant social message that, as a fat person and the root of all that is wrong with our culture, you need to workout more. Those of us who are overweight, or even just "not thin," are constantly aware that our lack of willpower, moral fiber and hours in the gym are the reason we are in a health crisis. The message is constant : get off your fat-ass, starve yourself and exercise until we can stand to look at you. The corollary is: have fun with that since there is no gear available to aid you in this process. As the old meme goes, you can only go to the gym once you have achieved your goal level of fitness. The perfect catch-22 for fat shaming without any of the pesky necessity to actually help anyone.

That said, many athletic retailers do market to a range of body sizes and types. While I generally buy my gear at Target (who run up to XXL in pants and XXXL in shirts), I have found (mostly on clearance at TJMAXX) that many companies run a similar range of sizing. It is becoming easier for me to find shirts that accommodate my broad shoulder, pants that are generously cut in the thighs while still cinching down to fit my waist and bras that actually fit/support my DDs without breaking the bank. Maybe retailers are starting to understand that being healthy, or trying to get healthier, happens at a variety sizes and people will (surprise!) pay you if you make something that meets their needs.

Interestingly high end retailers seem to be missing this message in their desperate attempts to make sure their clothes are only ever part of a certain look. Frankly if this apparel can't withstand stretching over someone's thighs, wearing a seatbelt or using a purse (anyone else find the whole line of logic hard to follow?) is it really athletic gear? If all you can do in these clothes is slow, graceful yoga when already a size 4, then market them as what they are: expensive loungewear for skinny people who don't move around too much. Quit blaming women for having variable bodies and start making better product. If Target and Walmart can manage to make high quality work-out gear, in a range of sizes for a reasonable price, the problem is clearly you, not your consumers. As for the rest of us, from sizes 0 to infinity, who actually plan to undertake athletic endeavors...we will buy our clothes elsewhere.