Lululemon Athletica founder issued an apology to workers for fallout from his putting his foot in his mouth on Bloomberg TV this month. However, his comment that women whose thighs rub together "don't work" for Lululemon pants damages more than the company's reputation.
Lululemon has been in the news lately because the brand's founder, Chip Wilson, told Bloomberg News that when his $100 pants wear out more quickly than his cheaper competitors' do, it's women's fault. Women across North America were shocked to hear him claim that when Lululemon pants wear out too quickly, it's because women's bodies aren't built right – specifically, that their thighs are rubbing together.
I've got news for Chip Wilson: thighs that rub together are a physiologically normal trait in adult women. Implying that women's thighs shouldn't actually rub together is irresponsible.
Here's why: We live in a media culture that is toxic to women and girls. As a professor of advertising and media studies, I know firsthand that advertisements and magazines depict women with an idealized, extremely thin body type that is unattainable for the vast majority of people. In fact, most people don't realize that Photoshop isn't just used for retouching wrinkles and acne and for whitening teeth: it's regularly used to make models' waists and limbs dramatically smaller – so small that the proportions are physically impossible. And yet these images are so routine that we now see them as normal.
When we women look in the mirror and compare ourselves to the unattainable ideal, we fall short of the ideal – but we don't understand that the models themselves don't meet this ideal, either! Recently, a lot of young women have begun wishing that they could have a 'thigh gap,' just like that shown on models. There are entire web sites dedicated to this desire. But chasing the thigh gap is actually more likely to cause women to develop an eating disorder than skinny legs.
When I listened to Chip Wilson's interview and heard him say that Lululemon pants wear out quickly because women's thighs rub together, it really got my attention. Most women's thighs rub together – even those of us who are quite thin! Lululemon is supposed to be about women's health and fitness. By blaming women's bodies for a defect with his company's pants, Wilson is implying that a thigh gap is part of a normal, healthy body – and in the current context of our society and media, that's dangerous.