January 8, 2014

In Defense of This Body. ~ Liz Huntly


Chip Wilson was everywhere on my facebook newsfeed in 2013.

There was the thing with the see-through pants, the Bloomberg interview, the teary apology, his resignation as chairman of the board. Between the chip scandals, my newsfeed was peppered with calls to boycott lululemon for chip and non-chip-related reasons. As the Yoga Moments of 2013 articles rolled in this year, Chip was all over those too.

I’m not here to defend lululemon.

I just want to say that Chip doesn’t get to decide how I feel about my body. After the clip from the Bloomberg TV interview went viral, I watched as thread after thread of commentary knitted up a frenzy of indignation.

“Frankly, some women’s bodies just don’t actually work for it,” Chip said of lululemon’s product in the interview. “It’s really about a rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, how much they use it.”

And the whole cyberworld started screaming fat shaming.

As far as I can tell, what Chip said is that the shape and mechanics of a body in motion has an effect on the durability and opacity of the fabric with which that body is clothed. Makes sense.

I can also understand that it’s not a massive jump to take his words, and hear: if your thighs rub together, lululemon is not for you.

It’s irrelevant to me what Chip meant, what was whirring through his head as the words tumbled from his lips. I’m guessing he actually wasn’t thinking too hard about it at all. Maybe he was trying to optimize his time by simultaneously doing that 30-second meditation thing of his. I absolutely do not care what Chip Wilson really thinks.

What bothers me is that it takes so little for us to get up in arms in defense of our bodies. The threads on my newsfeed make it clear to me that our sense of self-worth must rest on tragically teetering legs, when even such perceived body discrimination knocks us so far off balance.

I’m not overweight, but I say ‘we,’ because the ability to feel shame has nothing to do with body size.

I was a thin girl, or so I was told. I never really believed it. I read silly beauty magazines and dreamed of becoming a model, but the one agency that I went to told me my hips were an inch or two too wide. I tried to lose weight, but wasn’t particularly good at starving myself, so I gave up.

I was overly self-conscious from birth, but the rejection didn’t help. You could say that the fashion industry fucked up my self-image, but I don’t think that would be entirely accurate. Yes, media often sets largely unachievable goals, but that doesn’t get to the root of the problem. My problem is that I never thought I was good enough at anything. Not thin enough, not smart enough, not special enough. My problem wasn’t that I wasn’t thin, it was that I wasn’t thick-skinned.

In my early twenties I gained 30 pounds in the space of a summer and kept it on for a couple of years. Even with the extra weight I had a BMI of about 23—well within the healthy range—but I felt like a monster.

I drank too much then, which was obvious to everyone but me. And I was binging, which I hoped was obvious to no one, although I had the sinking suspicion that everybody could tell. I felt vulnerable and exposed. I hid in sweatpants and oversized T-shirts as much as possible, nursed my shame with entire boxes of Oreos. I had trouble forming meaningful relationships with men in those years; I moved often, which might have been a kind of running away. I cried a lot.

Years later, while going through a difficult break up, I dropped to a size two without even really noticing it. I still wasn’t thin enough. Even then I was ashamed of my body, and when I got out of the shower I swore I could still feel my damp thighs smacking against each other.

I cried a lot then too.

I’m learning, slowly, to fall in love with the particular construction of skin and muscle and bone that belongs to me. I’m on fairly healthy terms with food. The mirror and I are working things out. Most days I can tell myself I’m a super hero, and if my thighs sometimes bulge into each other then, damn it, it’s because they’re stronger than thunder.

lululemon is an imperfect company, but I wear their clothes because my body is a body that moves a hell of a lot, and lululemon moves with me. Pretty much everything else I buy is threadbare and/or splitting at the seams in a matter of months, while lululemon holds on for years.

Some clothes are made for bodies that spend their days in cars and offices, for ladylike bodies that don’t make big messes, for bodies that behave. My body is a body that runs and leaps and sweats and spills things and sometimes falls in the mud. Some clothes are not for my body.

And that’s ok.

We live in a culture that allows us to constantly demand external approval. We expect someone out there to keep telling us we’re beautiful, strong, good. And when someone, even inadvertently, makes us feel ugly, we claim entitlement to bash that person down in the hope that he or she feels an equal measure of unworthiness.

(I wonder if there’s a link here to our culture of legal action. We expect McDonald’s to tell us when our coffee is too hot, we need every possible scenario to be exhaustively covered in the fine print, or else we reserve the right to sue. It’s another way of letting other people think for us.)

I’m taking back responsibility for my self-esteem. I’m committing to love myself independently of compliments and facebook likes. I’m trying to build a positive feedback loop that is internally regulated, instead of reliant on the world’s praise. (Yoga helps. A lot.) If you’re offended by Chip Wilson’s public persona, I’m asking you to seriously consider the possibility that you have given away the power to decide how you feel about yourself. (I’m thinking of that Eleanor Roosevelt quote, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”)

You do not need Chip Wilson’s apology. You do not need his resignation. You do not need to fit into a pair of lululemon stretchy pants.

(You might need a solid dose of Anis Mojgani telling you to Shake the Dust.)

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Assistant Editor: Tifany Lee / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Wiki Commons

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Liz Huntly