Lululemon, the trendy workout clothing company, is having an identity crisis and fans are not happy. Though Lululemon is mostly known as a yoga clothing company, the label is all over Pilates studios and they won the 2011 About.com Pilates Readers' Choice Award for best workout clothing as well. So I'd say Pilates people have an interest in what goes on with Lulu too.
And what's going on with Lulu is interesting -- on a number of levels (I'm getting to something deeper than ads and clothes in a minute). The back-story is that Lululemon jumped on the Yoga Barbie bandwagon last week. In case you haven't heard, Mattel came out with a Yoga Barbie. She has a pink yoga mat and a pocketbook dog. She also has the super long legs, the extra small waist and the over-sized breasts we have all come to associate with the doll who has made a million little girls miserable thinking they had to "measure up" to this idealized for version of a girl/woman/oddity.
Anyway, Lululemon decided to "elevate the doll industry from mediocrity to greatness one pair of XXXS groove pants at a time" (courtesy of Yoga Dork quoting a Lululemon video that has just been made "private") and came out with an ad featuring a copy-cat Yoga Barbie, Tiffani. In the add, Tiffani, looking for all the world like Barbie, is carrying a Lululemon bag and walking by a sign that reads "Yoga makes me feel alive - let's get bendy". Lululemon customers are not amused.
Former Lulu lovers took to the blogosphere, Lululemon Facebook page and other social media wondering why Lululemon thought grown-up, thinking people with real bodies would be interested in how they dressed a doll in triple extra small and beyond that, why Lululemon thought they would want to identify with, or be associated in any way, with the exploitive image of women that Barbie represents. I completely agree.
For Lululemon's part, they say the ad is meant to be a "bit of fun on Friday". No apology has come yet, but the ad has been taken off their site and the video of their VP of Women's Design introducing their "Silicone Valley [(good one, you gotta admit)] yoga ambassador, Tiffani" is now unavailable. In other words, they hope it will blow over.
I don't think Lulu has reached the end of this saga though. I say that because customers are not only speaking out about Barbie/Tiffani, but using the discussion to air their irritations about what sounds like a significant decline in quality. Online comments are specifically citing unraveling hems and fabrics bleeding dye onto their bodies and hair when they sweat. That's a heads-up I wanted to fit in since my reviews of Lululemon have been very positive thus far and so has the consumer feedback here.
I've taken the long way around, but I want to bring the inquiry back to why Lululemon thought Tiffani, spoof or not, would fly. They are not marketing dummies over there. I think they know how pervasive the Barbie complex is in this country and hoped to capitalize, as does Mattel, on people, especially vulnerable young women (read big yoga market), wanting to be like Barbie -- still! That's a guess. I do not know it's fact, but the idea makes me irate.
I was, in fact, already writing a blog about the whole looks and fitness, looks are fitness, looks vs fitness thing. It was prompted by a fellow Pilates blogger who wrote this week that as a Pilates instructor she feels pressure to "look a certain way" i.e. to be in great shape. That caught my attention. She was talking about prepping for a photo shoot, but do our instructors need to look a certain way?
Has our looks culture gotten so out of hand that we somehow think an instructor is better if they conform to the young and slim with flat abs formula? What if those abs have some fat over them? What if the muscles aren't fully sculpted because they belong to someone who doesn't workout all-the-time anymore? Does that make that person less of a Pilates teacher? We know the answer is no, but clearly Tiffani is lurking under the surface.
I'm not immune. I have hundreds of Pilates photos on this website but only a handful are of me. The main reason for that is I feel so overexposed on the internet already, but I admit there is also a part of me that thinks oh, I'll have someone else demo this or that because I'm over fifty and some portion of my anatomy is likely to sag, then people won't be as inspired. Yuk. Isn't that the kind of thinking that makes Pilates Style Magazine, an otherwise reasonably balanced magazine, think (know?) they can only succeed by putting scantily clad, air-brushed Pilates babes on the cover? Are these examples different than Lulu's Tiffani trick? I think not.
I have read Joseph Pilates' Return to Life Through Contrology through and through I can't tell you how many times and I am sure there is no place in it where Joseph Pilates talks about flat abs, or a better butt, or looking any particular way at all. I know that I am truly inspired and motivated by "the Pilates body" Joseph Pilates wanted people to have -- a body that moves gracefully, and highly efficiently, and is capable of allowing people to experience the joys of living fully. I know, and sometimes promote, that the flat abs and better butt can follow from doing Pilates -- if that's what you are after -- but they are far from the point of Pilates, and far from the point of yoga I might add.
So here we are, perpetually struggling with double standards even in what I think of as the more "enlightened" realms of fitness -- Pilates and yoga. While I'm giving Lulu a hard time, I can also say thanks for provoking a great opportunity for us to look closely at what our inner and outer messages are. What are we going to buy into? Be lead into? Lead others into? These are not new questions for most of us, but they do call for review now and then. Now's a good time.
As always, your comments are welcome.
Lululemon Spoofs Yoga Barbie Doll, Yoga Dork
Lululemon Facebook page
Lululemon Spoofs New Yoga Teacher Barbie..., Philadelphia Magazine