In the spring of 2018, lululemon Nashville asked me to be a brand ambassador.
I’ve been wearing lululemon for a long time - did you know that professionals get a discount there? Well, we do because otherwise I’d have a lot less clothes. I never thought much of it (this is called privilege). I started my gym, getFIT615 as a movement to get people out into the community, trying new things, and making new friends. But I’ve only been doing that since March of 2014. There are professionals in Nashville - yoga teachers, entrepreneurs, trainers, experts - who have been doing it for much longer than I have who deserve more much recognition than I’ve received.
After lululemon asked me to be an ambassador, I sat through a 4 hour meeting where I learned all about lululemon (it should be noted: I briefly worked for lululemon for a holiday season in 2014 and already knew a great deal about what they say they stand for and their company culture). At that meeting I was asked to tell them about myself and the gym - Perhaps this is arrogant, but I really felt they should already know a lot about my work and should have been to/experienced the gym if they’re asking me to represent their brand. I learned that lululemon is where “fashion meets function” so I asked about the function of their recent shoe partnership with APL - they’re not good for running distance and they’re fine for circuit classes - so in my understanding, they’re comparable to a pair of chucks (for about $100 more).
I spoke to a few friends who have had experience with lululemon to find out how they felt. I was looking for some external validation in having a “funny” gut-feeling about getting involved with them… I got a few different responses:
“Who cares. Free pants.”
“Could be good traffic to the gym?”
“I’ve never felt more discriminated against.”
“The only time I went in there, they made me cry.”
“I can’t fit into their clothes.”
“It might not be as bad as you think.”
“Last time I was in there they told me they didn’t cater to a woman’s changing body.”
“OMG white chicks.”
“One time they had a diversity panel and, as a black women, asked me to come to it as an audience member, and everybody on the panel was white. I can’t.”
Their shorts used to fit but now they don’t - I don’t think it’s because my ass has gotten bigger, I think it’s because the ass of their shorts has gotten smaller…
For all these years I’ve just sat in my thin white privilege and worn my lululemon and haven’t thought a thing of it. A gal said to me, “yeah, when I saw you were doing that, I thought to myself ‘that seems real off-brand for you.’ I was kind of disappointed.” Ouch.. and true.
In November I asked them to take my pictures off the wall and told them that I won’t support their brand any longer. I don’t support a white-washed version of thin Instagram yoga models. I just don’t. It’s images like that that allowed ME to believe that I wasn’t enough, which is why I struggled with disordered eating, disordered exercise, and eating disorders for such a long time… even still, I notice those same patterns pop up. But if images like that do that kind of damage for someone like me (thin and white), imagine what it does for a larger body, a differently abled person, a person of color... imagine what that teaches our children about yoga and movement and who it’s for and specifically, who it ISN’T for. It’s important to note: thin white folks did not invent yoga, and not all people who run are white.
“In 20 words or less,” my mother asked, “Why are you no longer in partnership with lululemon?”
I said, “Because lululemon feels elitist and exclusive and that’s the opposite of the work that I’d like to be doing.”
What I’ve learned through all of this is that not everyone in the fitness world feels the same way about fitness, fitness culture, yoga culture, diets, access, equity, body image, inclusion, understanding, and responsibility - which is ok - I just have to make sure that I’m listening to my own instincts and asking myself the right questions to make sure that I’m taking care of my own energy so that I’m able to do the work that I believe in.
The day they asked me, I didn’t say yes. But I also didn’t say no. Next time something happens like this that doesn’t feel right from the beginning, I’m going to say no in the beginning. To anyone that felt betrayed by my partnership with lululemon, you have every right to feel that way. I’m so sorry I didn’t see it before. I hope I see it more clearly now and I’m committed to paying more attention and being more intentional.
My intention in sharing this story is first and foremost - to apologize for and acknowledge my hypocrisy in this partnership.
My intention is NOT to publicly shame lululemon and anyone that wears lululemon, works at lululemon, likes lululemon (hi hello, I still have a lot of lululemon clothes that I plan on slowly replacing with brands with whom I align more clearly like Girlfriend Collective, and SuperFit Hero - hi hello, I used to work at lululemon - hi hello, lululemon makes a good pair of pants for the most part) - I don’t think that’s helpful for anyone.
Nobody involved here is a bad person (from what I know) and I’m not mad at anyone about this experience. I’m also not walking around town judging every person I see and believing I’m better than that… because the truth is I’m just not - there’s nothing to be better than. It’s just that my eyes have been opened to something I didn’t see before - something that matters to me. Whether it matters to you is your own business - and the pants you’re wearing? Well, they’re certainly none of my business.
What I do hope, is that a conversation takes place - especially as leaders in fitness, where are we shopping, who do we showcase, what do we represent, is this brand culturally appropriating yoga, who can shop here, who can’t shop here, who won’t shop here, how does this brand make my friends feel and do I support that? I hope there’s a conversation, especially here in Nashville, about who is fitness for? I believe that fitness should be for everybody - every body. But when we look at the Nashville fitness scene, for the most part, we really only represent one type of person and that just doesn’t work for me. I want my life to be full of people with different experiences than mine - just how I think it’s important for me to share my story and for it to be heard, it’s important that I listen and believe other people’s stories.
Other people’s stories help me be a better person because they teach me things that I wouldn’t have learned from my own story.
**I’d also like to offer this (and I’ve learned this first hand and I’m passing it along from my own work): if you’re feeling defensive in reading this, if you’re feeling pissed at me, that’s fine. But also, why are you feeling that?**
Who I am actively working to become: open and accepting
Who I am actively working to not become: elitist and exclusive