The Soapbox: What Lululemon Can Learn From The Queer Yoga Community

Earlier this week, Lululemon’s founder, Chip Wilson, made a boneheaded comment in response to the sheer batch of yoga pants that the company had to recall earlier this year.

“Frankly, some women’s bodies just don’t actually work [for the yoga pants] … It’s more really about the rubbing through the thighs, how much pressure is there over a period of time, how much they use it,” Wilson said in a TV interview.

I’ll admit, I buy and wear Lululemon products. I suppose he’s right about the shape of a woman’s body affecting the wear and tear on the pants, yet there was something irksome about about his comment. Forgetting about the actual yoga pants for a moment (which happen to run about four sizes smaller than a woman’s actual size), I think what makes me (and others) bristle about Wilson’s comment is his subtext of exclusion.

Follow the the line of reasoning: women’s bodies should be a certain size and shape in order to wear Lululemon pants … in order to practice yoga. This idea is antithetical to the philosophical principals of yoga, which teach the concepts of ahimsa (compassion for all living things) and santosha (contentment). Yoga literally translates to “union with the divine.” The size of your thighs has absolutely nothing to do with that pursuit. The kind of yoga that Lululemon represents (and it’s a mainstream, Westernized representation at that), asana or posture, is just one of the eight branches of the practice, which, at the root are meant to lead to spiritual rather than physical awareness. You’re moving away from the physical toward the divine.

As I’ve mentioned in some of my previous writing here on the site, I’m in the process of getting my certification to become a yoga teacher. Naturally, the pursuit has me constantly thinking about how the practice of yoga is evolving and what kind of teacher I want to be. I know for sure that I want anyone who takes my class to feel safe and welcome regardless of age, size, shape or gender.

This idea of how gender affects the practice of yoga, piqued my interest, especially in regards to Wilson’s comments about the female body and how it should be. Taking the thought a step further: what about people who don’t identify as male or female? This idea of moving from the realm of physical to the spiritual becomes particularly complex when you consider the shifting nature of gender identity. An article written Brooks Hall, a member of the queer yoga community, which seeks to “define [sic] perceptions of queerness intersecting with yoga,” made me think more deeply about the importance of body acceptance in yoga.

Hall writes:

“It is important to me that our queer community yoga classes are welcoming to all gender expressions, emotional states and big bodies. Yoga as advertised in mainstream media offers yoga as another way to lose weight. In queer community yoga we want to embrace our expressions without trying to manufacture bodies that present in a certain or unified way…Some questions: ‘Can yoga be identity supporting?’ and ‘Can a yoga class respect the agency of participants?'”

Without meaning to, Hall articulated, what, in my opinion, is the major problem with Wilson’s statement. Bodies — male, female or in-between; small, medium or large; old or young — were never meant to present in a unified way. Bodies are different. The practice of yoga is about learning to find peace in the body you have — no matter what kind of body that is. I think this is the key to the evolution of the practice of yoga. More important than the shape of our thighs is how we show compassion towards them. More important than how we look in our yoga pants is how content we feel in them.

[Photo from Shutterstock]