Saturday, November 23, 2013

10 Things that the Chip Wilson lululemon Dilemma can Teach us (this week…) Cook-Cottone

10 Things that the Chip Wilson lululemon Dilemma can Teach us
(this week…)

Catherine Cook-Cottone, PhD, RYT

Before I get started I want to cover three things: (1) a thumb nail of the issue, (2) a bit about who I am (i.e., the context from which I speak), and (3) my intention.


First, the current issue in brief (if you want to know more- Google- tons of reading for you). From what I can gather via the popular media and news outlets, over the years, Chip Wilson, the founder of lululemon, has made some controversial statements. According to reports (and as you can watch on YouTube), these have included his latest statements relating the fabric problems to the shape of women’s bodies. Specifically, he spoke about fabric issues being more of an issue with the way women’s thighs rub, than the fabric (in so many words).

Notably, thighs being highlighted in this statement is particularly challenging as our beautiful, strong, and powerful thighs seem to be the self-loathing target de jour. If you haven’t heard, a lot of women have been convinced that there is a such thing as a “thighs-touching” problem. 

Second, I am a lululemon Ambassador among other things. I am also a tenured, associate professor, a licensed psychologist, and a certified yoga teacher. I research the prevention and treatment of eating disorders, self-regulation, and yoga. I have written two books and have over 50 publications (see my faculty page here-- I serve as an editor for scientific journals and have an active private practice treating individuals with eating disorders. I teach yoga three times a week. Two more things that really matter: I am the mom of two teenage daughters whom I love very much and I am recovered from an eating disorder.

Third, my intention for this post is one of learning and growing and NOT one of judgment. I have found (as I will address below) that judgment isn’t a creative or growth-oriented process. It doesn’t inspire. Conversely, all things can be our teachers. I see learning as a creative, inspiring, and generative process. This is the intention from which I write.

The 10 Lessons

When things happen in the world, with people and events, I work to see what the universe is teaching us/me. I work to find the lesson. These are the lessons I have found in this experience (so far, I am sure there will be more).

1.    No one and no thing is perfect.

I have to very, very clear here. I am not talking about the kind of perfect that I see when I look at the old maple tree in my backyard. It is knotted, both broken and healed by weather, and over 100 years old. I am not talking about that kind of perfect.

I am talking about the no-mistakes, no-missteps, no-weathering, no-knots, plastic perfect. I am talking about the the toxic, idealistic sense of perfection that holds many people hostage and in judgment. So that you know, this type of perfection is an illusion, an airbrushed, constructed image. I have seen people pursue this type of idealistic, toxic perfect all the way to the hospital. There is no room for struggle, effort, regret, or hope in that kind of perfect.

Instead of perfect, it serves us to look for other things. Ideas? How about peace, love, balance, healing, integration, and collaboration? Even the men and women we have held as role models have been in their imperfection. I was inspired when I read Gandhi’s interpretation of the Gita. He spoke of a time when he became very frustrated with school boys. He yelled at them and was harsh with his words. He was in regret and set an intention to be, to do, better. Yeah, no one and no thing is perfect. Not luon, not Chip Wilson, not me, and not you—not even Gandhi (I think he was getting there- like my maple).

2.    Slips and missteps are part of the process.

      Walking any path can be a challenge. But creating a new path is very, very challenging. There is no guidebook. There is no well worn foot path. lululemon has been a different company. Yes, they have made money, a lot of money. But they have embraced yoga, the community, and given back. If you Google Chip Wilson, he is described as a founder and philanthropist.

      The company does have manifesto that promotes good things. I believe this to be their intention. I don’t go to the meetings at the top, so I can’t speak to their intention or drives at that level. What I have experienced is this. At the lululemon Buffalo store, the employees are what and who they say they are. They are the healthiest, happiest, most positive group of beings around. They have been in action about the Buffalo community coming together. They have been about each of us being of power and accomplishing our goals. For example, Candice Cinquino, one of the employees, put on a Yoga Jam and raised thousands of dollars to send me and a group of seven other researchers to Nairobi, Africa to research the Africa Yoga Project (not even my university or the NIH did that).

      This is a new way of being as a company. And maybe sometimes, on this new path, they misstep and act and speak out of intention. I will be forever grateful for lululemon Buffalo and Candice for their help. Thank you, Chip Wilson, for forging a path that helped people like Candice be in their power and not just another young lady behind a cash register.

3.    Own your sh#%. Cause when you don't, it gets dicey.

If you don’t take responsibility, things get dicey. Own what is yours. It is not our thighs. It is the fabric. It pills when it rubs. I have seen it. I have experienced it. It needs work. Trust me, I love the clothes overall. But there have been iterations of the fabric that have not been so great. I get it, you are working on it. Still, don’t put it on us or our thighs. Make a kick a#$ fabric. Make a fabric that allows our thighs to be glorious, powerful, and for goodness sake, let our thighs touch the way the universe intended them to. And own that.  

We all need to own what is ours. It isn’t easy and sometimes we need feedback to see when we might have a blindside (see communication below).  Owning your mistakes and taking responsibility is a form of yoga, Satya. It is one way of living in your truth. In truth, there is power.

4.    Integrating ideals in a company, a government, and even the self can be hard.

     One way that lululemon is different is the integration of what some people conceptualize as competing goals: (a) being a for-profit company and, (b) being of values and service. This is not easily done. Some say it can’t be done. Others say it must be done. In history, there are models in industry and farming that demonstrate all levels of integration of various aspects of business. For example, integration of ownership and work force, as well as the integration of values and profit. Striking the right balance, as history and lululemon has shown us, is an art.

      One of the reasons I have loved being an Ambassador is the integration of profit and values. Pre-lululemon I was buying pricey yoga clothes anyway (judge me if you must). I love yoga and I love yoga tops, pants, scarves, hoodies -- all things yoga clothes. I don’t even buy clothes for my university work on a yearly basis. My indulgence is yoga clothes. The old clothes are donated so that these clothes have many lives. Some of my old clothes are in Africa right now (I hope they are doing some awesome yoga or something else super fun).  lululemon created a place where I could buy my gorgeous yoga clothes and support and inspire others in the pursuit healthy and good things.

      Thing is-- with all of the manifesto and giving back action-- they have placed themselves in another category. We aren’t quite as shocked when other founders and CEOs say triggering, hurtful things about our bodies. It makes sense. Their words read just like their store fronts read and are entirely consistent with the message they send out to the world in their media packages. At lululemon, we expect a higher discourse. Not because we put you there, but because you put you there.

5.    Profit isn't the enemy of good and good isn't the enemy of profit.

      Yeah, this current misstep is no fun and I am frustrated with the statements of Chip Wilson. I am glad he apologized to his employees. He needed to. It would also be great if he recorded and published other apologies- maybe one to our thighs.

      Still, I want to be sure I cover this. lululemon isn’t bad from the start just because they have made money. I am in the field of human service. There is often a perception that if you choose a career that helps others, you are required to take a vow of poverty. I hope for a shift. I hope that we can teach the world to value physical and mental health, yoga, holistic healing, and other embodied practices. I hope that people in our field can more easily make a living, maybe even do better than that.

      lululemon has shown that there is money in yoga. A lot of it. Good. They have created a business that has allowed people to have full-on careers that are embedded in yoga. Good. It is all about the integration. Why not have profit and do good too? Why not be creative and structured too? Profit is good. Art is good. Yoga is good. Business is good. It can all be good and maybe even really good, together.

6.    Know your power.

      Someone I love very much once told me that she didn’t tell me she was proud of me that often because she didn’t think it mattered. In fact, she said that she didn’t think she mattered. She said, “Who am I to say what you are doing is great. Of course it is. Why would you care what I think? It is only me.”

      That person is my Mom. No matter what her career path, successes, etc. (which is all really, pretty neat), she is my Mom. She didn’t get that it might be super, maybe even critically, important for me to know that she saw me. We spoke more and talked about how nearly every kid from two to fifty years old thinks their moms and dads are the most powerful people in the universe (I am smiling here), especially when it comes to our self-concept. And yes, I want to hear that you are proud of me and yes that matters, you matter.

      The moral of that story… I think that sometimes we don’t realize our power. I think that Chip Wilson forgets that there are many people listening. I think he forgets that he is powerful and his words matter.

      When you remember your power, you are much more careful with what you say and don’t say. WARNING! When you are this powerful (maybe you are a mom or a dad, maybe you are the founder of one of the biggest companies in Canada), be impeccable with your words.

      Share love, pride, and gratitude, and don’t criticize our thighs.

7.    Consider staying or getting in the game.

Some people have chosen to get out of the game and I honor that choice. You have to know when to hold them and when to fold them (a line from an old country song).

I tend to stay in the game so long as I believe that I can be of change. I have worked within complex systems and organizations my whole life. These systems have ranged from non-profits to for-profits, from small agencies to my current university. These organizations are made of people, for people. The way that change happens is that people change things. I have been able to do very powerful things from the inside-- one meeting and one person at a time. I am- Be The Change. My university is, in part, what is because of who I am. My yoga studio is, in part, what it is because of who I am. Lululemon, is in part, what it is because of who I am (and yes [see the next point] I have voiced my feelings and thoughts on both the fabric and the words).

8.     Communicate- use your voice (Vushuddha).

People need feedback. Feel your feelings. Yes. Then, sculpt your words. Speak in effectiveness, intention, and purpose. I wrote a letter about a recent lululemon purchase. The fabric was below lululemon standards. I took photos (easy), wrote a note (easy), embedded the photos in my letter (easy), and mailed it (easy). I am in communication with a representative at lululemon about Chip Wilson's statements. In fact, all ambassadors that want to talk about this can have these same conversations. The response: lululemon is interested and wants to hear how this is affecting us and our clients. Speak.

9.    Practice Media Literacy

Media Literacy- know the message, source, and intention of the media you consume. Yes speak and give feedback to lululemon.

But don't stop here. Start here!

Have you seen Barbie and other fashion dolls (of note, at Barbie's height and weight she would be inpatient or dead)? Are you mad about that? Boy’s action figures? Video game images of men and women? Are you mad? We are exposed to thousands of images everyday that extol overly-thin body ideals that are unattainable and unhealthy.

Chip Wilson wasn't speaking in a vacuum. Perhaps he's been numbed, as have most of us, by the nonstop harassment purposefully embedded in  media messages saying that the pathway to happiness is through thinness.

FYI. It's not. I can tell you from a point of expertise and experience. Not one person has found happiness, bliss, connection, or peace of mind in the land of being clinically underweight. In fact, research suggests that you become rigid in your thinking, obsessive- especially about food and body, struggle with anxiety and mood dysregulation, experience poor sleep, withdraw from those you love etc., etc., etc.

So, NO, we don’t need anyone telling us that there is something wrong with us if our thighs touch. There are some whose thighs don’t touch. Maybe your thighs don’t touch and that is healthy for you because that is exactly how you are genetically inclined to be when you are at a healthy weight. However, for most of us, when we are at a healthy weight, the odds are, our thighs will touch and maybe even rub when we are—doing yoga, or running, or otherwise being healthy. If we got thin enough for them not to touch, we would be in that too-thin spot I described above-- which is not physiologically or emotionally healthy.

Please note, this is a behavioral request—that is, this is a request for Chip Wilson to not speak in judgment about women’s bodies. It is a request for behavior change and not a judgment of a person.

10. Judgment isn't a healing or inspiring act

      Judgment is not a healing or inspiring act. It is not an effective way to inspire behavioral change in another person. If I judge you, you are very likely to move into defense, explanation, rationalization, etc. I may even have the effect of helping you to dig your heels in deeper.

      To be effective, use a respectful voice, describe what works, voice your experience, and request what you would like.

It might look like this:

·      “For many years, I have loved lululemon clothes, the company, and the people that work with lululemon. I am excited about the possibilities for your company. I believe there are great things to come because I have both seen and experienced great things from your company.”

·      Please know, I feel angry and hurt when you blame the performance of your fabric on the natural shape of a woman’s body.”
·      “As a woman, I find those words hurtful and sexist.”

·      “I request that you do not disparage the female form in this way again.”

·      “I would be open to an apology.”

·      “ I ask that if you are truly in the business making amazing yoga clothes for women, that you honor our natural shape in the process.”

·      “I ask that you continue to work toward creating a highly effective fabric that will facilitate our embodied practices and a healthy earth.”

·      “Thank you for all you have done. I see it and am grateful. Now, do even better because I want this for you!”


Catherine Cook-Cottone

The Yoga Bag: Cook-Cottone at

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