Big butt runner

This evening before going out to run, I was tugging at my 3/4-length running tights.  I bought them a few years ago, so I don’t think they’re available anymore, but today’s equivalent would probably be the Brooks Infiniti Capri.  I always end up tugging at them and readjusting them about fifty times before I go out running in them.  For one thing, the rise seems a little bit short for me.  For another, my butt seems to be too big for them.  I’d like them to sit a little higher on my back.  Instead, they always feel like they are being pulled down by my big ol’ butt.  Which, for the record, isn’t actually that big.  I guess it’s just a weird thing about the fit of these particular capris.  The material isn’t very stretchy, so maybe that’s part of it?  Whatever.

Here’s the thing: I’m not all that concerned about the fit of the capris or what it says about Brooks.  I like Brooks, their stuff tends to be good quality and not super expensive, even if it doesn’t always accommodate my derrière.  Like I said, I’m pretty sure that the capris not fitting has very little to do with the size of my butt, but even if it did, I still wouldn’t hold it against Brooks.  Does this make me a hypocrite, because I’ll go after lululemon but give Brooks a theoretical pass?  No.  And here’s why.

Unlike lululemon, Brooks makes no pretense of being a body-loving, accept-yourself-for-who-you-are kind of company.  Sure, they want their customers to be happy, but their focus is on runners (and a runner, for them, is defined as someone who runs; there’s no implication here about body type) rather than bodies.  Said differently, Brooks is much more focused on the performance of the apparel than it is on how the apparel makes the wearer look.  I didn’t do an exhaustive survey, but my guess is none of their copy mentions covering muffin top.

Out of curiosity, I also did a bit of poking around to see how lululemon compared to other fitness apparel companies that are primarily or entirely geared toward women, and also focus on being fashionable, the kinds of clothes that can transition seamlessly from the gym (or yoga studio) to your weekend errands, or whatever.  I looked at Title Nine, Athleta, and Lucy, which were the big names (apart from lululemon) in my mind.  Now, none of these companies feature models of a non-traditional model size (I think models that fall into the normal-model-size range are called “straight models”?), but they also don’t make a big deal about embracing yoga’s core values and promoting a positive body image.  Athleta actually mentions carrying apparel for your “athletic physique” (some of the models’ bodies on this site are sick, by which I mean these women must be hard-core, running like 50 miles a day), Lucy puts an emphasis on the fashion side of things, and Title Nine just emphasizes the fact that they want women to participate in sports.

The key difference here, to me anyway, is the fact that the three brands above are pretty consistent in the coordination of their message and the image they present.  I honestly wouldn’t expect them to feature non-straight models because they don’t indicate that they have any philosophical reasons for doing so.  Is it disappointing?  Yes.  In an ideal world, every company would use models of a variety of sizes (I have no idea why this is not already standard practice and if someone could explain it to me, I’d really appreciate it).  But this world is far from ideal, and there’s a big difference between something that’s disappointing and something that’s disingenuous.  As a number of commenters pointed out with regard to the marketing of the Special K challenge, the bottom line for the company is to make money.  They don’t actually care whether you lose weight, whether it’s healthy, or whether or not you feel good about your body at the end of the day, but they push a message that would have people believe that they actually do.  And as sad as I am to say it, I don’t see much difference between the marketing techniques used by Special K and those used by lululemon.

What I want to see, more than anything, is a company that says it wants women to feel good about their bodies, no matter what those bodies look like, and then actually works toward doing just that.  Really, how hard could it possibly be to do this?

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8 comments

  1. I have wanted to order something – anything – from Athleta for years. But each time I open the catalog or go to their website, my first thought is “These clothes aren’t for me. I’m not this hardcore.”

    I hope they mix it up a little. Or that I can get over my insecurity!

    1. Yes, the Athleta models are intimidating! Impressive, but intimidating nonetheless. And I’m with you–I want to buy sometime from them!

  2. Good luck on getting free stuff from these companies you mention. Seems like a good plan to get free goods. I completely understand that.

  3. I agree that none of these companies are ideal in their portrayal of body type and support for women with less athletic bodies. But it feels less like hypocrisy in the companies that don’t promote themselves as being inclusive and accepting of all body types. One thing I will say for Title 9 is that they actually walk the walk, so to speak. They offer sports bras in much larger sizes (up to a 48 F I think), most athletic places only go up to an XL (whatever that is). Even though their models for such bras look to be more in the 34 B range, they are doing the most important part in providing the gear. Lack of a supportive bra that fits has prevented many women from exercising.

    1. I think you make a really good point in bringing up the necessity of providing the gear–this is actually something I’ve been wanting to write about for a while now! Like you say, a lot of women will have difficulty exercising if they don’t have the proper tools available to them, but it seems like a lot of companies write these women off, thinking, “Well, look at them, they’re not interested in exercising”, which is just wrong. The same thing happens with plus size clothing, and it becomes a sort of vicious cycle–people say, “Women in the plus-size range don’t want to wear attractive clothing, look at the shapeless clothing they wear now”, when in actuality, if more companies were to offer attractive and flattering clothing in larger sizes, they would most likely see huge sales. Plus size women don’t dress in unattractive clothing because they want to, it’s because they often have to. By the same token, if more fitness apparel were offered in larger sizes, the companies that offered it would see that their is a big demand for their product. When you shut out an entire market demographic, you can’t them claim that the very same market demographic is not interested in buying your product.

  4. Hi Emilie,

    I just wanted to throw something advertising-related into the mix (since that’s what I do). The sad fact is that all of these companies probably test the crap out of all of their campaigns (and catalogs). Unfortunately, the audience actually does dictate a lot of what we see. My guess (and this is pure speculation), is that forward-thinking companies have tried other strategies, but maybe focus groups have not supported what you and both would like to see. If they put a variety of body-types in a campaign and test it and get “she doesn’t look like she exercises” or “but that’s not the body i’m trying to get” back… well, they’re going to play it safe. Obviously, I think this is crap, and totally agree with your analysis. But it isn’t just the companies… they’re responding to us.

    Emily (www.rosiesays.com)

    1. Thanks, Emily, for providing that insight. It’s really interesting to hear from someone who has experience with advertising and can talk to the way these things are done. I wish there were more we could do to change the way people envision ‘healthy’ bodies, I wish the feedback we provided to companies would result in a representation of a range of body types. Maybe someday?

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