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lorna jane and what fitness looks like

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I had a piece written for Lip this week about the issues I take with the ‘Fitspiration’ movement (I have discussed my issues with a part of this movement, clean eating, on Lip before). It was all about the recent fitness movement that has exploded across social media, carrying slogans such as ‘Strong not Skinny!’ and ‘You’re not going to get the butt you want by sitting on it!’ (what butt should I want?). There’s plenty of them just a Google search away if you feel like spending the afternoon feeling shit about yourself. But anyway, I wrote this piece and I’d been thinking about editing it all week to include a part about the fashion/fitness juggernaut that is Lorna Jane Active, and how I won’t shop there on principle (and also because when I need exercise clothes, I can’t afford them at $60 a pop). After running in the Mother’s Day Classic in Brisbane Sunday morning, I decided to scrap the old piece and write a new one, solely about Lorna Jane. I was surrounded in this race by Lorna Jane. At a conservative guess I would say at least half of the female participants were wearing a Lorna Jane outfit. At a generous guess I would say 75% of the women there were wearing AT LEAST one item of clothing, whether it be leggings, a singlet, sports bra or even a headband. That is a lot of dollars, and represents the Brisbane event alone.

The Lorna Jane brand, founded by Lorna Jane Clarkson and her husband, is incredibly successful – at last count it makes around $100 million a year. It is a brand that is aimed solely at women and their slice of the fitness market. The brand is self described as ‘first in fitness and fashion and we are designed by women for women’. It cannot be denied what Clarkson has achieved in the past two decades is impressive; this is obviously an intelligent woman with a great business nous, and the more women who are making it like her, the better. Even if you (like myself) haven’t personally bought anything LJ branded, you would undoubtedly be able to recognise it – they are brightly coloured, often blazoned with slogans and going by the fancy fabric names on the website, good quality and fitness appropriate. So I bear no issue with LJ here – I thoroughly subscribe to the belief that it’s motivating wearing gym/exercise gear you don’t hate yourself in. If it makes you feel good, there should be no reason not to treat yourself and buy something you really like.

But I do have a sizable issue with how Lorna Jane represents women. Much like a large part of the fitspiration movement, Lorna Jane looks to ‘inspire women to live their best life through active living’ and labels themselves as ‘sporty, sexy and stylish’. It is clear they seek to empower women – the ‘Move, Nourish, Believe’ philosophy, which has its own website, app, tumblr and book, is all about fitness, healthy living and motivation. I get it, LJ, you want women to feel good about themselves! But you soon find that anything associated with Lorna Jane (including the brochures at my local gym and store front displays), are only interested in one kind of woman, and that’s a thin, tanned, toned (and usually white) woman, who I suppose embodies ‘sporty, sexy and stylish’. If I wanted to look at photoshopped women who represent a very narrow parameter of what the female body looks like (and seems to suggest that’s what it SHOULD look like) then I would pick up a copy of Cosmopolitan or some other magazine that induces instant self loathing.

To run an empire that seeks to empower women and encourage them to be fit and strong, but then completely ignore anything representative of fitness as it relates to the average woman is bullshit. These women may be fit but at the end of the day they are just beauty stereotypes that create more unrealistic images for women to kill themselves over. Fit is not a flat stomach and an even tan. Lorna Jane doesn’t want women to work towards being able to run a marathon or bench press 50kg. According to the brand, Lorna Jane’s ideal of fitness is a bangin’ bod. Sporty, sexy and stylish? Why the fuck should I have to be sexy and stylish while I’m working out? All this perpetuates is the idea that a woman’s number one priority should always be, first and foremost, to look good and be sexually attractive. Everything else comes second. It reinforces everything that places value on women’s looks as their most important commodity.

By selling fitness (achieved by hours in the gym) as a leaned out, athletic figure, you’re not just giving women another unrealistic body expectation to strive for (or emptying their wallets). You’re body shaming them and dressing it up as female empowerment.

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19 thoughts on “lorna jane and what fitness looks like

  1. I love this. Seriously who goes to the gym to look good? I got To look sweaty and disgusting. If you come out looking “sexy and stylish” you’re clearly doing it wrong.

    • I have no doubt there are those out there who can pull it off, but they are a select few haha. I’m with you, sweaty and disgusting pretty much sums up all my gym sessions.

  2. I am a fan of Lorna Jane and am an avid buyer of the fitness wear (yes and that does mean spending $60+ of fitness wear, because if you know the quality and durability of them, there really is no point buying anything else) and see this argument regularly on their Facebook page. Have you studied their instagram page, Facebook page, both websites and read her book before writing this article? Because if you have, I really feel like you would feel differently. I’m not sure if you have done enough research, as all of their models are healthy, extremely fit women. LJ don’t use models who have never worked out before, they use fit women who pride themselves of their active lifestyle. And yes that does mean having a ‘Banging bod’ because they put hard work in everyday for it. I don’t see it is shaming the women who don’t have this body, but encouragement to live your best active life, and nourish your body. They are a fitness brand, they will use women who best demonstrate the clothes, but thats not too say that we are all have to strive for that body to fit into their brand. I am a size 16 and love LJ clothing, and have no negative feelings attached to the brand, because it simple encourages women to live a healthy, fit lifestyle, which we all should, not for body image or size, simply because its healthy for us. The clothing of this brand, isn’t even the biggest part of LJ. It is the movement that they have created, and which I think they should be commended for. They are inspiring women to live healthy and move, nourish and love their bodies. They do actually care in women running marathons, as they are always advertising running/sporting events all around Australia for their followers to join, so ‘According to the brand, Lorna Jane’s ideal of fitness is a bangin’ bod.’ isn’t really correct. ‘ I’m not sure if living an active lifestyle is a priority of yours, but it is mine and looking Sporty, sexy and stylish is a really fun part of it. Why can’t I look really good working out? Am I meant to look sluggish and boring? I love finally, that after so many men’s brands, and sport and exercise always being so male dominated, that there is solely a women’s brand of fitness clothes, rather than a secondary women section to a male chain of clothing. LJ is motivating and uplifting, and it is really nice to be a part of a movement that prides itself on being sport sisters, even if it may not be your thing. Their models are fit, young and healthy women, is that not something to pride yourself on? The buyers of LJ know about their whole movement, not just their models and do not focus on the message of the models, but the whole movement.

    • Hi Amy,

      Thanks for your comment. As I mentioned in my article, I’m really impressed by what LJ has achieved, and I think it’s great that her philosophy is about encouraging women to be active by getting out there and trying new things. Anything that encourages women to take the brave step of facing a gym that’s often full of men huffing and puffing and throwing weights around is fine by me. Plus, if you love Lorna Jane clothing (and you can afford it) there’s no reason why you shouldn’t buy it. But having expensive work out clothes doesn’t determine your quality of work out (or the quality of the clothes necessarily). If all you have to work with is a scummy tshirt and shorts, why should that stop you? And you shouldn’t have to be judged for that.

      But my issue isn’t with that. It’s with their branding which is steeped in the ‘Fitspiration’ movement, which isn’t all that far removed from ‘thinspiration’. I took a lot of time to check out Lorna Jane’s website, her MNB page and her instagram. They mainly just made me feel pissed off because they perpetuate such a narrow view of health and fitness. I have to say, it sounds like their marketing has sucked you in hook, line and sinker. I have no doubt the women in those ads are incredibly fit. But there are SHIT TONNES of women who would be equally as fit, but don’t have the luxury of looking like an elite athlete gracing the cover of Women’s Health. Don’t those women deserve a chance to be represented? It is commodification of narrow beauty stereotypes, which is inherently damaging to women.

      Like I said, LJ has a huge fitness empire and people obviously love her product. But I just can’t help feel a company that is ‘by women, for women’ shouldn’t be a little more aware of what fit women actually look like – which might be slim and toned, and that’s okay. But it might also be a million other body types. And yet again, those other body times have been effectively erased from the movement.

      • I see your point, but I can’t really see why you should pick on Lorna Jane in particular when virtually every company in the world uses models that conform to a narrow beauty stereotype to sell everything from car insurance to yoghurt.

        • Because Lorna Jane’s business revolves around women’s bodies and markets itself as an organisationthat aupports and motivates women only.

  3. Very interesting and thought provoking article. I agree with you Rufh on many levels. Amy does also have a point. But I do agree that having slim, tanned, white (and probably blonde haired) women does give a narrow fit woman image. Loran Jane is obviously not a voice for every woman, but it would be good to see different body types, styles, ethnic background included in her promotional material as it appears her philosophy does try to encompass most women.

  4. Hi Ruth
    I really like your article. It reminds me of my sister who is constantly exercising. She is a big fan of Lorna Jane and is obsessed with having a ‘banging’ body. She doesn’t do this for female empowerment. She does this because she hates herself. Because she will never believe that she will ever be good enough. But she uses this “healthy living” idea as a mask and we can’t break through it and make her realise what she’s doing isn’t healthy, and Lorna Jane and women’s health magazine is only making the mask stronger.
    I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks this.

    • Hi Leigh,

      I hadn’t seen this and it is certainly great to see women from all races and situations represented here. But they are all at the beginning (or, most of them) of a fitness journey, and as such are separate from the ‘fit’ women we see through a majority of the LJ marketing. This is not saying, I’m fit and strong and this is how I am! This is saying, I want to make some changes in my life, which is fantastic, but the fitness goals and ideals Lorna Jane presents, again, are overwhelmingly narrow.

      Also, from what I’ve seen of the MNB movement online, I’m pretty uncomfortable with a lot of it’s fitspiration messages (such as, ‘Nothing tastes as good as fit feels!’ because apparently nothing tastes as good as ripping off a pro-anorexia slogan) and the way they talk to women. So I’m not sure I’m okay with the MNB diary, but I would have to see one to be able to make that judgment.

  5. Pingback: What Fit Looks Like: Part Two | Opinion | Lip Magazine

  6. I enjoyed this article. It was great to read some truth regarding this company. I have entered the store a number of times to consider a purchase only to be let down by the overwhelming image of whiteness.
    I am an Aboriginal woman of 48 I exercise I am mother a grandmother a professional, yet there is nothing that appeals to me at LJ. The clothes are over priced and of a low standard, not to mention the intolerable return policy.
    As an Aboriginal woman I have a huge commitment to Closing the Gap for our communities. I contacted the company to suggest they consider Aboriginal women and girls as part of their campaigns and sponsorship. Of course I was given the standard response of thanks but no thanks.
    I find the company short sighted greedy narrow minded over priced and over rated as well as racist. For the goddess sakes we live in the Asia Pacific and they insist on projecting antiquated images of the white skinny blond girl.

    • Hi Donna, I’m glad you liked the article and I’m also glad you wrote this comment. Lorna Jane’s overwhelming whiteness in their advertising campaigns is arguably more important than the problematic way they approach fitness for women. I heard from quite a few sources after writing this email that LJ aren’t overly receptive to any kind of critical engagement but all we can do is keep making noise about how they enforce dumb ideas about women and how they should look.

  7. If she was really, truly interested in helping all women become fit and strong and have ‘bangin’ bods’ then maybe she should actually make clothes that fit the larger ladies out there who want to change their lives. Why does she only seem to cater for women in the size 6-10 size bracket? Apparently only those who are already thin are allowed to wear Lorn Jane items.

    • I agree 100% – health is not determined by body shape or size, and it comes in many forms. And the thing is that by ignoring plus size women, LJ is missing an entire market of women who would throw lots of money at quality work out garb. It’s poor business nous if nothing else!

  8. I wear Lorna Jane clothes because I think they are very stylish and good quality. I buy everything usually when it’s discounted as I cannot justify paying $190 for a hoodie. Each to their own.

    Where I have a problem with Lorna Jane is that her brand is all about empowerment and motivating women but having worked in the charity sector, I know first hand that at least two pink charities have approached her to become a supporter and help women and she’s blatantly refused saying that she doesn’t have to donate to charity.

    I take this to mean that her brand is successful enough that she doesn’t have to give to others and people will buy her product regardless of whether she supports a charity or. This is true but it doesn’t make it right to run a company with no social conscience.

    Another issue I have with this brand as others have mentioned is that the clothing sizes are too small for a fitness brand. I’ve never taken much notice of Lorna Jane campaigns but it would be better if there was ethnic diversity in her messaging. It was interesting to note that Donna approached Lorna Jane directly and was treated in a dismissive manner. It sounds about right as they are not open to feedback. As I said, I do buy her clothing because it’s good quality and that’s it.

    I think Lorna Jane is a great business woman but that doesn’t make her a great person or someone to aspire to. She strikes me as a very arrogant person who is just in this business to make money. Again, there is nothing wrong with that but just drop the campaigns about female empowerment. It just makes me want to throw up in my mouth a little. I’m buying your clothes but I’m not buying your messaging.

    As Michelle Obama said “Success isn’t about how much money you make, it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” If we hold that as a barometer of success, then Lorna Jane isn’t successful at all. Her empire is built on a premise of just helping herself not others. Some consumers are just not smart enough to know the difference.

  9. Coming from a size 16/18 EMPLOYEE of Lorna Jane, can I just say… do your research. The whole idea of the Lorna Jane active wear is not to have a ‘bangin bod’ as you so crassly put it but to feel good in what you are wearing so that you are motivated to live your best life. That doesn’t mean you have to look good at the gym, but whose to say that wearing something that gives a little bit confidence to start your active journey is wrong? Yes, she does use ‘models’ to market her business, but can you name any Australian business that doesn’t? I can understand its expensive and I don’t dispute that but to say that it is low quality means that you have never really given any of the product a chance. Buying one item at $60 once every couple of years or so in comparison to buying a new pair of $15 tights every month really doesn’t seem much when you put it in to perspective. Anyone can bring in old active wear to a store to receive a discount, while your old active wear gets donated to local charities, so to say that is only catered to one stereotype just makes the people who say it very narrow minded. I personally believe the most beautiful woman is one that is red faced and sweating ridiculously after a workout, with complete belief in herself because she has worked hard in her workout not because she has a ‘banging bod.’ I don’t presume to think that Lorna Jane would have the exact same belief as I myself but I like to think that a company that prides itself on healthy living would have a similar belief. Maybe you should direct your negative attention to a brand like Lulu Lemon that has previously stated that their clothing isn’t designed for above ‘average’ size women.

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