lorna jane and what fitness looks like
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.