I’ve been teaching a course on egalitarianism in moral and political philosophy this term and issues of access to physical fitness have been big on my mind, as I work on my own “fittest by fifty” project and do the readings and prepare for the class.
Egalitarianism is, roughly, the view that equality matters in our evaluation of various states of affairs. It doesn’t just matter how much wealth or happiness there is in our society. If you’re an egalitarian it also matters how it’s distributed.
There are some huge differences in time and money available to individuals that create gaps in our access to fitness. There many places this crops up but one of them that interests me is the cost of workout wear for our various fitness pursuits.
It seems important because unlike some of the other issues (number of hours worked, financial access to fitness facilities, gendered differences in free time available for leisure once child care and elder care are taken into account), this one is a myth we can help to dispel.
It’s clear that it’s not necessary to pay big bucks to pursue the goal of getting in shape. Most recently I started thinking about this in the context of the pricing of yoga pants, as part of an online discussion prompted by a story that came across my Facebook newsfeed.
Why is everyone so keen to pay $100 for yoga pants? So asks this story on ABC news.
“Lululemon is the leader in designer workout gear. The brand started as just one store in Vancouver, B.C.. Today it boasts 175 stores in the U.S. and many more worldwide. The company ranked fourth among the most profitable stores in the U.S., according to research company RetailSails. Who beat lululemon? You may have heard of them: Coach, Tiffany and Apple. Sales for lululemon were $1,800 per square foot.”
But should you pay $100 or more for yoga pants? Here are some of the questions worth thinking about as you make that decision.
- First, do you need $100 yoga pants to do yoga?
Clearly not. You can wear regular comfortable clothes or even nothing at all. When I was in Canberra, Australia for my sabbatical at the Australian National University I noticed that the city offers Nude Yoga for Men. (Come and enjoy the sensual delights of practicing yoga naked under soft lighting in our new, toasty warm venue, read the poster.) You can read more about nude yoga here. No nude yoga for women though. At home, I find jammies work pretty well. Confession: To actual yoga classes, I wear inexpensive shorts from Costco. And $100 is more than I’ve ever paid for actual pants. Further confession: I do own bib cycling shorts that cost more, 1 pair.
- Second, should you spend your disposable income on yet more clothes or should you give the money away to a respected charity, such as Oxfam?
That’s a tougher question. Start by reading Peter Singer’s The Life You Can Save.
If we could easily save the life of a child, we would. For example, if we saw a child in danger of drowning in a shallow pond, and all we had to do to save the child was wade into the pond, and pull him out, we would do so. The fact that we would get wet, or ruin a good pair of shoes, doesn’t really count when it comes to saving a child’s life.
UNICEF, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, estimates that about 24,000 children die every day from preventable, poverty-related causes. Yet at the same time almost a billion people live very comfortable lives, with money to spare for many things that are not at all necessary. (You are not sure if you are in that category? When did you last spend money on something to drink, when drinkable water was available for nothing? If the answer is “within the past week” then you are spending money on luxuries while children die from malnutrition or diseases that we know how to prevent or cure.)
The Life You Can Save seeks to change this. If everyone who can afford to contribute to reducing extreme poverty were to give a modest proportion of their income to effective organizations fighting extreme poverty, the problem could be solved. It wouldn’t take a huge sacrifice.
- Third, should you buy anything, including yoga pants, from Lululemon?
That depends on your values and whether you think we should share the values of the companies to which we give our business. My worry is that the workplace philosophy of Lululemon is just a bit cult like and that it’s fueled by the ideas of Ayn Rand. But beyond reading the articles linked below I haven’t done much research but that’s because I’m already motivated by questions 1 and 2 to stay away.
The image above is a spoof of the Lululemon shopping bag manifesto. On the left is the original and on the right the student spoof. (Source: LuluLemon Ad Spoof: 400 Years of Yoga, And We Finally Figured Out How To Cash In)
Yet more confessions: I do think their clothes are gorgeous and stylish. I often admire them on other people. And there is some Lulu brand stuff in our house, hand me downs from a friend who is a fitness instructor. I think she got it free because they like to see their brand on the backs of teachers.