Was John Galt a yogi? Or why I will definitely never buy Lululemon’s clothing now

Confession time!  I, like many other intellectually-precocious teenagers, read Ayn Rand when I was younger.  And not only did I read Ayn Rand, I loved her.  (Please don’t think less of me.)

“Atlas Shrugged” blew my mind the first time I read it, with all of Rand’s ideas about the individual and logic and reason.  Her writing didn’t do much for me – she seemed sorely in need of an editor who would slap the word “astonishing” out of her vocabulary – but her ideas provided a nice antidote to the hardcore religiosity in which I’d been raised.

And then an interesting thing happened.  I read “Atlas Shrugged” again, and I was less than overwhelmed.  Whelmed, was more like it.  I read it one more time, when I was about 22, and I was horrified.  The glorious pro-individual ideas fell away, and what remained was revealed as nothing more than the pathology of a woman deranged by a raging meth habit and her upbringing in a communist society.

I used to be deeply ashamed of my once-fervent fangirldom, but as I’ve grown older I’ve come to see my dalliance with Rand’s writings as just one of the many stepping stones I’ve trod upon as I make my way through life.  I’ve also come to realize that such deep levels of egocentricism and self-centered-ness are not all that abnormal in older adolescents.  After all, most of us grow out of it, right?

Which is why I regard those who haven’t grown out of it with a healthy dose of skepticism and wariness.  I mean, it’s one thing to be 18 years old and to believe you understand everything there is to know about the world, but it’s quite another thing to be 40 and still thinking that way.

Like me, Lululemon’s founder, Chip Wilson, read Rand at 18 and thought he had found the keys to the world.  Unlike me, Wilson never realized just how deeply flawed those ideas were and continued barreling right down the rabbit hole of selfishness and egocentricism.

In fact, he is so deeply invested in his belief in Rand’s rightness that the company’s bags now boast the text “Who is John Galt?”

From the company’s blog:

What do we want to create for our lives right now? We can do it. It might be hard but there is nothing stopping us. Think about the reasons and excuses that come up when we envision our best lives; it is remarkable how manipulative and clever mediocrity can be, sneakily convincing us to continue existing without what we desire most.

Our bags are visual reminders for ourselves to live a life we love and conquer the epidemic of mediocrity. We all have a John Galt inside of us, cheering us on. How are we going to live lives we love?

Part of me agrees with this, that we do put a lot of limitations on ourselves that keep us from pursuing the lives we want.  BUT.  A lot of limitations?  Actually exist!  They are actual things in the world! Poverty, disability, bigotry, violence – these are not just things that many of us can will out of existence.  You cannot simply dream them away or wish them out of existence.

Yesterday, I read a series of statistics about Native Americans, how they are so much more likely to suffer from alcoholism, to commit suicide, to be raped than white people. It caused me to think about trans* people, and how their average life span is so much lower than the life spans of cisgendered people.  This is not because trans* people and Native Americans have just created rules for themselves in which they die earlier than the rest of us, or because they have chosen to experience fear instead of pursuing a life they love.  This is because they live in a world that has actively sought to destroy them.

It is the mark of someone who is not only privileged, but who is also oblivious to their privilege, to think that matters of greatness and mediocrity and success and loved lives are things that can simply be chosen, and that those who fail to attain success do so because they just didn’t want it badly enough.

Do you  need more proof of this?  Look at the smoking wreckage of our economy.  People are not broke and jobless because they are lazy slobs.  They are broke and jobless because the economic system has crumbled beneath their feet.  To blame huge swaths of humanity for the way economics and political systems have failed them is immoral, in my humble opinion.

Some people have remarked that it’s odd that someone whose company caters to a yoga lifestyle would hold such arch-conservative ideals.  I actually don’t think it’s all that weird.  The idea that a person is somehow more enlightened or more compassionate  simply because they do yoga is nonsense.  The only thing you can tell about a person who likes to do yoga is that they like to do yoga.  I mean, it’s entirely possible to be a selfish asshole who does yoga.

Besides, look at who Lululemon caters to.  What kind of person spends $60 on tank tops and $90 on pants for yoga?   A person with a lot of money, that’s who. A person of privilege.  You could be a very good person but you still have loads of privilege.

Lululemon has already indicated that it isn’t all that interested in catering to anyone who is not among the most privileged members of society, simply by virtue of its prices.  Is it any surprise that the founder would come out and openly embrace a similarly elitist belief system?

I might admire the pretty Lululemon clothes featured in glossy magazine spreads, but when it comes time to plunk down my hard-earned cash, I’m sticking with Old Navy and Target gear.  Target and Old Navy may have 99 problems, but promoting hack “philosophers” who are partially responsible for destroying the nation’s economy ain’t one.

P.S. Lululemon is also really into the Secret and Landmark Education.  It’s like they couldn’t decide on just one system of fake self-actualization, so they grabbed up all of them and squished them together in a great big lump of pseudo-intellectual feel-good faux-philosophy.  Lovely.
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25 responses to “Was John Galt a yogi? Or why I will definitely never buy Lululemon’s clothing now

  1. I was out when I found out that their name is incredibly racist. Was basically created to specifically appeal to Japanese people because of the “L” sound being American. And it is “funny to hear them try to pronounce it.” http://www.feminisms.org/284/i-have-declared-war-on-lululemon/

    Apparently they also fire people for not being the correct shape to sell their merchandise in a storefront as well: http://open.salon.com/blog/firedfornow/2009/03/31/why_i_dislike_lululemonmore_than_before

    Not that I could afford their stuff anyway.

  2. I’ve never shopped in their stores (because of the price and also the nearest one is like 45 minutes away at the “nice” mall) and the only Lululemon thing I own in a sports bra I bought (new) off ebay. It didn’t impress me enough to want to check out their stores. And this impresses me even less.

  3. THANKS! Am glad I’m not the only one who gets a hiccup when reading their PR spin. Their blog is like brain wash. But however they behave, all the fancy yoga teachers in all the fancy studios still willingly pay for their overpriced clothes and advertise them in front of class. In London it’s almost like you cannot put your mat in the front row if you haven’t got that Lululemon top or pant on. Sigh.

  4. I’m morally opposed to paying that much money for clothes I’m just going to sweat in. I also imagine they don’t pass much of that money on to the people who actually manufacture the clothes. Now that I have this information I have even more reason to never buy anything from them, ever.

    • Word. They are clothes for working out, not evening gowns. And I’m pretty sure I’ve read that they use the same kind of overseas manufacturing that most apparel manufacturers use, so it’s safe to say that a lot of those funds are NOT going to the people who actually make the clothes.

  5. Agreed. I don’t do yoga and I’ve never shopped there. Won’t start now. For some reason I thought that the reason their clothes were so expensive was because they made them in Canada. I was wrong, though, they make them in third world sweatshops like everyone else.

    • If they made their clothes in Canada that would be one thing. But then again, look at American Apparel. They manufacture in the US, yet I won’t buy their stuff because Dov Charney is a total sexual harasser who makes me want to vomit, among other things.

      It would be super-awesome if we could find someone who makes clothes in the US and who isn’t a total douchebag. Why does it seem like this is so impossible?

    • They definitely started out making all their clothes in Canada. It was only when lululemon decided to expand into overseas markets that they began opening overseas factories. I read an interview with the founder (who is a racist dick, by the way) that seemed to imply that the clothes sold in the US and Canada were entirely or almost entirely still made in Canada, but who knows how much of that is just spin? Either way, I don’t think the price has that much to do with the fact that the clothes are made in Canada–that would bump up the price some, but certainly not to what you currently pay for their clothing. That’s all about creating a “luxury” brand that isn’t particularly luxurious at all.

  6. Thanks for this great post.
    I do admit to having (and liking) the Lululemon stuff I have– the only sports bras I have that don’t chafe on longer runs are from there– but after this event (which brought to light, for me, the Landmark/Secret/racist stuff) I will have to try to find another place to get my sports bras.

    Though I agree that you can’t tell anything about someone by whether they do yoga, one of the things I strive for in my practice (such that it is) is increased compassion. To me, striving to increase compassion is at odds with John Galtian self-interest, and the self-improvement that I strive for in running and in fitness has to be carefully balanced by an awareness that my success in those areas has absolutely nothing to do with my self-worth– an awareness that no matter what time I hit in my next 5K, it doesn’t make me a worse person than the people in front of me, or a better person than the people in back of me.

    I think there is a lot of a perception in the running/fitness community that being a runner/being fit/being thin makes a person better than other people who are less fit/less thin. I think this is tied in to this same Randian attitude, and isn’t that far from thinking that being rich means that you are better and if those poor people just tried harder, they wouldn’t be poor– which is a concept that anyone who is striving for more compassion towards those around them should, I think, reject outright.

    • Great comment! Yeah, it seems like a lot of people who run or do yoga or do a variety of things think that doing those things in and of themselves automatically make them more virtuous, like they look at the discipline and focus required for those things and think that makes them a better person. Discipline and focus are valuable qualities to have but it’s how you apply them to your relationships with other people that determines whether you are behaving as a moral agent or not. It’s not just a given that you’ll be a better person because of these things.

      But, like you said, I try to use these things to help me become a better person, and for me that means being less impatient and irritable with other people, and to be more understanding and less judgmental. I can say that running/weight training/yoga/cycling/etc. have all helped me with this but it’s because I made a choice to apply things in this way.

      Sadly, you are right – these things run directly counter to Rand’s ideas. Did you know that one of the higher-ups in her organization was a psychologist who used to work with devotees to help them root out feelings of compassion and empathy? I find that deeply troubling, because compassion and empathy are some of our greatest values as human beings, and without them, well, I’d hate to think of how horrible our society would be absent those qualities.

      Thanks again for such a rad comment. It gave me a lot to think about!

  7. Did you learn about the Lululemon bags via Autumn’s premature posting yesterday? I sure did, and spent the next half hour reading about Chip Wilson and Lululemon.

    “Part of me agrees with this, that we do put a lot of limitations on ourselves that keep us from pursuing the lives we want. BUT. A lot of limitations? Actually exist! They are actual things in the world! Poverty, disability, bigotry, violence – these are not just things that many of us can will out of existence.”

    Yesssssssssss. This is the big problem I have with a lot of visualize-your-way-to-wealth-and-glory systems.

    I never read any Rand, and have been hesitant to start now for fear of becoming an Instant Convert.

    Another great post. You make it look so easy.

    • Thanks, dude! I have a lot of practice in Rand hating, due to my intellectual misadventures as a youngster. As far as reading her, if you do want to read her, I’d avoid Atlas Shrugged, if only because it’s a ponderous, poorly written book. I’ve heard The Fountainhead is actually not half-bad as a read? I haven’t read it because why would I read more Rand when there are so many other books out there to read? :)

      I wouldn’t worry about becoming an Instant Convert, though – you seem like too much of a critical thinker for that.

      I actually came across it from Gawker after someone posted about it on tumblr. I also totally fell down the Chip Wilson/Lululemon rabbit hole. I had no idea about any of it!

  8. I’ve said it in other places, but I’ve been on a de facto boycott of Lululemon for a long time because it doesn’t make clothing in my size. Apparently, we can only “envision our best lives” if that includes being a size 12 or smaller.

    • Ha. What an asshole move on their part, to only have clothes in size 12 or smaller. (I know lots of clothing makers do this, and they are all assholes, too.) Stupid business decision made for the sake of, I don’t know, “protecting the brand,” I suppose. It’s gross.

  9. THANK YOU. I’ve kept myself out of their stores and off their website for a year now, despite lusting after their sweatshirts and dance pants, due to their pricing. And that determination was starting to slip…glad to see there are plenty of reasons to never give that company a dime.

    • Yeah, I didn’t even know about the racism or the fat-hating until Nicole posted those links, and when taken altogether with the cult-y stuff and the Rand stuff and the cost, it makes it quite easy to never buy anything from them. I know people say their stuff is quality but there’s only so much I can overlook for the sake of a pair of pants that make my butt look good.

  10. I’d comment, but I’m shackled by my own mediocrity.

    (I’ve never read Rand but am sure I’d have the same arc you describe here. I watched the 1950s “The Fountainhead” film last month and was simply–well, you could say I was astonished at how ludicrous it was.)

    • Did it involve rape-ish sex? Rand was big on rape-ish sex between her female and male protagonists. In Atlas Shrugged, Dagny Taggart has rape-sex with, like, three guys, and finds her true happiness while serving as a housewife in John Galt’s Never-Never Land. It’s kind of hysterical.

  11. So when you can’t articulate why you don’t agree with someone else’s philosophy, are attacks like “what remained was revealed as nothing more than the pathology of a woman deranged by a raging meth habit…” generally acceptable to feminists like yourself?

    I’m sure you have no problem with expensive Patagonia gear, as surely you fall for their environmentalist schtick.

    How sad.

    • Or you could, you know, actually ask me what I think about that instead of assuming – incorrectly – that you know what I think. But then, you wouldn’t have the satisfaction of really feeling like you nailed that bitch who insulted your hero right to the wall, would you.

      • Some day, I’m going to write a blog post made up entirely of various troll comments. I’m hoping it will turn into this awesome postmodern conversation piece.

        Either that, or publish a book called “Troll Mad Libs.”

  12. I remember when the first LuluLemon opened up in Calgary, AB, and I went to check it out. There stuff was ok… but when I looked at the price I was like, NOPE, not spending $90 on a pair of yoga pants that are mostly polyester/elastane. Maybe if they were silk I would spend that price. My FAVOURITE yoga pants are ones that I got from an import shop from Thailand. They are hand woven cotton, and have a tie in the front, and NO LOGO on them at all. They were fair trade and I think that is pretty cool.

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