Jennifer O’Connell: Men, our Lycra leggings are none of your damn business
The trend of women wearing skin-tight yoga pants brings out the inner Taliban in some men
Lululemon’s clothing has become, in certain circles, more sought-after than Chanel. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
I’m in Starbucks, looking at a perfectly formed bottom. I don’t mean to look, but it’s right there in front of me, pert and peachy in black Lycra teamed with a short vest, waiting for its owner’s Sweet Greens Smoothie to arrive.
When did bottoms emerge from hiding? Everywhere you look, they are there, asphalt-smooth in black Lycra or resplendent in camouflage-print spandex. When I was in my 20s, wearing sportswear as daywear was a sign you’d given up on fashion, or at least that you had an epic hangover. Now, sportswear – or more specifically, skintight yoga pants – are not just acceptable, they’re practically the new jeans. (In fact, I just checked and, of course, there’s a recent survey that shows that American teens do indeed prefer them to jeans.)
And just as the original purpose of denim – to protect your real clothing when you went down the mines – has been long since forgotten, the prevalence of Lycra leggings has nothing to do an upswing in people performing the downward dog. In fact, the amount of Lycra worn by an individual may actually be inversely proportional to her intention of doing any exercise. Instead, according to aficionados, it’s all about how they sculpt your rear and make your wobbly bits instantly taut and lean. I’m all for that: anything that makes women feel better about their bodies is worth applauding. (I’m occasionally partial to them myself, and can report that they do indeed suck and cling and smooth in all the right areas.)
It’s no wonder the Lycra march seems to be unstoppable: in the US, sales of yoga leggings, vests and sports bras totalled $15.1 billion (€14.07 billion) in the 12 months to August 2011, according to the research group NPD. That’s 10 per cent up on the previous year. Last October, Nike revealed that sales of female sportswear are outpacing those of male gear.
But the brand really spearheading this spandex creep across society is Lululemon, the Canadian manufacturer of, according to its website, “technical athletic” clothing, which has become – in certain circles – more sought-after than Chanel. Lululemon opened its first European shop in London in 2014 and is currently only available through online outlets in Ireland. The website Racked.com recently reported that canny individuals have built a career buying and reselling popular items on eBay and Facebook, some with a mark-up of more than 1,000 per cent. Lululemon recently launched a shop especially for children, which sells Lycra leggings at €63 a pop, leading the Washington Post to declare that we have reached “peak yoga pants”.
Sadly, not everyone seems to share the same warm, fuzzy feeling about the ability of yoga pants to perform miracles on women’s bodies. One of those who has misgivings is Lululemon’s founder, the weirdly cultish Chip Wilson. “Quite frankly, some women’s bodies just actually don’t work for [Lululemon’s yoga pants],” he told Bloomberg in 2013, shortly before he stepped down as chairman. “It’s about the rubbing through the thighs and how much pressure is there.”
A US Republican senator, Montana’s David Moore, recently issued the obligatory call for yoga pants to be banned, a sure sign of how deeply embedded they now are in the cultural landscape. Meanwhile, a growing number of schools in several US states have issued a restriction on their wear on the grounds that they might be “distracting for male students”.
Leaving aside the question of whether women should be supporting brands such as Lululemon, which appears intent on fat-shaming them, this alone has convinced me that all women should embrace the yoga pants on principle (but buy them from Gap or Nike or, better still, from Aldi, which is selling them for €10.99). It will infuriate the kind of people who, deep down, secretly think the Taliban were on to something.
It has been said before, but it – sigh – seems to bear repeating yet again. It is not women’s responsibility to police male thoughts or desires. Suggesting that women dress in a certain way in order to minimise the likelihood of unwanted male attention implies that society’s default position towards the female body is that it is either covered up or inviting male aggression. This is the crudest kind of victim blaming.
So love the Lycra, ladies. Yoga pants are no longer just gymwear or underwear: they are indeed pants. And chaps, if you fear you might lose control of yourself at the sight of a spandex-clad buttock, sling a burka over your own head. That should do the trick.
How safe are tampons?
The average woman will use 16,800 tampons in her lifetime – and probably not even once question whether they are really safe. US congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who is trying to have a bill passed that would force health authorities to monitor and disclose ingredients in sanitary products, is campaigning for that to change. She has raised concerns about dioxins, carcinogens and reproductive toxins that she says have been found in tampons and pads. She claims no comprehensive study has ever been carried out to prove that tampons are safe. Her detractors accuse her of scaremongering, but Maloney points out that no study has ever looked at the cumulative effect of using tens of thousands of tampons at intervals of a month over the course of a woman’s fertile life. She might be scaremongering, but doesn’t she have a point? We all know where tampons go . . . but how many of us have a clue what goes into them?