How not to apologize, with Chip Wilson of Lululemon

November 12, 2013

Ah, apologies.

The Lululemon founder came under some fire for saying that his pants were not for everyone because “some women’s bodies just actually don’t work.” Seriously? Their bodies don’t work? I thought the pants were designed to fit the person, not vice versa. What are these, Procrustean Pants? I thought the containers were supposed to take our shape. Are we liquids now? “It’s about the rubbing through the thighs,” he added. Pants don’t fit people. People fit pants. What?

Fortunately the pants are generally more forgiving than he is. The whole point of yoga pants is that, while some alarmingly fit people do wear them to do All Their Activities, which you discover when they bustle past you with large armfuls of kale, for the rest of us they are what you wear on your way to becoming Alarmingly Fit, or maybe just on your way to sit down with a good book, because they are quite comfortable and have spandex in all the critical areas.

Look, if the company’s founder is going to try to discourage people from wearing Lululemon pants, far be it from me to stop him. Maybe he’s trying to pull a Tony Stark and sabotage his own industry, just for kicks. My biggest objection to lululemon yoga pants is that some of them are less “yoga pants” than “yoga leggings-worn-as-pants.” But we don’t need to get into that.

Now, after noticing that everyone is upset, Mr. Wilson has emerged from his burrow with a classic Paula Deen-style apology, the kind where you stand in front of a white wall, tear up, and don’t actually apologize.

Pretty much everything about this apology is terrible. “I am sorry that you are not happy with the thing that I said. Please, stop being angry now.” You take responsibility for what you said? What does that mean? Of course you’re responsible for it. You said it. No one was standing in front of the classroom in an inverted posture gently urging you “Now say something about how it’s the people, not the pants, that are the problem.”

This isn’t a grown person’s apology! This is a child’s pose!* “I’m sorry you are so angry” is not apologizing. “I’m sorry. What I said was wrong” is. If you don’t feel comfortable saying that, then don’t call it an apology. It’s not. I could say that the thing I am doing in my yoga pants with one leg in the air where I teeter gently from side to side is a Warrior Pose, but that does not make it so. Apologies are about expressing regret that you said the thing that made people upset, not just regretting that they’re upset. If you can’t do that, I’m not sure why you’re bothering, except possibly so you can check off the “apology” box. But it seems pretty transparent. Speaking of lululemon pants.

*I have, at best, a dim understanding of yoga.

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