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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Why yoga pants are bad for women

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It's a new year and I've got a new gym membership. I went the other morning. It was 8 degrees outside. And every woman in there was wearing skintight, Saran-wrap-thin yoga pants.

Many were dressed in the latest fashion - leggings with patterns of translucent mesh cut out of them, like sporty doilies. "Finally," these women must have thought, "pants that properly ventilate my outer calves without letting a single molecule of air reach anywhere else below my belly button."

Don't get me wrong. I have yoga pants - three pairs. But for some reason none of them cover my ankles, and as I said, it was 8 degrees outside. So I wore sweatpants. I got on the elliptical. A few women gave me funny looks. Maybe they felt sorry for me, or maybe they were concerned that my loose pants were going to get tangled in the machine's gears. Men didn't look at me at all.

At this moment of cultural crisis, when the injustices and indignities of female life have suddenly become news, an important question hit me: Whatever happened to sweatpants? Remember sweatpants? Women used to wear them, not so long ago.

You probably still have a pair, in velour or terry cloth, with the name of a college or sports team emblazoned down the leg. No one looks good in sweatpants. But that's not the point. They're basically just towels with waistbands. They exist for two activities: lounging and exercising - two activities that you used to be able to do without looking like a model in a P90X infomercial.

It's not good manners for women to tell other women how to dress; that's the job of male fashion photographers. Women who criticize other women for dressing hot are seen as criticizing women themselves - a sad conflation if you think about it, rooted in the idea that who we are is how we look. It's impossible to have once been a teenage girl and not, at some very deep level, feel that.

But yoga pants make it worse. Seriously, you can't go into a room of 15 fellow women contorting themselves into ridiculous positions at 7 in the morning without first donning skintight pants? What is it about yoga in particular that seems to require this? Are practitioners really worried that a normal-width pant leg is going to throttle them mid-lotus pose?

Bottom of Form

We aren't wearing these workout clothes because they're cooler or more comfortable. (You think the selling point of Lululemon's Reveal Tight Precision pants is really the way their moth-eaten design provides a "much-needed dose of airflow"?) We're wearing them because they're sexy.

We felt we had to look hot on dates - a given. We felt we had to look hot at the office - problematic. But now we've internalized the idea that we have to look hot at the gym? Give me a break. The gym is one of the few places where we're supposed to be able to focus on how our bodies feel, not just on how they look. We need to remember that. Sweatpants can help.

Control-top exercise leggings that hold in your stomach won't help. Nor will - and this is a real thing - the push-up sports bra. Frankly, I'm annoyed by the whole booming industry around women's exercise, which is perhaps most evident in the rise of studio classes.

According to the Association of Fitness Studios, Americans spent around $24 billion on studio fees in 2015, or about $4 billion more than they spent on traditional gyms - and that spread has only increased since then. Naturally, women are spending the most; they outnumber men in studio classes by more than two to one.

They are paying for classes like SoulCycle (high-intensity stationary biking gets your soul super-toned!) and barre (look like a ballerina without ever having to dance!). And if you're already spending $30 on a fitness class, why not spend $70 on the shirt to wear to it? In 2016, at what we can only hope was the peak of the market, Americans dropped almost $46 billion on "activewear."

All of this turns working out from a healthy thing you might do twice a week into a Way of Life, where $120 leggings are more necessity than extravagance. Consider the way that these fancy exercise clothes have spread from the gym to the street, essentially outfitting women for every activity beyond white-collar work.

Consider the way the step-counting Fitbit turns every errand into exercise. When yoga pants are the first thing grown women put on every morning, we can't help absorbing the message that staying fit is our No. 1 purpose in life.

Women can, of course, be fit and liberated. We may be able to conquer the world wearing spandex. But wouldn't it be easier to do so in pants that don't threaten to show every dimple and roll in every woman over 30?

Pantsuits had a moment, back in 2016. I think women are ready to give them another chance. And while we're at it, let's bring back slacks, too, and corduroys and, why not, even khakis. But the first step is to bring back sweatpants.
Deep-sea divers need skintight polymer pants; so do Olympic speedskaters. The rest of us could use some breathing room. So step into some slouchy pants with me. We don't have to look quite so good when we're just trying to look a little better.

The writer is a senior staff editor at Opinion                                  --------Honor Jones

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