CBC Analysis
GEORGIE BINKS:
Taking it all off, even if you don't want to
CBC News Viewpoint | Dec. 12, 2005 | More from Georgie Binks


Georgie Binks Georgie Binks is a freelance writer living in Toronto. She is a graduate of Queen's University and writes for the Toronto Star, National Post, and Chatelaine. She has written for the Globe and Mail, Homemakers, Elle, Glow and Style at Home, as well as salon.com. Georgie is a former CBC radio and television reporter and editor.



Last Saturday the women's athletic wear chain, Lululemon, ran a promotion publicizing the opening of a new store in Kingston, Ont. To the first thirty customers willing to enter their store clad only in their underwear they offered a free top and bottom. Girls, (and my daughter, 18, was one of them, although she was never asked for I.D.) had planned ahead of time to enter the store in their underpants, hide their breasts with their hands and sprint to the nearest clothing rack. Some hoped to wear their brassieres in as well.

Minutes before the opening, females were told brassieres were a no-go, although 'undies' to me signifies both. Then to the shock of the girls, employees insisted they take their hands away from their breasts and bare it all, if they were to be allowed entry to the store. All this, as cameras rolled.

Well, my daughter had waited outside all night with her university buddies, learning how hard and cold that Kingston pavement is so she followed orders. But she wasn't happy. Clearly distraught, after the event she told me, "I felt violated. I felt used by the store."

A friend of hers, Stephanie, 18, tells me, "When they asked me to remove my hands from my top, I was shocked and I didn't want to do it. It was a lose-lose situation."

What also stunned Stephanie was that camera operators followed the women as they tried on clothes. She says, "They were very in your face. They followed you through the store. When you asked them to back away, they did, but they were still focusing on you. It was very invasive." She was photographed as she attempted to try on tops, while hiding body parts.

The company ran a similar event recently in Vancouver where participants had to bare it all, but at least those folks knew the terms before they showed up. Kingston store manager Kathy Krul wrote in an e-mail to me, "This was an event of choice and the people who participated chose to have some fun and went home with a free Lululemon outfit. Everyone was very happy with the results of the event."

Not quite everyone.

Caitlin Coull, public education co-ordinator for the Sexual Assault Center in Kingston says it's clear the girls were violated. She believes, "The fact they were told they could wear underwear and then be told they had to bare their breasts, doesn't make sense. In the spirit of Girls Gone Wild, (which tours universities and spring break settings inviting young women to bare their breasts for the cameras and then selling videos of them on its website with charming names like 'Island Orgy' and 'Daddy's Little Girls')

"We tend to blur the lines between empowerment and objectification. It is absolutely a violation. Even if someone gives their consent, they are being objectified in a completely exploitive fashion, because these pictures of them are being used for another party's gain, whether that is the corporation or the videos."

Coull says they have every right to be incensed. She says, "Sexual assault is much more than your stereotypical idea of what it is. It involves anything sexual in nature that doesn't involve consent. Being an unwitting or unwilling participant in something that could be seen by some as pornographic or obscene or inappropriate can be seen under the legal definition of sexual violence. Just because it's in the mainstream doesn't make it any different. If you look at a survivor of rape, it is common to feel used and to feel embarrassed and ashamed, similar to the way these girls are feeling."

As well, in these days of concerns about child pornography, a storeowner with cameras rolling might be wise to ask for ID, when it's requesting female customers take their hands off their breasts. Krul says, "This event was not intended for girls. We do not make children's clothing."

When Gwen Jacobs bared her breasts in 1991 after being charged with indecency, her subsequent court fight was seen as an empowerment of women. It was also something she did not do under duress by a company nor was she drunk as so many of the participants in the Girls Gone Wild videos.

At least the young women who bare all for the cameras with Girls Gone Wild are aware of what they are doing and where it's headed – directly to video and the internet. Few may be aware though that those videos and website memberships are sold to lonely men who use them to pleasure themselves.

Coull says, "If the women who are doing this saw what the end product was and what it is reduced to, it might reduce some of the excitement around it."

In the meantime, these Lululemon customers are terrified of where the videos of them are going to turn up. The pictures of some have already been published in newspapers.

Kathy Krul says, "Lululemon certainly had/has no intentions to objectify women. This event was open to men and women and both sexes participated. We had a photographer covering the event and shots were taken simply to do only this. No 'naked' photos will be published on our website."

Lululemon is a store that actually has a manifesto with sayings aimed at empowering its female customers. If you look on their websites, its rife with little phrases like, "Your outlook on life is a direct reflection on how much you like yourself," and "Life is full of setbacks."

They're right about those setbacks. Stephanie says, "I felt violated. Had I known prior to the experience this was going to happen, I wouldn't have done it. It goes against what Lululemon stands for. It's supposed to be empowering and it didn't feel very empowering at all. The consensus was that everyone felt very violated and shocked that this was the case. My parents were upset this was a publicity stunt that abused the rights of women, rather than encouraging them."


LETTERS:

I am not amused by the Lululemon episode, which seems to have had mistakes on everyone's part. But I am puzzled by implications within that are not well thought out.

"Taking it all off, even if you don't want to"? "Bare it all"? Those are cliches that have no relation to what happened. The women and men remained half dressed -- not nude. There are, moreover, many women quite okay with being bare breasted. Some were at the store -- their story isn't being told much.

Ms. Coull's suggestion that child pornography could be involved is grotesque. Photos of minors partly or completely undressed are quite legal and not remotely pornographic without several important conditions, none of which have anything to do with Lululemon, as far as reports have gone.

Nor does it help to maintain that sexual assault is anything the writer states it is. I am as much on the side of women in difficulty as anyone, which is why I deplore misuse of language that makes their situation more difficult. (That continues with Ms. Coull's implication that giving consent to be photographed naked automatically means a person is exploited.)

Also, as implied in Ms. Binks' article, it is legal for females to be without tops basically anywhere in Ontario, after the Gwen Jacob case (not Jacobs) from 1996. That doesn't mean everything was fine at Lululemon, but it does mean that what went on was not illegal because of bare female breasts -- just in case anyone thinks it was.

—Dr. Paul Rapoport | Ancaster, Ontario

Shame on every single woman that took part in this appalling event. And shame on Georgie Binks for trying to make the store somehow responsible for these young women's decision to part with their dignity for two free items of clothing.

The choice to remove their clothes and sell a peek at their bodies in exchange for a top and bottom says a lot about how much they value the hard-won rights of women. If, as an adult, you're going to make the decision to sell out (whether it's your values or your body), then go ahead. But in the name of every woman who doesn't have that choice, take responsibility for your actions and quit whining about feeling used.

These young women were using the store (to get free stuff) just as much as the store was using them.

—S. Livingston | Keswick, Ontario

Lululemon representative Kathy Krul says that they do not make children's clothes. That may be true that their target market is not children and younger teens. However, there are plenty of underage girls who wear Lululemon clothes and plenty of them could pass for 18. Just because your target market isn't children and young teens and the attendees look 18 and over doesn't necessarily mean they are of legal age.

When it comes to women's wear, bras are considered underwear just as much as panties are. If they intended "undies" to exclude bras, they should have said "panties".

While I do agree this is wrong and in bad taste, it was ultimately the girls' own choice to continue in the event after being given the proper information on the terms of the contest.

—Laurie MacDonald | Calgary

Lululemon was probably purposefully vague about the meaning of "undies" and about how much people would have to bare to attract more people. Once they had the women at the store's door they "clarified" the rules.

Had the women known what the rules were before the event there would nothing to talk about. Of course you could still think this publicity stunt was disgusting, but there would be no allegations of violation. The women were pressured into taking decisions without time to fully think them through.

—Elise Legault | Ottawa

The fact that this promotion is in bad taste � and is a clear contradiction of this company�s spoken values � should go without saying.

This also sounds like a company looking for a lawsuit. All it would take is one set of nude photos from this event to end up on the internet, without releases signed, or with under-aged girls, and someone�s in deep doo-doo.

Now, that said, I seem to have missed the part in Miss Binks� story where choice was taken away and replaced by force. Don�t want to take off the bras? Say no.

Employee tells you that you have to? Tell them you want a written statement stating that, on behalf of the company (good ammunition for future lawsuit and dismissal of management). Still don�t want to take off the bras? Walk away and sue them later for (at least) your free outfit.

Don�t like the cameras being there (although how anyone would suspect this would go down without cameras being present is beyond me)? Walk away.

Empowerment is lost the minute you feel the other party has more leverage over you than you have over them.

This young lady exercised her right to chose without being under duress, force, or � presumably � the effect of intoxicants. She was empowered 100%. She could have walked away or said �no� at any time. She could have protested what was happening in many ways. She could have taken her own camera and insisted the manger strip before anyone in Kingston will set foot in the store.

The feeling of losing power comes from within. It comes from holding something sacred and then feeling like you sacrificed it without just cause.

Thoughts???

—Spencer | Kingston, Ontario

I am interested to see the comments on Ms. Binks article and note that they seem to be evenly divided between men (for) and women(against). I guess we have a way to go to get people to fully understand the sub text in an "event" like this.

I assume that neither of these men responding have daughters who have been pushed to do something, go somewhere they know they shouldn't by the awesome power of peer (and corporate) pressure. I am sure that, had they fully understood what was going to be asked of them, most of these young women would have stayed at home.

Now that I know what Lululemon asks of its customers I am going to choose to stay away from their store.

—Barbara Kerson | Guelph, Ontario

Having read the above article, the only phrase that immediately comes to mind is, "Give your head a shake!"

A corporation exploiting the nudity of young females for its own gain, instead of female empowerment?!? Really? Duh.

Georgie's daughter has her age to excuse her naivet�. What's Georgie's excuse?

—Paul Klimstra | Hamilton, Ontario

The idea of store employees insisting girls "bare it all" to get into the store, and then following them around with a camera, filming them while they try on clothes is pretty creepy.

But honestly, what were you expecting? If a store famous for it's tight, sexy outfits runs a promotion that gets participants to strip down for free clothes - you're going to have fanfare and spectators.

The fact that the girls "hoped" to wear their brassieres indicates that they assumed it was a possibility that they wouldn't be able to. And yet they still lined up in the cold to do it.

Once it was clear that girls wanting to get into the store had to expose their breasts, it is entirely their choice to do so. A choice that most people who aren't exhibitionists would likely scoff at. Your dignity for free clothes that advertise the store taking away your dignity? It seems like a pretty easy choice.

Yes, having a camera person filming you while you peruse the clothing racks half-naked is objectification, and I fear what those videos will actually be used for, but if you give your consent to be objectified, you can't really complain about it after the fact. Regret all you want, but you agreed to the conditions (hardly "following orders").

If you were "shocked" and you "didn't want to do it" then don't do it. It's really quite simple. It's the participants who have confused empowerment and objectification.

—Paul Johnton | Toronto

As a Vancouver resident, I was already aware of Lululemon's opening day promotion. On the occasions of the local store openings, I even remember thinking it was clever and all in good fun.

However, I was surprised to understand that in Kingston, cameras were rolling and Lululemon required that women go topless without trying to cover their breasts.

This free-spirited and "all in good fun" event crossed the line. It is one thing to offer freebies to people wearing underwear - but it is quite another thing to require women (and possibly underage girls) to take off bras (and last time I checked bras are underwear) - and then to go further and ask women to expose there breasts. While cameras roll.

Are these people in the yoga business or the pornography business? Showing breasts to get free stuff sounds like something that would go on in a strip club - not a yoga clothing store. This event, which could have been tasteful and fun, turned out to be disrespectful to women and an exploitative marketing tool.

I have purchased items at Lululemon on many occasions, but from now on, I will think twice about supporting a company that uses sexually exploitative measures to promote its products.

Lululemon should know that its customers are savvy people who know events like this are smart publicity stunts that get their store and products in the media - but if they are not orchestrated with some respect and consideration, they will inevitably turn people off.

—Indrani Mathure | Richmond, B.C.

I am outraged at the actions of Lululemon. I will never set foot in one of this company's stores again.

—Sheila Strong




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