Back when she still worked at a Lululemon Athletica store in downtown Philadelphia, Elizabeth Licorish was struck by the contrasting ways the company showcased different sizes of its wildly popular yoga pants.
Most of the merchandise was presented out on the floor, hung on the walls, or folded neatly in cabinets for all the world to see. But the largest sizes -- the 10s and the 12s -- were relegated to a separate area at the back of the store, left clumped and unfolded under a table.
These larger offerings were rarely restocked, said Licorish, who worked at Lululemon for four months in 2011. The only styles available in those sizes were old designs whose fashion moment had long since passed.
"All the other merchandise in the store was kind of sacred, but these were thrown in a heap," Licorish told The Huffington Post. "It was definitely discriminatory to those who wear larger sizes."
Far from an accident, the exiling of larger clothing by Lululemon is a central piece of the company's strategy to market its brand as the look of choice for the stylishly fitness-conscious, according to former employees and consumer advocates. They say this treatment of larger clothes and customers reflects the culture that Lululemon represents -- one that falsely suggests skinniness is the paramount feature of health.
A similar mode of image maintenance determines what lands on shelves at many major retail outlets, experts say. The dearth of plus-size products reinforces an implicit message that larger Americans have been absorbing for years: Shop only at select retailers that welcome your body type. Plus-size women between the ages of 30 and 45 are supposed to peruse the aisles at Lane Bryant. Younger women and teens are expected to drive to their local mall and go to Hot Topic's plus-size specialty spinoff Torrid.
Lululemon declined to comment.