This month’s lead story in Fast Company covers the apparently brilliant Jenna Lyons of J Crew. She’s been with the company for 23 years and has worked her way up to a position as top creative executive and president, due to a remarkable combination of design chops and a head for sales. Annual revenue at the brand has tripled since 2003 and in the last decade the company has moved from making uninspired polos to designing fashion that everyone from bloggers to Michelle Obama rave about. She was even named one of Time Magazine’s most influential people last month.
But the article doesn’t open with any of that.
Nope, the hook to this story is Lyons’ temporary anorexia – and not just that, but how it means we can all relate to her that much better. The day of her interview with Fast Company marks her tenth day of a juice fast to deal with temporary weight gain:
“I’m so hungry. I haven’t eaten in 10 days,” says the executive creative director and president of J.Crew, not hyperbolically. “I was like, errrr! errrr! with every pair of pants,” she adds, making that grunting sound familiar to all women at some point in their lives. Turns out even the most fashionable manager in America can have a bad clothing day. “The inside button would pop before I even zipped it. I was like, Oh, God!” So Lyons went on an organic-juice-cleanse-plus-Isogenics bender and has consumed nothing but liquids for more than a week. “I’m a little bit mangry. Hangry mangry,” she confesses, within five minutes of my arrival.
But author Danielle Sacks isn’t appalled by this display of starvation. No. She says “It’s surprising, though comforting, to find out that Lyons is humanly imperfect.” Either this comment was appalling, in which case Sacks should have dwelled on it in her article, or it really was a joke taken out of context before the official interview started, in which case it’s kind of a sucky lead. But I digress…
I know this sort of aggressive dieting is quite common in the fashion world, and there’s a bit of a joking tone there, which would be consistent with internet rumors that she’s approachable and relatable. But she also sounds legitimately distracted by her hunger. This woman’s job is to lead the company, not “look like a J Crew model before the airbrushing.” She may be a genius, but I’m sorry, there is no way that the president of a public company can perform at her best when she is starving herself. Running a company takes energy, and our brains require fuel to make good decisions. Lyons is sending a message to her staff, and the world through this article, that physical appearance is more important than giving your body the fuel it needs to do your best work.
I’m just going to put this out there that diets so distracting that you have to talk about them in interviews are bad for business.
Not every woman in leadership needs to be a role model, but if Lyons aspires to be one, this sort of thing is also a not great example to set for the youth of America about how to be a successful professional woman.
Readers, what do you think? Does starvation have a place in the boardroom?