Here's my yoga body.
Here's its backside - in leggings!
Let's review some stats on this yoga body.
Oh, and despite doing yoga 6 days every week, being strong and toned, and being within its normal weight for its height and frame, this body isn't America's ideal for beauty - far from it. Using your body to grow and birth beautiful and big baby girls can cause some modifications. Here is all of the flattest, most awesome abs this yoga body has ever had.
Imagine the reaction if this body donned a bikini on the beach this summer at its pinnacle of health and physical fitness. Scandalous!
The truth is that this is the first time I have ever exposed my midriff in public in my whole life. I'm extremely modest. Also, the truth is that I have never worn these pants without an over-sized t-shirt in public. I hate feeling exposed. However, recently, I heard about a Montana legislator introducing a bill that would ban the wearing of yoga pants. I wear yoga pants in public all the time. Half my life, if it weren't for yoga pants, I wouldn't have any clothes to wear at all. I thought it had to be a joke. It wasn't. It was an indecent exposure proposition. I knew there wasn't any way it could possibly pass, so I thought not another thing of it. Until yesterday.
Yesterday, one of the yoga teachers I follow on Facebook posted a link to an article titledThe Politics of Yoga Pants: Dignity, Spandex, and Dysmorphia - What a Load of Goods are Being Sold?. The article refers to the bill proposal briefly and then begins to discuss the issues of yoga as a corrupt, western, billion dollar industry, how it has morphed from its origination in India, and how yoga pants are causing self esteem problems in women. The yoga teacher who posted it called yoga pants - "yoga porn".
For yoga clothing manufacturers specifically, it’s about cradling that cute ass in spandex. And it's not just legislators who are up in arms. Consumers are arguing right, left, and everywhere in between about our cultural love of exhibiting the back bump.
The author, Susan Stringfellow, goes on to discuss how the big business of yoga in the United States caters to women of a certain income and body type with well known companies like Lululemon not carrying plus sizes and hiding their size 10s and 12s in the back of the store. Then, Stringfellow goes on to write:
Keep in mind that the myth of Narcissus predates American culture, which proves that the conundrum of our self-amazement has been around since antiquity, probably before. Yet, what can be argued is that the fashion designs sold by the yoga clothes companies are playing on human vanities and insecurities. And, as Klein contends, these repetitive presentations of "health" and "beauty" are capable of warping our sense of realistic expectations about who we should be.
And, all this means that yoga pants are really something to get our panties in a wad over? Yoga pants objectify women's bodies? Tasteless advertising makes us fantasize about a body we'll never have and therefore we are pressured to wear yoga pants that don't fit or accentuate our perfect for us bodies?
I'm not buying it. I've seen people of all sizes and shapes wear yoga pants and leggings. I've seen them worn in all kinds of beautiful and bizarre ways. One thing I have never been is shocked by the body wearing them. I'm a mother, and I have to say that I'm not speaking for myself when I say that when we are out running errands, feeding chickens, or taking the little gals to dance class, yoga pants are the most comfortable attire. Even the Yoga Body Image Coalition highlighted by the article has people doing yoga in yoga pants with all body types on their website. I have seen an upsurge in more realistic advertising on yoga sites I frequent and have for several years. I also recall seeing an ad of a completely nude athletic woman and not thinking twice about it. What's the deal?
I think reactions like this bring up great questions, but can tend toward the illogically radical like the Montana bill proposal to ban yoga pants. After reading this article, it was obvious what problems in American culture we should be addressing, and it isn't yoga pants. Yoga pants aren't causing a whole slue of people to feel poorly about their bodies. No, the problem is a huge one and multifaceted.
We've went from one extreme to another in this country in terms of our display of the human form and sexuality and our ways of living and economy. Our cultural norms formed in a way that was heavily influenced by prudish Puritanism. Now, we are at the opposite end of the spectrum where every day from the time we are born we are inundated by hyper-sexualized images of the human body that aren't even representative of reality. Those of us who exist in the in between are confused and silent.
The article also highlighted the conundrum of, Veronica Partridge, who vowed to not wear yoga pants or leggings in public again. Her husband honestly revealed to her that sometimes he couldn't help but to look at women when they wear yoga pants. I feel for her and her husband and the realities of this issue. I feel for women who have felt those less than respectful eyes on their bodies. The issue is not the woman's clothes. It is our culture's portrayal of the female form not as something to be admired for its beauty, but for something to lust for. There is a huge difference in admiring beauty and lusting. I can see someone and their beauty and enjoy looking at them without wanting to be with them sexually. In a culture where that cannot be separated, the problem is not in form fitting clothes enticing looks. The problem is in perversion. I would bet that in a culture where women regularly go topless don't have this issue in this same form.
The other issue is with unethical corporations and mass consumerism. To discuss these topics would take more writing than I want to do here. My main concern in this is the issue of the female body image. I have three daughters who I hope to raise with confidence and respect for their bodies. I have a husband who is an artist and has drawn nude women from life. He also tattoos people of all walks of life five days a week. So, the issue of body image speaks to me profoundly. If we cannot look upon another person's body without making a value judgment or it producing lustful thoughts, the issue isn't theirs. It is ours.
Yoga pants aren't shaming women. Our society is shaming women through airbrushed advertising, hyper-sexualizing, hiding tasteful representation of the human form, and all but forbidding self expression through means of dress, hairstyle, and body modification. Our society has a double standard. No issue with putting a 10 year old in booty shorts and bikinis in such a sexual climate, but takes issue with a fully covered body in yoga pants. Beauty, health, and fitness come in all shapes and sizes. I have spent my life learning to be separate from my body because of low self esteem. Yoga has connected me with this temple that is my body in wonderful ways. I'm not ashamed of it. That's why I can post these pictures in this context. My body was created to serve my essence in this life, and it is doing a fine job of it. Through yoga, I can worship Creator with my body while making it strong and healing it where the doctors cannot reach. If America has a bastardized form of yoga and yoga pants are nothing but yoga porn, that speaks to our priorities as Americans being VERY skewed. Nothing more.
Wear those yoga pants. They're comfortable for crying out loud. Oh, and one last thing. I typically don't wear yoga pants to do yoga any way. Here's the head of that yoga body saying farewell for now. Yes, it's that serious.
Kelli Hansel Haywood is the mother of three daughters living in the mountains of southeastern Kentucky. She is a writer, weightlifter, yoga and movement instructor, chakra reader, and Reiki practitioner.