By now, you're probably read the highly controversial xoJane
piece in which a self-described "skinny white girl" details how she was pretty much traumatized by the presence of a "young, fairly heavy black woman" in yoga class: It Happened to Me: There Are No Black People in My Yoga Class and I'm Suddenly Uncomfortable With It
. Highlights of the essay include phrases like "I had no choice but to look straight at her every time my head was upside down (roughly once a minute)" and "If I were her, I thought, I would want as little attention to be drawn to my despair as possible—I would not want anyone to look at me or notice me." (You think this, yet you spend almost 1,000 words describing her and how she made you so uncomfortable that you were "completely unable to focus on [your] practice.")
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At this point, I don't feel the need to parody the piece or break down exactly WHY it is so troubling. Several ladies - like Erika
have already done that. [pullquote]Reactions Across the Web:
- Black Girl's Guide to Weight Loss: An Open Letter to the xoJane Writer Who Cried About a Black Woman in Her Yoga Class
- The Frisky: Frisky Rant: On That White Woman Who Saw a Black Woman at Yoga and Wrote an Embarrassingly Tone Deaf Essay About It for xoJane
- Gawker: Black Person in Yoga Class Causes Profound Moral Crisis
- Huffington Post: I'm a Big Black Girl Around Small White People and I'm Suddenly Feeling Uncomfortable With It: My Response to xoJane
- xoJane: It Happened to Me: I Read an Essay About a White Woman's Yoga Class/Black Woman Crisis and I Cannot
Instead, like CeCe
of Plus Size Princess
fame, I'd rather discuss my own experience in yoga classes in which I am the "young, fairly heavy black woman" in the room. In fact, I'd love to juxtapose my own thoughts against what the author says in her piece. While, admittedly, I was not the same woman in her class, I have been that woman many, many times.
Your Experience: "It appeared she had never set foot in a yoga studio—she was glancing around anxiously, adjusting her clothes, looking wide-eyed and nervous."
Every yoga studio is different. Some are elaborate havens complete with zen-inspired artwork and free mats and towels. Others are merely spare rooms at the back of the massive chain gym. So, when you see me looking around, perhaps I am new to that
studio...trying to figure out where they keep the mats, blocks, and other accessories. Or, maybe I'm just trying to carve out a space in what is always a jam-packed room with highly experienced, very fit yoga enthusiasts who generally don't go out of their way to welcome non-regulars to their
classes. (Sort of like the mean old ladies who stake a claim to the same pew each Sunday in church.)
Your Experience: "Before we made it into our first downward dog, she had crouched down on her elbows and knees, head lowered close to the ground, trapped and vulnerable. She stayed there, staring, for the rest of the class."
As a general matter, I don't "do" downward dog. Or planks. I just don't. (Do you know how much wrist strength I'd need to keep my size 22 self into the air?) Instead, I do what works for me. Sometimes, it's a modified version of a pose
. Other times - like when y'all are standing on your heads - I will opt out altogether and bliss out in child's pose (or, if I'm feeling really emo, corpse pose). No, I'm not crying. I'm not embarrassed. Just like you, I'm trying to get some exercise and ease my mind.
Your Experience: "Over the course of the next hour, I watched as her despair turned into resentment and then contempt. I felt it all directed toward me and my body."
Um, no. I'm not wishing I were you in your little Lululemon tank top. Instead, I'm actually watching how you conduct your practice. Sure, I admire the strength you exhibit and even appreciate the little wobbles when you're slightly off balance. But no, there is no hateration going on. It's not that serious, Boo.
Your Experience: "I thought about how that must feel: to be a heavyset black woman entering for the first time a system that by all accounts seems unable to accommodate her body....Should I tell her after class how awful I was at yoga for the first few months of my practicing and encourage her to stick with it, or would that come off as massively condescending?"
Let me make sure I understand. You're wondering if you should presumptively go up to a stranger (who has not asked for help) and utter the equivalent of "Hey, it sucks to be you. But keep at it and soon you'll be like me!" As someone who *has* had that happen before, all I can advise is that you keep your pie hole shut.
Your Experience: "I got home from that class and promptly broke down crying....Knowing fully well that one hour of perhaps self-importantly believing myself to be the deserving target of a racially charged anger is nothing, is largely my own psychological projection, is a drop in the bucket, is the tip of the iceberg in American race relations, I was shaken by it all the same."
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To sum up, don't make assumptions...because we all know what happens when you assume.