Narcissistic Yogi Who's Afraid of Black People in Class Did Us All a Favor

yogaWe can all be a little self-centered at times, though a recent post on XOJane.com is perhaps narcissism at its best. It's an honor the writer is paying for dearly. In the days since her essay, "It Happened to Me: There Are No Black People in My Yoga Classes and I'm Suddenly Feeling Uncomfortable With It," went live, it appears she's essentially gone into hiding. No surprise given the vicious, scathing comments she received after detailing the horror of having an overweight black woman on the yoga mat behind her. With lines like, "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," what did she expect? Certainly not a celebration of her open-mindedness. But there is a much more important issue than her clearly unintended, but nevertheless obvious, ignorance.

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This just highlights the fact that some white women refuse to accept or understand black women's bodies ... or rather the way we think about our bodies. Let me explain.

Despite the writer's belief that the practice of yoga has been co-opted by women with "skinny white girl" bodies, that is blatantly false. She lives in New York City for goodness' sake. I find it hard to believe seeing a sista in class was such a devastating shock. But I will give her the benefit of the doubt. What is impossible to believe is that this is the first time she has seen a "heavyset" person struggle through class.

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.

She explained feeling judged for her toned physique, but news flash, lady: Yoga isn't just about getting a body worth slipping into skinny jeans. It's much more than that. Yes, it strengthens you, leans you out. But it's also about inner peace and mediation. It should be a place for women -- of varied shapes -- to find an escape from crazy jobs, hectic home lives, and even race-based stereotypes.

For all the writer knows, this "heavyset black woman," whose mere presence kept her from focusing on her own practice, wasn't there to lose weight. Perhaps she thought it would be a place where her body wouldn't be ridiculed or picked apart. A place where she could push herself to try something new and possibly leave feeling better about herself as a result.

It's also important to note that not all black women want to be stick thin waifs in "high-wasited bike shorts." Maybe she likes her body. Lots of women of color (not just black) prefer curves, big butts, large hips, and ample breasts. But in this writer's mind, this black woman hated her because of her lean body. "I tried to very deliberately avoid looking in her direction each time I was in downward dog, but I could feel her hostility just the same," she wrote. She goes on to detail her "despair" and breaking down in tears once she was at home because her "safe place" had been ruined.

I would imagine -- and hope -- this black woman didn't give her a moment's thought. Perhaps she did wish she could do the poses as expertly as the writer, but to suggest a deeper issue were at play without ever speaking to the woman or even making eye contact with her is absolutely ridiculous. Really, how self-absorbed can she be?

Though as easy as it is to pick apart this writer, she has actually done us all a great service. She has forced an important dialogue about race and women's bodies. One I hope white and black women alike engage in and learn from.

Perhaps we should even feel sorry for this writer. While ignorance isn't an excuse, it clearly wasn't her intention to insult anyone. In fact, she seems to be grasping at a way for yoga to become more inclusive. She's just going about it the wrong way. Her attempt at enlightenment made her seem more close-minded and closed-off from the world around her.

What do you think of the reaction this writer has received?


Image via lyn tally/Flickr

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