It could have been a simple enough transaction – me buying a new t-shirt to wear when I’m out scootering this summer. Instead, it was an assumption-based intervention of sorts, challenging my choices and correlating clothing size and body image to race.
What. The. Hatha.
I asked for an XL. She said that I should try a Large which “tends to run small.” I asked again for an XL. She insisted that I have a very cute shape and should buy the Large. She went on to say that if I were of a certain race, I would “totally buy the smaller shirt and rock it out.” She explained, you see, “they” don’t see the same messages in the media as “we” do and, therefore, do not have our same body issues. Hmmm…How does she know that? What gives her the familiarity to say those things to me without knowing me and my experiences? Does that mean non-white folks aren’t affected by the white beauty standard? From my perspective, yes “they” are. Does that mean everyone within a particular race has the same relationship with their body? I can honestly say that, no, we don’t.
Perhaps it was a fair assumption on her part that I’ve been scarred by the media’s beauty ideal. And, perhaps it is OK to recognize there are culturally specific beauty standards. What made me most uncomfortable is the insinuation I felt that I should adopt the assumed group thinking of another race. Sure. I can wear a different shirt. If I do, it should be because I want to, not because I am trying to identify with the cultural norms, beliefs and perceived challenges of a group to which I don’t belong. I look for commonalities between me and those who, at least externally, are different from me. But, I’m still me. I still live with the color of my skin and all of the privilege associated with it. (Yes – privilege is much bigger than skin color. That post is for another day.)
The t-shirt scenario speak volumes about what’s happening in the yoga industry and world at large (pun intended). The ongoing “look like this and you’ll be happy” and implied “don’t look like this and you’re flawed” yoga images and messaging hurt each one of us, no matter where we’ve come from. For example, the media continues to, for the most part, exclude yogis of color. I’m thrilled to see Yoga & Body Image Coalition partner Dr. Chelsea Jackson on the cover of Yoga Journal. That’s a step in the right direction – but in no way does it mean the industry has reached a point of inclusivity. Nor does it mean that every person of color will relate to Chelsea.
Regardless of race or any other label, each of us needs to be authentic to who we are. I am a 49 year-old white, able-bodied, heterosexual, college-educated female who lives comfortably in a larger body. Wearing a smaller size t-shirt is not a formula for my happiness, nor is it a way to adopt the norms of another race. It is a way to deny my true self and everything I bring to the table. Similarly, doing twisty-turny yoga in a bikini does not make me more of a yogi. It does not guarantee happiness.
I respect the choice of other yogis to dress and pose as they wish. I do not respect or support the media’s choice to put so much focus on those yogis. Where are the rest of us?
By the way – as I write this, I am wearing my very comfortable size XL t-shirt. And I feel fabulous.