Home The Op-Eds An Open Letter to the XOJane Writer Who Cried About a Black Woman in Her Yoga Class

An Open Letter to the XOJane Writer Who Cried About a Black Woman in Her Yoga Class

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Note: this is an angry rant that I probably should’ve written after I’d come down off my own yoga mat. In short, it’s long. I’d tell you to skip the quotes, but if you did, you wouldn’t believe what I was writing… because you wouldn’t be able to believe that someone was so daft.

Dear Jen,

Hey, there! How are you? I saw your “It Happened to Me” on XOJane tonight, and I must say… it definitely stirred some thoughts and memories in me. Thoughts so powerful and memories so vivid, that I thought it’d only be right that I shared them with you.

For the record, I’ve been a practicing yogi for almost five years, now. I started with DVDs, moved up to the posh Upper East Side studio, moved back to the mini-studio here in Brooklyn, and am finally back to home. And, because of my experiences in all of those spaces, it’s weird, but — I actually relate to the woman in your IHTM! I was close to 300lbs when I first started my yoga practice, and couldn’t downward dog. Strange, right? You probably didn’t know they make yogis in that size!

yoga-poses

Because of that, I have a rather intimate understanding of what it’s like to be on the other end of this story – the person being stared at by strangers who should be focusing on their practice instead of treating me like a one-eyed, one-horned flying purple people eater. And, because I use the model of compassion and patience that yoga espouses, I thought it might be helpful to explain the many, many… so many… things that went wrong with your essay.

1) There is something insidious about this pair of paragraphs:

January is always a funny month in yoga studios: they are inevitably flooded with last year’s repentant exercise sinners who have sworn to turn over a new leaf, a new year, and a new workout regime. […]

A few weeks ago, as I settled into an exceptionally crowded midday class, a young, fairly heavy black woman put her mat down directly behind mine.

…because, of course, there’s no other reason for the fat, and/or black riffraff to patronize my studio other than her New Year’s Resolution to not be fat anymore.

2) The quote

It appeared she had never set foot in a yoga studio—she was glancing around anxiously, adjusting her clothes, looking wide-eyed and nervous. Within the first few minutes of gentle warm-up stretches, I saw the fear in her eyes snowball, turning into panic and then despair. 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.

doesn’t make me feel bad for her – it makes me proud of her. Yoga isn’t about “skinny;” yoga is about strength. And ANY person who doesn’t have the strength to execute a pose should find the perfect regression for themselves, something this woman did…for reasons that could have not a single thing to do with her being not-skinny. Back injuries, shoulder injuries, wrist injuries, neck injuries, hip injuries, ankle injuries… all past injuries that a person could find themselves needing to account for in a yoga practice. To know that you need to accommodate your own abilities when surrounded by people who are more advanced than you takes humility. That is major.

A person nervously walking into a new space doesn’t mean they’ve never set foot in a studio – you’re not there every day, you don’t even know if she’s never set foot in your yoga studio before. You made the assumption erroneously because it fits your biases. Of course she’s never set foot in a yoga studio before – she’s fat. Is this for real?

3) On focus, and failures:

Because I was directly in front of her, I had no choice but to look straight at her every time my head was upside down (roughly once a minute). I’ve seen people freeze or give up in yoga classes many times, and it’s a sad thing, but as a student there’s nothing you can do about it. At that moment, though, I found it impossible to stop thinking about this woman. Even when I wasn’t positioned to stare directly at her, I knew she was still staring directly at me. 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.

So, basically, this woman was struggling in her yoga class surrounded by all these limber yogis, but her mental focus was on you and your “skinny, white body” and your “tacky sports bra?” She couldn’t possibly have feelings of her own, of pain, of sadness, of disappointment regarding her ability to keep up? She couldn’t possibly be thinking about what she could do to catch up? She couldn’t possibly be mulling over losing weight, in her mind, since low-inference data might tell her that, to be successful in yoga, you have to be thin? No, she’s struggling in yoga class, but her focus is on you and how much better at life you are than her?

Suppose you were right, and she’s a newbie yogi. Let me fill you in on a little secret – if someone is taking yoga for the first time, takes a first pose, fails miserably and sits and pouts, I would rather them stay there and watch the remainder of the class. Why? So they can get an understanding of what yoga is, what it calls for, whether or not the teacher is crap (more on that in a minute), whether or not this is something they could genuinely commit to, and whether or not it’s even everything they originally thought it’d be. I recommend people go attend and observe a class before they commit to paying their hard earned coins for it – it helps them determine whether or not they can handle the atmosphere.

4) Also – kudos on fixating on a stranger who already feels uncomfortable. Instead of simply smiling and asking her if she was okay, introducing yourself, offering to assist her, anything else that would’ve embodied compassion, you gawked at her while you continued your own practice, minimizing her needs and erasing her feelings. Kudos.

5) Also – what kind of yoga teacher ignores a student who has given up? What kind of yoga teacher fails to notice when a new student has entered the class? What kind of yoga teacher fails to ask, “do you have any upper or lower body injuries?” before continuing? What kind of yoga teacher fails to offer modifications to assist someone who might not yet have the strength to fully execute the pose as instructed?

What kind of yoga teacher? What kind of sorry ass environment is this?

6) Unable to focus?

“I was completely unable to focus on my practice, instead feeling hyper-aware of my high-waisted bike shorts, my tastefully tacky sports bra, my well-versedness in these poses that I have been in hundreds of times. My skinny white girl body. Surely this woman was noticing all of these things and judging me for them, stereotyping me, resenting me—or so I imagined.”

Yes, as imagined. As assumed. That’s all you could do, since goodness knows you didn’t bother to talk to her during or after the practice to offer reassurance. I’m not sure what kind of alternate universe you live in, but people can have emotions that aren’t centered around needing to envy or best someone else. It’s possible that the lady was equally impressed by your abilities, and mentally overwhelmed by the amount of time it takes someone to become so “well-versed.” People seem to be pushed by urgency and immediacy, something yoga would train right out of you in an instant. It’d make sense to me that she, if she was in fact a newbie, would struggle with that quality. Kudos to you for making her issues all about you, ignoring the fact that she has an entire world’s worth of reasons to “give up,” none of which need to involve you at all.

But, since it makes you feel better – or earns you a really paltry $50 – you framed her seated position as being about you. Classy. Compassionate. Thoughtful.

7) Finally, a little introspection:

“I thought about how even though yoga comes from thousands of years of south Asian tradition, it’s been shamelessly co-opted by Western culture as a sport for skinny, rich white women. I thought about my beloved donation-based studio that I’ve visited for years, in which classes are very big and often very crowded and no one will try to put a scented eye pillow on your face during savasana.”

So, lots of things are co-opted by Western culture for “skinny, rich white women” and all members of American society as a whole, because, well… capitalism. It’s not remarkable. It has literally created everything around you that you paid for (or exchanged a service for.) Cheers to our Black newbie yogi baby for making you think!

8) I think this part, in particular, is what really crushed me:

“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 could I do to help her? 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.”

In less than 100 words, you manage to a) validate the feelings of almost every single fat person who dares set foot in a fitness facility, b) told a bold faced lie on yoga as a practice, c) pretend you actually gave a damn about her feelings, and d) further prove a point I’ve been making since I first started blogging body image: society implies that fat people should hide away and be ignored until they’re not fat anymore. Brava.

You may not know this, but when non-skinny people enter a fitness facility, there is major anxiety. Some are constantly wondering if others are staring, if someone is making remarks, if someone’s going to say something within earshot. You feel like a morsel of food in a room full of starving cats. It takes vulnerability to walk in the door in the first place – it almost feels like you’re validating every awful thing being said about your body to begin with – but to actually work out? In public? It can feel downright paralyzing.

To read a quote from someone that says if she was this fat, she wouldn’t want anyone to look at her, is downright fat shaming. No person should feel shame for their body size, and no person should believe it is acceptable to shame someone for their body size. The end. To do otherwise is to be a complete and utter scumbag.

Yoga, as a practice, is about accommodations. If your teachers have taught you otherwise, they have failed you. If yoga is about building the ability to do great things and believe in your ability to achieve them to the point where you push yourself this hard, this often… how can you do that without meeting people where they are?

Surely, you see why this is flawed. Perhaps not bothering to study yoga outside of just showing up to your class with its revolving door teachers is why you think this kind of pattern is okay, but… it isn’t. It simply isn’t.

8) So close! But, like the great prophet Brandy once said, “Almost doesn’t count:”

And so 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. Trying to ignore it only made it worse. I thought about what the instructor could or should have done to help her. Would a simple “Are you okay?” whisper have helped, or would it embarrass her? 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? If I asked her to articulate her experience to me so I could just listen, would she be at all interested in telling me about it? Perhaps more importantly, what could the system do to make itself more accessible to a broader range of bodies? Is having more racially diverse instructors enough, or would it require a serious restructuring of studio’s ethos?”

Of course it would’ve helped. Had your teacher given a damn, they would’ve been the lead that everyone should follow by being friendly and supportive of everyone struggling in the class, including our newbie. Your teacher failed, and then you failed. Ridiculously. Offering kind words to someone who might’ve had a bruised ego is meaningful – it’s for damn sure more meaningful than you spending your entire practice fixating on her and her potential shortcomings.

It’s not about having racially diverse instructors. You shouldn’t feel uncomfortable in a yoga class led by a black instructor, and likewise for her – so that’s not it. In fact, the question outright implies that “of course a black instructor could’ve accommodated her fat, black body… because black people are used to this ‘fat’ thing.” And, quite honestly, that’s an awful thing to say. It takes away from all the wonderful instructors out there of multiple races who actually offer their students what they’ve paid for, and that’s guidance, expertise and support regardless of size.

9) There’s no ‘perhaps’ about it:

I got home from that class and promptly broke down crying. Yoga, a beloved safe space that has helped me through many dark moments in over six years of practice, suddenly felt deeply suspect. 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.

This is painfully self-important. Racially charged anger, over what? Believe it or not, baby, not every fat black woman wants to be a “skinny, white” one. Every black woman doesn’t want to be a “skinny, white” one, either. To believe otherwise, is to spend too much time reading Stormfront (who I know is reading this right now. Hi, family!) and to not spend enough time paying attention to the community around you. This is New York. Black people are everywhere. Maybe you just don’t notice unless we fit your little narrative that you find necessary to make you feel better about yourself.

10) Your attempt to “bring it on home” only shows me how much more I need to write for larger publications:

The question is, of course, so much bigger than yoga—it’s a question of enormous systemic failure. But just the same, I want to know—how can we practice yoga in good conscience, when mere mindfulness is not enough? How do we create a space that is accessible not just to everybody, but to every body? And while I recognize that there is an element of spectatorship to my experience in this instance, it is precisely this feeling of not being able to engage, not knowing how to engage, that mitigates the hope for change.

The question is not about yoga, at all – the question, from your perspective, is merely about why no one knows about your donation-only yoga studio, (which sounds pretty accessible to me.) Where do the owners market it? Do they market it in predominately black neighborhoods? You should ask the owners of your studio about that, if you want to see more black people in your already-crowded studio. It’s far less likely that this is about yoga and far more likely to be about the owners of your studio choosing to only market the classes to the few blocks in the neighborhood that have people they’d actually want in their studio, thereby excluding the majority of blacks (since, well, New York and, well, gentrification.)

This wasn’t about spectatorship – this was sheer objectification. You took a person who was potentially having a hard time – you don’t even mention her again after acknowledging she paused after downward dog, nor do you mention if/how she finished the class, how compassionate – and made her the object of your emotions; this thing that caused you to cry because of all these big thoughts and feelings. How embarrassing it must be to show millions of people that you’ve never given this much thought to the world surrounding your trikonasana before a fat, black woman entered it. I truly feel for you.

In closing – I can’t really say “in short,” can I? – I truly hope this is an awakening experience for you. I hope you realize that it can be truly painful to be blatantly identified as the “other” in a non-diversified space, and that this painful feeling is already enough to make many people turn away. I hope you realize that this also contributes to the lack of diversity of which you speak. I also hope you realize that a woman struggling with a yoga class could be for any number of reasons, none of which require you to judge her or make it about you, all of which could’ve been easily solved by offering her a hand, a smile, or a kind word. You offered none, and you should think long and hard about that. It certainly doesn’t embody the yoga I’ve practiced for almost five years.

Sincerely,

Someone who types far too much

PS: For anyone out there who might be scared off from yoga entirely, don’t let these kind of people mess with your head. Yoga has infinite benefits and positives, and good teachers who knows how to help you learn – and develop – your body. There are lots of “Curvy Yoga” studios, and lots of curvy instructors who can help those of us with full thighs, full breasts, or a round tummy accommodate ourselves to still develop the flexibility we desire.

But, if you’re still uncomfortable – and that’s okay – then check out YogaGlo.com. I’ve been using this for almost a year now, and I love it. Check it out, look at the 7-day trial, and watch the short 15-minute videos. I promise you’ll appreciate it.

As always, much love for making it to the end… but y’all know I don’t handle these kinds of people well.

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184 comments

True January 28, 2014 - 10:49 PM

I had to read her blog a couple times just to make sure that what she was saying was what I was reading. O_o I really can’t believe she had the outright nerve to post that mess. I honestly hope she has a really good friend who will pull her aside and explain just how *bleeped* up that was and just maybe she will learn a thing or two! smh. wow.

Kat January 30, 2014 - 11:36 PM

Thank you so much for your words of wisdom. I really hope that your respone travel 5x’s over…..
I have followed you via Twitter for almost a year and you continue to amaze me. I have referred so many women and men who like me struggle with weight loss. Again I just want to say thank you.
Kat

Gina headrick July 25, 2014 - 5:56 PM

The real sad part about this story is that for all of her perfect postures and graceful poses, this woman doesn’t understand what the journey of yoga is. It’s such a personal path of integrating body, mind and spirit, which she obviously was not doing. I’m a big girl and lucky that I have always found support and gentle encouragement in the classes I attend in my small city. I have always been told to resist the urge to compare myself with others in the class and to be gentle with myself. It seems like this was more of a fitness class rather than a peaceful and accepting yoga environment. And it definitely sounds like this woman may have had mental issues. It’s too bad that she couldn’t keep her ugly thoughts to herself.

Mary September 9, 2015 - 7:11 AM

Dead on!

Christine July 30, 2014 - 2:04 PM

I’m sorry, but I couldn’t get past “because, of course, there’s no other reason for the fat, and/or black riffraff to patronize my studio other than her New Year’s Resolution to not be fat anymore.”
Woo lawdy..maybe when my blood pressure returns to a normal range I can finish.
I admit, the first of the year can be trying for people who exercise all year round, waiting for a treadmill, folks asking questions. But ya have to start somewhere.

Nicole January 28, 2014 - 11:13 PM

Excellently said… You’re an inspiration!

Kelly January 28, 2014 - 11:16 PM

you said everything and to everything: YES! Ugh that IHTM annoyed every fiber in me. Thank you for your response.

Karen January 28, 2014 - 11:33 PM

The most pertinent question for me would be why does it matter that she’s black? If it were a mixed person like me who looks predominantly white would they feel the need to mention that; doubtful. Kudos to her for going. Why as a society can’t we focus on what people do right and applaud people for trying to better themselves? I tried yoga once and it wasn’t for me, but damn if I wasn’t proud of myself for trying… she should be too. I’m applauding us both right now.

Rachel January 29, 2014 - 2:30 PM

Exactly! The newbies skin color and weight were absolutely irrelevant. I realize that if the author of the IHTM piece hadn’t mentioned color or size, she wouldn’t have had an article. That idea pleases me.

Nicole January 28, 2014 - 11:39 PM

Wth.. well, Erica you said all I was thinking. No words

Carla January 28, 2014 - 11:42 PM

I. Freakin. Adore. You.

Renee J. Ross January 28, 2014 - 11:46 PM

Brava my friend brava. I couldn’t believe that post when I read it. I’m so glad you summarily shot it down. In a much nicer way than I’d be able to. Thank you.

Erika Nicole Kendall January 29, 2014 - 12:31 AM

Big words, coming from you, mama. Thank you! 🙂

Alyssa January 28, 2014 - 11:55 PM

I love you. 🙂

Bryan Kest taught a workshop near my home last year, and I was lucky enough to go. He told us, in his inimitable fashion, to “keep your f***ing eyes and mind on your own f***ing mat. Don’t worry about anyone else.”
Seems like good advice.

MrsGrapevine January 28, 2014 - 11:56 PM

Great response, the original article had nothing to do about a black woman in yoga class, it had to do with an insecure white woman in yoga class selfishly looking for a cause to crusade. Race and size shouldn’t have been a factor, and this weird projections of hate on to herself for being skinny and limber. Oh I just cringed as I kept reading.

You touched on everything that crossed by mind.

Dorcas January 29, 2014 - 3:54 PM

Oh lordy….where to begin?

I am one of those people who is dreading finding a yoga class. I’m too large, I’m out of shape, and I have serious flexibility issues due to having mild cerebral palsey. I think yoga is the best thing for me to get into, but the idea makes me cringe. And I read this, and I just cringed more.

Call me an large, stiff, white woman who is petrified of a yoga class but knows she needs to get going–and who feels even more that way after reading this embarassing, irritating post!

I know, that wasn’t your intention. Thanks for this blog, to which I will return, and thanks for the tip about YogaGlow.

Toni January 29, 2014 - 7:12 PM

Dorcas..don’t be afraid of yoga…I am a for real curvy yogini…have been practicing for many years, and I promise you, it’s worth it. You can always check out http://www.curvyyoga.com. She has a list of Curvy Yoga teachers all over the country..and in other parts of the world also. Good luck.

Erin January 29, 2014 - 7:44 PM

I use a couple of online sites, and they’re great, but if you’re new to yoga a good teacher can be so helpful. Please don’t let that ridiculousness discourage you. I’m usually the biggest person in my classes but no one has ever made me feel bad about it (other than myself, sometimes, but yoga helps with that too).

Carrie January 30, 2014 - 4:38 PM

Hiya Dorcas, I went to my first yoga class this past Sunday. I was the fat woman in the back. I couldn’t do it all nor did I expect to. When my head was on the mat, it was because I was listening to my body to say you can’t do that yet girl. I did awesome, I went, I sweat, my core was not happy that I was using it and the muscles scream in some of the poses. I’m going back this Sunday, and maybe I’ll add Wednesday. This applies, if I can do it… anyone can.

Juliana Glitter February 2, 2014 - 4:35 PM

Carrie, you’re an inspiration. Keep it up girl, it gets easier and more rewarding.

To anyone who fears yoga – the whole point is to get better, even if it’s going from zero flexibility/stamina/strength/etc to just a little bit better. Close your eyes to the messed up “Jens” out there. I’m so blown away by the original article I’m dumbfounded.

Latesha Dejean January 30, 2014 - 9:23 PM

Start with a restorative or gentle yoga for a class…that’s a beautiful way to start a practice…there is a group on facebook called “iMove: The Dancing Nerve” and they post all sorts of inspirational things and have different types of workshops…i hope you can check it out…i taught a gentle yoga class with them and made it accessible to everyone…you just need to find that right teacher

Julie January 31, 2014 - 7:48 PM

Dorcas, have you ever looked into Feldenkrais? It is another movement practice that is good for increasing flexibility. Might be a great place to start or to combine with yoga. The most important thing is finding the right yoga class/teacher… a class with students of varying ages and shapes is probably more gentle.

Desiree February 1, 2014 - 12:36 AM

Dorcas, depending on your area, there might be classes specifically tailored for large bodies. I’m a yoga instructor, and I am aware of these kinds of classes where I live.

Also, look for classes labeled gentle, or beginner’s, as these kinds of classes will be more of the floor yoga variety, so it will be less strenuous than a more active class. And when you do take a class, arrive 15-20 minutes early and be sure to introduce yourself to the instructor, and let them know what your physical limitations are, and ask what kinds of modifications they can offer to you, and which props you should be using for class.

Yoga is a most wonderful thing, and it will meet you wherever you are, as the author states in this post. It is healing, soothing, and often leads to epiphanies during practice. I highly recommend it, and I hope you can find a class suitable for you.

Joy Bernstein February 7, 2014 - 11:13 AM

Erika,
One I love your blog. Two I love this open letter. Three I read the other mini article not even really an article because usually an article has content. What I read seemed like just a ignorant (with a whole bunch of cursing) rant.
Though I will say it happens allot more than it doesn’t. Sadly Yoga has become more about about the movement rather than what happens… so this audacity of ignorance comes out from people even more and sooooooo open about it.
As a Black Thick Yogi, I maybe in denial because I am always in shock when I find indidivuals who always have a whiplash reaction because I walk in. To see that my practice can be effortless and they struggle. When we do a 40 days of Yoga challenge and to them they are like…you didn’t even lose weight?
The hardest part is being amongst a sea of Yoga Instructors giving the same reactions as the students in class.

I almost walked from Yoga but realized.. I didn’t get into yoga because of them I did it because of me.
I applaud you Erika and Anyone who have been challenged more by their peers and continued.. We exist gosh darn it….

Latesha Dejean February 3, 2014 - 2:05 AM

Please look at this link…it make me think of your response…this is a young lady with Cerebral Palsy that practices yoga…I hope you gain inspiration from it Dorcas.

http://www.rebellesociety.com/2012/10/29/yes-im-a-yogi-too-ela-wojotowicz-robert-sturman/

Yoga isn’t just about physical ability, it is also about heart and spirit and this post personifies that.

Janeen January 28, 2014 - 11:58 PM

Thank you for posting this, for a plethora of reasons. 1st, I can appreciate your outrage, but after reading all of the really humorous and sincere yogis speak out about the articles ( which rarely happens nowadays in the comments sections) I was actually really happy to know true yogis saw the article for what it was. Nonsense!! 2nd, we read that article from the perception of a myopic person, so narcissistic and self-absorbed that she couldn’t even practice yoga!! An exercise which holds greatest importance is shedding the materialistic and finding a great enlightenment through healthy eating, exercise, breathing and meditation techniques. The “heavy set black woman” could have been a new mother of twins, who taught yoga all of her twenties, and just wanted to start slow and check out a potential employer. The writer is a nit-wit and doesn’t deserve your energy. With that said, my purpose for writing was not to poo-poo your article. I am a huge fan of your page. I just feel like by even acknowledging that nonsense your giving the writer some sort of credibility. Which she doesn’t have a shred of, but you do. I definitely feel like the discussion of what sorts of exercises larger women feel comfortable doing, the means in which they do them, and the results would be great to know !

Erika Nicole Kendall January 29, 2014 - 12:30 AM

“I just feel like by even acknowledging that nonsense your giving the writer some sort of credibility. Which she doesn’t have a shred of, but you do.”

I think this is fair. I could’ve ignored it, but – to be honest – I didn’g ignore it for a lot of the reason why I go in on equally trivial, equally non-factor-ass write-ups on the web.

A huge part of my credibility IS in my perspective – I respond to lots of things that have received traction unnecessarily – not because the PERSON saying it is credible, but because the language they use might be something prevalent in society. People look to me for my response to stuff like that, and I’m ok acquiescing. We’ve built a community here full of healthy perspectives, and when a trope gains traction, people want to talk about it in a safe space. Since I work hard to keep BGG2WL exactly that, it makes sense that the #bgg2wlarmy wants to come here to discuss. 🙂

But believe me, I definitely questioned whether or not I would acknowledge this mess…but then approximately 14 of you e-mailed it to me. I can’t ignore that. ROFL (Don’t ever stop e-mailing me stuff. I mean it. Even if you think someone else e-mailed it to me…send it anyway.)

Rafi D'Angelo January 29, 2014 - 1:40 AM

I’ve never read your site before, but you just took me to church and Sunday dinner. Thank you for this voice. I read that XOJane article (Pause: Why is it that I, a gay black man, has more famliarity with XOJane than wonderful insighftul skinkin like yourself — the pervasiveness of the same White Tears Websites and viewpoints is really drying my mouth out these days.) and she tore my nerves up. I’m sending this to everybody.

And more to the point, never question whether or not you should give something traction by responding to it. That ignorance will make its way out into the world whether you give lip service or not. The least you (we, anybody) can do is hand out Act Right Cards to those folks so they can possibly re-think their words and grow some sense.

Erika Nicole Kendall January 29, 2014 - 1:47 AM

Ahhhh, thank you. You’re so awesome. Thank you! 🙂

Maris January 29, 2014 - 1:01 PM

Her essay may have all types of wrong in it, but let me tell you-she was SPOT-ON in describing the exclusionary, elitist and dowright hostile environment of some manhattan yoga studios. They are very good at preaching “yoga for all” as long as it fits the aesthetic that fits in the gear they sell-which only comes in two sizes. They will have you in there thinking you are really acheiving this heightened sense of awareness and enlightenment…in a completely homogenous environment surrounded by people that look just like you, clad in the same 00 Lululemon. I have certainly been that woman before, ignored by instructors as I stuck out like a sore thumb at a “ginormous” size 8. I have no problems with my size and have been practicing various forms of yoga for 20 years now, but after visiting a few studios even I wondered if something was wrong with me for not wanting to try harder to “fit in”. Thankfully I have supportive studios that i frequent, but it is very easy to get caught up in the city. While that woman was completely self-absorbed in her delivery, I sure am glad she got her holistic bubble burst.

Erika Nicole Kendall January 29, 2014 - 2:12 PM

“she was SPOT-ON in describing the exclusionary, elitist and dowright hostile environment of some manhattan yoga studios. ”

It most certainly does. It also tracks really well with wealthy environments and certain communities in NYC.

Painfully ironic when that kind of mentality migrates to the outer boroughs – you gonna exclude brown people in their own original communities? ROFL

pablo clyde January 30, 2014 - 5:21 PM

Rafi D’angelo and Erika Agreed! As a white woman I have found I have to make a conscious effort to find discussion from a Black perspective. When a blog like Erika’s pops up, I know who to follow. I may never truly understand the Black experience, but hopefully blogs like Erika’s will help give me perspective. Erika, if you had not responded, I would not have known about IHTM blog or your response, so there is some value in responding to these types of issues, even if it does give them some traction.

Lovely January 29, 2014 - 4:37 PM

Im with you Rafi. the best thing about that xojane article was that it lead me to this site and wonderful post. im waiting for my stack of act right cards to come in the mail so i can get busy handing them out. 🙂

shanaenae January 29, 2014 - 7:26 PM

Thanks ladies! Y’all put it down so nicely.

SHerri January 29, 2014 - 8:35 PM

Thank you and Thank Erika! Somethings are so mindblowingly stupid that to not address them is to encourage it!

Lee January 29, 2014 - 12:05 AM

What a fantastic response!

LisaM January 29, 2014 - 12:11 AM

Beautiful. Powerful. Perfection. Every plus-sized woman knows the power of compassion. Recently, I’ve been the recipient of unwavering compassion, high fives from instructors and “you can do it” from fellow exercisers. This young lady feel safe; didn’t receive kindness. My heart breaks for her. I’m sending her love through my screen.

facetious5487 January 29, 2014 - 12:24 AM

Oh good lord — this lady sounds like a wack-a-doo!

Beth January 29, 2014 - 12:24 AM

Thanks so much for this. It says everything. I’m a black yoga teacher. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

lymabean January 29, 2014 - 12:41 AM

Very tasteful and direct, and the length isn’t a issue when you’re brining it like that! I hope the lady never sees that foolish letter

Tracy January 29, 2014 - 12:52 AM

The audacity of Jen is baffling. WHAT exactly led her to believe that this woman was staring at HER… with contempt, no less? Is it not possible that the first pose reminded her that she needed to sit back and observe the class? I admit that I’m guilty of not doing this for myself. I enjoy the flow of yoga, but as a beginner, I also hate the fact that I oftentimes have to break my focus to watch the instructor for poses. Maybe this “fairly heavy” (by WHOSE standards though?) was taking the “watch and learn approach. That aside, I can’t imagine a grown woman, wasting an hour of her life by staring at a strange woman with hatred for no other apparent reason than the fact that she’s skinny and white. Seriously, Jen? Did she not think it would’ve been easier for this woman to gather up her pride and leave the room? But surely she had nothing better to do than marinate in the envy of Jen’s perfect downward dog…

Sheila February 1, 2014 - 12:53 PM

If some chick was staring at me in a class like that, I’d probably start looking at her with contempt after a while as well. She claimed to have no choice but to look at the woman, but how about closing your eyes? Jeez!

Melissa @ Live, Love, & Run January 29, 2014 - 12:56 AM

I can’t for the life of me find a better word for you and your voice, Erika, than “powerful”.

I would love to say my own thing about that incredibly self-absorbed, ignorant woman, but there isn’t a single point you missed here. The one thing you said that resonated with me the most, was about how she validated the feelings of almost every single person battling weight loss. You’re absolutely right. That fear of society believing that overweight and/or obese people should hide away and be ignored until they’re not fat anymore is REAL. It’s extremely real, and for her to take those feelings and fears and turn around and play the almighty “I’m going to try and sound ‘sensitive’ here” card and outline every single perfect thing about herself as the reason for the inner (and outer) struggle this woman’s having??? I feel more sorry for HER.

Thank you for taking the time to write out what SO many of us were thinking.

Erika Nicole Kendall January 29, 2014 - 1:38 AM

<333

Jenny, Bloggess January 29, 2014 - 1:02 AM

Fabulous response to a completely f-ed up article. The only thing I can add is that when I did yoga I was okay at it, but at times I could only do a few minutes worth and then I’d have to stop because I was so disabled by my arthritis, but I still went and stayed because the sense of calmness was worth it to me. Hot yoga, in particular can be great for arthritis because the heat itself can relieve some pain. The instructor was very supportive and so were the people in the class. I doubt I’d feel very calm though if someone was staring at me and was so uncomfortable at my presence that they wrote an insulting article about me. Also, lots of times when you’re disabled you have to go on tons of steroids to get your disease in check and that often usually causes massive fluid retention that you can’t control. I’d gain tons of weight off and on depending if I was in remission or in the middle of a flare-up and I wanted to punch all the women who suggested fad diets while I was fighting to stay out of a wheelchair.

That article hit all my fury buttons. Thanks for calming me down.

Erika Nicole Kendall January 29, 2014 - 1:45 AM

“but I still went and stayed because the sense of calmness was worth it to me.”

This is so -so- beautiful. I love this. LOVE.

I think this kind of testimony is SO important for people who approach classes with trepidation, for whatever reason. Stories like the one in the XOJane article turn people away from public exercise – because that’s basically what this is when it boils down – but comments like yours show that there ARE great instructors out there and supportive classmates and positive reasons to continue giving it a shot. I’m going to have to edit the post to ask people to share their positive experiences with public exercise.

Also: people who suggest diets to you unsolicited, with no understanding of your medical history, are scumbags. (Word of the day!)

Elizabeth January 29, 2014 - 1:05 AM

ALL people are welcome in the yoga classes I teach. I don’t care if you are skinny, fat, skinny-fat, athletic, wimpy, black, white, purple, plaid, old, young, foreign, newbie, old-bie, or anything else. If you want to come to my class and take the time out of your life to come to my class, I’m happy to have you and will do my best to make sure you feel successful. (No, I can’t control how you feel, but I’d like to do what I can to make you glad you came to my class.)

Colah January 29, 2014 - 1:57 AM

I was once the heavyset (275lb) black woman who had the audacity to step foot into a yoga studio in Brooklyn Heights one day in summer 2010. This was my first real yoga experience and I wasn’t surprised to find that there were no people of color there other than my friend who invited me to try a week challenge (unlimited sessions for $25 in the first 7 days). There didn’t seem to be any room to focus on body insecurity because it’s too dAmn hot to focus on anything outside of your own strength which includes managing NOT to pass out. By the way, the instructor always made it very clear that we had the option to lie down if we felt overwhelmed in any way. However, to my surprise (and possibly others) I was able to manage most of the asanas without major difficulty.

There was also the option to practice at their Manhattan studio which I decided to venture to alone. Me, a fat black yoga newbie, alone in a Manhattan studio. It happened. There was a point where I was.just.so.damn.hot and sweaty + I had on a tank top with Capri stretch pants (all drenched in sweat within 20 minutes) amidst the class full of skinny white bodies donning mainly midriff baring sports bras and boy shorts as was appropriate for a 90+ degree climate. For a few almost excruciating moments I struggled with the idea of removing my shirt to reveal my robust love handles/rolls just because I figured someone may be offended by my ‘fat blackness’. But I am happy to recount that I shook that shame off right along with my shirt because MY comfort did rule out any judgement I imagined that May have been cast my way.

The XOJane article forced that memory of shame out of the buried recesses of my mind and, Ericka, your words confirmed the shame I felt wasn’t imagined paranoia. Now I can’t help but wonder if I made someone in that class cry. Not that that’s my problem lol oh well!

Colah January 29, 2014 - 2:09 AM

Oops, I neglected to mention that I was in a Bikram yoga class which is practiced in a room about 100 degrees with 40 degree humidity by design.

tamara January 29, 2014 - 2:34 AM

this woman and her article literally made my stomach hurt. i was so offended by her words and attitude that I actually stopped reading a couple of times in anger. yoga isn’t about how your body looks or your athletic prowess. yoga is for spiritual enlightenment. since there was nothing in her article remotely enlightening ( we already know how you feel about us, and it doesn’t elevate anyone ) I guess she and her skinny,white,rich body has failed. she may be able to do a downward dog, but has no idea why she should or what it means- if she did, she would never have written those words. but it does make me smirk in contempt, just like the sister who made a huge mistake of going into her studio. furthermore, I think halle berry – who regularly practices yoga, is a far more enviable subject.

J Alabi January 29, 2014 - 2:44 AM

Brava! You said everything I wanted to say at XOJane (spits) but I wasn’t prepared to create an account there in order to do it 🙂

Danielle Smith January 29, 2014 - 9:56 AM

A beautiful, eloquent response. Amen. The original post made my head hurt and my heart ache. And this? Is the truth:

“10) Your attempt to “bring it on home” only shows me how much more I need to write for larger publications”

Well done.

Kelly @ Cupcake Kelly's January 29, 2014 - 10:16 AM

I love everything about this. As a larger woman in a more affluent town full of SAHM’s (myself included) that go to group exercise in their newest lululemon I always feel uncomfortable. I partake in more than just yoga, but the small class setting always gives me anxiety.I constantly wonder “is someone judging me for being there because I can’t do the move as well or because arm fat is hanging out”. I can’t even bring myself to read the original XO Jane post because I am afraid it will only heighten my anxiety, but THANK YOU for this response, and for standing up for all women.

milaxx January 29, 2014 - 10:22 AM

This is why I love your blog. A year ago I was the fat, black woman. Over 300lbs with bad knees. The only 2 difference was mine was the pilates class at my gym and my instructor made suggestions on adaptions I could make. Still there were moments where I had to stop and catch my breath. My body was not use to the different positions and moves. It was hard so that look on my face was not anger or resentment at the thinner, mostly white and certainly more flexible bodies around me. That look on my face was concentration and/or exhaustion.

Amy Juicebox January 29, 2014 - 10:26 AM

*golf clap turns into hard clap turns into thunderous applause.

because. EVERYTHING.

Lindsay @ Lindsay Weighs In January 29, 2014 - 10:37 AM

Wow, just wow. I can’t believe someone wrote this, and thought that it was okay. I’m so glad that you spoke up against it!

Denise Winters January 29, 2014 - 10:54 AM

This sums up my feelings so well. Also, when she describes the pose the woman took, it sounds to me an awful lot like modifying Down Dog or plank. I wouldn’t be surprised if the writer is just doing some serious projecting and that the woman was actually modifying some moves for elbows and knees, using child’s pose for some move. I am more willing to believe the instructor saw a newbie substituting/modifying moves and this writer is projecting than I am to believe that the black woman curled up in a ball and no one offered her assistance of any kind. Afterall, the writer says she was in front of the new person, therefore she would have seen her in poses like Down Dog (unless they did a Warrior sequence, in which case I’m sure the writer would have mentioned her quivering thighs or how she remained on the ground even as lithe white bodies arose like sunflowers all around her flubbery black body).

And this piece hits me personally because I am a close to 300lb black woman who loves pilates but is always worried of receiving pity and/or revulsion and/or laughter and bewilderment at my presence when I walk into a new class. I even worry about what people will think upon learning I am not a newbie because I have a nagging feeling they’ll wonder how I could have been doing it for so long and still be fat. Everything about this piece is just awful.

Kami January 29, 2014 - 10:58 AM

Well said.

Kanda Golding January 29, 2014 - 11:11 AM

My heart aches for the young sister in that yoga class. I started going to the gym last year and I felt anxious and slightly fake being there. I assumed everyone was judging the fat girl on the bike and then one day I stopped caring, because I was there for me! I praise her for going and I hope she continues to go! I have no real comments for the person who wrote the XO article. I’m not in her head and I believe our color, environment, friends, and experiences shape what we think and how we perceive things. Some of us are smart and brave enough to step out of stereotypes and fully embrace each other with open minds…some are not and never will.

Um Enis January 29, 2014 - 11:37 AM

Bravo! Hear, hear!

Georgia January 29, 2014 - 11:57 AM

This is so eloquent and SO on point. Thank you heartily.

Aishah @ Coffee, Love, Health January 29, 2014 - 12:04 PM

Is this for real? Wow.

Your response was wonderful and very well said. Thank you!

Cecily January 29, 2014 - 12:07 PM

I love this response so much. Thank you.

thelady January 29, 2014 - 12:10 PM

that article was some of the most narcissistic racist white tears nonsense I’ve read in a long time. Seriously, she has the nerve to think that this fat black woman was thinking about her? Because that woman couldn’t possible be there to practice Yoga, or think about her self, or meditate, no no is it all about focusing on the skinny white woman next to her. Then she proceeded to project this angry racial hostility onto that poor woman who just showed up to a yoga class minding her own business.

Beth January 29, 2014 - 12:13 PM

Applause Applause Applause!
That was fantastic Girl!
So refreshing to hear someone express themselves with class and dignity. Yours is a much needed voice in our often times twisted society!
Thank you for the lift!

Pamela January 29, 2014 - 12:13 PM

I love yoga. And I am a white girl. And the XOJane piece embarrassed me beyond words. This is a truly fantastic response. Thank you for the post.

Mr Lady January 29, 2014 - 12:25 PM

I have typed and deleted 17,295 comments. That woman needs to go AWAY.

Erika Nicole Kendall January 29, 2014 - 2:14 PM

SO, SO FAR AWAY.

Chevonne January 29, 2014 - 12:26 PM

You are spot on with this post. I can’t believe how self-absorbed this writer was. She spends an entire class feeling that the “overweight black girl is admiring her skinny white body” and that made her self-conscious. And then she went home and wept?

Way to play the victim, lady. And way to not be proactive and actually make the girl feel welcome. Way to go.

I found your blog through Renisha and I’m glad I read this. Excellent post.

Tara January 29, 2014 - 1:01 PM

Erika, this was incredibly well-written. Yoga is about aligning the mind and the body, not judging those who’ve had less practice, or are beginners. The blogger in question should be embarrassed by her ignorance and foolishness.

Rita Arens January 29, 2014 - 1:15 PM

Very nicely done.

Jovanka January 29, 2014 - 1:33 PM

Wow! This post is spot on! I’ve practiced yoga for about 10 years (on and off) all over NYC and while I’ve learned to evolve my practice inward, my black Puerto Rican self still feels like I have 3 heads when I walk into some yoga studios in NY. I hope this Jen lady gets to read this perspective and more importantly, I have been reminded next time I go to yoga to leave judgement and ego at the door and bring compassion, acceptance and a big ass smile in with me. Thanks!

Serena January 29, 2014 - 2:13 PM

I just want to thank you for inspiring me. The original piece was so off-putting, so terribly upsetting that it was hard to have any other reaction but anger, and I was dead set against ever going into a yoga studio after that. Jen Carlen highlighted everything I would have felt awkward about, being large and Black and a total beginner. My reluctance to try yoga was totally supported by her derisive comments about the woman behind her. But you were able to point out everything that was upsetting about her piece without letting anger or emotions obstruct your message. Her ignorance, and bloated sense of self import are challenging to address without blowing a gasket, but your letter is thoughtful, mindful and in no way disrespectful. You said what so many others could not articulate with grace and style. And thank you again for making it possible to consider yoga as an option because that piece seriously damaged my own desire to ever want to try it out.

The Real Cie January 29, 2014 - 2:28 PM

Her article was one of the most horrifying things I’ve seen. It was rife with privilege, and ended in a puddle of privileged tears. I really could not muster any sympathy for her, as I was too busy trying to hold down my breakfast.
Not only was there the glaringly racist aspect, but she’s one of those people who likely whines out one side of her mouth about how “fatties need to get more exercise,” and then out of the other side of her mouth spouts how “fatties need to stay out of the gym” (or yoga studio) until they’ve slimmed down to a socially acceptable size.
In any case, she’s a nauseating human being.
You are also right about the instructor’s epic failures. What kind of an instructor doesn’t assist the participants in his/her class?

hypotherapycw January 29, 2014 - 2:29 PM

i’ve never seen this blog before. a friend posted the link. i am a therapist. i have been to a few yoga classes in NY, LA and CO over the years. i am not a regular practitioner of yoga – though i have been a meditator for over 30 years, full time stay at home father of 2, part time public educator etc.

the quoted one is the picture of the narcissistic society in which we live. the blogger – powerful. the quotes – sadly funny to read. the projection and narcissism – just wow, wow, wow.

in my estimation (and, yes, who am i…) yoga is the antithesis of this woman “skinny white woman” and many of her cohorts. learning to discern. learning to subjugate my ego. learning to overcome my dependence on my emotions as facts of the world – or how i perceive others emotions (my projection of how i think they feel, how i am really feeling – unless they have directly said: “i feel ______”) is yoga. the positions, the strength, the physical of yoga – ALL SECONDARY – that is the only way in which i disagree with the author. it is about me quieting myself and becoming one with the “all” or the universe. the icing on that cake is regular practice brings one into a physical harmony in their own body and brings strength (more than just physical). this is utter lost on most westerners. utterly.

well, that’s just one man’s opinion.

Mish Clark January 29, 2014 - 2:31 PM

Hey E, Have I ever told you that I Love You? I love everything about your growth and your journey. I love the way you used Janes fcukery and made it a lesson in self love for anonymous women brave enough to try yoga or any other avenues in self improvement. I remember your start and still follow your amazing journey of Shero(ness). Kudos and Hugs girlfriend.

Natalie Rose January 29, 2014 - 2:32 PM

AMEN! This is on point. Of all the true things you said here, the most true is that you need to write for larger outlets. I’m so goddamn tired of hearing what white ladies have to say–Lord knows we get enough of that, uh, well, everywhere. As a first time reader to your blog, I was a little wary when I saw “weight loss” that this might not be a fat-friendly space, but you truly embody the notion that all bodies are worthy and I wish that wasn’t so hard to come by. Thank you for writing this. Perhaps it feels like a rant to you, but you articulately identify everything that was so wrong with that piece. After reading the original letter, it just struck me as such a microcosm of race relations in this country. “Oh, great, skinny white lady speaks FOR fat black woman without ever even speaking TO her. That’s what we need. More privileged people speaking on behalf of those whose oppression they benefit from. How novel.”

Carole Mandryk January 29, 2014 - 2:37 PM

Thank you for this. If it only opens a few eyes or causes a few conversations its worth it. It also made me sad for all the people who think they’re doing yoga when they’re just doing exercise – clearly the writer had no clue what yoga really is. omg. And my first thought about the woman behind her when she writes “she had crouched down on her elbows and knees, head lowered close to the ground” was duh – resting in child’s pose or as close as she can get to it. A perfectly appropriate choice!

re: “she was SPOT-ON in describing the exclusionary, elitist and dowright hostile environment of some manhattan yoga studios. ” – that’s just down-right depressing. So lucky I’m in Boulder Colorado:)

Erika Nicole Kendall January 29, 2014 - 2:44 PM

Careful, there – some, not all. I’m a New Yorker too, now. 🙂

Ed Morgano January 29, 2014 - 2:46 PM

I’m an old white guy who has never tried yoga and couldn’t now if my life depended on it. I just wanted to say that I admire your writing skills, your ability to cut to the chase and promote actions that, if followed, might actually make this a better world. Keep up the good work.
An Admirer

Diane January 29, 2014 - 2:55 PM

Thank you for your response. You don’t type too much at all.

And thank you for the info YogaGlo. I have not been able to attend class with others due to time constraints; this will surely help me get started and stick with it.

Latesha Dejean January 30, 2014 - 9:26 PM

There is also My Yoga Online…they have free videos and trials…yogaglo is awesome too, 2 of my teachers have videos on that site!

diane January 29, 2014 - 3:11 PM

you took ALL the words right outta my mouth… for real, what type of teacher doesn’t offer help and this poor fool didn’t think to offer some assistance as well… i’m so irritated right now…

Eve January 29, 2014 - 3:12 PM

When I first read the article I actually thought it was an Onion spoof. I genuinely thought it was satirizing how ridicioulsy unaware and self obsessed most yoga practitioners are. It was THAT bad. This reply is amazing. Well done!

Skye January 29, 2014 - 3:12 PM

“she was SPOT-ON in describing the exclusionary, elitist and dowright hostile environment of some manhattan yoga studios. ”

Which, by the sound of it, the writer of that essay contributes to, since she chose to ignore someone who MAY have needed help or a friendly smile, and instead come home and get attention by writing about her own feelings about it. How callous and appalling.

Kathryn January 29, 2014 - 3:13 PM

I just started doing yoga a year ago, and if I had encountered the writer of the original article I would never have gone back. I hope the black woman has been able to find a far more accepting class, with a teacher that actually pays attention to her students.

Amanda Mitchell January 29, 2014 - 3:22 PM

That was wonderful! Thank you!

Angela January 29, 2014 - 3:24 PM

There are many, many, many reasons why I love A Black Girl’s Guide To Weight Loss; this is but the latest. As a newish yogini, I have taken public classes and felt not only the stigma of size, but also of disability. I practice in my home because it’s convenient and I can do it any time I choose, and it’s a more frugal endeavor for one who is seeking to live a more thrifty lifestyle; however, practice in a community of others–particularly when accompanied by an experienced, empathetic instructor, who goes out of her/his way to help practitioners deepen their involvement in the practice is an invaluable experience, too.

That anyone would project their own biases upon another, then make those biases the subject of their own obsessive navel-gazing is appalling. Kudos to you, Erika, for this eloquent piece!

Aimee Giese | Greeblemonkey January 29, 2014 - 3:27 PM

The bizarre self-importance, racism and sizeism aside, that original (horrible) Jane post is an example of why I am fearful of yoga studios. But your wonderful response makes me more open to it. Thank you for speaking up and setting this woman straight.

Janis January 29, 2014 - 3:36 PM

Wow.