On the Body Ideal & Black Yogis

For the most part, I really like my body. It took me a long while to get to this point, but that journey started when I was about 27 or so. I’d owned countless fitness DVDs (mainly of the Pilates and yoga variety) and had attended a Pilates studio infrequently when I decided to bite the bullet and join a gym. There I took a combination yoga and Pilates class called yogalates as well as made use of the elliptical machines and treadmills. I even attended two cycle classes, which were a debacle, but that’s a story for another day.

My body transformed. I’d had the membership for about a year when people started asking me if I’d lost weight. I couldn’t answer in the affirmative because I didn’t (and still don’t) own a scale. I just knew that changes were happening because I gradually went from wearing a full size 12 in jeans to a full size 8 in jeans (which is to say that while my waist, butt, and thighs were getting worked out, they were shrinking at different rates. Initially, I had to keep buying 12s, for example, even though they were loose around my waist because my bum and thighs still filled them out). My goal had been to wear a size 8 and nothing smaller because I still loved my thighs and loved that my glutes were stronger and even rounder. It was then that I did finally step on the scale at the gym. I was content with the number I saw.

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Let me take this moment also to address the first part of this post’s opening sentence: “For the most part.” I do wish that my abs were well-defined. I’m not talking about Hulk levels of definition, but a little cut here and there would be nice. I stopped attending the gym when my work schedule changed during the Fall of 2008, and over the span of two and half years I went back up to a 12. I joined a new gym two and half years ago, and I’m back to my goal size of 8. I continue to work on my abs by trying (and trying and trying) to reduce my dependency on sugar (it’d be fair to say it’s like an addiction), but I’m in a size 8 pant and skirt!

This is all to address an xoJane piece that’s sparked a lot of debate (and rightly so). xoJane published Jen Polachek’s piece, “It Happened to Me: There Are No Black People in My Yoga Class and I’m Suddenly Feeling Uncomfortable With It.” I wish I could say that this is satire by The Onion but alas, it isn’t. The tl;dr gist is that a white woman projects all of her white woman skinniness issues on a “heavyset black woman” who attends her yoga class. All of this white woman’s navel gazing has less to do with being asked to do Downward-facing Dog and more to do with her belief that a black woman who isn’t as skinny as she is somehow upset at the white woman’s skinniness in her bike shorts and sports bra combo.

Jen starts on this train of thought because minutes into the class, the black woman ditches Downward-facing Dog and goes into Child’s Pose where she stayed, according to Jen, for the remainder of the practice. A number of responses (including the Twitter hashtag, #BlackYogis) have taken Jen to task, including Pia Glenn’s on the same xoJane site with “It Happened to Me: I Read an Essay About a White Woman’s Yoga Class/Black Woman Crisis and I Cannot.”

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I want to talk about Jen’s absolute certainty that this woman resented her for her “skinny white girl body.” Firstly, given Jen’s smooth ability to project, I question her description of this woman being heavy set. Is being larger than a size 2 “heavy set”? And if this woman was in the double digits–let’s say a size 12 or a size 14–how certain can Jen be that this woman wasn’t already content in her skin and did not resent Jen for her “skinny white girl body”? Maybe this woman decided to try yoga to improve her flexibility (it’s certainly why I started doing yoga). Perhaps the woman heard that yoga is a great practice for working through stress and becoming more relaxed (again, a reason why I continue to practice yoga). It’s presumptuous to think that standards of beauty for one set of women (the thin, Euro model image of beauty) apply to another set of women (whether that set is African, Asian, Caribbean, or South American).

Earlier I spoke about size 8 being my goal size when I first started going to the gym and it being my goal once more after I’d gone back to a size 12. It was never my dream or wish to be a size 2 or 4. Why? Because I come from a culture that values curves as a beauty ideal. Not having an ass is not desirable. Hips are fancied. Applying Jen’s brand of navel gazing, I can only guess that she’d see my size 8 self in stretchy workout capris and a sports tank over my DD breasts and assume that my break in Child’s Pose is because I simultaneously covet and am contemptuous of her “skinny white girl body.”

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Jen, and other women like her, would do well to think beyond their own perceptions of beauty and the ideal body. It would have saved her a lot of anguish and tears (yes, she says that she went home and cried after witnessing such distress in class) over being in the presence of a “heavyset black woman” who she was sure was resentful of her “skinny white girl body.” Not every woman wishes to have a roundless ass or hips that are lacking in hour-glassedness (and yeah, that’s made up…much like Jen’s perceptions of a woman she never once conversed with).

The Sick Day that Turned into Netflix Viewing

It is rare that I feel under the weather, not since I started eating a bit better than I did two years ago. So imagine my surprise and annoyance when on Wednesday morning I awoke with a bit of a stuffy nose. I went to work anyway because I didn’t feel so bad (unless you count the ways in which I kicked myself for not having properly kept covered Tuesday night after my trip to the gym. Feeling so much warmth after an hour and a half or working out, I didn’t bother to button up my wool coat or wrap my scarf around my neck. My neck is quite sensitive to cold air so I should have known. Sure enough Wednesday greeted me with a nice I told you so in the form of mild congestion.).

Wednesday night was filled with tossing and turning and frequent trips to the bathroom since I worked hard to keep hydrated. I went to work for half the day Thursday, came home, and made some spicy chicken soup, drank tea, and downed water. spicy chicken soup
In the middle of all this, I had tissues by my side to combat the stuffed right nostril followed by a blocked left nostril hours later. I napped (or, I should say “napped” because I never fully surrendered to sleep) then started re-watching episodes of The Americans (I’m readying myself for season two, which starts next month).

I also discovered that a documentary released on Netflix was nominated for an Oscar, a first for Netflix. Because it was set for a Friday premiere, I watched the trailer then added it to my list, eager to watch the next day. As I was home from work today, still congested and sneezing and coughing and sniffling, I snuggled up and fired up Netflix.

The Square–that’s the title of the documentary. It begins with what would later come to be known as The Arab Spring that happened in Egypt (and later across countries in North Africa) and its aftermath all the way until last summer when Mohamed Morsi was removed from power. My goodness. I’ve only had a couple hours to digest what I witnessed, but this documentary is powerful.

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It’s told entirely from the point of view of Egyptians, which I feel gives it much more weight than if it were told by outsiders. Five people who became friends during the protests in Tahrir Square have access to cameras so we see all from their points of views: Khalid Abdalla, the actor who starred in The Kite Runner; Magdy Ashour, a member of The Muslim Brotherhood; Aida El Kashef, a female activist and journalist; Ramy Essam, a singer and activist; and Ahmed Hassan, an activist. It is this last person who I found myself drawn to. His anger and passion are palpable. His ability to engage in debate jaw-dropping.

To be sure, the other crew in the documentary are no less passionate. There are scenes of Khalid speaking with Anderson Cooper about the stakes in these protests as well as talking with his (Khalid’s) father about the need to agitate. Magdy is torn between his friendships with the activist he met in Tahrir when the country was calling for Mubarak to step down and being a member of The Brotherhood, a group who many in the documentary accuse of hijacking the protests in Tahrir Square for their own political benefit.

The Square is finely shot and doesn’t skimp on the urgency and immediacy of what many Egyptians felt during these many protests. So many moments were purely stunning. I was unprepared for the brutality (protesters being run down by tanks; Ramy with marks across his back displaying the beatings and electrocutions he endured) as well as my reaction to the elation as when it was announced that Hosni Mubarak was stepping down. I teared up seeing Egyptians in Tahrir Square weeping and shouting “Oh my God” that 30 years of rule had finally come to an end.

Though I am still processing the documentary and have many questions–like, how there’s not much talk, if any, that Morsi was removed a year after being democratically elected; or how women played a role and fared during these protests (i.e., sexual harassment). (There are brief moments with Aida, a journalist, but they are not about her as a woman nor are there thoughts about the iconic scene of a woman in a bra being dragged by police officers.)–I plan to watch it again. There’s so much to consider, and though I haven’t seen the other nominated documentaries (Dirty Wars is up next), I so hope that The Square walks away with the golden statue.