Response to Jen Carson’s xojane Yoga article: It Happened To Me…


You might have read about this: Skinny white girl Jan Carson writer with penned a heartfelt revelatory experience she has in yoga class when a heavy set black woman came into her class and made her feel uncomfortable in her skinny white body… here is a taste to what she wrote

It Happened To Me: There Are No Black People In My Yoga Classes And I’m Suddenly Feeling Uncomfortable With It

I was completely unable to focus on my practice, instead feeling hyper-aware of my skinny white girl body.

Jen Caron

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 lot of January patrons are atypical to the studio’s regular crowd and, for the most part, stop attending classes before February rolls around.
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. 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.
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.
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.
T’ruth’s response:
Okay there is so much that is offensive about this disillusioned white woman, perhaps her blood sugar is low from not eating. Is that how she stays so thin? What I find interesting is how she made this racial, even more than physical. Why did she feel this hostility from this heavy set black woman whose body was “not built” for yoga, when I am sure that there have been several heavy set white woman who have had equal difficulty with the practice. Did they too have contempt in their eyes as well? or had she noticed. Note yoga is for the human body, it is not contingent on size or shape, you work with what you have and where you are. It is not about aesthetics it is about spiritual and physical health and well being. Now Western folks have made about how you look in your LuLu Lemons but that’s not what it is about.
Carson’s  preoccupation with this woman is bizarre, but I find that it reveals more about the author, and her perception of what that woman was thinking,  then what might have really been going on. Carson’s ego (which oddly has no place in the yoga practice) had her spiraling and she did what I like call The Help, where she places her self in the mind space of a person she has no clue about, and projects the feelings she thinks they must be having based on her own perception (much like the book The Help when the white author endeavors to enter the psyche of Black maids…) And she is probably way off base.
I was an avid Bikram yoga practitioner for 5 years. It’s the hot yoga where everyone is half naked most of the time. I practiced in Harlem and the studio was highly diverse not just racially but in body type and age as well. Now yoga is hard, especially for people who have not been in their bodies, are not used to moving and stretching, or who are out of shape (heavy, inert, or not flexible). It can be a misery, and when you put that practice in a room that is over 100 degrees, it’s literally hell. I am fit and strong, and flexible, and have stood in front of many a new comer, fat and thin white, black, latina, Asian and other, and yes I seen the panic in their eyes when they are asking themselves “What the fuck was I thinking?” I have seen them at time look at me but I never felt contempt, from them or jealousy, maybe awe, like “How the hell is she so calm I want to die!!!”. I usually try to do the best, most disciplined practice as an example of what is possible if you just hang in there. I try to do a generous practice, if we catch eyes a slight smile with the energy of “Come, you can do this” as encouragement. Often after class they might come up and ask me or other practitioners how long we have practiced and every one always tells them that it kind of sucks in the beginning but if you hang in there it get better.
Jen Cason is so self absorbed that she really thought that woman was worried about her “skinny” ass. She was probably trying to manage her sore hamstring.
What I find really interesting is that Carson ASSUMES this heavy black woman wants to look like her..she assumes that she is the ideal for this woman, that she came to that class hoping that it would transform her into a skinny white woman… She takes societies concept of beauty (white, thin, blonde) the thing that she herself is in hot pursuit of and assigns it to this innocent woman. I feel like Jen was having a fat day and she needed to feel better about her self, and she saw that black woman and said to herself “Well I may not be Giselle but at least I’m not fat and black” and then hung a “Poor here” sign around the black woman’s neck. AND because she want’s to feel like she’s evolved she pens this essay about how yoga needs to be more inclusive.. I say come to Harlem, on second thought DON’T

One thought on “Response to Jen Carson’s xojane Yoga article: It Happened To Me…”

  1. Wow! I read just that article and I am pretty sure my mouth was hanging open in shock the whole time. I can’t believe the author has the nerve to write that she “went home and cried.” Really? Over what? The fact that you seriously spent an hour thinking “that black lady hates me” instead of thinking, “aw I remember that pain, I should be nice and encouraging to this new student.” I’ve done yoga before and when my body isn’t used to the yoga poses it SUCKS so badly! My husband has a lot of trouble with it too. If I was her I would have turned around and talked to the woman, asked how she was doing, or something! You know, like decent human beings do. Instead the author just gawked at her like she was some strange and foreign thing. Why is it so hard for people to just act like people. Just say hello, make small talk. No one is going to bite you. I think what bothers me the most about that article is the fact that the author opted to “ignore” the woman rather than engage her. To most people, being ignored is like being told “You don’t matter to me.” Seriously, how difficult is it to say, “Hello, are you okay?” or something.

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