Yes, Jen, Black Women Practice Yoga Too

by Britni Danielle
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Photo: Black Yogis Tumblr

By now you’ve probably read about the totally ridiculous yoga post heard-round-the-Internet that got Jen Polachek dragged so hard she changed her byline to “Jen Caron.”

Without going into too many details—because believe me, her piece had waaaaay too many—I’ll give you the short version.

One time Jen Polachek, uh, I mean Jen Caron, went to a yoga class  in Brooklyn and saw a “fairly heavy” Black woman on the mat behind her. After not being able to keep up with the bendy routines, the woman spent the balance of the class “staring directly” at Caron, who watched as the woman plunged into “despair” then “resentment and then contempt.” In the end, Caron felt so disturbed by the Black woman because she assumed the woman was focusing all her mind power on Caron’s “skinny white girl body,” because…why wouldn’t she?

Caron’s long, completely self-absorbed essay would have been utterly laughable if she wasn’t trying so hard to be serious. I mean, Caron was so unnerved by a fat Black woman attempting yoga she went home AND CRIED, y’all. CRIED!

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Here’s why:

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. 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?

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.

I really don’t know what’s worse about this essay. The fact that the writer heaped a myriad of assumptions on a “fairly heavy/heavyset” Black woman without even speaking to her, or the fact that she subjected us to her narcissistic ramblings.

As I said on Facebook, this essay is the personification of White privilege. Nothing SCREAMS White privilege more than a White woman in a yoga class who thinks her “skinny white girl body” is surely being coveted by a heavyset Black woman who is most-likely just trying to learn how to properly hit the warrior pose.

Potos: Black Yogis Tumblr

Potos: Black Yogis Tumblr

In the midst of her navel glazing, Caron failed to realize or even acknowledge that Black women—like many other types of women—practice yoga as well. While they may not be sweating it out in her studio, which she admits is overrun with male hipsters, many of us are yogis and yoga devotees, even if we happen to be “fairly heavy.” Just because Caron’s never taken a moment to notice—or even speak to–a Black student in her class doesn’t negate the fact that many Black folks practice yoga.

A quick Google search of “black yogis” would have pointed Caron in the direction of several African-Americans who regularly practice yoga (I mean, there’s a whole Tumblr dedicated to Black Yogis). Women like Chelsea Jackson of Chelsea Loves Yoga, Faith Hunter of Embrace, Sariane Leigh of Anacostia Yogi, and many, many more are not only practicing, but are teaching others as well. But Caron’s piece wasn’t about learning more about Black people who practice yoga, it was about turning herself into a victim.

  • http://gravatar.com/geenababe geenababe

    This lady can’t be serious. I swear when it comes to a lot of white people these three words keep popping up entitlement, privilege, and arrogance. For her to sit up here, write that essay, post it, and not think twice about who could be offended or if I am wrong just show what kind of mindset this woman has. This is one of the evils of internet to many people giving their opinions like it really matter in the whole scheme of things. Also I hope people don’t come in here blaming black heavyset women for how this woman feels. I have seen articles like this before where everyone should be going at the source but in up attacking each other.

  • LemonNLime

    “I got home from that class and promptly broke down crying.”

    Uhhh enough with the tears white people. Jesus, they are always crying about something.

  • Me27

    I read that article earlier today and was offended that she made so many assumptions about a person she knows nothing about. But not only did she make assumptions about the woman, she then goes on to make assumptions about entire groups of people. Apparently she’s now concerned that this yoga experience is indicative of a larger systemic problem and she needs to figure out how to include everybody and every body.

    The entire piece came across as self-absorbed and ignorant.

  • Anthony

    Polachek is simply bragging about her white “superiority.” It sounds like the woman she saw simply a novice having a hard time learning the routine. If she keeps it up, she may cease to be a “fairly heavy black woman.” It certainly looks like the slimmer women pictured are pretty good at achieving Yoga positions.

  • http://www.urbanexpressive.com J.Nicole

    I tell you, I’d rather deal with straight up racists than these artsy-hipster-white liberals with forced white guilt. The fact she thought she could save this poor, overweight Black woman is so laughable to me. Does she have some special white woman powers? And then let’s say she did provide unnecessary advice, and was given a cold reception, would she then assume she was an overweight Angry Black Woman?
    It’s getting to the point where these people are so simple it’s sad.

  • vintage3000

    I hope the next Black woman this racist itchbay sees in a yoga class sits in front of her and ‘accidentally’ farts in her face. Give her something to cry about.

  • Moe

    I’m not “heavy” but I got to yoga and Pilates classes regularly and I get crazy looks all the time. I wonder what I’m suppose to envy about these white girls since I already have a slim( not skinny) figure. Oh, I’m probably sad that my kinky hair doesn’t fall in my face during certain poses right?

  • lynn

    I’m a black woman who’s been doing yoga regularly since 1989. I don’t enjoy the “skinny white girl” yoga culture that is prevalent where I live (upstate NY) so it’s rare that I’ll go to a class. Instead I practice at home, usually late at night. Light a candle, burn some incense, put on some mellow music and practice on my Mexican blanket for about 30 minutes. Yoga is for everybody.

  • http://rjeffreyhopkins.wordpress.com RJ

    I love how the author was worried about the woman feeling like she’s being judged yet the whole article is about the author’s judgment of the woman. The whole thing is a mess.

  • 1989

    This is the most unintentionally funny thing I’ve ever read. I seriously want to collect her white girl tears, maybe use them to season a dish of humble pie to stuff down her throat. Sadly, her attitude is very typical of privileged whites who would swear up and down they’re socially progressive.

  • Pseudonym

    Also, can somebody tell white women that being skinny with no butt is NOT the black beauty standard at all? I mean, do you not notice that almost every black woman has that “looking over my shoulder from the back bc my curvy bum is so hot” photo? Have you listened to all the booty anthems on the radio? Have you noticed you rarely meet a black woman who’s a perpetual dieter? They need to get real.

  • Deana

    Whatever. I am sure the woman in that class didn’t even notice this woman. While this woman was at home crying that black woman was enjoying her life. That black woman didn’t care at all about this idiot and neither do I.

  • MommieDearest

    I will admit it….

    I am envious.

    Of those sisters doing the poses. And their tight bodies.

    *off to google yoga classes in my area*

  • CommonSense

    Is this B**** serious?!?!?!?!?! People just write anything online. I need for people to stop putting all their thoughts online!!!!!!!!! They just sound idiotic!!!!!!!!!!!!! Please, just go away!!!!!!

  • Naan

    I can’t tell of you are sarcastically saying that it is a “systematic problem” or not but I will say that calling it is a “systematic problem” IS the problem.

    So what if white folks do it! Why does there now need to be an “outreach program” to include Black folks about this form of exercise?

    Yoga originated in Asia, why should Asians feel bad that mostly Asian people do it worldwide? Why do they need to “reach out”?

    Don’t get me wrong, those tumblr blogs that feature Black “yogis” are cool— I get celebrating “niches.”

    But labeling things as “problems” just because it isn’t popular with a particular group is ridiculous and further spreads the myth that we (Black folks) are uneducated and “uncultured” all because we may not particularly like what “they” do.

    If you want to introduce yoga to folks who happen to be Black, just introduce it. But don’t get into a “Black people need saving” yoga campaign. Don’t make people feel “ashamed” that they don’t practice yoga.

  • https://www.facebook.com/kaylyn.eshesimua Kaylyn Esh

    No such thing as white superiority in yoga. Africans and Asians have been practicing “yoga” for thousands of years. Way before white tear Jen and her thoughts came a long. If anything, the black girl was probably feeling bad for her lol

  • RJ

    And now for the Wednesday edition of “white folks be tripping”. I too have been practicing yoga daily for nearly twenty years. I was living in California and needed something to help me because of a chronic illness. I am not overweight but I have seen heavy women of all races in my classes. Some of the heavy women actually were more flexible then some of us.

    What gets me about white “yogis” in this country is that once again, they have appropriated another race’s practice and think that they are the experts and creators.

    Great piece Britini!

  • RJ

    Thank you and I am think that XOJane needs to do some serious soul searching with the topics they posts. As a writer sometimes you have to question whether what you are writing can stand the smell test. We learn to self edit.

  • Thomas

    The reality is Black women can give a serious mean mug to complete strangers.

    To think that a heavy set woman, of any race, unable to do basic bending routines wouldn’t be envious of a physically fit woman is naive at best. Some people are just better at hiding their envy and knowing how to be politically correct than others.

  • RJ

    I hear you, but the author would have no recourse because any practicing yogi knows that passing gas is the most natural by product of doing yoga. LOL

  • vintage3000

    The reality is that a lot of people like yourself troll sites like Clutch, because apparently that is easier than dealing with your own stupidity.

  • Anthony

    Don’t sweat Ms. Pasty Pancakes. She can probably cite a number of brothers who try to hang in her circles who have hit on her, but that does not mean that most black men (and a whole lot of other men too) wouldn’t jump at a chance to be with that thick and lovely woman doing the pose that looks almost like a handstand!

  • http://gravatar.com/geenababe geenababe

    I swear I knew in this post it would be one troll most likely a man or someone posing as a man.

  • vintage3000

    But it would be Black gas, RJ! That could send this chick over the edge!

  • Apple

    Oh that’s sad, I thought about taking Pilates ,when my money get right because I did in college, but sad they look at you weird ugh

  • Apple

    I wonder if this woman will accidentally read this, it’s all over every news site

  • Me27

    LOL I didn’t say it was a problem, those are Jen’s words…personally I found the entire article laughable and died laughing when I got to the end.

    Here’s a direct quote from the article:

    “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.”

  • :-)

    Yoga actually originated in Egypt.

  • bk chick

    Any time a white person has to note that he/she did something in Brooklyn I immediately stop taking them seriously. They are usually genetrifiers who think its so cool to be living in what they percieve to be cool cuz its kinda hood and then ironically talk shit about the black woman (most likely living in bk way Before she did) jealous of her practicing yoga…which some whites feel they claim now too….ugh.

  • RJ

    Jen, is that you? Are you in witness protection because of your terrifying encounter with a heavy set black woman who did not pet you like a puppy dog and tell you that you are the best thing in the whole wide world!?!

  • http://gravatar.com/mimiandy1683 MimiLuvs…

    I had a similar experience happen to me, when I did attended a public gym. The gym’s indoor pool and the allure of receiving swimming lesson were the two major factors that persuaded me to purchase an one-year membership. First, I was the recipient of the stares. I told myself that I was being paranoid. After the stares, I noticed that one fellow gym member had taken it upon herself to wipe down every seat/bench/chair that I sat on, even after I wiped the objects myself. She wasn’t even sneaky about her actions. I wasn’t even five inches away from the equipment before she would walk over and wipe the seat again. Then, she would return back to whatever piece of equipment that she was using at the time. I reported several of the incidents to the gym’s managers, but the issue wasn’t resolved.
    After receiving such treatment from them, I chose not to go back.

  • WalkAway

    I have to wonder just how “heavy set” this black woman was. Considering the warped view it seems so many have about women’s bodies, she was probably no more than a size 12.

    Luckily, black women have someone like Saint Jen! She can introduce them to all the confusing, but liberating aspects of white culture. Like bulimia.

  • http://gravatar.com/nolakiss16 binks

    Took the words right out of my mouth! I swear I am embarrassed for her and her stupidity.

  • Sankofascholar

    The instructor of the class should thoroughly explain that everyone’s transition into an asana is different. When I first started yoga I couldn’t touch my damn toes! Now I’m able to grab the back of my legs and give my calves and thighs a hug! YOGA IS NOT COMPETITION! Its the practice of having the patience to learn your body and it takes time. period.

    Now back to the author, idk where to start, did she feel like the lady didn’t like her because her white body was more flexible ? Probably. I remember being in class with chicks who would be more focused on showing off than breathing correctly though an asana!.

    The woman’s frustration sounds like it was from her not having patience with her body. For the author to bring race into the situation is just wack. I had white girls in my yoga class leave because their minds weren’t open to having patience with themselves.

    Yoga is not a white practice or invention GTFOH.

  • JS

    I just started taking up hot yoga again in a new studio because of a groupon. I haven’t felt judgement or surprise for me being there yet. However almost everyone there is older (40 &up), ultra hippie and laid back rather than the whole ‘lululemon wearing designer toting NYC/LA’ crowd. I did get a bit of surprise from a few teachers but I think it was more due to my dedication of showing up 3-4 days a week to the 6am classes during the “new year health craze” rather than me being black, but who knows? (I am just trying to get my unlimited month’s worth truth be told lol). I think people who are true yogis come to yoga for self-healing and introspection rather than to compete/compare with others.

    This chick is definitely out of line for this article. I get so into my yoga practice and just trying not to pass out in the heat I don’t even notice anyone else (okay I lie, I do sneak peeks at my young male yoga teacher who loves to wear nothing but speedos but mostly before class starts lol). I don’t know how she even had time to think of all this. I am giving major side eye to her “six years of yoga practice”. Six years of yoga and you never once have seen a black nor overweight girl in any of your class… in Brooklyn no less? Girl bye.

    Saying the author has major narcissism problems doesn’t even begin to touch on it. I even believe she probably took some sick joy in watching this girl ‘struggle’ as she took it as some twisted affirmation of herself. The whole “poor black fat girl” is just a cover for her to affirm her own elation in how society accepts her “thin whiteness”. It’s a double whammy here because not only is she putting down overweight yoga practitioners she brings race into it as well putting down black practitioners.

    Ol’ girl needs more than just a seat she needs to lay all the way the f*ck down.

  • simplyme

    I tried to read the original article and had to nope out a third of the way through. Yuck.

  • Moe

    Don’t even get me started on the crazy looks at get at public pools. Now, I just swim around close friends.

  • Mariposa

    The comments on the original blog post are hilarious. I’ve only done yoga a few times in my life. In high school I thought it was too quiet and boring. But now I’m coming around. I crave those stretches. I’m definitely a novice, I’m heavier yet fit and have no trouble getting into the positions. I even look at pictures of complicated poses and get right into them with ease. I think the author was attempting to be deep and understanding of the fat, black experience. I think this is a white liberal attempt to not be racist.

  • la mala

    This writer was asked to write the post by the managing editor who has also written a post about the backlash and her part in it

  • pearlsncurls

    Is this some kind of trickery?…..Black women……do yoga? Wow. I’m shocked. Harry Potter must be involved.

    Anyways, I read Jen Polachek’s entire article and I was disgusted to put it nicely.

  • Nic

    Seriously, someone should send that fool that picture and ask her who she thinks is jealous of her bony, flat body.
    And you know that to girls like that, they would totally look at the woman in the picture and call her “heavyset”, and enough silly BM have told her she’s the bomb and that BW are jealous of her and her stringy hair that she thinks the opinions of a sorry few reflect reality.

  • k8font

    “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. And so I tried to very deliberately avoid looking in her direction each time I was in downward dog…” all the while mentally cataloging the experience so I could go home, write some racist ish about it, and post it on the internet for the world to see as evidence of my progressive liberal attitude. Hope it helped!

    That women like this are surprised when they get side-eyed is why they’re getting side-eyed.

  • Lalah

    Is that a man or woman in the top pic above?

  • LC

    not sure what her being black had to do with it. I think if she left race out of it, the article would have been a little easier to digest. The “heavyset” woman’s inability to keep up that class has nothing to do with her color. It may have just been lack of experience with yoga and/or limited flexibility because of her size? I know thin girls that can’t keep up with a intermediate yoga class lol. Just saying…

  • Me

    I practice yoga and run and swim and I am Not skinny. Often people are surprised by all I can do. Half marathons tris etc. And it is Their assumption that as a heavy black women I can’t. that leaves them startled. I see it in the gym. On a trail or track. To Jen and all her other white privileged friends one big FUCK YOU. OOPS SORRY

  • http://gravatar.com/hipster4hire $0.02

    Welp, now she knows better. I don’t know what her experiences are but from now on she will be aware of different bodies and races engaging in yoga, especially if she reads the links to Black yogis listed in these responding articles. I remember in high school this super thick chick that could leap gracefully across the room, I used joke in my head that she’d make a great stripper, I also wonder how many guys probably want her for her body and if older men or male relatives ever got inappropriate with her…imagine if I wrote an article about that, lol, only difference is I didn’t cry and I didn’t know the girl outside of class but she didn’t seem troubled…but that was my imagination running wild, creating a story for a total stranger. I did it recently, I saw a White woman on the subway sleeping with many bags, I noted her clothes and imagined she recently became homeless…This Jen is basically very self-conscious so she was very bothered that someone was looking at her, maybe she exaggerated it maybe the lady did stare her down, maybe it wasn’t in angry way like she assumed. Its down with, she’ll live *shrug*

  • Lalah

    I wonder why I was given thumbs down. It was a legit question lol. If you go on youtube and instagram, you will see dudes prancing around who look just like women, even getting the butt injections and such in order to appear more “feminine”. Nowadays I don’t know what is what anymore :-( I just had to ask

  • Pema

    The editor of XoJane is a black woman. Why did she publish this article?

  • Emme

    I hate yoga and I really hate yoga studios. No one needs saving with yoga. No one.

  • Emme

    I agree with you.

    I was really struck by this line in her piece ” 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.”

    She adds “black” as if it is relevant to what the woman is dealing with. Yoga, like many things in life, is difficult for first timers and most studios do not take into account the sometimes liming nature of extra weight on bodies. The women’s size might be a factor but her skin colour most certainly was not.

  • Cathy

    The Editor Rebecca Carroll is a black woman. How did a black woman allow this to go to press? That is my big question. Wow.

  • Ms. Vee

    @LC

    Trust me. I was thinking the same thing. Her being “heavyset” might have been the prime reason for being targeted. Had she possessed a physique that mimicked anyone of those black women in the article i doubt anyone would have questioned her ability to perform yoga. I could be wrong. However its important to know when to separate race when it has nothing to do with the discrimination one’s facing.

  • Anthony

    Anything is possible, but the person in the top pic looks like a woman with a sexy and athletic body to me.

  • jasmine

    i’ve found many of the articles on xojane to be ridiculous (i tried to bring a gun on a plane and now i’m on the fbi list???) this one is no exception. also i call bs on the editor’s faux tough girl insistence that she doesn’t give a %$# about page views. websites need viewers and i’ve seen this story on no less than seven sites in the past day. although the article was unintentionally but hilariously funny, it was very irresponsible.

  • http://gravatar.com/designdiva40 paintgurl40

    Girl bye!!

  • kiki80

    This will not be a popular opinion, but I think that this reaction is the reason that non-hateful white people avoid discussing race like the plague.

    Yes, this chick is as naive and entitled as they come, but even a broke clock is right twice a day.

    Maybe the other young lady *was* giving her the stink eye (don’t pretend this is not a possibility as we do it to each other daily).

    Why not discuss white privilege and how it might impact us as black women (or black women ‘of size’)?

    Pundits and scholars work overtime trying to convince white folk that white privilege still exists, then we bash this child for finally admitting it?

    This is not a defense of the girl…it’s a case for being HONEST about discussing race without strangling it with too many rules of engagement.

  • ScriptTease

    So you’re one of those women who thinks long hair equates to beauty and feminism, which leads me to believe you have a lot in common like JEN?!?

  • ScriptTease

    Let them write. I like my assumptions being confirmed about some people. You learn a lot about people by letting them speak freely.

  • Me

    you shoulda demanded your money back. the owners know they got the power to put that shit to an end but now they got 12 months of your money for no work.

  • noirluv45

    The author of the original article, who was arrogant, condescending, and made assumptions about this “heavy set Black woman” gets put on blast, and it’s the fault of those who clapped back?

    There are even White women who found her attitude offensive. The reason many Whites don’t want to discuss race is: 1) Many of them don’t believe there is a racial problem, 2) They think Blacks just love “playing the race card,” and 3) They will no own up to their part in this mess called racism/White supremacy. Many of them are in denial. Even Tim Wise says that.

    We do discuss White privilege. The problem is many of them refuse to admit they are White and privileged. Conversation is a two-way street. If the offending party isn’t willing to communicate, it won’t do any good.

    The yoga instructor has a chip on her shoulder, and like I said, there are White woman who were offended by her stank superiority.

  • Me

    this ain’t have shit to do with some whit chick tryna self-check her privilege. not with a full essay about ***assumptions*** she made about what’s going on in one person’s head just because she fat and black. this ain’t nothing but smoke and mirrors: “i saw somebody today that i thought was lower than me and now i feel bad about her being lower than me because i’m pretty sure she’s mad about being lower than me because anybody lower than me obviously would be jealous of me and it made me think about all the other people that are lower than me too that don’t get the privilege to do all the awesome things i get to do just because i’m so awesome. and that’s what made me cry.” i wish they had posted pia glenn’s response from xojane too because she wrote EVERYTHING i was thinking about this shitty ass article/writer.

  • kiki80

    I see things differently. As much as I hate arrogant whites who think they know me, I also get tired of overly-sensitive black folks who want to dictate 1000 contradictory rules for how to talk about race.

    Either we all have permission to ‘go there’ with honesty, or expect the impasse to continue.

  • Lalah

    @Scriptease

    No. I just saw a woman’s lower body and a man’s upper arms and head. Even if you look real close to the face, it’s still hard to tell. I have seen many women with athletic bodies and buzz cuts (Amber Rose) who still look like obvious women. The picture above confused me a bit. Thanks for clarifying for me Anthony.

  • Nika

    I’m a white woman and I cannot EVEN remember the last time I was this uniquely embarrassed by something that a white person did.

    I mean, the ‘normal’ kind of racism is obnoxious enough, but this was made so, SO much worse by her dumbass navel gazing and completely tone-deaf insults. The whole damn thing was disingenuous and super bratty.

    It demonstrates total self-absorption on her part, the actual belief that everything and everyone revolves around her, because of COURSE the black woman was obsessed with her, of COURSE she envied her skinny ass, and of COURSE this brought up all kinds of apparently repressed guilt which she then felt compelled to heap upon the rest of us.

    I mean, I guess it’s good that I finally have something I can print out and show to my friends when they claim white privilege no longer exists. Cause good god y’all, this is essentially the most textbook example I’ve ever seen of it. It was every cliche in action.

    I hope she really thinks about what was so hideous about this, and that next time she just keeps her mouth shuts and seeks some mental help or something, because damn.

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