Skinny Yoga and the Violence of Perfection
I have to move my belly out of the way, or else I can’t get my fingers under my feet. My thighs give out and I land on my butt trying to do a toe stand. No longer able to rotate my hip joint to place my foot on top of my leg, my tree pose is wobbly. “LaToya, bend your knees as much as you need to touch your forehead to your thigh.” My knees are almost bent in half.
It is my first time at yoga in more than a year, since COVID hit and closed my favorite studio. I was not going consistently prior to the onset of COVID; indeed, I was deeply depressed and not doing much of anything. In some ways, COVID gave me the excuse I needed to lie around. Both forms of exercise that I previously enjoyed were right in my building. While they were open, and as I passed them each day, I felt the familiar pangs of self-loathing at my inability to move my body. When they closed, I satisfied myself by declaring the reason I wasn’t moving my body much past my bed was out of my control.
This is hot yoga, and the heat hits me the moment I walk into the room. I make the mistake — but perhaps not — to be at the front of the room, closest to the room-length mirror. Every mat is spaced wide apart, and I choose my spot because it seems to be the furthest away from everyone else. Everyone can see me, at least from behind. I can see them, but before me is nothing but me.
Before class begins, I take a quick scan of the room:
Skinny. Skinny. Skinny. Skinny Man. White. White. Black (and skinny.) No one looks like me.
Some are already in poses: legs butterflied, limbered hamstrings in deep forward folds, lotus legs and meditating. Their thinness and general whiteness is on display, as the man practices shirtless and women are dressed in a sports bra that matches their pants, all with the familiar Lululemon brand logo. (The teacher is Black, and skinny. But also strong, and kind.)
I, too, was once a skinny, limber, and fashionable yogi. Fifteen years ago, before marriage, before kids, before most of my adult life, I could do all the balancing poses, moving like a dancer through the vinyasa’s asanas. I was a vegetarian, a teacher-in-training, a student of yogic…