In a world full of controversy, sometimes it’s something seemingly innocuous that becomes the subject of debate. And that’s exactly what happened this week with the topic of “yoga pants” (also known as leggings and/or tights depending on where you’re from). Yes, that comfortable lycra (spandex) leg adornment popular with just about every female I know (and often worn by men too) has got us all fired up after the publication of this op-ed in The New York Times. Normally I roll my eyes, tut and mutter in a very passive-aggressive and overly-British fashion about such things, but this time I feel compelled to add my voice to the debate.
Of course there’s an excellent chance that the topic was chosen for the very reason that it would stir up debate and by reacting we simply fan the flames, yet for me there are just too many points raised that I feel obliged to respond to – after all, I’m a big fan of the garment I will refer to as “yoga pants” for the purposes of this post.
First on the agenda, the title – Why Yoga Pants Are Bad For Women. Fairly typical of the “click-bait” trend and so, of course, I clicked. I wear yoga pants all the time and so wanted to know if I was causing myself some kind of damage, but rather than scientific or medical facts, all I found was the writer’s vitriol against those who choose (that’s right, choose) to wear yoga pants. Even more bizarrely, her biggest gripe seemed to be with those of us wearing them for their intended purpose – yoga!
Yup, that’s right: the writer has an issue with women wearing yoga pants to practise yoga. What? Does she also have an issue with any other activity-specific attire? Thought not. Personally I find the suggestion that we should switch to “sweat pants” (joggies/trackie bottoms, etc) ludicrous. The clue is in the name – SWEAT pants! Why would I want to wear something that will make me even more sweaty and uncomfortable by clinging on to every drop of moisture that leaves my body, thus rendering the material heavier and me colder when I stop moving? The purpose of those garments made of “velour or terry cloth” that she references is surely to keep you warm before and after you exercise, not to weigh you down, cause you to overheat and make your chosen activity harder? I prefer to run in tight clothes as I can’t stand loose material flapping about me, and when it comes to yoga I want to feel that I am free to move without having to pull up my trousers every time I want to twist, fold or stretch. I also want my teacher to be able to see the position my body is in so that any adjustments can be given that will keep me safe and help me to progress.
And yet the writer of this op-ed appears oblivious to this, stating:
“But yoga pants make it worse. Seriously, you can’t go into a room of 15 fellow women contorting themselves into ridiculous positions at 7 in the morning without first donning skintight pants? What is it about yoga in particular that seems to require this? Are practitioners really worried that a normal-width pant leg is going to throttle them mid-lotus pose?”
Um, yes! Well maybe not throttle me, but having tried yoga in looser-fitting clothes I definitely felt much more encumbered and lacked the freedom of moment that I associate with my practice. I think I spent most of my time fearing an unseemly rip! Besides, a loose-leg would surely just end up riding up around my knees every time I moved into any kind of inversion such as a shoulder stand. How would that be helpful? Yet it carries on:
“We aren’t wearing these workout clothes because they’re cooler or more comfortable. We’re wearing them because they’re sexy.”
You read that right: we’re wearing yoga pants to look “sexy”. The crux of the writer’s argument seems to be that women are somehow being “forced” into wearing yoga pants to work out in the same way that society has conditioned us to wear high heels to look good or tight/low-cut clothing to feel attractive. Sure for some that might be part of the reason behind their choice, but for most women I would imagine they are looking to feel comfortable and able to move in any way they wish. As someone who is not always the most graceful, I hate to imagine what would happen if I tried to twist myself into a pretzel whilst also battling loose and wafty clothing – misadventure would be sure to follow! Who is she to decide what I should or shouldn’t wear for my yoga practice? And how dare she presume to know why I make the choice that I do? I own looser clothing and it would be the last thing I would pick for a yoga class.
Somewhat laughably, the piece also contains the following statement:
“It’s not good manners for women to tell other women how to dress”
Pardon? Is that not exactly what you are doing in this article? For years women have been told how to dress, felt ashamed of their bodies and been reluctant to go to gyms where they might find activities that would make them fitter, stronger and more confident. Why, when women are fighting back against various injustices in the world, would you write a piece like this which has an undercurrent of shaming women for their choices? Would anyone presume to tell a man what to wear in the gym? Didn’t think so. Nobody needs to wear yoga pants to exercise, but most of us choose to. And when we wear them in other walks of life? Maybe we actually do just want to be comfortable. I can wear a tunic or dress to work with leggings underneath (often far warmer and more comfortable than tights/panty hose, an abomination made by the devil himself!) and still look smart; I can wear yoga pants to lounge around the house and feel comfortable without my underwear becoming lodged in places it has no business being; I can wear my running kit to run errands, with messy hair and no make up, when the last thing on my mind is to look “sexy” (because why should I conform to some imposed “ideal” of how I should look when I’m only nipping out for a couple of quick things on a day off?). And if I’m getting on a long haul flight, when my choice is yoga pants/leggings or some constricting garment that will cut into my flesh for hours and restrict my circulation, then I’m picking the yoga pants – they might even help ward off DVT if I pick a compression pair!
The only part of the article I might have any sympathy with is the writer’s assertion that studio classes aimed at women are pricey, but it’s the price I take issue with rather than other aspects of the classes. There’s so much research which shows too many women reluctant to exercise due to fear of judgment, that the last thing we need is a woman feeding that fear by passing judgement on other women. Such classes may come with a hefty price tag, but they are also places where a sense of community is fostered, where women feel like they belong and where they feel comfortable getting their sweat on (in comfortable, sweat-wicking yoga pants!). Women should be supporting and lifting each other up, not cutting each other down with criticism – God knows there’s enough of that in the world already! If we run the risk of turning working out from “a healthy thing you might do twice a week into a Way of Life” then surely that’s a good thing. We’re all being encouraged to lead a healthy lifestyle all the time, so why discourage those choosing to do just that by commenting on the sartorial decisions they make that may very well be helping them get out the door to that fitness class in the first place? If a pair of yoga pants is what it takes to help just one person adopt a healthier lifestyle, then I’m all for them.
And so, I will continue to wear my yoga pants for yoga, for running and for any time I wish to feel comfortable. Last I checked it was my body and I’m free to dress it in whatever way I please, even if I am a little north of that 30 barrier lauded by the writer as the last time I should have done so. Frankly, I’ve not felt so insulted in a while!
“Women can, of course, be fit and liberated. We may be able to conquer the world wearing spandex. But wouldn’t it be easier to do so in pants that don’t threaten to show every dimple and roll in every woman over 30?”
If she wants to wear sweat pants, she should (and nobody should judge her for it). Heck if she wants to turn up to the gym in her pyjamas then she should be allowed to do so and nobody should bat an eyelid. You do you Ms Jones and let everyone else do what works for them. I, for one, will be in my favourite yoga pants, dimples and rolls included.
Want to read some more? Here are some other responses to this op-ed piece that I’ve enjoyed:
Now I’d love to know your thoughts…