The Uniform

Warning: this is a post about fashion.

I love my jungle pants. They're my new favorite. I'm not really one to pull off patterned pants, so when I found them, I thought, I'm gonna do something fun and risky and fashion forward, and wear these pants.

I like not broadcasting YOGI in my look. I carry my mat around the city often enough, not because I want to but because  I need to, but when I can I try to wear street clothes to and from class. So most of the time I don't dress like I'm going to class. I'm not really the kind of person who thinks much about what I wear to practice yoga in, or to teach. I don't like to spend a ton of money on workout clothes.  I think about what I wear on the street, because I like to feel good about how I look in my clothes, but yoga clothes aren't that important to me. Will I be warm enough, will my body stay covered where I want it to, can you see my underwear through my pants; these are the questions I ask when I get dressed before I head out.

Warning: this isn't a post about fashion.

The other day when I leave my house north of 6 am to teach, I don't wonder if my yoga clothes are particularly attractive or provocative; I'm on my way to work, and I figure I'm in my uniform. I'm not thinking about wearing my jungle pants, a tank top and a cardigan sweater. My mind is on the sequence I prepared, on how I can warm up sufficiently before class starts starts, on how to be present for the students effectively.  Plus I'm commuting to class in my car. I'm not considering I'll be seen by  anyone. So when I get to work, I'm ready to teach. I feel awake, I feel present, I feel ready to great the class and offer them my best.  I get out of my car to move a rock the size of a brick out of my parking spot.

Then a car in the street stops beside me and a guy rolls down his window.

He's a guy I know. He's never taken my class before,  but he's around the space where I teach, and I've seen him through the class door of the studio, rubbernecking through the glass door. We are friendly with each other, on a first name basis, even. Every person I meet is a potential student, an opportunity for me to share an amazing experience with anyone who's interested. (Not to mention that friendliness and approachability are (yick) company policy.)

I try to ignore the fact that he's pulled up behind me in his car and rolled down his window with me, and how uncomfortable that makes me. We chat briefly. I assure him my absence is not due to permanent departure, only a temporary sojourn.  He promises that when he returns from a long weekend he'll consider taking my class.

As I am turning to back to my car to finish parking, I see him give me the elevator eyes. You know, the look one person gives another when they're inspecting how your clothes fit? When they're evaluating your body? The look wherein one person objectifies and dehumanizes the other? That look. He is taking in my torso, my hips and thighs, noticing how I fill out my green-and-black jungle pants. 

It happens fast, so fast I'm not completely sure it actually happens. Well, not all of me is sure. The part of me that recognizes how it feels to receive unwanted attention is sure. But it's a fast moment, and quiet, and I'm on my way to work, and by the time I know what I am feeling, I'm back in my car and he's at the end of the block.

I want to say, Really, guy? I'm on the job. You really wanna look at my ass? It's not even 8 am yet, gimme a break. But he's gone, and it's over. I pull my bags out of the car and head in to work.

All day, this interaction sat at the back of my mind, like a tag in something I was wearing that was vaguely uncomfortable, but I couldn't entirely identify what or why.

Later, I brought it up to my Mister. It was an awkward conversation and the whole time both of us were confused by what I was trying to say. I found myself apologizing. The yoga world can be blurry and undefined, I found myself saying, and my intentions as a teacher are always clear: I never want to lead anyone on or suggest anything inappropriate. But I can't control the way students treat me, what kind of baggage they're bringing into the room, what they might project on me, etc.

Okay, he said. But I'm not really sure what you're apologizing for. It sounds like you didn't do anything wrong.

The more I talked, the more I discovered that I didn't have anything to feel bad about. I'd worn my favorite pants to work and some guy, a guy I barely know, ogled me and made me feel sexualized and objectified. My jungle pants hand't been an invitation to the elevator eyes from this guy. Neither had my smile or my friendliness and openness. I'd talked to him like I talk to everyone, and he'd given me that creepy-ass look. But it had nothing to do with anything I'd done or anything I was wearing. 

It bummed me out that I'd worn my favorite pants and gotten this response. It made me angry that I'd internalized this oppression so profoundly that I felt guilt, shame even, just for doing my job, for doing life. 

There's a lot of focus in the yoga zeitgeist about the body. For many of us the focus is on the physical practice. We've all been heard plenty about the sexual misconduct in various communities and traditions. I think that has to do with the relationship between student and teacher, and blurry boundaries and taking advantage of people who put themselves in our trust. 

I think what I haven't considered, what I wasn't ready for, was the possibility of being objectified by others as a teacher. It's not street harassment, thought I've had my fair share of that. It was the idea that even in the context of teaching yoga I can't be free of being objectified by someone who could become a student. For all I know, some of the students I have objectify and sexualize me even now, and I have no idea. 

I've never thought to myself, is this too sexy an outfit to wear to class? Is this outfit going to distract students from their practices, and instead cause them to think about my body? I hate questions like this, and resent them to my core. It sounds like the same rhetoric from the conservative, religious right that tells women not to dress a certain way because it "causes men to stumble". I want to throw something when I hear that language. 

But it came out of me. Effortlessly, while I was talking with my Mister. This shame, this internalized oppression, this misogyny, came out of me without even trying.

I don't really know what else to say about this really. The thought occurs to me that I might be violating this person's privacy by telling this story. Am I wrong to shine a light on this, should I just process it quietly, internally? I don't want to shame him, I'm not after a public flogging or anything. 

I sat on this post for weeks. It makes me feel really vulnerable to share,  and as troubled as I am by this guy's behavior, I want to treat him as a human--though I'm not sure he's able to do the same. But I believe in the power of being vulnerable, of sharing, and perhaps at the risk of oversharing. So here it is.

I don't know what happens next. I know I keep wearing my jungle pants to teach in, and the next time I catch someone looking me up and down in them, they get a potent, considered earful from me, and a Namaste to finish it off. 

I also do the work of pulling this internalized oppression out by the root, so I can be rid of shame that isn't mine.