• Wed, Jan 29 - 12:13 pm ET

xoJane’s Yoga Post Proves Just How Far Some People Will Go To Be A Victim

xo jane yoga

Yesterday, an xoJane writer documented the harrowing experience of seeing a black person in her yoga class. While she was trying to be sympathetic to the woman in question and point out how overwhelmingly white yoga classes tend to be, her eagerness to make herself a victim overshadowed any benefit-of-the-doubt one might give her. The backlash was unsurprisingly swift (the best of which, in my opinion, is right here), because the thoughtful liberal inadvertently came off like a total assclown.

xoJane is basically the easiest target on the Internet these days, given its tendency towards publishing recycled Livejournal posts from 2004. Its famous “It Happened To Me” series seems to have completely spiraled from what may have started as a relatable column into incredibly bizarre, click-baity bullshit. In fact, I’d believe any one of these fake IHTM titles. And so I’m not surprised that XO Jane ran an in-depth personal exploration called “IHTM: There Are No Black People In My Yoga Classes And I’m Suddenly Feeling Uncomfortable With It.“ Unfortunately, the post could have more aptly titled “I Had To Look At A Heavy Black Woman And It Made Me Cry.”

I do believe that author Jen Caron (whose real name is Jen Polachek, though her post’s byline is now changed) started out with good intentions. The piece describes her experience realizing that her donation-based yoga class was not the inclusive, yoga-for-everyone Eden that she had originally thought. It seems like Caron was suddenly made aware of a number of privileges during a yoga class, which changed her way of thinking. Except that Caron somehow turned herself into the victim of the situation.

Careful to mention her own whiteness and thinness, Caron expounded on the person doing yoga next to her: a “fairly heavy black woman.” Inexplicably, Caron spent most of the class staring at this woman, noticing that she wasn’t participating in the class.

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…

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?

Confronting your privilege can be an uncomfortable process, because it forces you to admit that there’s a problem and you’re a part of it. Except that probably the first thing you don’t want to do is make assumptions about anyone whose experience you do not understand. Or assume you can help. And then Caron sort of went the other direction:

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…. 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?

I’m pretty sure that if Caron asked this woman to articulate her experiences, she would have said “Excuse me? Why are you staring at me? Are you crying?” Furthermore, Caron confirmed everyone’s worst suspicion that the skinny yoga chicks are in fact judging everyone else.

Finally, Caron gave us this to work with:

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.

Jen Caron figured out that she has white privilege (and also thin privilege) and found that very, very upsetting. See? She’s the true victim.

XOJane isn’t exactly defending the story, which is either admirable or screwed up. Her editor, Rebecca Carroll, tweeted that she “didn’t give a hard enough edit, clearly.” The site changed Caron’s byline (Caron is a psuedonym), which seems to indicate that even she didn’t want to be associated with it. Pia Glenn wrote a rebuttal on XOJane called “It Happened To Me: I Read An Essay About A White Woman’s Yoga Class/Black Woman Crisis And I Cannot.” It basically agrees that this whole thing is a train wreck.

XOJane may have published this post hastily and without thorough edits. It’s the internet–that happens. But the post gets to a more important problem with these victim-y posts that the site loves to publish. It’s a lot easier to make yourself the victim then to do something constructive about an unfortunate situation.

Inventing a scenario in your head wherein you speak for someone else’s experience, lament not being able to save them, and then somehow finding yourself to be the injured party is not a solution to any type of prejudice. It’s digging the hole deeper.

Photo: Shutterstock

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  • Kaitlin Reilly

    What even was this original article supposed to prove? What was the original pitch? That white people have privilege in yoga classes? That she thinks people judge her for being privileged?

    • Harry

      “That she thinks people judge her for being privileged?” Exactly, she somehow imagined being stereotyped. And big Fing surprise, Yoga is not as inclusive as thought. Let alone the fact that the way Yoga is practiced in the US has little to do with Yoga- like the sexier the clothes the better; people saying things like “I like Yoga because I’m a Buddhist”, and spending minifortunes on Yoga attires and equipment- all of which makes it about class differentiation and consumerism.

    • Tina

      Not to mentioned being leisured and cosseted …

    • RectPropagation

      What’s really wild about that is that the author actually acknowledges that she’s being culturally appropriative by doing yoga in the first place.

      “I thought about how even though yoga comes from thousands of years of
      south Asian tradition, it’s been shamelessly co-opted by Western culture
      as a sport for skinny, rich white women.”

      And yet, much like her panic over seeing a heavy black woman, she doesn’t do anything about it. She’s pretty much decided that doing racist shit is cool as long as she knows it’s racist.

  • CMJ

    Jane’s “What I couldn’t get people to write about this week” for this week: Not being Racist.

  • Emily

    Wow, this is so obnoxious. Is this for real?

    • Harry Bagatestes

      No. I’m making fun of the idiot who wrote the article.

  • enbrown

    “xoJane is basically the easiest target on the Internet these days, given its tendency towards publishing recycled Livejournal posts from 2004.”

    I’ve heard a lot of descriptions of xoJane. This is the best.

  • I Like Pizza

    OMG MY PRACTICE IS ENDANGERED!!! SEND HELP (and Pressed juice!!!).

  • LouLou

    its too bad its not autumn, this poor girl needs a Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, stat! But, seriously, wtf. Is this what some people think when they see only person one of another race/body type in a place where most of the people look alike? The fat black woman just by being there and participating in the class showed that she is going to go on about her business and do her thing no matter what people around her look like. Good for her. I hope she stays and enjoys the class, and I hope that Caron can get over herself

  • Eileen

    What’s most obnoxious is that, while realizing the class maybe isn’t as inclusive as she would like to believe it is, the answer to “What should *I* say?” is simple:

    “Hi, I’m Jen.”

    And then, if the woman seems like she wants to talk, maybe, “What did you think of the class?” You know. The same things you would say to a skinny white newcomer.

  • Dan

    Liberals are retarded. Period.

    The original author is what I’d call a DWL. Disingenuous White Liberal. She went to college to learn the Correct opinion of minorities and to earn the means to live as far away from them as possible.

    Next up she will do charity work in Haiti get herself attacked by an enricher and blame white men for oppressing blacks.

    Hey girls, black people couldn’t give a rate ass about your guilt complexes (inserted into your heads by mommy professor at Brown or Vassar)

    • Harry

      You seem pretty stupid.

  • http://www.gamedevwidow.weebly.com/ Theresa Edwards

    DESPAIR

  • Harry Bagatestes

    We don’t have this problem with my yoga class. We have a strict “no niggers” policy.

    • James

      you do know yoga was created and perfected over 5000 years by brown people

  • Liz

    I’m pretty sure that if Caron asked this woman to articulate her experiences, she would have said “Excuse me? Why are you staring at me? Are you crying?
    ….. Wait but why do you get to say what you think this woman was thinking and Caron doesn’t? I thought the whole point was that we weren’t supposed to guess.

  • Lullabee

    Erm, I dunno, I’m a fat white woman, and when I’m sweating my balls off in hot yoga I am DEFINITELY resenting all the skinny white bitches in ‘tastefully tacky’ sports bra’s.

  • Guest

    “A hard enough edit” what Bullhookie. No amount of editing will change the UNDERLYING THESIS OF THE NARRATIVE which was the problem.

  • annonomous

    I am fat and black, 70lbs overweight. When I went to hot yoga for the first time, it was a truly welcoming atmosphere. I did not resent anyone, I just want to get healthy and hot yoga helps me to get limber, sweat and get centered. To tell you the truth, I would have felt uncomfortable in a all black yoga class too. Funny, I thought the black girls were avoiding me more than the white girls were, but that may be another story. In a class of over 30 people so much thoughts went through my head, but me wanting to look like the white girls or having the white girls body is crazy…I mean if I was 70lbs lighter, I would have Beyonce’s body. So the next time you see a heavy sister in your yoga class, she might actually be working towards a bigger prize. A girl just wants to be buttylicious.

  • What?

    To be honest the woman sounds like a nut. Calm down. She went home and cried for basically a head trip she put herself in. Anxiety? This was so creepy, is this real?