After I was assaulted and hospitalized in 2012, I became something of a media spectacle. We needed money for my surgery (titanium plates run about 14k a pop, and I needed a few), and my community rallied around me. From yogis to drag queens, so many people gave that we had to tell folks to stop. It was pretty amazing. There were even lots of news articles. I shouldn’t have read the comments in those articles. I know a lot about victim blaming now.
Shortly after my recovery period, the non-profit activist group Collective Action for Safe Spaces (formerly: Hollaback!) approached me to raise some awareness for their cause: stopping street harassment. It should be a no brainer: you should be able to walk home without getting verbally harassed or assaulted. So often, we blame the victim– for their clothes, their looks, etc. This is bullshit, and even gets labeled “rape culture.” People have the right to be in public spaces without being scrutinized— right?
How about in the online world? Does the same thing apply?
I think it does.
As someone who creates and shares content, I recognize that this leaves me open to criticism. After seeing so much hateful stuff being said about me online (ranging from shade from my own colleagues to some good ol’ internet troll-bigots) I deeply introverted. I entered into a pretty strong place of depression. I stopped creating content, and focused solely on in-real-life relationships.
As you are reading this on michaeljoelhall.com, you can probably already tell that I’m working on getting back into the act of creating.
So, what’s got my jock in a knot today?
I saw a facebook post linking to an article deconstructing upward facing dog, as performed by a celebrity with the aim of selling yoga pants. Kate Hudson, to be exact. The author, linking to her blog post, didn’t mince words:
“Sorry Kate Hudson, but your up-dog sucks!”
I clicked the link, so the title did the trick, and the author did a lovely job identifying places where the posture could evolve and strengthen (and lengthen!). It was actually really useful— the author doesn’t practice in my tradition, so I’d have some stuff to say about it myself (“look forward?” I don’t think so!— its upwards facing dog, afterall!).
The rub here is that something that could have been so constructive was turned into something so destructive.
How many of this author’s— this teacher’s— students see Kate’s picture and identify with it? How many of them think it’s even better than their own? How demoralizing!
Honestly, I see a lot of upward facing dogs that look way more questionable than Kate’s. But, to quote David Keil: “Every posture is a process.” Presuming that Ms. Hudson has a yoga practice, and I do give her the benefit of that doubt, she’s just in the middle of her process— just like we all are.
If you are snapping pictures of your own practice, like I sometimes do, you are guaranteed to have more messy asana than “perfect.” Guaranteed. Perhaps the author should have started with her OWN picture, eh?
The meta message that comes across here is one of shame. Shaming someone for their physical performance of asana is a no-go in my book. It’s not fair, its not right, and it’s hurtful. It goes against the first of our rules for right living— non-harming.
It is harmful to shame someone, and we can’t work on the rest of the eight limbs of yoga without getting very real and very rooted in this. In the practice of yoga, and I can really only speak to ashtanga right now, we’re not here to make perfect shapes– we’re here to be better PEOPLE. To identify our own innate perfect-ness. You know, that within us which is very real and very clear. The postures are nothing more than tools for this.
To riff on David Swenson: I’ve met some very, very bendy assholes.
I can’t remember, or count, the amount of times I was made fun of for the way I walk, either. For the little sashay I have in my hips, that i’ve always had. The part of me that isn’t an affectation. That little boy was beaten up over and over again, just for the way he walked. Just for the way I walked.
Speaking of, I remember when I was first learning to run, in my mid-teens. I was obese, if you didn’t know, and I was running to get healthy. My Aunt Terri had taught me the finer points, about breathing, etc, and I was out there in our little rural town doing my thing. I remember when someone yelled out from their porch “Run, Forrest!”
I was so embarassed. I quit running for a long while. But not for good.
As it turns out, that little sashay landed me on a runway, so fuck ’em. And that obese kid running down the block went on to complete more marathons than he has fingers. So fuck ’em, too.
I know, now I’m not being very nice. Collective Action for Safe Spaces, indeed. Find some radical self acceptance.