There's controversy brewing in my old hometown. Our local newspaper published a letter to the editor from a man who lives in town. In it, he criticized women for wearing yoga pants in public venues like weddings, funerals, shopping, and the workplace and asked them to “please put the yoga pants away.”
While I find it hard to believe that he saw someone wearing yoga pants as a wedding guest, he is right that women are wearing stretchy, comfortable clothing more and more in public places.
His reasons for objecting to this trend include the following:
“Like the mini-skirt, yoga pants can be adorable on children and young women who have the benefit of nature’s blessing of youth. However, on mature, adult women there something bizarre and disturbing about the appearance they make in public. Maybe it’s the unforgiving perspective they provide, inappropriate for general consumption, TMI, or the specter of someone coping poorly with their weight or advancing age that makes yoga pants so weird in public… I struggle with my own physicality as I age, I don’t want to struggle with yours.”
This man is allowed to have a personal opinion on whether he likes what someone is wearing, and yes, he even has the right to free speech to express that opinion. But here’s where I draw the line: he does not have the right to use misogynistic language or to expect women to change what they wear in order to make him more comfortable.
He does not have the right to objectify women by saying that he’d be happy to look at young, fit women in yoga pants but not “mature, adult women.”
He does not have the right to publicly demean others with his words or actions based on their age, appearance, or gender identification.
The women of his small town agree. They're writing letters to the editor in droves to voice their opposition to his comments. They're even planning a yoga pants parade to show the pride they feel for their bodies and to assert their right to make decisions about the clothes they wear.
Yoga pants are a trend that has received attention from multiple sources, ranging from demeaning perspectives like this man's to the “Activewear” You Tube video that pokes fun at all of the places that women wear their active wear.
But here’s what I love about this trend – finally, we have a women’s clothing trend that is about women choosing to be comfortable and wear clothing that allows them to move freely in whatever setting they might find themselves. Google “yoga pants as feminism” to see many a reflection on this topic.
There are a few important reasons that I and other women wear yoga pants, reasons that I think deserve some attention from those who suggest we should change into “a nice pair of tailored slacks or jeans.”
I heard comedian Ali Wong on public radio the last month; she was talking about how her jokes about sex and the body have changed since she gave birth. “I did not realize how much I would not feel like a sexual being anymore,” she says in her latest comedy special.
Beyond not feeling sexy anymore, recent studies have shown that it can take years for women’s bodies to recover after pregnancy, and in many cases women feel like their body is never the same again. We might be suffering from pelvic floor dysfunction, diastasis recti, or 10 extra pounds that won’t go away. When our bodies have gone through so much, we should not be criticized for wanting to wear comfortable clothing that supports our body and doesn’t put undue pressure on places that don’t want to be restricted.
While we’re on the subject of restrictive clothing, whether we’ve given birth or not, there is sufficient research to suggest that restrictive clothing can harm digestion, breathing, and continence.
Katy Bowman of Nutritious Movement says that restrictive clothing, like unforgiving skinny jeans, compression garments, or tight waistlines can compress parts of our body and move them into spaces where they don’t belong. These concerns are even more important for pregnant women or women who have given birth, whose bodies need extra care to function properly.
I work at a desk. Though I have a stand-up option and I keep a pilates ball, yoga mat, and sneakers in my office with the idea that I will occasionally use them, no amount of equipment does more to encourage me to move than stretchy clothing.
When I wear my yoga pants or a comfy dress with leggings to my office I find myself standing more often, taking stretch breaks, and leaving work to take a walk. Integrating more movement into my day is essential, especially when it can be hard to find the time for formal exercise with my working parent schedule.
We’re not talking about mom jeans, people, though you can wear those if you want to, and yoga pants are not the equivalent of wearing a speedo in public (which this man alluded to in his letter). We’re talking about a variety of stylish choices in stretchy athletic clothing that can look just as presentable as a pair of jeans or even a business casual work outfit, no matter your size, age, or body shape.
Companies like Prana, Athleta, and LuLaRoe are doing solid business for a reason. Even Vogue magazine has published articles with tips for wearing athletic clothes as fashion. While I’m no fashion guru, I’d be more apt to take advice from Vogue than a man who writes a letter to the editor complaining that yoga pants upset his psyche.
Lastly, and most importantly, none of this rationalizing is necessary because women have the right and the freedom to wear whatever we want. Yes, there are choices we have to make based on the roles we play. I don’t wear yoga clothes to board meetings or fancy restaurants, but I do occasionally wear them to a casual work day or when I'm grocery shopping with the kids.
Even my “formal” clothes are stretchy and forgiving. I do not have to put on a pair of restrictive pants or jeans in order to please the men that might interact with me or, God forbid, to prevent them from sexually harassing me.
So wear what you love, ladies! Wear what makes you feel good. Take care of your amazing bodies; they deserve a little tenderness.