blog

SELF Magazine Review & Gender in Naked Spaces

Hey Naked! world, Willow here.

Courtesy of SELF Magazine

Courtesy of SELF Magazine

In case you haven’t heard, Naked in Motion was featured in an article by a correspondent from SELF magazine who tried out a bunch of different “off-the-beaten-track” fitness classes in NYC! It’s so exciting to be in the spotlight of such an established publication. 

Overall, I think it was a really positive review. The author, Julia, writes:

"I can’t recall the last time I felt more accomplished."

"Willow, the instructor, helped calm my nerves. It was obvious that she truly cared for her students and believed in what the class could help certain people accomplish."

“Willow was also serious on the rules: no touching, no cruising (meaning no looking for a date), and no commenting on another person’s body. And as someone who is either told she’s F-able or fat on a regular basis by random guys on the street, I was especially appreciative of this.”

...and regarding the social time after class, she writes, "To my surprise, the guys were pretty normal (and kept their eyes on mine, or at least the ones I could see in front of me)." 

She also describes the varying ages of the participants, and I’m really proud that Naked in Motion attracts students of all ages.

Julia had a lot of wonderful things to say to me after class, and I’m really glad she had such a good time. My purpose here is to add a bit of context and to use the opportunity to discuss some challenges of operating in the naked sphere. 

A Naked! Yoga & Pilates class

A Naked! Yoga & Pilates class

I don’t think anybody who has ever written about our classes has ever gone without mentioning erections (I may be exaggerating, but it’s a common topic). We take time in the beginning of every class to discuss the Community Rules, which include how to deal with erections. We actually encourage people to ignore them if they happen during the physical movement, as erections happen for many reasons other than arousal and are generally involuntary. Part of body-positivity is accepting these natural bodily functions, and as long as it’s just happening on your mat during your practice, we don’t think it’s causing harm. 

We do, however, tell people to don pants after class if they’re walking around with an erection. Whether or not they’re sexually inspired, they tend to sexualize a space, so this is an attempt to avoid that. The frequent discussion of erections usually indicates a supposed link between nudity and sexuality, which I discuss in detail in my article, “Is there anything sexual about naked yoga?”. The bottom line is that we can’t entirely divorce sexuality from nudity, but Naked in Motion does try to create as de-sexualized a space as possible. This is not because we think sex, sexual thoughts, or erections are bad. Our goal is to address the behaviors, not feelings or thoughts, that perpetuate sexual objectification and oppression, which include unwanted attention, nonconsensual touch, and sexual intimidation (often directed towards women).

NakedInMotion-2017-08.JPG

Julia also discussed the gender imbalance of the class, and it’s true that most nude events have more men than women in attendance. Many people complain to me about the gender imbalance. In talking to people about what I do, I’ve found that women, non-binary, and trans folk generally feel less comfortable about the idea of attending naked yoga, and the gender ratio in class reflects this. I believe daily catcalling on the street, rape culture and victim-blaming, slut shaming, the constant sexualization of women’s bodies, and an alarming rate of sexual violence make women, non-binary, and trans folk less keen on being naked in social settings. So what’s problematic to me isn’t just that fewer women attend classes - I’m not trying to meet a quota, and I don’t believe there’s anything inherently wrong with a mostly-male class. The real problem is that many women, non-binary, and transgender folk don’t feel comfortable or safe attending a naked event because of disadvantageous societal realities.

And it is a problem, because naked yoga provides so many benefits! I have students who tell me that naked yoga helps them learn to love their bodies. Many students tell me that the lack of restrictive clothing greatly improves their practice. Survivors of sexual trauma tell me that they use my classes as part of their healing process to reclaim their bodies. I feel safer at Naked in Motion than I do at the gym, at a party, or just walking down the street.

goddess.jpg

In response to the issues underlying the gender imbalance, Naked in Motion allows women and trans-identifying participants the option to wear bottoms for any reason (you can watch a short video about this here). People of different genders often have different experiences and concerns when attending an all-gender naked yoga class. Our bottoms rule promotes equity, which provides marginalized groups the tools they need to succeed while also recognizing and fighting against the systems of oppression that make success elusive in the first place. Our Community Rules forbid nonconsensual touching, unwanted compliments (aka catcalling), and cruising for a date. We also create free online content to educate people about our classes, our rules, and consent culture.

This is the social mission of Naked in Motion. Julia was right to say that I take my Community Rules seriously. Every single class is a new opportunity to learn about consent, assert that nudity isn’t an invitation, and raise awareness about oppressive societal structures. Participating in a naked yoga class is a brave act of self-empowerment for everyone, but it takes a tremendous amount of vulnerability, especially for a woman, non-binary, or trans person. I can’t truly control the actions of the students, however. All I can do is establish standards of behavior and a community that enforces them. I’m so sorry to hear that the writer felt uncomfortable at the end. I make a point at every class to encourage everyone to report situations or behaviors that make them feel uncomfortable so that I can continue to only welcome people who will participate in a respectful and consensual way. 

At the end of the article, Julia writes that she “left each and every studio feeling the same sense that [she] really achieved something.” She also said she’d definitely do all of the workouts again, but she’d “just prefer naked yoga to be an all-woman (and boner-free) affair next time around.”

NakedInMotion-2017-16.JPG

The good news is that we do have monthly Pay What You Can Women’s & Trans Yoga classes (you can sign up for our next one here). But sometimes people who attend this class also have penises, so erections may still happen, but I’ll reiterate that they’re totally allowed and not a big deal.

This article was great, but it also illuminates some challenges to running a naked yoga class, and by extension, some major societal problems. What is Naked in Motion doing about these issues? We’re trying to create safe spaces by clearly establishing expectations and a strong consent culture, by making a point of being inclusive, and by serving as a model for equity. 

As a cis man, how can you contribute? By accepting and celebrating our rules, treating everyone with respect, and supporting our movement, because it’s not the job of the oppressed to make the repairs. As a woman, non-binary, or trans participant, how can you benefit? When you’re ready, we welcome you to come to class and experience the benefits of naked yoga. We want to support your empowerment, healing, and your right to be naked in a space without being gawked at, touched, or cruised. There may be some bumps in the road, but I’m there every week to participate in this movement, and I really, really hope you can join me.