Who Wears Short Shorts?
“Who wears short shorts?”
“Lisa wears short shorts!”
The first time I remember being teased about my short shorts was in the sixth grade. A few girls from my pom squad took issue with what I wore during practice, and tauntingly sang that song from the old Nair commercials, inserting my name into the lyrics. They were trying to shame me.
I received the message loud and clear that there was something sexual and indecent about my thighs. (Just to reiterate—I was twelve.) I internalized the rumors I heard about me being a slut. I believed them that there was something wrong with what I was wearing.
But I was wrong, and so were they.
It is simply cultural conditioning that tells us short shorts are suggestive and improper. And before you say it’s because certain body parts are inherently sexual, remember that barely a century ago, a woman showing her ankles in public was considered risqué. We know without a doubt that the sexuality of the body varies widely from generation to generation and culture to culture. There are numerous places in the world where exposed female breasts are completely normalized and carry no sexual connotation. There are also places in the world where simply baring your shoulders is indecent exposure. Neither of these customs are rooted in facts about human sexuality. They are based solely on cultural perceptions about women.
Some might say, “So what? If our culture dictates that thighs and cleavage are sexual, then why not comply? What’s the harm?” The harm is the continued sexualization of my body without my consent. The harm is the perpetuation of the modesty/shame cycle I went through as a child. The harm is that the more we put the onus on women to cover up, the less responsibility we put on men to control their sexuality and treat women respectfully. It’s widely understood that cultures with strict rules of modesty more stubbornly cling to the precepts of rape culture. In fact, I would argue that you can't have one without the other. So, no, beliefs about modesty aren't just harmless differences among cultures. They contribute to, and are symptoms of, a much larger and dangerous idea. In my opinion, those ideas are to be rooted out and challenged, just like any other form of discrimination and oppression.
I say rock those booty shorts and bra tops and let the world know it's not shameful for a women to expose her body on her own terms.
As you may have guessed, the reason this is on my mind is because of the chatter I’ve heard surrounding Sharath’s new rule at the Shala in Mysore banning short shorts and bra tops. I don’t want to say much about that specifically because I did not hear it first hand and do not know any details. For all I know, I’ve been misinformed. But, I *have* read first hand what members of the yoga community have said about the topic, and that has compelled me to say my piece.
It is a blatant and troubling double standard that women who wear short shorts are told to cover up in the same room in which a picture of Guruji in a loincloth probably hangs on the wall. Going back centuries, loincloths seem to have been the clothing of choice for yoga, and it makes sense--excess clothing is a hindrance and a distraction when engaging in intense physical activity. Just ask runners, swimmers, cyclists, and gymnasts. Are the loincloths more acceptable because those yogis are men and their bodies can be exposed without being sexualized? Why not women? We are doing the same postures and working equally hard in our practice. Do we not deserve the freedom of movement and cooler temperature that less clothing can provide? I want to believe that the typically progressive community of yoga practitioners can overcome this hypocrisy. I want to believe that we can treat women as equals. I encourage my fellow yoga practitioners to think long and hard about judging women who practice in little clothing. I invite you to explore the source of your discomfort. I urge you to challenge your beliefs about female modesty.
I mean no disrespect to anyone who feels differently, but I wholeheartedly believe that part of my calling is to break down modesty barriers for women and fight against the sexualization of our bodies. I’ve had a passion for gender equality for as long as I can remember, and I am bummed that many in the yoga community think it’s okay to tell women to cover up. I’m bummed that I've read too many comments by people praising Sharath’s new rule because “they don’t want to see that stuff” and “modesty is important.” I’m disheartened that we have so much work left to do.
We must normalize the female body once and for all.
P.s. Despite my strongly held convictions, I am also polite and civil. I will always defer to the local customs of modesty within a country or a shala. I will respectfully wear whatever Sharath asks when I visit, which I plan to do next season.
But, I will be a sad.