Feb 8, 2013

Why Kino MacGregor's Choice of Clothing Isn't Feminist (but a Feminist Issue)

Mad skills: Kino's got Ashtanga Yoga figured out for sure! Photo via KinoYoga.com.
Three days ago, Ashtanga Yoga wild child Kino MacGregor published a long piece on her prominent role within the traditionally very low key Ashtanga Yoga lineage of teachers. Confessions of a loved & hated Ashtangi is a reaction on all sorts of criticism Kino has been subject to. Amongst other things, some people take offense at the (little) clothing Kino wears, both during her practice and in her promotion material. Sick of continuously having to defend herself, Kino lists a bunch of reasons for her choice. Surprisingly to me, besides Miami's hot weather and skin-on-skin friction in arm balances, Kino credits feminism for her breezy Yoga wear:

"I’m not going to apologize for my choice in clothes, whether they are too small, skimpy, bright or whatever. At the risk of sounding callous and elitist, I think the discussion about telling women to cover their bodies lest they offend or stimulate someone’s sexual desire belongs to a by-gone era, not the year 2013. The men’s traditional yoga gear is a loin cloth that barely covers anything. [...]
If you don’t like shorts, don’t wear them. If you don’t like seeing my wear shorts, don’t watch. My freedom of choice is rooted in the history of women who gave their heart and soul to feminism so that I could vote, wear mini-skirts and tiny shorts, burn my bras, go to college, pursue any career that I am qualified to do, lift up into handstand and marry whomever I want freely. I will not betray the heart and soul of feminism to appease anyone’s else’s discomfort with my skin." (Source)

Kino MacGregor by John Miller. Via
Interesting. I've actually been wondering about the appropriate attire for my own Ashtanga practice for a while now. Wondering, as I'm a little torn. There's a lot of sweat involved, but does that make half-naked my only option? Obviously not.

Some of you might remember a German language piece I wrote last year. Loosely translated, I called it 'Why Looking Slutty Is NOT Hot'. I had written it on the occasion of my first - and probably last - Berlin SlutWalk. My point was that young women shouldn't mindlessly put on immobilizing outfits. Instead, the clothes we wear should make us feel comfortable, free and safe. Young girls who do not need or want to prostitute themselves should go for a shoe and leg wear combination that will allow for running away if worse comes to worst. While no kind of clothing legitimizes assault or sexual harassment, and as sad as my proposition sounds, we must protect ourselves.

Traditional, yet somewhat inappropriate: Guruji Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in his Calvin Klein briefs. Via
Now, generally, no one needs to flee a Mysore room. That is, unless from very smelly fellow practitioners.  Eew! And, following Kino's reasoning, I can see how Miami is one endless urban beach. And even though I do understand that long leggings and possibly even sleeves are counterproductive to building up actual core strength, I have issues with the better part of Kino's rationale.

For example, I do not see the point of men practicing Ashtanga Yoga in their underpants. Short pants, yes, but briefs? Like most anything, the appropriateness of clothing - or the lack of it - depends on its context. Underpants are for bedrooms, night swims, protests and muddy festivals. As are bare chests. And just because some men see nothing wrong with exhibiting their belly hair - or, yes, hard abs - to anyone who does or doesn't want to watch, equality in the feminist sense doesn't mean us women have to do likewise.

While short shorts and sleeveless tops might bear advantages in a few poses, there's no necessity for  belly tops or deep necklines. Sportswear manufacturers, of course, hardly ever get that. Many women with larger breasts, including myself, would actually much appreciate a greater choice of more supportive and less revealing items. We have no interest in presenting our cleavage to our Yoga teachers. When I want to find out what practicing in my underwear feels like, I can unroll my mat at home. And when I realize that practicing without a bra feels best, which it does, then I get to decide whether I feel comfortable enough to do so at the studio.

"Don't approach Yoga with a business mind looking for worldly gain." Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and Kino MacGregor. Phtoto via KinoYoga.com
My assumption regarding Kino is that she has been a very clever business woman. (As she points out in her article, she wants to be the Oprah Winfrey of Ashtanga Yoga.) Kino has a great way of presenting her personality online. She comes across friendly, bubbly, and fun. She's got mad writing and entrepreneurial skills, and her understanding of the physical aspects of Ashtanga Yoga is beyond impressive. I even think it's great she brought up feminism in such a widely-read piece, and by that carried it into the Yoga community. I also agree with her that there is no need to apologize for her choice of clothing. Just to give the issue some more feminist thought, perhaps.

Certainly, "the discussion about telling women to cover their bodies lest they offend or stimulate someone’s sexual desire" does not belong to a by-gone era just yet. Unfortunately, if not in Miami, this discussion is very much alive in many countries of the world. Especially in India, where sexism is still rampant today. And, unlike Kino, I do not think it matters what men wear during their Yoga practice beyond where I am made to feel uncomfortable. In this case, it especially does not matter what men wore in Yoga traditionally, as, after all, we are indeed living in 2013. I find her "if you do not like it, then don't watch" approach difficult, too. If we were to look away from what we do not like, Hitler would have won World War II. (Sorry for that one, but I'm from Germany.) Like the rest of us, Kino knows that attractive women in little clothing sell stuff. My discomfort with her seemingly only existing half-naked is my worrying about her selling herself out. Far below value. Which is the opposite of feminist, really.


And while I wouldn't want to compare Kino to pole dancers and pantyless pop stars, three books touching upon the topic of partial and full female nudity in the media are:


Meat Market by Laurie Penny
Female Chauvinist Pigs by Ariel Levy and
Living Dolls by Natasha Walter

4 comments:

  1. There's a distinction between systems and (re)actions that is missing in this post. And it applies to both examples, older men and young women and their clothes.

    So, we live in a society (system) where men are quite free to run around topless, even when they are old. Older women aren't, they are told to cover up because they're gross. Also, younger women are encouraged to dress scantily – but not always and under all circumstances and if there is any negative backlash it's their fault. And let's not forget “be sexy/decorative/nice to look at but not too sexy/decorative/nice to look at” has always been an imperative for women, whatever the beauty standards du jour were.

    This is the framework in which we navigate. Enter feminism. It has allowed women to pinpoint the “be sexy but not too sexy” imperative and call out slut shaming. It is increasingly giving older women and those not meeting the required beauty standards the tools to call out body shaming. Feminists described the differing standars for women and men and finally called bullshit.

    Now, there are too questions left: Where do we go from here and how (actions)? For me, those are closely related. I want all people to have the freedom to cover up or dress in skimpy stuff without repercussions. I don't want to start body shaming more people. I don't want to tell old men that they are gross. I don't want to tell women they need to cover up lest they “sell themselves out far below value”. If we do that, we're feeding into the notion that women's bodies are for sale.

    One can argue whether feminist gains have been co-opted by a liberal agenda since there still isn't really free choice for women to wear whatever they want. Indeed, we need to talk about unfree choices. We need to figure out, why we're not where we want to be. And how we can change that. But the solution cannot be to start telling women what to wear, once again.

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    1. I agree. And I am not trying to tell Kino what to wear. However, I think there is a difference between practicing Ashtanga Yoga in short shorts (and being photographed doing so) and creating an image of oneself that relies heavily on looking sexy.

      When I say Kino sells herself “under value” I mean she makes people look at her body first instead of listen to what she has to say. Since she is a very bright and talented young woman, I think it’s a shame that her looks play such a big part in her teachings.

      I do not equal naked and slutty. I don’t like people who do. There is no such thing as "slutty". Good for all of us who enjoy sex! (Albeit there is a fine line between actually enjoying sleeping with many people and it taking a destructive turn.) It’s up to each one of us to decide how many people we sleep with just as it is anyone's decision what to wear.

      I’m not saying Kino should wear more clothing, I am just saying that her wearing less has probably more to do with business considerations (or even plain narcissism) than feminism.

      There are plenty of brilliant Yoga teachers out there who do not feel the need of getting their skill out there half-naked. Pretty much all photos I’ve seen of Kino are with little clothing on. Which is fine, but not feminist. It just seems wrong to me to name feminism as a motivation there.

      I know that Yoga clothing in general is tight and short, and I like to wear it just like that, but still most other teachers make a point of publishing photos with clothes on at least every now and then.

      I agree in that body shaming is a very wrong way to go, too. Kino's body as beautiful as any other woman's.

      Again, I’m not saying Kino SHOULD wear more. She can wear whatever she wants. Running around half naked most of the time is just not a feminist clothing choice in my opinion.

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  2. As a brief follow-up a quote I came across just now:

    “A woman using her own face and body has a right to do what she will with them, but it is a subtle abyss that separates men’s use of women for sexual titillation from women’s use of women to expose that insult,” she wrote, adding, “Men can use beautiful, sexy women as neutral objects or surfaces, but when women use their own faces and bodies, they are immediately accused of narcissism.”

    http://www.salon.com/2013/02/09/naked_if_i_want_to_lena_dunhams_body_politic/

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    1. Can't read the aericle right now (but will later). Just wanted to say that I am not "accusing" her of narcissism. However, from a psychological point of view, I guess it is hardly debatable that all of us who are working with images of ourselves (and I am including myself here) have narcissistic tendencies. I am not saying this is automatically bad, as - sad fact - many women would never be listened to if they weren't pretty (or men rich and powerful etc). So it is indeed a fine line between getting that attention in the first place and then using it right. Throwing feminism into the discussion was good, but I still think it was used more as an acceptable excuse. Kino could have just said: Fuck it, this is what I like to wear and feel good in, I make my own choices.

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