June 4, 2010

Where are the Plus Size Yoga Clothes?

Normally, I would have a more relevant image here, but guess what… I couldn’t find any! (Illustrating the point I’m about to make…)

A few months back I was researching yoga clothes to sell in my now-defunct on-line store. But as I looked and looked, I kept running into a wall. My criteria; that the yoga clothes fit my demographic – 20-something – 40-something moms, and that it also be something I personally could afford to buy.

In figuring out what to write for this weeks column, I asked for feedback on possible topics via my facebook profile wall. I put out a few options: 1. Where are the “Plus-Size” Yoga Clothes, 2. Spiritual Materialism, 3. Something else.

The topic of plus-size yoga clothes got all the votes. Though one witty friend suggested I link the two topics of yoga clothes and spiritual materialism. “The plus-size yoga clothes are in the organics section. LOL! What ever happened to good old sweat pants?” she quipped.

Funny, because I couldn’t really write this article without stating the obvious; yoga clothes are, in general, outrageously priced. But I personally love yoga pants, and would wear them almost anywhere, as opposed to sweats, which I wear almost nowhere.

But style is not the only reason yoga clothes are as popular as they are with the yoga set. A baggy t-shirt is not going to make the average (or larger) size woman feel more comfortable – nor capable – in downward dog.

We all know exercise is good for us. Women are encouraged to exercise to combat everything from pregnancy weight gain to depression, and to improve quality of life, decrease stress, and improve health. We all know it’s not a snake-oil remedy; exercise actually does help with all the aforementioned conditions, and more.

The average size American woman wears a size 14. Seeing as “average” is size 14, some women wear larger and some smaller.

We have the “smaller than average” end of the spectrum covered in spades. But where are the plus-size yoga clothes that invite and incite average- and above-average size women to get active, and to feel as comfortable, svelte, and body-proud as they can? Where are the fitness clothes that encourage the courageous and curvy post-pregnancy mamas, the busy moms toting tots to and from school with barely a minute to themselves, the moms of many who are finally starting to claim their own self-care time, to get out there on the mat?

In asking the question on my facebook page, a parallel question came up more than once; “Where are the “plus-size” clothes that fit us average size ladies at all, and still make us want to be seen in public?”

“At the crux of the inequity, according to some plus-size designers, models and retailers, is prejudice toward women the industry doesn’t find particularly glamorous or sexy. Like fifth-grade girls who secretly live in fear of being ostracized from the cool clique, they don’t want to be caught talking to the fat girl.” says Emili Vesilind in Fashion’s invisible woman, published in the LA Times.

In the same article, Whitney Thompson, the only plus-size winner of America’s Next Top Model, is quoted as saying, “I’m not a plus-size person, I’m a plus-size model… On the street, I’m skinny.”

So obviously this issue is more culture-wide than just pervasive within the yoga community. But our community is one that encourages a healthy and active lifestyle. But leaves many who need support in arriving at that lifestyle out in the cold.

In searching “yoga clothes plus size” for this article, I was glad to see more options have cropped up in just the past few months. However, as was the case last time I performed this search, eco-conscious options are few and far-between.

From the smaller and more independent Junonia (yet not domestic nor “sustainably” produced) option, to Old Navy, to Danskin, the needs of the average- to above-average size woman who’s committed to an active lifestyle are being taken into account more and more fully.

Junonia has an awesome “About Junonia” mission statement, but the prices a bit on the higher end, and as with many companies that cater to average- to plus-size customers, they have no retail outlets – which potentially creates even more stress trying to work out sizing and fit than when clothes can be tried on.

As was the case last time I searched this topic, my favorite is still Danskin. What was a smaller, dance-wear focused company that sold dance tights and leotards when I was a kid has expanded and mainstreamed to become probably the largest retailer of affordable, size-inclusive, fashion-conscious fitness clothing in the US. And you can even try their items on in the store instead of ordering them on line only!

Danskin’s women’s sizes run refreshingly to 16. Their women’s line features my personal favorite item; the Yoga Cotton Crop Pant (I’m short, and they fit me to lower calf). This line also features excellent tops that I can wear for yoga and my other fitness activities with comfort. Their plus-size line, which runs to 3X, features tops like this Plus Cotton Lycra Shell and this Racer Back Tank Top.

And guess where you can buy it for the best price? In my (rural) neck of the woods, it’s back to Walmart. Though in a larger urban center you can also find the items at a discount at Target – a slightly better option when it comes to worker’s rights and company policies, but still a Big Box store.

And yes, we’re still purchasing items that are not “eco-safe”, American made, fair trade, organic, or otherwise “sustainable”.

How do we tie the issue of personal sustainability and global sustainability closer together? That question remains to be answered. But until there are options in the green marketplace that fit the needs of the average- to plus-size woman, we will be filling our needs elsewhere.

Thankfully, consciousness is raising in the arena of plus-size women and asana-yoga. And not just in the form of attractive yoga clothing becoming more available – at least in the mass market – but also from a perspective of how to adapt asanas so they’re easier to achieve with a fuller form, and how to teach the “fat yogi/ni” in the room without making him or her feel more uncomfortable than she or he already may.

From Mahita Devi’s recent The Fat Yogini, and Traditional Spiritual Lineage is not right for Me because I’m Female, by Brooks Hall here on elephant, to this article on Plus Size Yoga at suite 101, and through companies like Danskin and Old Navy, the “Invisible Woman” is finally gaining visibility in the asana-based yoga movement.

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