White privilege, the new girl in yoga class, and the intersections of fat discrimination

When I first read Jen Caron’s piece about the fat black woman in her yoga class, I cracked up. Perhaps I’ve been desensitized to white people finding issue with black people when they share spaces that they subconsciously accept to be for whites only–6 years at predominantly white universities will do that to you.  Jen’s interpretation of this experience was offensive to black women, certainly. And Pia Glenn, also from xoJane, thoroughly summed up all the reasons Jen’s bias was racist and fueled by white guilt. But it seems that folks are only briefly acknowledging that this entire situation was prompted by the fact that the new girl in class was a fat woman.

I’m going to take a page from Jen’s book and project some of my own bias on to her. But I’m willing to bet that if the new black girl in the yoga class was the same size as Jen, toting a bike helmet and a cup of coffee from the trendy hipster cafe down the street, she wouldn’t have paid so much attention to her. As Pia mentioned, black women “are continually treated like animals in a zoo, our bodies on display for you to marvel at or pity, but ultimately walk away from.” This is also a reality for fat women. There are plenty of my fellow fat girls who shudder when they recall going to the gym or a yoga class only to find that our titties pose a suffocation risk in downward dog, and that our oversized t-shirts seem to be a welcome invitation for other people at the gym to vocalize their support of our (assumed) new lifestyle. Being fat in spaces that are created to bring attention to the body can seem like breeding grounds for microaggressions and hurt feelings.

January is always a funny month in yoga studios: they are inevitably flooded with last year’s repentant exercise sinners who have sworn to turn over a new leaf, a new year, and a new workout regime.

For Jen, this was the moment that the new girl was “othered” – it was the physical reading of this woman as “a fitness sinner.” Race became the center as Jen tried to grapple with how this woman might be responding to being in a class with so many “skinny white girls.”

Fatness often intersects with other identities when we experience microaggressions and other uncomfortable situations. If I’m in a clothing store that doesn’t sell plus-sized pieces, it isn’t assumed that I’m buying a gift for someone else, I must be trying to steal something. If I’m sexually assaulted, there couldn’t have been any real danger because I can easily defend myself. And I always have to be the loud outspoken sidekick to some smaller, more demure friend. And the circumstances are different for people who are fat with a disability, fat and poor, fat and pregnant, or any combination of these things. It’s a reminder that fat discrimination is a very real and deeply rooted form of discrimination.


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Feministing's resident "sexpert", Sesali is a published writer and professional shit talker. She is a queer Black girl, fat girl, and trainer. She was the former Training Director at the United States Student Association and later a member of the Youth Organizing team at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She received her bachelors in Women's and Gender Studies from Depaul University in 2012 and is currently pursuing a master's in Women's, Gender, and Sexuality studies at Georgia State University in Atlanta. A self identified "trap" feminist, and trained with a reproductive justice background, her interests include the intersections of feminism and: pop culture, youth culture, social media, hip hop, girlhood, sexuality, race, gender, and Beyonce. Sesali joined the team in 2010 as one of the winners of our So You Think You Can Blog contest.

is Feministing's resident sexpert and cynic.

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