“WE CAN LITERALLY SEE YOUR DICK BRO,” wrote an inflamed Instagram follower who obviously has a problem with the natural male figure. The man was commenting on Henry Winslow’s Instagram account about a picture that featured him wearing our shorts and doing an extraordinary full back-bend.
Stunned, I took a breath and tried to look at the picture objectively. I could see that something was there but it wasn’t anything transparent and certainly nothing that I would deem as provocative or obscene. With a defensive posture, I thought this picture was incredibly tame compared to what so many ambassadors, influencers, and models post in the yoga community. In fact, I was quite impressed with how well we kept the Yogi concealed amid the difficult task of covering the crotch in a pose where the pelvis is continuously pushed towards the focal point of the camera.
To me, this raised a bigger question. Are we in an era where guys are expected to hide or dress ‘as-if’ there isn’t oddly shaped appendage between their legs? Are we at a point where men and women are uncomfortable with any type of male outline, profile, or dare I say bulge? If so, I predict the offensive and crude idea of “dick-shaming” will become prevalent as more men begin to wear tight fitting clothes into the yoga studio.
I promised that I’d write a piece about “What to Wear in Yoga,” and I am happy to share my opinion with a few details towards the end. There is, however, an obvious issue that needs addressed because it precedes any relevant content about our primary request.
The landscape of men’s fashion and athletic trends is constantly changing and, ironically, those of us who practice non-attachment to material things are easily influenced by them. I remember growing up in the 1980’s when basketball shorts were really short and rock stars wore the tightest jeans possible. It seemed as though there was very little embarrassment or humility about the male figure and men weren’t publicly ridiculed for their size, shape, or width. However, as we turned a corner in the 1990’s, everything became baggier and concealment became a priority. Inseams became longer, legs became looser, and what was considered fashionable for men was completely reversed. I believe with that trend came a strong element of male shame where guys were reprimanded for showing off more than what was deemed socially appropriate. Boys and men were chastised by their peers if any silhouette of their shape could be seen. It feels as though there is a legacy of shame which remains in our social construct today based on our conformity to trends alone.
As yoga evolves in Western culture, different athleisure trends will certainly cross-over into the studio as well. However, regardless of what you choose to wear into class based on what’s trending (joggers, running shorts, leggings, board shorts, et cetera), there are very few things that will completely obscure your natural self once your flexibility reaches a certain point. In Yoga, we have inversions where gravity pulls you down, back-bends where the posture pushes your pelvis forward, and even savasanas where, let’s face it, lying flat on your back can present an awkward profile of your male figure. If you add the element of sweat, total concealment becomes even more improbable. The moisture will make any nylon, cotton, spandex, or polyester blend more transparent and often times it will stick or cling to your mid-section like a saran-wrapped microwaved potato.
At some point during your practice, a feeling of exposure or embarrassment will present itself. I don’t feel like there is a male yogi that hasn’t felt the fear of exposure during class. To some extent, the point of the practice is to feel exposed, vulnerable, and open. It’s only once we feel and acknowledge the exposure that we can let go and move through it. In part, I am speaking figuratively about teachers and classmates seeing us challenged (and humbled) by difficult postures and in part, I am speaking quite literally about bodily exposure.
I am certain that teachers have seen my stomach rolled awkwardly, my feet ravaged by callous’ and in-growns, and on occasion the strange displaced protruding position of my manhood. If I saw any of these shots isolated in a picture, I would feel embarrassed. I think that’s why Instagram for yoga can be very liberating for self-acceptance but also very dangerous for critical judgement. It is also why it is so important for studios to create a culture that feels safe. During class, it is important that I actively prevent my mind from thinking about my appearance, just as I actively prevent my mind from objectifying and judging those around me. How do I do this? I don’t indulge the thoughts. They enter the periphery of my mind, but I actively work to not let them take center stage. The idea that I would feel better if I check my package, adjust my shorts, or flash a glance at my neighbor, is just a distraction from the discomfort and insecurity that I’m feeling internally. If it happens reflexively that I fidget, adjust, or look, I take note to be mindful next time. Eventually, the frequency of these distractions fade and it becomes easier to commit my total focus to the practice.
There are certainly distractions though, particularly during sweaty hot flows. Occasionally, I will “come up to standing,” with the appearance of a car-washed Cousin It; a stream of snot hanging from my nose and my berries splitting the seam of my shorts. Of course, these examples might border on the edge of physical limitations and warrant my immediate attention. If something is painful, unhygienic, or overtly distracting to me and my neighbors, it is certainly understandable and only courteous that I give it my attention. That, however, is just a fraction of the time. Most of my own self judgement that I have learned to actively let go off is just my brain scanning for a material distraction, this includes my clothes. I don’t judge and rarely look at those around me, I assume they do the same for me. If you want to lose the creepy vibe guys, give the people around you the privacy they deserve (including yourself). Stop checking yourself out critically, I think you’ll find that it makes self-acceptance much easier overall.
With that said, let’s move on to the details. We have supporters that teach in jeans and those who teach nude. To the Warrior Wear family, it doesn’t matter what you wear, as long as you practice and are respectful to those around you. Please understand that any feeling of inadequacy and exposure about what you are wearing in a class, I have felt too. I am responsible for making, designing, and testing the clothes we sell; every “what if” scenario has come into my head. What if my shorts rip? What if I’m showing too much skin? What if I have “plumber’s crack? Trust me, it is a rabbit hole not worth going down. In the end, these are just fictitious fun functional man-made shorts. However, in the beginning they were also just pieces of fabric and it was up to me to wear and test every one of our shorts through all of the patterns, designs, and variations along the way (hint, they weren’t all good). Last year, I wore our shorts to over 300 yoga classes and so far none of the ‘what if’ scenarios have come true…that I know of.
It seems that guys who grew up swimming, wrestling, cycling, or doing anything else that requires particularly tight fitting clothes, understand the benefits of compression and less fabric. Certainly you could pull any number of images of Michael Phelps in a Speedo or Lance Armstrong in bike shorts and not feel the least bit concerned with how they appear below. I believe that most people are quick to justify this because wearing anything else would be jeopardizing a victory. Most guys who grew up playing sports have had communal showers, lined up for hernia exams, and did weigh-in before games wearing next to nothing. When it was just the guys and it was for sport, it was a non-event. It was only appropriate that you did and wore whatever was the most functional.
And then along comes yoga. It is not only co-ed, it is overwhelmingly female. On top of that, there is no game, so men have no crutch or uniform to fall back on. What you wear becomes a personal preference and that adds so many different elements; thoughts, layers, and insecurities. Anything goes! For me, it’s about compression and support above everything else, in essence functionality. I can’t focus on my breath, alignment, or posture, if my testicles are getting twisted in a knot. Even tight-fit cotton boxer briefs and lined shorts have never given me enough support. This is a big reason that I created the shorts. In high school, I suffered a sports related testicular injury that still hurts me to this day. Every guy is built a bit differently down there, yet we act as if there’s a uniform fit. For most of our yogis, the shorts we make give them enough concealment and support that they feel comfortable practicing commando. Often times, I still wear an additional layer underneath. We are all slightly different and who am I to say if you should or shouldn’t wear underwear.
My guess is that as your practice changes so will your shorts. I encourage you to try everything, including us! If your boys are happy in your shorts, more than likely, so are you. During yoga, our manhood isn’t the easiest thing to conceal and we shouldn’t have to hide it by massive layers of clothes. Guys, a good rule of thumb is to find out the temperature of the class. My morning practice is usually colder because we open the studio and I tend to layer long and short sleeves with full length shorts or leggings. Outside of that, my classes are usually heated to 95 degrees or above so less attire like mid-length shorts and spandex is more prevalent. More times than not, I practice heated classes shirtless if I know it’s acceptable at the studio or I just remove my shirt once it becomes a sweaty mess of cotton that weighs me down. I would steer clear of sweatpants for most practices, they become heavy and particularly hard to work with, and lean towards shorts if you are just getting started. I think you’ll find that baggier shorts tend to reveal more, particularly when you are up-side down or lifting your leg. When all else fails, follow the regulars, ask someone in the locker room, or check-in with the front desk.
If you feel uncomfortable walking into the studio, remember once you enter, it’s all good. Leave your insecurities at the front door and enjoy the practice. We won’t be able to immediately change the social construct but we can practice respect. I entrust my yoga teachers and fellow practitioners with the same level of professionalism that I give to my doctor. And lastly whatever you choose to wear, focus on your practice, not your clothes.