British Columbia

Equality in topless yoga: B.C. woman pushing back against studio's dress code

Jennifer Frizzley wasn’t thinking of making a statement when she first took off her shirt during her hot yoga class — she was simply overheating and didn’t have a sports bra with her.

‘I was told that my body was distracting and that I needed to cover up,’ says woman who went topless

Jennifer Frizzley argues the onus shouldn't be on women to not be 'distracting' but on the individual to exercise restraint and accountability. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Jennifer Frizzley wasn't thinking of making a statement when she first took off her shirt during her hot yoga class — she was simply overheating and didn't have a sports bra with her. 

But now the Victoria woman is on a mission. 

"I was told that my body was distracting and that I needed to cover up," Frizzley said.  "We need to be really careful because this ideology is unjust, it's discriminatory and it's very dangerous."

Prior to taking off her shirt, Frizzley said, she asked — and had been granted — permission from both her class instructor and staff at the front desk of Quantum Yoga Club. 

Her usual sports attire was dirty from a previous class and she was wearing a thicker shirt than usual in the heat.

Frizzley says the body is beautiful and fetishizing it 'is insulting to both the people who are being sexualized and insulting to people who are attracted to the sexualized body by claiming they have no self control and no self restraint.' (Mike McArthur/CBC)

"I wasn't making a political statement," she said. "My clothes were dirty and I wanted to be more comfortable."

But after the class, she was approached by an instructor and asked to cover up next time. Frizzley argued against the idea that it's up to her to not distract others.

"The onus is on the individual to stay accountable to their own self restraint and to focus on their practice," she said.  "I'm not going to tell someone with tattoos that they need to cover up because I find it distracting."

Going topless in B.C. is not illegal. In 2000, a B.C. Supreme Court judge ruled a woman has the right to bare her breasts in public in "circumstances that do not offend criminal laws of nudity." 

Frizzley later wrote about her experience on social media in a post that generated hearty debate in the comments. 

"I didn't expect it to turn into what it has become," she said. 

Frizzley demonstrates some of her yoga and talks about how 'we need to de-sexualize nudity'

Victoria, B.C.'s Jennifer Frizzley says it's not fair men are allowed to go topless in yoga class while she was asked to cover up. 2:18

Dress codes for equality 

Hot yoga, a type of exercise that's done in temperatures ranging from about 33 C to 40 C, promotes sweating.  

Frizzley said she was drenched and would have been very uncomfortable wearing the thick exercise shirt she had brought. 

"I just simply was more comfortable being topless," she said. "I don't think there's anything explicitly sexual about the nude body."

Almost all the men in the class were topless, she added. 

Frizzley is now trying to gather enough support to run a topless yoga event. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

Ken Mayes, the owner of Quantum Yoga Club, declined to comment. According to the studio's website, "guests [are asked] to wear both bottoms and tops."  

That dress code was added to the website after Frizzley was told to cover up, she said, and a cached version of the website page doesn't show one. 

"Equality calls for the equal treatment of men and women and thus an equal dress code," Frizzley said. 

Frizzley said she recognized businesses can set their own rules and policies but, she added, customers can also choose where to spend their money. 

She's started a Facebook group to create a community of yoga-enthusiasts comfortable going topless and hopes to connect with other local studios to host events. 

With files from Mike McArthur

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