A Brief History of the GOP War on Yoga and Its Pants

A Montana state representative says the leggings ought to be illegal. Oh, and Speedos too.


This nation faces many struggles: deep deficits, malicious foreign hackers, rapidly changing climate. And yoga pants.

Perhaps you don't agree with the last item. Let Montana state Representative David Moore, a Republican from Missoula, explain the need for greater modesty. After a pack of naked bicyclists pedaled through his hometown, Moore decided the state needed to strengthen its indecent exposure laws.

The proposal would expand indecent exposure law to include any nipple exposure, including men’s, and any garment that “gives the appearance or simulates” a person’s buttocks, genitals, pelvic area or female nipple.

The Republican from Missoula said tight-fitting beige clothing could be considered indecent exposure under his proposal.

“Yoga pants should be illegal in public anyway,” Moore said after the hearing.

In a move that some civil libertarians might think gives excessive leeway to police—especially given recent controversies over unnecessary use of force by law enforcement in Missouri, New York, and elsewhere—Moore thinks it'd be fine if police arrested more violators of the law.

One might reasonably point out that this involves a great deal of subjectivity and could be a sweeping violation of free speech, but the Supreme Court has deemed nudity laws constitutional. One might find the obsession with modesty Victorian at best and Wahhabist at worst. One might also argue that such a law could have a disparate impact on women, who tend to wear more tight-fitting clothing than men. The effect would be even greater if applied to yoga pants. As Moore's colleague Virginia Court understatedly put it, "I think you are kind of being a little prejudiced against women."

Not that indecent-exposure laws aren't often gender-biased to begin with. The "Free the Nipple" campaign released a film in 2014 and has recruited celebrities into its drive to bring attention to laws (as well as extralegal social taboos) that bar women but not men from displaying their nipples in public. Moore's proposal at least has the benefit of gender-neutrality on nipples, and he also favors a ban on Speedos, which would seem to effect mostly men.

It's been a rough stretch, so to speak, for yoga pants, which went from unknown to must-have in no time at all. But in 2013, Lululemon, perhaps the best-known purveyor, had to recall a jaw-dropping 17 percent of its inventory of the stretchy garments because they were made too thin and consequently were translucent. The horrified reaction by consumers to the too-thin pants suggests that woman are conscious of the dangers of the leggings without Representative Moore's intervention.

It's not the first time a Republican politician has gone to the mat with opponents on a yoga-related issue. During the 2013 election, Virginia lieutenant-gubernatorial candidate E.W. Jackson made a bold ploy to alienate Northern Virginia voters and was mocked for saying that yoga opened practitioners to satanic possession. But Jackson's comment wasn't actually all that radical. As Garance Franke-Ruta detailed at the time, there's a robust literature in some conservative Christian circles that objects not only to the importation of a Hindu practice but also to the spiritual approach at its heart. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote:

The bare fact is that yoga is a spiritual discipline by which the adherent is trained to use the body as a vehicle for achieving consciousness of the divine. Christians are called to look to Christ for all that we need and to obey Christ through obeying his Word. We are not called to escape the consciousness of this world by achieving an elevated state of consciousness, but to follow Christ in the way of faithfulness.

Even Pope Benedict has reservations about yoga. There is, however, a Christian alternative to yoga, for the believer who also wants a good stretching exercise. (It's called PraiseMoves.)

Back in Montana, Moore would also like to loosen the penalties associated with indecent exposure. First and second offenses currently carry fines of up to $500 and six months in jail, and $1,000 and one year in jail, he would leave those in place. But he would lower the penalty for a third offense from fines of up to $10,000 and up to life imprisonment, reducing the upper bounds to $5,000 and five years in jail. That extra five-grand savings could pay for a pretty sweet haul at the local Lululemon. Unfortunately, there isn't a single one in the Big Sky State.