Twenty-nine-year-old activist Moira Johnston has gotten a lot of attention for strolling around Manhattan sans shirt recently. Her campaign (surprise, it’s not for PETA!) aims to remind New Yorkers that men aren’t the only ones who can shed clothes during a sweaty summer run—it’s legal for women to go topless, too. (It’s been on the books since 1992.)
But after running into Johnston (and her now somewhat-famous breasts) at the Times Square Yoga Solstice, we learned something interesting. Yoga, in fact, started it all.
“I was in a class at Jivamukti lying in savasana, and I suddenly just felt inclined to take my shirt off. I decided I wanted to try practicing topless,” Johnston explains. (I’m usually thinking, “Is it time to wiggle my toes yet?”)
Later, she says, she asked Sharon Gannon and managers at the studio if it was alright. They said no. She then did it anyway, and it wasn’t long before they had a staff member follow her into class to make sure she remained fully clothed. When she didn’t, they kicked her out and told her she wasn’t welcome back, she says.
When Johnston started to chat with friends about the experience, she found out that many didn’t know that toplessness was legal for women in New York. Of course, yoga studios are private businesses, so just like they can force you to take your shoes off, they can tell you to put your shirt on. The problem, Johnston explains, is that legally, they can’t differentiate between men and women. So, if dudes are allowed to disrobe during class, women have to be able to as well. “It’s a civil rights issue,” says Johnston.
And she’s letting studios around the city know. Elena Brower’s Virayoga was the only one that didn’t even think twice about letting her vinyasa flow free, says Johnston, while others, like Bikram Lower East Side, New York Yoga, and Pure Yoga told her to cover up.
Johnston also says many studios say they have policies that ban everyone from disrobing, but they don’t enforce the policy for men. Jivamukti, for example, posted a “no-shirts, no-yoga policy” soon after the hubbub, but Johnston says her friends still see shirtless men on the mat often. (We’re looking at you, David Life.)
“The most ironic thing is that this is the yoga community, and we’re supposed to be transcending gender and celebrating equality,” says Johnston. “I would have thought that this community would embrace it even if it wasn’t legal.” —Lisa Elaine Held
What do you think? Should everyone just keep their shirts on, or should we stop being so stuffy? Would it distract you to practice next to someone topless? Tell us, in the Comments, below!