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Man who criticized women in yoga pants says it was only satire

A marcher carried a sign that read "Peaceful Pants Party" past Alan Sorrentino’s house in Rhode Island.
A marcher carried a sign that read "Peaceful Pants Party" past Alan Sorrentino’s house in Rhode Island.(Jim Davis/Globe Staff)

The saga began Wednesday with a letter to an editor in a local Rhode Island newspaper criticizing women over 20 who wear yoga pants in public. Quickly, it snowballed into plans for a “Yoga Pants Parade” Sunday afternoon — as well as death threats, according to the letter’s author, who said he only intended as satire.

“To all yoga pant wearers, I struggle with my own physicality as I age,” wrote Alan Sorrentino, 63, in the letter published by the Barrington Times. “I don’t want to struggle with yours.”

The letter, which compared to adult women wearing yoga pants in public to men wearing Speedos to the grocery store, went viral. The backlash was immediate, passionate, and international.

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It was supposed to be funny, Sorrentino said, because what kind of “tormented, uptight individual” could possibly care enough about yoga pants to write such a letter?

“It was in the face of all these political stuff, with all these really important issues going on, and then there’s this letter about yoga pants,” he said.

Sorrentino said that he received death threats, which he reported to the police, and that there were posts online encouraging vandalism of his home. Someone wrote in chalk on the street outside his house, identifying him as the resident.

“Every little bump, every little noise,” he said. “I lock my car, I lock my windows, I lock my house — I’ve locked myself out of my house twice.”

The backlash has caused stress not just for him, but for his family, friends, and neighbors, Sorrentino said.

In the small town of Barrington, R.I., where Sorrentino lives, the backlash took the form of a parade.

Attendees met at 2 p.m. in front of the Hampden Meadows School and make a short walk in a loop with the route passing by Sorentino’s home, capped with a no-mat-needed, standing group yoga session back at the school, according to the parade’s Facebook event and website.

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“The parade is not about yoga pants, it is a positive response to casual sexism,” organizers wrote on the website. “It is a march of love of ourselves, and the love and support of each other regardless of size, shape, or wardrobe choice. It is a way for us to protest body shaming and the long history of men policing our bodies.”

A description of the event on Facebook emphasized that “[t]his is NOT a hateful protest against Alan [Sorrentino]. This a wonderful group of people celebrating our bodies and our right to cover them however we see fit.”

“Even if you felt it was offensive, this is a totally improper reaction,” said Sorrentino. “This is bullying, this intimidation. They’re normalizing it with a parade.”

He asked whether a woman would feel comfortable with a similar crowd walking by her home after threats of vandalism and murder.

Organizer Jamie Patrice said in a Facebook comment that Sorrentino had “impolitely declined” her invitation to participate in the parade.

Sorrentino said Patrice had called him and invited him to wear yoga pants and join in the parade, which he felt was “humiliating.” He said that was not comforted at all by her assurance of “no violence.”

“When was the last time you went to something that was prefaced with ‘no violence?’” he asked.

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Barrington police confirmed that they will be present for the parade.

“The Barrington Police and Parade organizers are committed to having this be a peaceful stroll,” Patrice wrote in a separate Facebook post. “We will not engage with ANY residents on the street in any negative way. Please do not come for a fight, you will be shut down.”

She requested that attendees refrain from bringing signs.

“When we bring signs, it turns it from a peaceful walk into a protest which is concerning to our local police department as there is a local ordinance about protests,” she wrote.

People across the nation and across the ocean posted in the Facebook event with messages of support and photos of themselves wearing yoga pants.

“[M]y mother is a twelve year owner of a yoga studio here in Barrington and one of the most well respected instructors in the state, she wears yoga pants as her daily wear OUTSIDE of the studio as well, she is 53 years old and rocks them more than most teenagers I know, including myself (go mom!),” wrote one poster.

“Being in U.K., I can’t attend, but will share with my friends and will proudly wear my yoga pants this evening at the time of your parade,” wrote another poster.

Well-wishers chimed in cheers from Washington state, California, Missouri, North Carolina, and many other locations.

“I am super proud of all Rhody Women standing up for their rights not to be judged on appearance, and also appreciative of the focus on positivity and community,” wrote another poster.

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Nicole Fleming can be reached at nicole.fleming@globe.com.