Fat shaming in fitness

This is a great piece by Ragan Chastain (Ms. Fit Magazine) on the persistent fat shaming in the fitness industry. An excellent quote: “This vicious cycle shames fat people for not pursuing fitness, then stigmatizes us when we do pursue fitness, then conceals any success we have pursuing fitness.”

Sadly, I think this is still a problem in yoga culture too. There is far too little body diversity in most yoga classes that I’ve been to, and I suspect that many teachers have not really thought though how they can be effective instructors to people with a variety of different body types. There is a lot of mental to work to be done to really question our own stereotypes about body size, and yoga teachers and students are not immune from the biases and prejudices that exist in the wider cultural context. Our claims about knowing and loving our bodies might even mean that body size prejudices are more insidiously hidden or subtle, making them harder to challenge. We have to acknowledge that yoga classes are not necessarily the safe and accepting spaces that we might imagine them to be, just because we pay lip service to notions of self love, gratitude to your body, yada yada yada.

I constantly challenge myself to make sure that I’m not perpetuating harmful attitudes about body size in yoga class. In class a week or so ago, an extremely thin woman came into the room. It was hard not to stare at her protruding bones and hollow face. It was even harder not to jump to conclusions or judgements like “anorexic,” “eating disorder,” or “at yoga to keep losing weight.” I had to make a point not to sneak glances at her during the practice, knowing better but curious as to how her body looked in the poses and whether she was strong enough to complete the vinyasas.

Not only was her practice (and her body) absolutely none of my business, but if I had stared at her I might have been contributing to making the room an uncomfortable, judgemental, even hostile space for anyone who is struggling to find body acceptance. Including myself. Because I go to yoga and love yoga precisely because I want to get away from fitness environments where I feel bad about myself, I have to be active in making sure that even as a student, I contribute to a just and equitable atmosphere where assumptions about people’s health, habits, motivations, or lifestyles are put aside.

Here a few things that I try to remind myself to do (or not do) in class:

  1. Don’t mentally criticize my own body. This is hard, but I try and try and try.
  2. Appreciate the diversity of bodies in the room and what they can do. Bodies are freaking amazing, and there is no wrong way to have a body.
  3. Don’t stare at other students. Keep the focus inwards. If I’m staring at someone else, chances are I’m also making judgements about myself (see number 1!).
  4. Smile at my classmates, especially anyone who might have struggled in their practice, or who seems new to my studio.
  5. Put aside any judgements about what bodies can or should do based on size, age, gender, race, ethnicity, dis/ability, and so on.
  6. Appreciate the autonomy I have over my own body, and acknowledge that everyone in the room should have the same autonomy. This means that everyone has the right to practice yoga without comments being made about their bodies, assumptions made about their health, being stared at, or being asked to do anything with their bodies that they are not comfortable doing.

This a short list, and I expect others have great ideas to add. I’m excited that the yoga community is having conversations about curvy yoga, yoga for queer and trans people, and more. I hope that those who experience privilege based on body size can be more active in transforming spaces of physical practice into spaces of radical acceptance and appreciation of all bodies and the amazing people that have them.

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