“You’re not fat. You’re not skinny, either.”

The latest on a long list of inappropriate things people have said to me about my body, this observation was part of a conversation I had with a stranger on the bus. The two yoga blocks in my lap prompted the following:

“Are those yoga blocks?” “Yes.”
“You just come from yoga?” “I did. I own a studio on 35th Street.”
“You do yoga?” “Yes. And teach.”
“Oh. You don’t look like a yoga teacher. <pause> What kind of yoga?” “I teach gentle yoga and a yoga for larger bodies class.”
“Oh. Yoga for larger bodies?” “Yes.”
“Like, for fat people? I didn’t now there was yoga for fat people. <pause> You’re not fat. But, I guess, you’re not skinny, either. What do I call you?” “You can call me Elen.”

I don’t look like a teacher. I’m not fat. I’m not skinny. You know what I am? Hoping for a day people don’t feel the need to comment on my body.

Call it whatever you want – body judgment, body shaming, bad manners. By any name, we need to get a handle on it. There was a time not too long ago that my response immediately went to anger and hurt feelings. Then, I realized I don’t have to feel bad because someone else has an issue with how I look. From the day we’re born, our culture, especially the media, feeds us a steady stream of what’s acceptable. Even when, rationally, we can see the B.S., the messages seep into our subconscious. Of course we’re going to respond with self-doubt and shame. I’ve been there. I’ve starved myself and gained the weight back. I’ve exercised myself into exhaustion and injury. This violence against ourselves needs to stop.

What I’m talking about is more than simply learning to “love your body,” as I see in so many yoga class descriptions. If it were that simple, we would all love our bodies and I wouldn’t be writing this today. We don’t need to simply learn to love our own bodies. We also need to learn to accept others’ bodies for what they are and stop comparing ourselves to them. 

We need social change. And, just like any other effective social justice movement, the shift from body shame to body acceptance and ultimately, body appreciation, will come when we are willing to get real. It’s easy for any of us to get on a self-righteous soapbox and preach to like-minded people about all the injustices we see around us. The real work, the real change, will come from having tough conversations with those who challenge our thinking and us.

I don’t have a quick fix for this complex issue. We’ve all taken part in creating it and we can all take a part in its disassembly. I believe we can replace either-or attitude with both-and thinking. Rather than focusing on which ideas are better, the body positive yoga movement can be a place of commonality and inclusion.

If you’re already doing the work, thank you. If your voice isn’t yet part of the conversation, bring it. We need you.


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