Tag Archives: fat phobia

Beauty Standards Are Bullshit

17 Mar

You’ve probably heard that Marilyn Monroe was a size 14.

Or a size 16, or a size 12, or a size 10, depending on who you ask.

Whatever number someone quotes you, the message is always the same: our standards of beauty have changed, and not for the better. The women whose bodies we worship now are thin and sickly, all of them suffering from eating disorders. Things aren’t how they were before, when we appreciated “real,” “normal,” “average” bodies. Our current standards of beauty should serve as evidence of how deeply fucked up our society is; we ought to return to our parents’ and grandparents’ ideals.

This whole concept is so popular that there have been a string of memes made about it:

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You know what makes me say fuck society? The fact that we think it’s totally cool to compare two women and declare one of them the champion of sexy. Because you know what’s super empowering to women? Telling them that there’s only one right way to be.

Beauty standards in the past maybe have been different than today, but that doesn’t mean they were better. They still offered a narrow, rigid idea about what made a woman attractive, and anyone who didn’t fit that ideal was not good enough. Why do we have the idea that the past was some kind of magical time when women had it easier in the looks department? Because let me tell you something: when it comes to their appearance, women can never, ever, ever fucking win. They’re always too old or too fat or too thin or too tall or too short or some combination of the above. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about now, or fifty years ago, or one hundred years ago, the story is always the same: women can never win.

I see people swooning over shit like the picture below, and I want to tear my hair out with frustration.

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This is not some kind of revolutionary fat-positive advertisement; It’s the same old shit we’re being sold day in and day out, just packaged in a different way. Stuff like this isn’t so very different from all the diets pushed on women today – both are ways of making women feel bad for whatever size they are. Both are ways of making money off of women by encouraging them to feel that their bodies are wrong or inadequate. Shaming one body type in order to promote another is never acceptable, no matter how you do it. There should never be a right way or wrong way for a person to look. All bodies are good bodies. I seriously cannot emphasize that enough.

All bodies are good bodies. All bodies are real bodies. All bodies are worthy of love and respect.

And if I hear one more person talk about how much “healthier” women looked in the past, I’m going to start flipping tables. You can’t tell how healthy someone is just by looking at them. There seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding that fact, so let me repeat it: you cannot tell how healthy someone is just by looking at them. Unless you are someone’s doctor, unless you have run extensive tests and made note of their blood pressure and their iron levels and their thyroid function, you have no idea how healthy another person is. This applies to all people everywhere – you have no way of knowing if a fat person exercises or eats vegetables just by glancing at them, and you can’t tell if a skinny person has an eating disorder based on the circumference of their waist.

I’m not saying that our society’s obsession with skinny women is anything other than problematic –  the recent spike in eating disorders can almost certainly be attributed to how pressured women feel to be a certain size. We’re obsessed with thinness, and that obsession permeates nearly every aspect of our culture, from how food is branded and marketed to us, to “vanity sizing” in clothing, to every headline ever in women’s magazines promising to tell you how to lose weight, how to keep the weight off, and which celebrities lost their “baby weight” the fastest. Our attitudes towards weight and size are actively harmful to women, and I seriously cannot overstate my concern about girls and young women growing up in this climate. I think we’ve only just started to see the detrimental effects of our infatuation with thinness, and unless a major societal sea-change happens, things are only going to get worse.

But.

But.

None of this means that we should be criticizing thin bodies, because all bodies are good bodies. Some people are naturally quite thin, and making comments about how unhealthy they look is pointless and hurtful. And if someone genuinely is unhealthy? If someone has an eating disorder? How do you think they will end up perceiving their comments, when their disease is warping how they view body size in general and their own body in particular? I can promise you that any remarks you make will do them more harm than good.

I would wager that all women feel fucked up about their bodies, and sometimes tearing down another body shape (especially if that shape is the status quo) in order to build yours up can seem like the fastest and easiest way to make yourself feel better. But seriously, you guys, we have to get out of this cycle of putting each other down, criticizing each others’ looks, and making each other feel bad. The best way to fight the patriarchy is to stand united. The best way to empower ourselves is to celebrate all body types. The best way to fuck with beauty standards is not to change them, but to do away with them all together.

And the best, most feminist thing that we can do is to love ourselves just as we are and refuse to let anyone profit off of our insecurities.

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I can’t do yoga (and other lies people tell me)

21 Nov

I honestly can’t tell you how many times I’ve had this conversation:

Person I Just Met: So, what do you do?

Me: I’m a yoga teacher.

Person I Just Met: Oh, neat! Where do you teach?

Me: Right now I’m mostly just subbing, but I teach a regular weekly class at [local studio]. You should come!

Person I Just Met: Oh, um, yeah, maybe. We’ll see!

Me: It’s pay-what-you-can and all levels. I would love to have you!

Person I Just Met:  I can’t do yoga. I’m just really not flexible. Sorry!

Here’s the thing: anyone can do yoga. I honestly believe that. I have taught a yoga class to a room full of octogenarians who stayed seated in comfy chairs the entire time – if they can do yoga, then so can you. It doesn’t matter how flexible your body is – any and all poses can be modified to meet you where you are. And really, if you want to try yoga but lack of flexibility is your excuse, how will you ever improve your range of motion without first taking up something like a regular yoga practice? Everyone has to start somewhere – why not start now, today, whatever shape your body is in?

Having said all that, I know there are a ton of reasons why people shy away from yoga, and most of them have nothing to do with flexibility. Part of the problem is that the yoga culture in the west is kind of fucked up.

Yoga is an ancient Indian discipline dating back several thousand years. The first definitive text on yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, is estimated to be about 2,000 years old, and the practice itself is even older than that. Yoga is one of the six astika, or orthodox, schools of Hindu philosophy, and in its original form was mainly a mental and spiritual practice with some physical elements.

The second sutra in Patanjali’s book pretty clearly outlines what was, at the time, understood to be the main goal of yoga. This sutra reads, yogah citta vrtti nirodhah, which is typically translated to mean something like, “yoga is the cessation of the movements of the consciousness”. In short, yoga is all about getting your brain to shut the hell up so that you can enjoy a little peace and quiet, for once. Yoga is also about moving past the busy, restless, endlessly nattering part of the brain, the one that Buddhists often refer to as the “monkey mind”, and towards the purusa, which I will loosely define here as a sort of universal consciousness. Yoga is meant to help you see clearly, and one of the things yoga philosophy tells us we need to learn to see is that all beings and all parts of nature are interconnected. We are all part of the same larger pattern, and we are all part of each other. Realizing that is the original, ultimate goal of yoga.

Here in the west, though, we view yoga mainly as a form of physical exercise. Although we chant OM at the beginning and end of every class, and although as part of our practice we often perform surya namaskara (sun salutations), movements whose original intent was to honour the Hindu solar deity Surya, the way we view yoga is pretty much totally secular. Oh sure, some people will tell you that it makes them feel “spiritual”, but most don’t think about the religious aspects of what they’re doing. There’s a lot of cultural appropriation that goes on in western yoga, a lot of white people wearing mala beads and chanting in sanskrit without really understanding what any of it means. In my time in the western yoga world, I’ve seen so many examples of people exoticizing Hinduism and Indian culture, but not many attempts to learn more about what all these words and symbols mean.

I could go on and on about cultural appropriation in yoga, and maybe someday I will. Right now, though, it’s mainly the above-mentioned white people that I want to talk about. See, yoga in the west has, for the most part, become the domain of young, skinny, upper-middle-class, heterosexual white women. I’m not sure how this came about, as, up until just a few generations ago women were forbidden from practicing yoga, but, well, here we are. And I, a young, skinny, white, middle class, heterosexual white woman want to tell you that this is a problem.

The main issue is that people feel intimidated not necessarily by yoga itself, but by the other students in the room. In a worst case scenario, people might feel unwelcome, even unwanted. The message that the yoga community often sends out is that students have to look a certain way, wear certain clothes, have a certain body type and a certain sexual orientation in order to practice yoga. There’s a lot of privilege going on in the western yoga world, and not a lot of yogis who are willing to acknowledge it. And you know what? That’s not cool, because yoga should be for everyone. Yoga is for everyone. Rather than ignoring or dismissing the problem, we in the yoga community need to sit up, take notice, and ask ourselves how do we solve this?

One way to help solve this is to create safer spaces for different types of students. For example, I love Kula Yoga’s Positive Spaces Initiatives, which include classes like “brown girls yoga”, and “queer yoga”. I think that we need more classes like this, more safe spaces catering to the needs of different groups. We already know that some people prefer specialized classes – prenatal yoga, for example, or yoga for seniors – so why not expand this idea? How about yoga for fat chicks, or yoga for trans folk? After all, yoga should be for everybody, not just a select few.

We also need more pay-what-you-can classes, which most studios call “karma” or “community” classes. The average cost for a yoga class in Toronto is between $16 and $20 – paying that amount even just once a week is not manageable for some people. We need to find a way to make sure that yoga is affordable to everyone, not just those with a steady income.

Mostly, what I really think we need is for people to realize that yoga isn’t about how you look, both in terms of poses and clothing, and is really about how you feel. As my (very wise) friend/teacher Charlene recently said, “Yoga isn’t the series of poses and movements that you do during class. Yoga is how you feel after the class.”

The thing is, I honestly believe that yoga has changed my life for the better; that’s why I teach it, so that I can hopefully share that experience with other people. I’m not saying that everyone has to do yoga, or that it’s going to have the same effect on other people as it’s had on me, but I do honestly believe that everyone should have the opportunity to have a regular practice if they want one.

After all, as yoga teaches us, we are all equal and all part of the same greater system.