Yoga teachers are all skinny models, right? Not even close. But that’s often what people come to imagine a yoga teacher to look like, and the mass media machine is doing anything to help (see: yoga magazine covers and most yoga ads). Oh, but we can fight back, and many already have with missions and missives and big FUs to the cookie cutter stereotypes.
One teacher in particular recently took it upon herself to put her body in judgment’s way by shedding her ‘fit’ yoga teacher image and gaining 40 pounds to prove a point. A brave and noble experiment or a condescending journey to feeling ‘fat’?
Trina Hall was, by definition, a naturally fit yoga teacher from Dallas, Texas who ate “for health.” When a friend called her crying and unhappy about her current situation in life, saying “I don’t want to be known as the fat yoga teacher,” Hall decided to commit “career suicide” and go on a diet to prove to her friend that it’s not all about what you look like but what’s inside that counts, she explained on her blog. This diet of eating “anything and everything” led Hall to gain an extra 40 pounds in just 4 months, plus a whole load of guilt and self-doubt.
She ate “bad” foods and felt “bad” about it.
I did feel bad about it, because I had always eaten for health, and your body feels good when you eat that way. You’re nourishing your body and giving it fuel. I was turning it into eating for the sake of eating, and I definitely felt like I shouldn’t be doing that. You know, it’s bad to eat a bar of chocolate every day.
And when Hall reached her peak of ‘fatness’ the doubt and judgement creeped in:
I thought this would be an experiment in empowering people to love their bodies and not try to fit society’s mold. Instead, reality of my latent insecurities came like a football team’s kicker being put in as the center (my identity was pummeled).
The stories I made up about what people thought of me were changing and I was emotionally affected. Suddenly, my self-worth was proving to be connected to how good I looked wearing spandex – something I completely denied giving a shit about before this experiment – and that pissed me off.
As the pounds were coming on, I was learning that I had fears I wasn’t aware of. I was afraid that I would be judged based on what I looked like. And I learned that I was judging myself when I would look in the mirror, and I would create this idea around: No one will love me this way. I always had this idea that, “Oh my gosh, everyone should look more inside because that’s what it’s all about.” But I discovered that I was just as guilty as the next person of being obsessed with my external appearance.
Yoga, with its overall theme of positivity, tolerance and acceptance, is not devoid of darkness, fear and doubt. We all know this. We also know that yoga, as a growing part of the fabric of many of our lifestyles, can not escape the trappings of societal misgivings and general issues of identity, body image and disempowerment.
Since the experiment, or what Hall refers to as an “art piece” open to interpretation, ended in July, she’s been back to eating “healthy” and it’s more or less back to life, back to reality, with possibly a new (or renewed) complex about her bodily appearance.
While I could never discredit her efforts, her compassion or her personal experience, there’s something that just doesn’t sit quite right with me.
Gaining weight to feel what ‘fat’ feels by eating tons of “bad” food, then stopping it all by going back to eating “healthy” is not a luxury we can all afford. Hall is, of course, free to do what she wants with her own body and feel whatever she feels, but I wonder if her public story of personal disempowerment due to weight and body image issues is a great triumph in unmasking what many others feel inside their skin, or demoralizing and insulting to those with larger bodies who are trying to lose weight or who otherwise feel completely comfortable and confident exactly where they are.
This is ripe for discussion. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
image via News & World Report