by Nadine Fawell
I distinctly remember the moment I realized I was never going to be a model. After a childhood spent mostly barefoot, entirely unconcerned about how I looked, puberty had set in. I was 14, paging through my mother’s sizable stash of fashion magazines, realizing that I looked nothing like the models gracing those pages.
I wasn’t thin. I wasn’t angularly beautiful. In fact, I had a big arse. The kind that switched on appliances when I walked past them (it still does that). I had big thighs to go with that arse. Frizzy-curly hair that refused to be tamed. And an virulent case of acne.
There wasn’t much I could do about the beauty, except for wearing lots of make-up and worrying about the shape of my nose. But I could do something about the thinness: stop eating.
That marked the beginning of a disordered relationship with food that lasted well into my 30s. It got so bad when I was 21 (fondly remembered as “the year I didn’t eat”) that my period stopped. My arse was still pretty big though, in case you were wondering. Or maybe that’s just body dysmorphia speaking.
By the time I discovered yoga in my mid-20s, I’d started eating again. And eating, and eating. And eating. So it was an intense relief to get on the mat and learn that when I felt “fat” I was probably feeling something else. Like sad, or anxious, or rejected.
What a revelation. Fat isn’t actually a feeling. Eating – or not eating – won’t make the emotional pain go away, but learning to allow space for my feelings might help. In that way, yoga made things so much better.
Then I trained to teach. And yoga made things worse again.
Or rather, my idea of what I needed to be as a yoga teacher made things worse.
All the “famous” teachers at that time were thin, bendy, able to do really difficult poses. None of them had butts like mine. So I stopped eating again. Logical, right? Because having a small butt and looking good in short shorts is ABSOLUTELY what being a good teacher is about.
In this way, yoga made things worse.
My period stopped again. I thought I was pregnant, which in retrospect is tragi-comic. Because I was teaching yoga and finding it stressful to have people looking at me (critically, I believed) every day, I really had to fight my way back to health, and it took years. I got there by dropping my subscriptions to the yoga magazines: the images I saw in them made my body dysmorphia so much worse. I found a community of yoga bloggers (in the earlier days of the internet) of all shapes and sizes. It was a supportive place, and it helped me find my voice.
None of those people blog anymore, and actually nor do I. I closed my personal blog – after 8 years – in 2013. The internet just isn’t as personal as it once was and it didn’t really feel safe or appropriate to be sharing intimate details of my personal life any more. Maybe that’s where all the yoga blogs went?
For the most part the “rock star” yoga teachers are still all thin, white, female, beautiful, and scantily clad. There isn’t much representation for other ways of being a yogi. As much as possible, I limit my exposure to these images because, otherwise, the crazy comes back.
I’m here to tell you that yoga can make things so much better. But if you buy into the way it’s marketed, there is a risk it may make things worse, too.
Nadine doesn’t quite know where the time went, but she’s been teaching yoga over a decade now. She practices and teaches mostly in the Krishnamacharya tradition. She’s led a teacher training in South Africa and taught numerous continuing education workshops for teachers in Australia. She’s known for her awkward sense of humor, her comfort with bodies, and her ability to get real change for her students, all while admitting that sometimes (often) she doesn’t know the answer. She’s excited to be running a teacher training this year. You can find her at www.yogainmelbourne.com