Dear Yoga Journal,
I love “Yoga Journal” day. That’s what I call it when your mag shows up in my mailbox. I always set aside time that I can curl up and settle in with a hot cup of tea to read it.
As a curvy yoga teacher and proponent of Health at Every Size (HAES), I’m sure you can imagine my excitement when I flipped to “Measure for Measure,” an article describing one woman’s story about food and weight loss, in your most current edition. I thought to myself, “Dr. Linda Bacon, HAES and the word ‘fat’ are introduced in the first paragraph, OMG! Curvy yogis and fat acceptance are finally about to get some page time!”
Unfortunately, though, that little word—fat—sent the article rapidly downhill away from the HAES principles raised at the beginning and onto a path of shame and dieting.
I think it’s important for people to share their story; that’s part of what makes us us, and everyone has the right to do that. The intent of this letter isn’t to critique the author’s experience. Rather, it’s to highlight the fact that weight loss is a minority experience, and sharing stories about it sets people up to feel ashamed if they can’t have the same results. Sure, some people can lose weight in the short-term, but after five years (and often one), that weight is back—and then some. No place is this point better proven than in Dr. Bacon’s groundbreaking book Health at Every Size.
Although this article is not presented as a “diet plan” for people to follow, the author promotes intuitive eating while “measuring out three ounces of cooked salmon.” These mixed messages inspire people to believe that they can have the same results, setting them up to feel like failures if they don’t. And while the tone of the article is about honoring your body, the not-so-subtle subtext is that when someone says you’re fat, and when you’ve been eating “pound cake made with organic butter, topped with organic peaches and creme fraiche” that you better shape up–literally. Even if people agree and want to follow suit, the truth is that they can’t; if two people eat the exact same amount of calories and do the exact same amount of exercise, they will experience different results, often greatly so.
And here’s the other thing: regardless of people’s beliefs about the likelihood of weight loss, using self-shame (as in the “sting” of the word fat) to get there is never going to work. Dr. Bacon describes this problem eloquently: “Few of us are at peace with our bodies, whether because we’re fat or because we fear becoming fat. Every time you make fat the problem, these are side effects, however unintended they may be.”
So this is a loving request from me, one of your curvy readers: please don’t disguise dieting articles as body positivity. Yoga has been life-changing for me and for many other curvy people I know. It has helped me embrace who I am, appreciate the amazing things my body can do, work towards health regardless of my size, and realize that practicing yoga while curvy is pretty fantastic. I hope you’ll think as much of yoga as I do.
Update Jan. 13: This post has now also been shared at YogaDork. Show them some love for sharing the message that yoga is for everyone!