We’re All Yogis: Body Image in the Yoga Industry

“Pretty is not the rent you pay to exist in the world as a woman.” ~ Anonymous

Hello, my name is Elizabeth and I am a plus size yoga teacher. Just as I’m writing that, the words “plus size” make me cringe. Maybe it’s because I’m a perfectly happy and healthy person in my body. Maybe it’s because I can sweat through an advanced, 90-minute hot Vinyasa class with the best of them. Maybe it’s because I wear cute crop tops and yoga outfits just like anyone else. Maybe it’s because my body is strong. Maybe it’s because I enjoy the occasional two-mile run from time to time. Maybe it’s because my size 14-16 frame still allows me to practice and teach yoga just like any other certified instructor.

…or maybe it’s because of the impact those words have in the yoga industry.


I’ve been wanting to write about my experiences as a typical breathing woman (read: what the media has dubbed “plus size”) in the yoga industry for a while now. In fact, I’ve sat down to write this very article probably 3 or 4 times now. But each time I sit down at my desk, I can’t seem to find the words to describe the disgust, pain, and anger I feel towards the attitude of non-inclusion in this practice that was founded upon the principals of unconditional love.

Just like my thinner counterparts, I found yoga during a time in my life when I needed it most. I fell in love with the way yoga made me feel on a mental and physical level and decided to deepen my practice with teacher training. I worked hard, studied harder, and earned my 200-hour certification. And, I have to say, my body was never a topic of discussion. I graduated from my first yoga teacher training feeling empowered, so empowered that I decided to start an Instagram account and blog to document my journey from corporate litigator to full-time yogi.

I never thought that doing this, creating a social media brand like so many other yoga teachers have, would result in so much judgment about my body. After all, this is a community of yogis…right?


Within the first few weeks of starting my Instagram account, the body-shaming comments began. And I was floored.

Strangers, people I had never even met, men and women from completely different corners of the world, were criticizing my body. Here are just a few of the comments I’ve saved in a notes section on my phone for an article just like this someday (all of which have since been deleted in an effort to preserve the sacredness of this practice):

“Whale watch alert!”

“You call that a yoga body?”

“Yuck.”

“How can you expect to teach people a fitness-based practice when you look like that?”

I share these comments not to elicit any sort of sympathy or sadness on your part. To the contrary, I’m sharing these hateful words to spark a little anger in you. A bit of action. If you’re reading this blog, chances are you fall into one of three categories:

  1. You’re a yogi
  2. You’re a lawyer that is interested in becoming a yogi or enjoys the practice of yoga
  3. You’re someone that has met me, knows me, or loves me and thus experiences yoga to some degree through me personally

So regardless of where you fall on this wide spectrum, whatever may have brought you here, this problem impacts you. If you’ve ever stepped onto a yoga mat or listened to a 5-minute meditation or liked one of my photos on Instagram, this involves you. And it’s time we all start calling bullshit on the oxymoron that is body shaming in this industry and practice we all love.

Somewhere along the way, we got lost. We turned a sacred practice of love into a media-crazed beauty pageant, a virtual parade of the leanest bodies and wildest asanas in exotic locations. We’ve forgotten what it’s all about and, in the process, started excluding entire groups of people from a practice that was founded upon the ideals of inclusion and connection.

We’ve made yoga a non-yogic practice. 


Think about it, how many times have you opened up your own Instagram feed for a bit of yoga inspiration and seen hundreds of women with curves or rolls or tummies? How many women of color do you see? What about men that don’t have chiseled 12-packs? How about older women and men?

Are most of the images you see published in yoga publications like Yoga Journal representative of the people that you actually share mat space with in yoga class? Are the people you chant “Om” with air-brushed and spray-tanned, or are they just perfectly imperfect humans like yourself? Unless you’re practicing yoga on some private sun deck in the Hollywood Hills, I’m going to guess it’s the latter…

Side Note: I’ve actually had yoga companies request a photo of me before an audition to determine if my “physical appearance is fit enough”…ew. 

Sure, there are exceptions to this rule. But that’s just it, they are exceptions. Don’t get me wrong, I thank the Universe every damn day for sending us body positive activists like Ashley Graham and Anna Guest-Jelley and Jessamyn Stanley, who speak out against these hypocrisies and call bullshit on anyone that’s ever said you can’t be curvy and work in the fitness industry.  But we all should be calling bullshit, particularly when the industry involves yoga.


At its core, yoga is about compassion. Compassion towards the Earth we walk on, compassion towards the animals and other humans we share it with, and compassion towards ourselves. So answer me this, how can a practice based on this sort of unconditional love be so tainted with negativity and hatred?

It’s simple really: because we aren’t demanding anything else.

I stopped deleting the shitty comments and direct messages a while ago. Instead, I respond and stand up for myself and the millions of other young girls and women who, just like me, want to be a part of this community. Non-reactivity may be a cornerstone of yogic philosophy, but the way I look at it, silence only fuels the inequality and hatred…and that’s just not something I can stand for.

So here’s what I’m asking you to do: practice compassion. Before you start typing a nasty comment about someone’s body or clothes, take a pause and consider if sharing those words is compassionate. Encourage your local yoga studios to offer classes with modifications for people of all body types so everyone can experience the compassionate love of this practice firsthand. Seek out teachers, whether in person or online, from diverse races, ethnicities, and body types so they can share their compassionate message. When you share about yoga through social media, send a message of inclusion, love, and you guessed it…compassion.

Do we have a long way to go? Yes. But has yoga given us the tools to make a change? Absolutely. All we have to do is practice what we preach.

Namaste,

The Yogi Lawyer

 

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