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Yoga and Body Image: A Skinny Girl’s Struggle

If you have ever struggled with body image – and who among us hasn’t, honestly – yoga can be one of the most powerful tools for beginning the journey to loving all your parts. And I wonder, along with so many of you, if our industry is saying one thing and putting out another message altogether. As someone that others consider skinny am I perpetrating an exclusionary story about what yoga is and who it’s for?

This is my story of being the skinny girl and not feeling so great about it.

I have found that my own issues with my body take lots of different forms and shapes and once I think I’ve overcome one, another will inevitably crop up. I have struggled with watching the current debate around body image in the yoga world. Recently Kathryn Budig was brave enough to share about her own insecurities with her body only to be to told by a public organization that she was not an appropriate role model for yogis with body image issues. Because she is petite, white and blonde, this group felt that she had benefited from her beauty. It brought up all of my insecurities about feeling like a yoga fraud and my own body image.

I was born small boned and was a skinny, scrawny kid. I was teased on the playground at school for having bird legs. And I am knock-kneed and walked in a way that the other kids found funny. I remember being heckled as I walked home from school with my younger sister, who always looked up to me with admiration. Kids from school were shouting at me calling me “pigeon-toed” and my sister looked up to me and asked me what that meant. I remember trying to fix the situation right then and there and I told her that it meant I had a really cool way of walking. But in my heart I was devastated. And the teasing created in me a lifelong story that’s taken me years of deep work to dispel: that I am separate, different, weird and don’t belong.

Yoga was the first place that I finally found where my overly bendy limbs and oddly aligned joints served me. I could get into poses right away that it seemed like other practitioners took years to master. But that vicious voice of the little girl who’d been teased all those years told me then that I was just a fraud, that I hadn’t earned the right to do those poses. Who was I to demonstrate them to my students? So I avoided showing my poses to my classes.

I have also fought the mental image of being fat. On my small bones, lack of practice or fitness activity quickly creates all sorts of bulges and rolls. But when I complained about feeling bad about my body to other yogis, I found they’d say, “What are you talking about? You’re crazy. You’re so thin.” And people would worry that maybe I was unhealthfully worried about the shape or weight of my body. It’s hurtful to me. But maybe I’m offending someone else? And why am I complaining about my body in the first place? Am I comparing myself to all the yoga photos I see in magazines and in marketing?

I stopped weighing myself years ago. Through yoga I’ve come to measure my health by how I feel on the inside. Is my core strong? Do my arms and legs support me in the poses that I want to hold and breathe easefully in? Do I feel confident and comfortable in my own skin, even when I don’t feel comfortable bearing it all in yoga class? I recently filmed some yoga videos and I told the wardrobe manager that I didn’t want to wear just a sports bra, that I needed a tank and pants that weren’t to tight to make sure that I didn’t have any belly rolls showing. Now I wonder, why did I feel the need to hide? It makes me sad.

I recently posted an image on facebook that offended some people. It talked about the size of our rear end in our yoga pants. I had no idea that it would hurt people. Now I realize that I may have hidden beliefs that might cloud my vision. I certainly love all of my students and welcome all shapes, sizes, colors, and fitness levels into my classes. The videos online that show students overcoming physical limitations and arising stronger than they ever believed themselves to be make my cry. They inspire me more than any video or photo of a bendy super accomplished and dare I say it – skinny – yogi. So what does that make me? How can I inspire all bodies and beings to find their greatness within? I’d love to hear from you!

Marsha

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