Let’s Talk About Body Image

How many of us judge our body by our waist size?

How many of us are still taking those numbers on the scale to heart?

How many of us judge others by these same factors?

Unfortunately, these are often the factors we’ve been judged with growing up. The natural result is that this is an attitude we unknowingly or subconsciously continue to perpetuate.

We size people up, cut them down, or raise them up before they even speak.

Many of us are striving to change these deep-seated traits and tendencies. Striving to replace them with healthier outlooks, attitudes, and approaches.

Kimberly Dark is one of these people. She’s showing up to her life and living large. She also happens to be large. Large by society’s standards.

She’s speaking out on delicate subjects such as race, class, and “body type privilege.” She speaks from experience and from her heart.

In her essay, “Here’s Looking at You,” she shares her experience of being a large woman in a yoga class. Her gifted storytelling ability reels you in despite your preconceived notions mentioned above. Although she’d been practicing for 20 years, she would routinely get stares (not the good kind) and thoughtless comments such as, “Just keep coming. You’ll lose the weight.” She decided since people were looking at her anyway, she might as well set an example. She became a yoga teacher and is making her offering to the world by modeling differences and teaching people to love themselves regardless of their outer appearance.

This applies to all of us. Thin, fat, tall, small, healthy, unhealthy. Take a good look at your relationship with your body. Do you demand of it? Do you work it to death? Do you get disappointed when it fails you, when it get sick on you?

Dark hits the nail on the head when she says that many of us “struggle with inner form regardless of our outer body.”

Her analysis of our consumer culture also roots out a number of underlying assumptions and behaviors many of us portray:

We are comfortable being around like people. This applies to race, class, and something she calls body type privilege.

Body type privilege is not an earned trait, as our current culture would have us believe. Although magazines and commercials pound into us that “hot bodies” equate to status, we have the power to create our own standard for body type.

The easy path is to assume that if a heavy person is in a fitness class (1) they must be a beginner or (2) they’re there to lose weight. The concept that someone could regularly exercise or go to yoga and still remain fat is not something we find acceptable. If you are athletic but don’t lose weight, we call that failure.

We are creating the standard for body image that we live in by our everyday actions.

When discussing yoga culture, she observes that many students are disappointed or even turn away when they see her, a big woman, as the unexpected yoga instructor. She suggests that many students prefer yoga teachers or fitness instructors that look athletic and fit and then set that body as their goal. We think they look that way because of their yoga or exercise regime. She insightfully reflects that many yogis want to “ride on the yoga conveyor belt” and hop off rested and fit. We think paying for a class and participating in it with our bodies will get us “there.” To that great body or to that peaceful place or to be able to cross one more thing off our list.

“Living a great life is more about acceptance than attainment,” says Dark.

We all know this to be true, but still we strive to attain. And since misery loves company, we push others to attain. Kimberly encourages us all to set our own example, especially if we look different from the norm or than we’ve been taught to believe we want.

This is not an unreachable goal. This is not someone else’s responsibility or job. It’s our job. Mine and yours.

Individually let’s do the inner work of recreating our relationship with our own bodies. This is the first step to collectively embracing all bodies, including our own, and creating space for all of us to live life as fully and as largely as we can.

 

Photo credit: Kimberly Dark/Kate Mayne

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photo by: Helga Weber

About Monique Minahan

Monique Minahan is a writer and yoga teacher offering her heart to the world through words that motivate, inspire, and encourage. Connect with her at mindfulmo.com.