Where Are All the Fat Chicks in Yoga Media?

Amber @ Body Positive Yoga

Amber @ Body Positive Yoga

by Kara-Leah Grant

Polarizing headline, no?

Am I allowed to use the word fat?

How about the word chick?

Or would you prefer I lead with something along the lines of:

Why are most yoga images of young, slender white women?

Also appropriate. But I like the first headline. I like the way it sounds and the way I say it. How you read it and what judgement you place on it is up to you. I pass no judgement on fat. Or on chicks.

This is a valid query – as one of my readers pointed out this week when I sent out The Monthly Digest asking my subscribers:

Who are you and what do you want?

Cheryl came right back at me:

I want to see women with breasts doing yoga. Yes, women who where bras that are DDD or J, or H doing yoga. I want to see women who have stomachs doing yoga instead of what you always see in DVDs – nothing, no belly.

Where are the rest of the women who need yoga or something to get a positive acceptance of ourselves when, we don’t see it on any yoga magazine cover or article?  Everyone else that is doing yoga already has a body similar to yours.  Do you think those of us who have breasts can dance around and enjoy going to the beach when we can’t even find a two piece bathing suit to fit us?  I’m not fat either. Only 170 pounds, but in bathing suit wear and in yoga body pictures – I’m fat.

How are we suppose to have a positive self image when you don’t see women, with larger normal breasts doing … yoga?

Awesome question.

First up – most of the photos on this website come from a couple of yoga photo shoots I did a few years back with my friends. The photos reflect them – and me – as I am.

However, I would love to get more variety of yoga shapes and sizes and sexes and colours on this website.

All that stops me is resources.

Wait – I have resources! I have you – the audience. So if you send me your high quality yoga photos, I’ll tag & credit them with your name and website and add them to The Yoga Lunchbox’s stock photo library. I can’t guarantee they’ll get used – but, if they’re suitable for an up-coming article, that library is my go-to-place for images.

Second – I’m going to find yoga teachers who aren’t a standard size 10 (that’s how we size it in New Zealand – I think it’s about a 4 in the USA) to write guest articles. Not necessarily about body image and yoga, but just to show more variety. If that’s you - pitch me an article. I want to hear.

Third – I will bring more awareness to this issue. Body image is a huge thing for 90% of women and the most popular articles on The Yoga Lunchbox have to do with body image. It’s not that people want to be stick thin, it’s that they want to feel GOOD in their body, as it is. Two different things. Often they’re linked together. We think we have to be stick thin TO feel good in our body. It ain’t necessarily true.

So how do we cultivate that ‘feeling good on the inside’ sense of being?

Practicing yoga helps, immensely. So, strangely enough, does growing older. Even though we may not have as great a body as we did when we were younger, some of the pressure drops away and we feel much better in that body.

But there’s more to it than that, and I’ll be on the look out for people that want to write about this topic and I’ll be writing about it too.

Fourth, I’ll point you in the direction of more resources that show all kinds of people doing yoga, or address the specific issues that can come up when you practice yoga if you’re larger, or have larger breasts. Even postures like low lunge can be tricky for someone with boobs and a belly – where do those things go in the pose?

As yoga teachers, the onus is on us to at least have a rudimentary understanding of the challenges of practicing in a larger body so we can at least make our bigger students feel comfortable in class.

Fifthly, here’s my take on why yoga images are so homogenous.

It’s a combination of factors, which all work together to create what we see right now. In summary:

  • Media is afraid to use images that might turn off what they perceive as the majority of their audiences.
  • Stock images are predominantly slender white women and that’s where most media gets their images. It’s expensive to do a specific photo shoot for photos.
  • Sexy sells – and most people have a narrow definition of what sexy is.
  • Photographers who supply stock libraries likely take photos they perceive will sell the most.
  • There’s likely a perception that we’re selling the benefits of yoga – which can include a slender body. There isn’t great inquiry into whether this is true, or whether we all have different bodies – some of which may or may not be slender at their peak condition. Or even whether ‘peak condition’ itself is desirable.
  • There’s a perception that larger people doing yoga just doesn’t look as good.
  • Laziness – time is short, the article needs an image, find what’s close at hand, even if it’s not actually appropriate. Like this article called Yoga with big boobs featuring an image of a… slender young woman with small  boobs.

Most of these factors inhibiting the use of a diversity of yoga images come down to unconscious beliefs and ideas that dominate the media landscape.

It takes some conscious questioning and inquiry to first identify the beliefs leading to photo choice. Second, if it’s determined that a wider diversity of images would be appropriate, then it takes more effort and maybe more money to source those images. Finally, there’s the fear that people won’t like it.

I’m going to leave you with a short video from Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga.

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Comments

  1. David says

    The fat chicks are laughing, moving, dancing and having a hilarious time with their mates doing Zumba. Unlike some of their more obsessive skinny mates burdened with yoga mats, gurus, traditions, dogma and mirrors.

  2. Lindsey says

    This fat chick is in the middle of the room doing yoga every Saturday morning, and in the park doing yoga every Wednesday night! And I’m in agreement – I want to see women like me represented in the media. That’s why I’m so glad to have Anna featured in the August issue of Diabetes Forecast – people of all shapes and sizes DO exercise, but feeling excluded can keep some off the mat. Let’s make yoga more inclusive!

  3. Premratna says

    You’ve already had at least three non-size 10s writing articles, including myself! Just saying :-)

    Oh and I found some old clothes recently. I couldn’t quite squeeze into my 1995 size-16 skirt. Now some of my pants are size 12. And I fit size 10 Lulu lemon… go figure!

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Premratna,

      True – we’re probably more representative at YLB than say Yoga Journal. Yeah… sizings have been changing haven’t they? Getting bigger or something? Interesting indeed!

  4. Lu Cox says

    Great article Kara-Leah. After being introduced at the gym once as the yoga teacher, I had a lady say to me “oh you’re so normal”. Was kinda nice to know that she went away feeling comforted in the thought that not all yoga teachers are stick figures and can be a regular size 14. :-)

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Lu,

      It just shows how insidious all of these ideas and beliefs around body image, size, weight & yoga are… So much to explore in all of this.

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Jude,

      Awesome – thanks for the links. There seems to be a strong idea that it’s unhealthy to be bigger, or wrong, or bad… and none of that is necessarily true – although sometimes it might be. What is an ideal weight and who determines such a thing?

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey Jenifer,

      It’s the like attracts like thing… if the studio is more diverse, it attracts more diversity because people feel comfortable when they walk in. If it’s all homogenous and someone who’s not like that walks in – it’s more challenging. Which may be why there are still so few men practicing yoga – because there are few men practicing yoga… they walk into a room full of women and the subconscious message is “this is a women’s thing”.

      Now the trick is getting that diversity into the yoga media as well!

      • Jenifer says

        That may be true. :)

        I actually taught an all-male class yesterday. It wasn’t planned that way — that’s just who came to class! It’s pretty cool when that happens. :)

        • Kara-Leah Grant says

          That is cool… more men doing yoga please!!! They’d benefit, we’d benefit, the world would benefit!

  5. T says

    This is so exciting! Can’t wait to participate.

    Do you only want yoga teachers or are students okay too (I’ve just started teacher training)?

    Thank you!

    • Kara-Leah Grant says

      Hey T,

      Students too – please send in your photos! It’s been awesome to have the photos come in and I’ve loved publishing them on the website. We need more!

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