Fat yoga, safe spaces, and check your thin privilege please

Each consecutive 5am wakeup becomes harder and harder, but luckily I should be able to sleep in a little bit tomorrow (until 6! so decadent). I just barely made it to the train on time to get to yoga class this morning. But I did, and it was good, a nice gentle practice this time. Before we started, the instructor asked how we were feeling, so I took that opportunity to complain about being sore from yesterday’s squats. I’m not sure if he changed anything up, but the first couple movements looked suspiciously like parts of the myrtl…

There was a post over on Fit is a Feminist Issue talking about the new concept of "fat yoga" classes that are designed to accommodate fat bodies, and that thin people thought it was excluding them– and I found myself having a really strong and angry response to that.

Tori‘s comment did a better job of elucidating the point than mine, but many fat people have had the experience in yoga class that their bodies weren’t celebrated and accommodated. Instructors assume they’re brand new to yoga, and there for weight loss. And lots of instructors can’t or won’t or don’t provide proactive modifications for poses. A pregnant person might approach the instructor before class, say "by the way, I’m pregnant" and the instructor provides modification. Am I supposed to do the same, pull them aside and say "by the way, I’m fat"? And for as much as it champions loving the body you have, yoga culture is designed around thin bodies. Fat people often find that they’re the only large person in the studio. Fat people find it hard to buy yoga clothes (for example, Lululemon clothes get no larger than size 12). And when’s the last time a person with rolls demonstrated a pose in Yoga Journal?

But that’s not what makes me angriest. This sounds a lot like when people with privilege demand entry to safe spaces that marginalized groups have developed for themselves. Men want entry to women’s spaces. White people want entry to the spaces of people of color. This seems to happen every damn time a group sets up a safe space.

And yoga’s theoretically inclusive, faux-kumbaya, hippie-dippie nature means that yoga people feel like they have a spiritual right to the space. "Yoga doesn’t exclude anyone!" Hey, this group over here that had to set up this safe space for themselves begs to differ!

Thin people, please: instead of demanding access to fat yoga, instead demand that yoga in general become truly welcoming to people with all kinds of bodies. Use your privilege to amplify the voices of marginalized groups in the yoga-sphere. When you teach, make a point to be sure it’s working for all the bodies there. Work toward making the yoga world as inclusive as you believe it should be.

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2 Responses to Fat yoga, safe spaces, and check your thin privilege please

  1. Gingerzingi says:

    Very thoughtful post. My reaction to the fat yoga was about the practical nature of the need for special classes. “Regular” yoga isn’t designed for fat people, and/or instructors don’t know how to suggest modifications.

    But yes, that’s a good point about privileged groups demanding access to marginalized groups’ spaces. I’ve dropped out of some women-only groups when they started letting men in. I don’t dislike men – I shouldn’t even have to say that – but there’s a reason for women-only spaces, and sure enough when they become “co-ed” it’s not a good space anymore. The mansplaining starts, and the sexualization of fitness and exercise, and suddenly the comfortable place where women exchanged experiences with and learned from each other becomes YET ANOTHER space where women are judged and talked down to and their opinions audited through the lens of male perspective (to mix some metaphors…). I’ve been repeatedly disappointed with this phenomenon, and like you I’ve thought “Why can’t we have JUST THIS TINY little piece of the world to ourselves? The men can have the other 99%.” I could definitely see that happening with fat yoga: if there are non-fat people attending the sessions, then it’s not fat yoga anymore, is it?

    “instead of demanding access to fat yoga, instead demand that yoga in general become truly welcoming to people with all kinds of bodies.” That’s it exactly. Put your efforts into building a world where separate spaces aren’t necessary.

  2. Pingback: 2015 Recap | Running While Fat

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