February 23, 2016

Why You Don’t Have to be Fat to be Body Positive.


It’s surprising to me when people dismiss the idea of a fit person teaching a Body Positive class, as if we all don’t get swamped by media images or influenced by the messages of families and friends.

As I became more interested in the Body Positive Movement, it led me to question the outside influences on my own life and body. After much thought, I concluded that what colours my idea about beauty and how I want to move through the world in a body that aligns with some idea of aesthetics, has a lot to do with a love of going to the ballet as a child.

Every Christmas, my parents would bring us to Lincoln Centre to see The Nutcracker. Some years my mother would even buy a subscription to the ballet season so we could see Swan Lake and other special performances. I always poured obsessively over the programs; discovering who were the latest stars of the company, who was injured, who was not going to be appearing this year, and so on.

I loved to watch ballet, but I was not a gifted dancer myself in the slightest. I lacked a natural flexibility, grace as well as the wherewithal to even go about acquiring these skills. Next to the other girls in pink tutus, I was stiff, awkward and a little bored, to be honest.

Watching these bodies on stage, the lithe strong women whose muscles pierced through their tights with each movement and the men with their thickly roped thighs leaping high into the air, and the energy, uniting and moving in such a dramatic and expressive way, I was filled with a sense of wonderment and, what I didn’t realize until recently, a sense of inspiration. Their lives, their journeys as ballet dancers, seemed incredibly difficult and disciplined: long hours, many auditions, foot problems, eating issues, injuries, hours and hours of stretching and going over certain movements again and again. To me, they were climbing Mt. Everest every day, dedicating their physical bodies, their lives really, to art.

It didn’t occur to me until last year that, in a small way, I had chosen a similar path by dedicating my body and soul to yoga. With the added benefit of yoga as an avenue for self acceptance and releasing myself from the bondage of my “monkey mind”—something those dancers never seemed to benefit from. On the contrary, eating disorders, harsh judgement, as well as lots of drama in their personal lives seemed to be a big part of the ballet dancer saga.

The urge to learn more about Body Positive arises for different reasons, for different people. Typically the overweight woman population gets a lot of exposure and indeed, it was this population who spear-headed the trend toward acceptance rather than trying to fix something that ain’t broke. The celebration of all sizes has begun. It’s a Goddess Revolution—a push back against years of advertising and marketing designed to make people feel “less-than” if they believed themselves to be “overweight.”

Through life coaching and teaching yoga, I hear so much angst, so much energy directed to the search for some magic pill, some panacea, the right diet, the right something that’s going to finally let people lose a few pounds and then finally they’ll be happy, finally their lives will start. And it’s heartbreaking really. If people are coming to yoga in hopes of fitting into their lulus a little better, I can only hope that they leave their class of choice with some knowledge or awareness that life isn’t “better when…” The life they’re seeking is right now, in the body they have right now. Sure, lose some weight if you want to, become stronger, leaner if that’s your goal, but do it for yourself and do it not because life is going to begin then, but so that you can enjoy the life you are already present to.

I’ve told this story in class more than a few times to exemplify my own struggles with Body Positive and being small-chested. The story goes like this: At the end of a yoga class once, I asked everyone to sit cross-legged and to focus for a moment on a part of their body that they felt negative about. I closed my eyes and my feet came to mind. They’re size nine, particularly large for a woman who’s 5’5” and kind of small-framed. As I directed everyone in the room to send love and gratitude to their chosen body part, I thought about how fast I run, how my feet had carried me through many races and how we’d even won a few together! Class soon finished and as I stood at the door to say goodbye, a good friend leaned in and whispered,”Were you thinking about your boobs?” Being less than an a-cup I do think about my boobs from time-to-time, but no, at that particular moment I was not. But thank you.

The deeper the trend of Body Positive infiltrates our everyday culture, the more varying populations will benefit from the words and the attitudes that movement offers. Those who have been diagnosed with chronic illness, transgender populations, the elderly, those whose bodies have changed due to injury, child birth, etc. From amputees to stretch marks, if we can find some tools for self acceptance and a way to be kinder to ourselves, hopefully we will be released from the prison of our minds and the harshness and judgement that’s there. Once we do that, we diminish the desire to make others around us suffer simply because we are unhappy with ourselves and finally we do become that “change we wish to see.”

Body Positive allows us to become embodied—a term used often in yoga but relevant to this movement when we stop rejecting the body we are in. When we commit to this, we give our spirits a physical place—a temple, to reside in. We can start with body acceptance and then work our way into love. This love allows us to begin listening to our bodies true wisdom. We get back to knowing ourselves and what our needs are from moment-to-moment.

Once our minds are freed from the prison of harsh self-judgement we become free to think about “everything else.” It’s amazing, and a little scary, that when we stop obsessing over our imperfections and start living, a world of creativity is unleashed and we tap into a force and an energy that in some ways has been suppressed by the grip of our own negativity.

Once we inhabit this new world, that time, energy and brain power can be used to create change for the better all around, and we start to support others in accepting themselves. Now that’s something.



Author: Francesca ter Poorten

Editor: Travis May

Image: Flickr/Erik Cleves Kristensen

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