The author at home. Photo courtesy of Sarah Sapora
The first time I went to a Kundalini yoga class, I was the only fat person in the room. I noted it and moved on; at a size 20, I am often the largest woman in the room. I’m a bit fearless when it comes to trying new things, so it never phased me to feel odd as I stumbled and tripped over myself, finding modifications for Frog Pose where my stomach wouldn’t get in the way. But I know, unlike me, that over 55 percent of women in the U.S. have admitted to having “abusive thoughts” about their size; as a plus-size influencer, I can’t tell you amount of times I have heard women tell me that being self-conscious about their weight stops them from trying new things, taking classes, going places, and experiencing moments in life that many people take for granted. I also noticed I was one of the older people in the room at classes—which struck me odd, since the average age in the U.S. is 38, and just over 50 percent of people are over 35. I’d love to say these observations were anomalies... they weren’t. The more time I spent immersing myself in holistic wellness, the more I noticed a discouraging lack of body diversity participating in practices. We’re a country with a sea of colors, ages, sizes, and shapes—and yet, at most places I’d go, I’d be the lone larger body in a sea of slender, athletic, and disproportionately youthful women. I am a 40-year-old plus size woman who works in self-love and wellness. I’m a Kundalini yoga teacher, a public speaker, a writer, and event creator. I’ve worked on social media serving size-inclusive groups of women with self-love and body positivity for over nine years. The number one comment I hear time and time again? “It’s so great to see someone who looks like me doing things.”
My Personal JourneyIn 2015, I was around 360 lbs; this number may not be fathomable to you, so let me put it in perspective by saying my body was regularly in so much pain that I was unable to walk a single NYC block without stopping. But the bigger problem, was that emotionally I felt like everyone was living, and I was just watching things pass me by in the fast lane. I needed more, but I was super scared to change. I started looking around online, in classes, or in the media; there was nobody I could identify with to show me it was possible to create change from the inside out without buying into diet culture. I needed to identify with someone that could make it safe for me to try new things. So I’ve became the person I needed to see.
The number one comment I hear time and time again? “It’s so great to see someone who looks like me doing things.”For the last three years, I’ve shared my spiritual, fitness, and personal growth journey online, the highs and the lows. In the process, I have become someone who runs the only truly size-inclusive personal growth event in the market today. Because I know the truth: Body diversity and representation matters. [caption id="attachment_119571" align="aligncenter" width="768"] Sarah teaching her Body Love Workshop. Photo courtesy of the author.[/caption]
To be blunt: This matters even if you aren’t fat.Here’s why.
- If we are alive on this planet, we’re going to age.
- Chronic illness affects more than 40 percent of the population.
- Over 19 percent of people in the U.S. live with a disability.
- Deaf and hard of hearing people are often “left out” of traditional wellness spaces.
- 68 percent of women in the U.S. wear a size 16 and above.
- Nearly 40 percent of Americans are obese.
Wellness is for every body.Understand that when I say wellness, I don’t mean ads hocking weight loss products—that’s not wellness, that’s Diet Culture. There’s a difference between the two, and the industry needs to evolve beyond the idea that “thinner equals healthier.” Wellness is about creating wholeness in many areas of your life—your body, your spiritual life, your personal life, physical life, occupational life, and more. Let me be clear—I do not have a problem with weight loss, and I am not, what some call, a Fat Activist. What I am is a person who believes that all bodies deserve access to tools and practices to help foster self-love and create change if they seek it. I know the more we represent marginalized bodies engaging in wellness practices, the more we make it safer and accessible for more bodies to self-improve… And isn’t that what wellness is all about in the first place? All bodies deserve representation in the wellness space. As a plus size woman, I personally advocate for making wellness size-friendly.
⇢ What can we do to change the landscape? ⇠
If you are a teacher...
- Learn modifications to help students of size or limited mobility. Introduce the modifications in your class without fanfare.
- If you don’t know modifications, ASK for help. There are influencers and teachers who specialize in serving marginalized bodies; there’s no shame in being unaware. These voices have yet to be amplified in the wellness space, but they are there! Do the work and find them. (When I did my teacher training at Wanderlust Hollywood, I was the only person of size in the room; I continually used my presence to raise questions and share how my mobility impacted my practice.)
- Don’t assume that every person of size who walks in the door will need special assistance! Simply make yourself accessible for questions if they are presented.
- Encourage your studios to use a variety of bodies in their marketing and social media.
- Once well-versed in accessibility techniques, offer to teach a class for serving different populations if none are available in your area. Enlist the support and advice of leaders who represent these communities with sincerity.
- LISTEN to marginalized bodies; don’t talk over people. Be open and willing to hear, and be educated without ego. Remember, this is not about you.
If you are a student...
- Treat everyone in your class the same way. Seriously.
- Don’t “position police” your neighbors of size in class. Trust us, that person is aware of their body limitations; they don’t need you to chime in.
- 61 percent of people think it’s OK to make disparaging remarks about other people's weight—don’t be one of them.
- Be an ally to your friends of size and consider being a little more “size-friendly” in your life in general.
If you organize festivals or events...
- Actively seek diverse bodies with subject authority to speak and present. We’re out here, trust me.
- Use marginalized bodies in your advertisements and on social media. Treat these bodies exactly the same as you would any other model or representative.
- Make sure your programming doesn’t innately fall into the “diet culture” of wellness; be aware of the messages you are sending by choosing which subjects to create space for.
- Vary. Your. Programming. Be willing to have the hard conversations and be willing to create a safe space for all bodies to come to the table and participate.
- Partner with influencers who represent marginalized communities. (They may have smaller followings... Do it anyway.)