Yesterday I experienced something incredibly frustrating, and in thinking about how to frame it for this post, I became even more intensely frustrated.  I imagined explaining it to a friend of mine I spent a lot of time with in college, whom I haven’t seen much since.  She is naturally very thin, and spent a lot of time consoling me in my college years when I lamented about how fat and ugly I was and how, because of this, I would never have a real relationship.


Since that time, I have discovered feminism and fat acceptance and HAES and my mindset has taken a 180 degree turn.  Instead of being angry at myself for being fat and ugly, I’m angry at culture for applying those labels to me and making me internalize them.  (It’s complex, of course: first individualist patriarchal culture deems fat to be ugly, and also entirely controllable, therefore if you’re fat you’re ugly and it’s no one’s fault but your own.)


My experience was this: I have been practicing yoga for 4 years now, and for the past few weeks I have been taking a vinyasa class.  (Basically, moving fairly quickly through a flow of poses that are strength based.)  At first I resisted the “trendy” sweaty yoga that has become so popular with white urban rich folks, but after a few classes I started to enjoy building heat and focusing my mind on the combination of movement and breathing.


Now, being a good “yogi” (someone who practices yoga) means you acknowledge your limitations, embrace them, and work at your comfortable but challenging (and not painful) edge.  At the beginning of this particular class, our instructor asked if any of us would like a block to modify any of the challenging poses we would be doing.  After a short silence, one person said yes.  “Now that’s being a good yogi!” my instructor told him.  By acknowledging that he would need a block, he was being honest and open with his body.


So the essence of yoga is to not be in competition with anyone else, and especially with not with yourself.  Yesterday, after we’d done headstand and handstand (neither of which I can do fully because I don’t have the upper body strength) our instructor wanted us to practice the elevated lotus posture (ironically, called lolasana) to flow from a face down position to a seated position.  Because of the size of my thighs and bum, my arms are not long enough to lift myself completely off the mat in order to do this.  So when the thought, “I’m too fat to do this pose” crept into my head during my yoga class, which is intentionally my break from the competitive, misogynistic world I live in, I was furious.


The strength of the thought was fierce, and it would not dislodge itself from my head; it began to spread more and more, expanding to “I’m too fat to do any inversions, I’m weak and undisciplined, I’ll never be able to do this,” etc.  (Let’s call this my version of Jay Smooth’s “little hater.”)  I began to cry.  The room was dark so I was not called out; but I couldn’t focus, my breathing pattern was interrupted, and the stillness I was trying to cultivate vanished.


Now, in daylight, it doesn’t seem to be that big of a deal.  (Even now I looked up a modification for the pose, in which you place blocks under your arms to give yourself more room to swing through.)  But last night, in the (literal) heat of the moment, it took me over.  At the same time this insidious, self-hating dialogue reared its ugly head, I was thinking, “Fuck you for getting into my brain.  Fuck you for invading one of the only safe spaces I have free of judgment.  I know better than this; this is not what yoga is about.”  Today, that anger dominates.  And that anger is what this post is about; and that anger is what my college friend would misunderstand.


She would see it as me making excuses for myself, or creating a straw man out of culture, to make myself feel better.  “We all know you’re fat, but I’ll support whatever you have to tell yourself to keep yourself happy.”


As any feminist knows, the influence of culture is not a straw man.  It is not paranoia.  It is not an excuse.  It is a strong behavioral influence that dictates the framework in which we think about issues that affect our life, one of those being weight and body image.  Culture is viewed as an authority: “of course you don’t want to be fat, it’s unhealthy and unattractive, everyone knows that.”  But culture is mutable.  Cultural standards change.  And taking my anger and turning it into a driving force will allow me to reject misogynistic culture instead of rejecting myself.  Fuck you, little hater.


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