In the back of Yoga Journal, lodged between ads for Himalayan salts and yoga retreats, was a photo of Ana Forrest, a yoga teacher famous in the yoga community. She was in handstand, naked from the waist up. The photo was a back view. Her muscled arms and opened hands pressed into rock ledge. Her bare legs stretched wide in a straddle and spread toes reached to an endless sky. A single black braid fell forward and touched the ground.
When I saw the photo, I felt a pang of longing. I too wanted a body that could do this. A body strong with each muscle defined. Even more, I wanted to be fearless and trusting.
In my head, I say, I have the right to be fat. I have the right to be fat.
I am a full-bodied yoga teacher. I take comfort in the fact there are others out there, luscious like me. In the yoga world, the majority of teachers are lean. On bad days, I look out at the students in the yoga class I am about to teach, and ask myself, “Don’t they see how fat I am? Why are they taking yoga from me?”
Yoga is practiced primarily by women, yet it has strong patriarchal roots and leanings, which means holding up thinness as a measurement of yogic aptitude and success. It’s the order of things.
Sometimes I wonder if being a fat yoga teacher is silently scoffed at. A suspicion that he or she is not doing the work. We must be lazy or sneaking processed foods. Most likely both. Yoga tops can not contain us. We fill out our lycra pants with hips and asses, yet we teach respectable and popular classes despite the fact we’re not skinny.
There are days I love my curves. Each one a chunk of wondrous love and an expression of my sexiness, aliveness and my ability to get down and dirty with a cheeseburger and glass of wine.
As far as skinny goes, I have been down there, in the palace, once or twice in my life, but only because of diet pills, smoking, over-exercising or sticking my finger down my throat. I cut out my risky behavior once I became a mom. But my thin moments are full- color photographs in my memory catalogued between power and acceptance. The truth is I was only ever skinny for a few hours at a time, and then my weight would creep back up again.
Catching a glimpse of Ana Forrest in the back of the glossy trade magazine sent sparks through my nervous system, so I signed up to take her thirty day course, even though I already held advanced yoga teaching certifications. I craved change.
I sat with my therapist a few weeks before the training was to begin and told her I hoped to let go of my body image problems once and for all. Maybe this training would do it. And then I regressed. “If I just didn’t have this belly, I could be happy.” My mid-section had become a bundle of permanent stretch marks, scar tissue and loose skin due to all the times I gained and lost large amounts of fat.
“It’s so unfair.” I hated the way I sounded. Whiny and superficial. Even to me. Especially to me.
I would have preferred to be swallowed by the therapist’s soft couch. Instead I clutched a trendy printed pillow on my lap.
My therapist, a PhD, who never wore the same outfit twice, nodded her head in agreement. “Maybe this would be a good time to get the tummy tuck you keep mentioning. Just get it done and over with. Right after the training. Then you can move on.”
That’s how I ended up in the upscale office of a plastic surgeon, with a brand new visa card with a zero-balance and a $10,000 limit hidden in my wallet. My insides were whirling. The wall-to-ceiling mirrors reflected back a woman with a rounded belly in jeans and a red flowered top. My flip-flops were noisy as I made my way across the marble floor.
In my head, I say, I have the right to be skinny. I have the right to be skinny.
The plastic surgeon was a tall man with big teeth and a spring-time tan. He held a red permanent magic marker in his strong yet manicured hands and waved the marker around as he spoke. As he drew a dotted line along my belly, hips, and even across the top of my ass, to show me where he would remove the fat from, he told me the incision would be tiny.
“In a couple of months, once you heal, you will be able to wear a bikini. Of course how good you will look depends on whether you are a cadillac or a chevy. It all depends on what model you are underneath. I can only do so much.”
I looked down at my recently painted and pedicured toes the color of cruises and cotton candy. When I had gotten them done the day before, I hoped he would notice I appreciated details and pretty things. Now I felt my own foolishness slap my face.
“You are going to love the results,” he said as he put the cap back on the marker. He was giddy with himself. “All my clients do.”
Later that evening, sitting with my husband, I told him I thought the plastic surgeon was an ass. “But he does really good work, so I think I’m gonna go for it. After the training.” I looked at Matt for approval.
Then he said the thing my husband always says. “If you need to do this, I support you all the way. But Annie, I could care less what your belly looks like. Just make sure that whatever you do, you continue to have sex with me.”
He leaned over and kissed me while his hands groped under my shirt for my belly. “God, you’re hot.” he said.
Acutely aware of the red lines that would not wash off and delineated my muffin top, it took everything not to pull away from the man who loved me.
In my head, I say, Stay. Stay.
The first day of Ana Forrest’s yoga teacher training was as I suspected. I was the largest women in the room. It’s not that I’m obese, but I carry rolls and padding in a crowd that had nothing extra to spare. It was a significant difference. This did not stop me from walking past every single size-two yogi and plunking my yoga mat down right in front of the teacher. Ana Forrest looked directly at me. I made eye contact back. For the next 30 days I would put my mat down in the same exact spot and every day we would greet each other with our eyes. Continue Reading…