How Yoga Changed My Mind (And My Relationship to My Body)

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Photo Credit: Sarit Rogers

By Melanie Klein

For the women in my family, the body was a source of anxiety, shame, a measure of discipline and worth – something to fret over, scrutinize, and punish for bad behavior. Food invoked anxiety and fear. Calories were meticulously tracked and exercised away as quickly as possible.

The women openly complained about their “flaws” and lamented the numbers on the scale, while many of them ravenously ate a couple extra hundred calories in secret. I learned that life began five pounds (or, in my case, 10 pounds), from now.

I didn’t grow up feeling comfortable in, or good about my body. The body as a source of joy and vitality was an alien concept most of my life. I enjoyed food and wanted it, but I knew that made me weak, undisciplined and “bad.”

It didn’t help that I inherited my height from my father’s side of the family. I learned that beauty was a beast, one I had to conquer in order to measure up and feel good about myself. And that I had to conquer it no matter the costs because, hey, baby, you’re worth it.

My mother and the women in her family were all diminutive women with tiny feet, tiny hands, bird-like shoulders, and bitty waists. They were delicate flowers that liked to remind people that they were “petite.” From the time I’d entered fourth-grade, I was referred to as “big-boned,” “solid,” “big like her dad’s side of the family” and in need of “losing a few pounds.” I had surpassed my great-grandmother in height by the time I was 11. By seventh-grade, I was taller than my mother and grandmother. Measuring 5’3” and weighing 130 pounds, I was an “Amazon,” that poor freak of nature that had inherited the wrong set of genes.

I knew none of these comments were compliments. In fact, most little girls want to secretly flip someone the bird when an annoying aunt or family friend hovers and croons, “My, she’s gotten to be such a big girl!” “Big” and “girl” don’t go together well in our culture. But I didn’t have the confidence or wherewithal to say, “Whoah, whoah – back the hell up. Don’t you all know you’re talking about my body right in front of me? Don’t you know your tones are either derisive or filled with worry about my size? Don’t you know this kind of body talk objectifies me and makes me feel like shit?”

Nope, I was too deeply mired in my own shame and guilt about my body. Oh, why oh why wasn’t I born short with a delicate bone structure? Plus, these were my family members and adults in my life that I respected, admired, and trusted. I believed they had my best interests at heart. And they did. They really did. I don’t doubt that for an instant.

My mother and my grandmother, the two women I idolized more than anyone else and who loved me deeply, were projecting their own anxieties and insecurities on me because they didn’t know any better. We’re all prone to absorbing the socially constructed images and messages in our cultural environment.

And they’re no exception.

Like me, their own families, peers, and the society they grew up in influenced their sense of self and their measure of worth as girls and women. Like me and legions of other girls and women, they internalized the notion that what matters most, aside from any other skills or talents, is how pretty they are (and in our culture, pretty is synonymous with skinny). Not how they feel, not what they can do, not how healthy they are.

And, let’s be honest, there are lots of skinny people who aren’t healthy. In fact, health never entered the conversation in my household. Losing five or ten pounds was never a matter of health, but a matter of aesthetics.

I mean, ceaselessly dieting, from the Atkins diet to the pineapple diet (where you consumed vast quantities of pineapple because pineapple would “eat” away the extra fat you were carrying), over exercising, diet pills, caffeine, and excessive calorie restriction isn’t exactly the yellow brick road to optimal health.

After years of compulsive and punishing exercise (my mother got me a gym membership when I turned 12), severe calorie restriction, bouts of binging and purging, and Slim Fast shakes for breakfast, I stumbled into a yoga class led by Bryan Kest.

It was the mid-nineties, I was 24-years-old and my life was about to radically change. Everything I knew about my body, everything I felt toward my body, and my negative self-talk was about to undergo a seismic shift. For the first time since early childhood, I was about to learn how to be comfortable and radiant in my own skin. For the first time in my life, I was about to learn how to love my body.

I settled in on my mat in a space that would become the rare and sacred space devoid of competition. A space uncluttered by external chatter, removed from the world of advertising and one that would quiet and soothe my own self-critic. Kest began that first class by inviting me back into my body. “Welcome to your bodies. Welcome to yoga.”

To read Melanie Klein’s complete essay on yoga and body image and the complete details of her own transformation pick up a copy of 21st Century Yoga; Culture, Politics and Practice. Available in soft-cover or on Kindle.

Cross-posted with permission.

Related Posts:

How Yoga Makes You Pretty

Nude Yoga for Body Acceptance

Feminism, Body Image and Yoga

“I’m Not a Size Zero. Can I Practice Yoga?”: Anna Guest-Jelley Says “Yes!”

Subverting the Beauty Paradigm: Questioning the Relationship Between Body Image and Self Image, in Yoga and Beyond

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Comments

  1. What an interesting post. I like how you mention the impact that your family had on your body image and overall thoughts about food. Some women know where the roots of their beliefs are and some are unaware that their family and how they were raised to think about food is still impacting them today. Thanks for sharing!

  2. My issue wasn’t inherently aesthetic but still had to do with presentation and self image. I came from two families interwoven by my parents and severed by them just the same. The Khans and Aghas were legions of politicians, poets, and men who were known for their incredible talents and abilities to swoon women. Yet, I was relatively unremarkable carrying a shy timid disposition practically my entire adolescent life. Nearly identically, my family ridiculed me for falling short of the families traditionally proud and voracious men who charged into every situation as alpha males instead I was the artistic more sensitive child capable of getting good grades and taking care of my family members. Later on out of angst and fits of anger, I joined my high school forensics team to hopefully reach the ideals my family believed in. My father and my mother’s father along with several other layers of lineage were seasoned debaters carrying national regard along with prestige throughout the course of their lives and beyond. I joined my speech and debate team hoping to accomplish the same but even more so, just yearning for acceptance. Through the avenues of speech and debate I was reintroduced to my identity, I learned to be proud of who I am and not feel constrained by my heritage. Instead of lamenting my immediate failures, I spent countless hours supplementing my high school education with research and developing my speech and argumentative strategies until they were honed to my best critical form. I found myself competing against teams who had 4 coaches fulltime practicing with them and teaching them with private school budgets and inexplicably enormous tubs and binders of evidence, while my partner and I only possessed our own personal research and self-taught technique. We would lead a 5-1 win loss ratio unparalleled by even the most prestigious schools in each tournament we entered. After placing at international tournaments on campuses like stanford and berkeley, I knew I had begun to understand my capabilities. From then onward, I began to notice in identifying who I was as a person my family began to accept me for just being myself and showing my devotion. I can’t agree with professor Klein more that: in reclaiming your identity and self value, you also find a sense of inclusion within the ranks of your family. My niche changed me forever just the same as Professor Klein’s outlet did as well.

  3. Shahriar M. says:

    I think is is absolutely amazing how her sociological and feminist education was able to bring her to realization that the problem just may be with the media! Many women have no idea how immensely the media controls their thoughts and levels of self-esteem. I think all women who are unhappy with their bodies should come to this realization as well. Weather its taking a class, speaking to a mentor, reading a book; it is about time women stop allowing the media to have so much control over them. Yoga is beautiful because it will allow them to maintain their relief after learning that the problem is not with them.

  4. I can relate to, as well as understand what it may be like to constantly have the family members, the people you may be the closest with, make suggestive comments about your body and your appearance. Such as saying things like, “im not saying you are not fine the way you are, but you could look better if you did this”. What they fail to realize at times is that by making these kinds of comments, although they mean no harm by what they say to you it can affect you and you may even unconsciously internalize what they have said. Making it very hard to feel good about yourself and making you very self-conscious. Especially in a society where one of the most important things for a woman is to fit society’s standards of beauty, although it may be unattainable and unrealistic.

  5. StephanieR. says:

    I agree with this whole article. The growing up and being bigger than pretty much everyone else in your family. Being taught you’re not enough in your own skin. Having to constantly be told you need to lose weight and exercise not because “you’ll be so much prettier if you just lost a couple pounds”. Taking yoga in high school taught me self love and peace so I can agree with Klein when she says yoga changed her mind about her body and how she copes with negative views towards it.

  6. After reading this article I realized how I am not alone in my day-to-day experiences. I am honestly not a fat person. But I am always being told to go to the gym and stay fit by my family, and friends. My family also sometimes micromanages what I eat, whether its healthy or not. I mentioned in your other blog about yoga pants about how I started to attend yoga classes since the summer. I love my yoga instructor, which I believe if you have a good yoga instructor then you will have a positive yoga experience. I honestly enjoy yoga so much because of the certain way it relaxes my body. Now that finals are coming around yoga especially helps because it is an outlet and relieves all the stress and tension my body that has been building up inside. I really noticed that yoga could make such a difference in ones life. It’s not only a way to exercise and stay fit, but it is a relaxer as well. Even as I write this article, I am so excited to go to my yoga class tomorrow.

  7. Growing up as a child was different because I did get to really start seeing my physique as I hit my teenage years. When I first started playing youth football I weighed in at 180 and I was consider overweight to play the position I want to play. So my whole life I had to either block for the QB or chase after the running backs. I can relate to this article because I gained a lot of weight and family members started talking shit in front of me. Till this day they still talk but its really not a big deal anymore, I just need to workout just to be healthier.

  8. Thank you so much for sharing this with us. I also grew up in a household where weight and body image was very important. My sister was always thin. No matter what she put into her body, she never gained a pound. My brother and I on the other hand struggled when we were younger. My mom put me on diets. I’ve tried it all but I was very defiant. It wasn’t what I wanted to do- it was what my mother wanted for me. However, like your family for you, my mom had my best interests in mind. It’s not her fault, it is how society conditioned her to think. This consumed our family’s life. It was a main concern every day. It took me wanting to be healthy and take care of myself to go along with what my mom was saying. Today, I am a lot more comfortable with my body. Even though I am a dancer, I have accepted the fact that naturally I am not stick thin like my sister and there is no way that I will get down to the correct dancer body in a healthy way. I am still self-conscious of course. I didn’t have some big epiphany, but I am a lot more confident with my body. I hope I can find something like yoga to have the same kind of transformation you had. It sounds like it is doing wonders for you.

  9. CourtyanaF says:

    I can relate to your insecurities with weight. All of my cousins have “perfect” shapes and they’re always commenting on someone else’s appearance. Yoga is a great outlet, especially when it comes to body image and becoming one with yourself. It brings serenity and positive energy around you. More women should practice Yoga. Your will have a whole new outlook on everything.

  10. This article is pretty interesting considering that many woman can relate to having weight issues at some point in their life. It isn’t the woman’s fault it is what the media feeds people that woman feel the need to be a on a diet or over exercise. Most of the advertisements on television are of medication some selling tablets to lose weight while other advertisements are on weight exercise videos. Woman have felt the need to be perfect in this patriarchal society because of the way we are all raised in this society with certain gender norms expected of woman. So instead of feeling confident about our bodies women are left feeling insecure and hence leads to eating disorders or over exercising. I could relate to the story because I to myself have had issues with my body. Even though I had a healthy BMI I felt like I could lose a couple of inches of my hips and thighs. But recently I have found yoga and it has helped me appreciate my body. I feel more comfortable in my own skin .Though I admit I went into the yoga class thinking it would also be a way of losing weight but now after taking classes of yoga I have a whole new level of appreciation for myself.

  11. I find it perplexing and a bit upsetting that some of the commenters have expressed that yoga can help them lose weight. Is that truly the goal? And if it’s not the primary goal, should losing weight be considered an extra bonus from engaging in yoga?

    I strongly encourage readers to check out Linda Bacon’s “Health at Every Size” and Eric Oliver’s “Fat Politics” to get a better grasp on what health truly means (hint: it has nothing to do with a number on the scale), and to get a clear picture of the vested interests of the pharmaceutical and diet industries who fund the studies that tell us we need to be slim.

    To get started, check out: http://www.adiosbarbie.com/2011/12/dare-to-resolve-to-ditch-dieting/

  12. I might just want to join a yoga class after reading this. I, too, have found myself, till this day actually, going back and forth with my weight. I’ve been the same weight ever since middle school. People will neither say I’m fat or I’m skinny, they like to use the term “average.” The word average isn’t so appealing to me like the word skinny is. Constantly ill give myself excuses to not eat what I most desire to eat. I grew up with a younger brother who was overweight in middle school but once he got to high school he grew ten inches and became so skinny. I looked at myself and kept thinking why couldn’t that happen to me? It didn’t help either when I lived with my boyfriend at the time that patronized me every time I wanted to eat. Instead of loving me for who I was he made me feel like crap when I bit into a creamy delicious tiramisu. My parents do the same thing. I have parents who will point out every time I gained a little weight and then scold me for not eating dinner when they made the most calorie-infested meals. I don’t know if ill ever be able to see myself as average like everybody else does and see if as a good thing but I learn to love and respect myself everyday for who I’ve become.

  13. Michelle G. says:

    It’s always those little comments that seem to get to you. When I was growing up, I was one of the tallest girl in the class for quite a while, and teachers and classmates would comment on it. It would make me feel uncomfortable and I would slouch to seem shorter, which ended up ruining my posture. Posture is very important in my family, and though I know it something I need to work on, they really pick on me for it. It gets to the point that certain family members would use insults. It was not easy to listen to that, and looking back it was kind of a domino effect–people made fun of me for being tall so I tried to fix that by trying to look shorter which resulted in negative comments from my family. That’s not the only thing my family pressures me about, which is why I think yoga sounds like a great way to escape. I’d thought about doing it but things get busy and you forget. It’s the perfect way to have “me” time and not think about school or work or what I need to listen to when I get home. I just got a gym membership and they have yoga on the schedule. Guess I’m lucky this article refreshed my memory!

  14. I think this article is saying that when we are kid or child, we always think we need to be thin, but when we are grown, we think differently, and with doing yoga we can lose weight, and it helps to reduce bad thinks from our minds, not eating. If we do not eat correctly, the society will call us ” Eating Disorder”.

  15. BrittanyP says:

    This is a topic that many individuals can easily relate to. Weight is not something that can not be effortlessly controlled and requires a lot of dedication, devotion, and time. Nowadays, people are focusing more on the aesthetics than on their own health. If your skinny, you don’t need to watch what your eating and don’t worry about working out, but if you are overweight, make sure you are a restrictive calorie diet and go to the gym AT LEAST once a day. This is how most people have begun to think. The way our society has reshaped itself is slowly affecting its people. I believe that exercise should be enforced no matter how one looks, as well as healthy eating habits. I have grown into a woman that exercises almost everyday, and has a very healthy diet to sustain my physical and mental well being. I actually did Yoga with Brian Kest a couple of times and really enjoyed his teaching and I can relate to what you were saying about how much practicing Yoga has changed your life. I believe because the practice incorporates the use of every muscle in your body, you become more aware of your body spiritually and can finally obtain dominance over your daily actions and choices.

  16. This article really persuades me to want to take yoga. Growing up in a Hispanic household I always ate our traditional, not always the healthiest foods. At the same time the women in my family would criticize me if I gained weight on my 5 foot body. I just couldn’t understand how they wanted me to eat the fatty foods they cooked and still maintain an itty-bitty waist. I realize that it is not their fault because they are just trying to protect me from the scrutinizing eye of society. Yoga is something I have always been interested in but have never had the time to do. I would definitely consider taking a class so that I can learn how to practice self -love.

  17. After reading this article it shows how of an impact of what others say about you especially coming from ones you really care about. Which can really hurt you if they say something negative. Like my parents always call me skinny I don’t take it offensive because I learned at a young age to accept my body and I’m very comfortable. But for a parent or close friend or family to call you something negative can really affect you, such as self-esteem. Which causes insecurities, but I’m glad theirs outlets as yoga to use to get away from the negativity and learn to love yourself within.

  18. It is very interesting to me how similar stories can be from different age groups and different time periods. As far as I can remember my grandma would count her food in points, also known as the “weight watchers” diet. I could only imagine the stress she would put on herself to look perfect since she was part of the 50’s housewives (and still plays the role). As a 21-year-old woman who attends therapy every week, I am now realizing where my eating disorder has stemmed from. I always thought it adapted over time, but it really started before I even knew what fat was. After all… hearing your father call your mother fat is something that will forever stay embedded in a little girl’s mind. Growing up in Orange County was the cherry on top. Everyday I at school I was constantly comparing myself to every “petite” blonde girl who drove a Mercedes and wouldn’t eat lunch so they could fit into their prom dresses. I, on the other hand, enjoyed food and never understand why anyone would skip lunch, and by that time I was starving. But it wasn’t until I moved away to college that I realized crying after eating my food because of the immense amount of guilt I felt wasn’t normal. I had been doing yoga for several years, and my mother invited me to a yoga retreat with yoga legend Eric Schiffman. He was very different from Bryan Kest and the other yoga classes I had attended, much older and taught a completely different kind of class. It was about seeing things “online” (meaning spiritually online) and watching things with an observer’s eye.

  19. Growing up, my parents, grandparents, and other family members always called me “skinny” and told me that I had to eat more food and gain some weight. As time went on, others friends told me that I was lucky to have such a thin body. Comments then grew harsher and i was often called anorexic. Although it sounded sarcastic, I knew there was a meaning behind it. It was then I decided to take a yoga class. In that class I felt invincible. At the start, I would compare myself to the more flexible people but then came to realize that each individual has a different body and you must wort to perfect yourself. I connected with my body and came to feel very comfortable.

  20. The theme of beauty protrudes throughout this article and it also relates to the video we saw in our women studies class on misrepresentation. The narrator of the video was about to give birth and was concerned about what her female newborn will be exposed to do to our media culture. I think this greatly correlates with this article as it mentions how beauty in is socially and historically constructed. Like the author of the article, her mother and grandmother projected anxieties and insecurities on her. The way women socialize makes girls now more aware that beauty is very important, which brings about a gender specific, something we discussed in our class. I also recalled the five feminist criticisms of beauty which are; a huge double standard, sheer cost, choice and control, physical and mental health, maintains other forms of inequality. Since the article ends about self loving, it reminded about Bell Hook’s “Communion” book the female search for love which discusses all realms of love through distinct perspective.

  21. Appearance is something that is socially expected in my culture. If you wish to be considered a respected female you are groomed. Most of the women I have ever known, have been on diets, fasts, cleanses, teas and appetite suppressant pills that is only to control their weigh. As far as esthetics, makeup, gels, creams, facials, mani/pedi is just the beginning. Seeing this first hand has almost been a hand down of the “rules”. What I have learned, it’s expensive, fast results always come back double the trouble and it effects your body and mind. Yoga is an amazing way to appreciate what you have, not chasing what you think you “don’t” have. This should be a mantra. The more people shred and punish themselves over body ideals the less happy people seem to be. Wonder if food depravation is having an effect on your mood, sure does! Have a healthy meal with a side of a pleasant conversation instead of secretly starving. Love yourself just the way you are!

  22. I can really relate to having family members who comment on my body till this day. Unknowingly making me reconsider how confident I feel in my own skin. The only time I was complimented would be when I had lost a bit of weight. My younger sister is now experiencing the same thing. I found it completely absurd how they complimented on her weight loss after the need to have surgery because she was really ill. This article reminds me of a time in high school when I had stopped eating and a very close friend of mine knew. I remember her complimenting me one day and telling me how starving myself was really giving me results and that I looked great. In a society where the beauty norm is being thin and beautiful, reassurance for attempting to fit such molds shouldn’t exist. Instead we must be reassured for being beautiful in the bodies we were born in and have.

  23. After reading Communion: The Female Search for Love by Bell Hooks, I realized the importance of loving your body. In the book she explains that you can’t love or be loved without self-love, and you can’t have self-love if you hate your own body. I’ve also battled with my body image. Unsurprisingly the skinnier I am the more I love my body, and of course, the fatter I am the more I hate my body. But now since I’m more aware of why I hate my body and the importance of loving my body, I can now move past this self-hate, work on self-love, and positively rid me of my insecurities.

    Bell Hooks also explained the influence other women have on my own body image. I also grew up in a similar environment where the women around me would openly dissect, scrutinize, and complain about their own bodies. Where women would suggest I should lose weight. Where women would compliment me the most when I was the skinniest. My mother, my biggest female influence, has always scrutinized her own body and has always harshly judged other women on their appearance, and yet she would try to assure me of my beauty by verbally telling me I’m beautiful. I never believed her, and now I know why: My mothers actions influenced me much more than her kind words.

  24. I started practicing yoga myself about a year ago. It really changed my life and how I feel about my body. At first I hated it, it was very difficult for me to stay present mentally and physically. But after a few weeks I started really getting into a flow, and noticed that the way I felt about my body began to change. I started thinking of it as a living breathing organism, one that I has been taking for granted for so long. The quality of food I ate became something I started taking very seriously. Although I cant claim to be free of self hatred yet, since I started practicing yoga I definitely have more love for myself and my body.

  25. I love working out to Nazli I especially love the way i feel during a workout and after my workouts.I workout to be healthy as well. I watched a clip on Ted Tv the other day and i heard a statisic 4% of women find themselves beautiful.4 % that is so low it makes me sick. What does that say about our culture?

  26. I love working out and I love doing yoga, but I don’t do it to lose a certain amount of weight or to look a certain way. I do it to feel good and to be healthy. EVERY girl has or is self conscious about her body or weight or the way she looks like. For me though, it was realizing that I have flaws and that I have to embrace it and love it. And once you love it and embrace yourself, and respect yourself, someone’s going to love you because you love yourself. Working out and doing yoga makes me focus on the class itself and the poses I’m making and my breathing, so I lose all thought and focus on other events going around in my life. Even if it’s just for an hour, it helps me deal with stress. Yoga makes me focus on energy, peace, quiet, and every time I come out of my yoga class I somehow feel a little better and relaxed. For me yoga is not just a class but it’s a way of life because it’s something I need weekly, it’s to much of a habit for me, for me to stop.

  27. I found this article to be very interesting because many women can relate. I, personally, can relate also. My whole life, people have been calling me “skinny”, and “petite”. I thought of it as a compliment, since that is how “perfection” is portrayed in the media. One day at school this girl comes up to me and goes “wow, your so skinny!”. Me thinking it is a compliment reply by saying “thank you”. Then she goes on by saying “no it’s not good skinny, it looks like you are anorexic”. I, for sure, was not anorexic. I had normal eating habits and never thought anything of it. I just have a high metabolism, which in return gives me a more “petite” frame. That comment hurt me alot, and made me want to eat more so people would not think I was anorexic. That went on for a few weeks, up until I took a yoga class, just like the author. Once I took the yoga class, I learned to love my body, and helped me gain self esteem. To this day, I can proudly say that I am comfortable in my own skin. Of course I have those days where I do not think I look my best, but overall I am very content with who I am.

  28. I see this happening everywhere. And if anything, it has only gotten worse in the past few years. The problem is that mothers, aunts, and grandmothers do not realize how much those words can affect a young girl and her outlook on life. It can destroy her. A young girl is given a set of standards she feels obliged to follow to be considered “pretty” or to be “acceptable” before she is even close to being fully grown. A girl is tossed around by those around her, whether it be her family or the media surrounding her, and is told the type of person she should become before figuring herself out first. From an early age, these girls are taught that beauty should come before their health. No matter what the cost is.

  29. Alexander K (Wom Stud. 10 Scholars) says:

    I find this article very interesting because it makes me realize how similar I am with my professor. Even though I can’t
    empathize with her, I still have an understanding of where she is coming from. Being born into the Persian culture, my family and I have always been under the influence of being high-class. We try our best to look wealthy and successful. However money can’t change the way you perceive yourself. I consider myself lucky to have been born not too skinny and not too fat. I feel that my body type is of somewhat healthy. I would almost never complain about my body. If I felt that I was too skinny, I would eat. If I felt that I was too fat, I would exercise. I didn’t find it difficult to do either of those two things. I do believe Yoga is a great exercise to help clean out the mind and body, however after trying Yoga, I realized that it’s not my type of exercise.

  30. I relate to this blog a lot because when I was about 16 I gained a lot of weight and I was basically very overweight.At first, I didn’t care that I was gaining weight despite my parents and family telling me about it and to workout more.I had bad eating habits such as eating a can of soda a day, a bag of chips a day, and eating other disgusting junk food.I know my parents love me and had my best interest, but I got annoying so I got sick of how I look which led me to make changes.Two months ago I started a WHOLE new lifestyle of eating healthy and working out consistently (working with a trainer, working out at home, taking an exercise class) and to date I have lost about twenty pounds.Even though this new lifestyle has gotten me good results, i am still dissatisfied and somewhat uncomfortable in my own skin because I want to be
    in the best shape possible.I am VERY careful with what I eat, i don’t even know what coke is anymore and I always check the nutrition facts when I eat something so I don’t have a lot of sugar or fat.I also look at people on TV such as Mike “The Situation” and professional wrestlers and try to put those expectations on me.I have lifted heavy weights and I take protein powder to help get me to that point.From my story it shows that its not only women that are uncomfortable in their own skin, its men like me because I want to have six pack abs because that is the ideal body.Whenever I always thought about yoga, I thought it was dumb because you’re just sitting on the mat doing stretches.Recently, when I heard that professional athletes such as football players do it, it makes you lose weight, and build muscle so I have considered trying it.Also from hearing this story, I see that yoga helps you mentally too and it is relaxing which moving forward I will definitely at least try to do.

  31. Thank you so much!! It’s really great to hear people speak out about their experiences. That’s super important for all of us to grow. Once upon a time, I thought that a “healthy body image” was just a poor joke. And now its the most beautiful thing in the world. Thank you!

  32. Growing up, I have always been petite. I remember I have always been called tiny and mouse. As I got older, the comments became harsher and I was called midget or dwarf. At times it would really make me upset, but to be honest I liked being small. I was happy with the way I was. Up until I realized the mass influence the media has on people my size, I figured out why people would call me these nicknames. I did not make it okay for people to call me midget or dwarf, but at least I knew where they were coming from. My family has always told me, “Don’t gain weight, men don’t like fat women.” They have also always told me, “Take care of your skin, your image is important.” Everywhere I turn I see the “sexy” and “beautiful” images of women that the media,friends, and family are trying to make me look like. I JUST NEED TO BREATHE. BREATHE… that is where yoga comes into my life. Twice a week, for a hour and 30 minutes is my mini vacation away from the negativity. Relaxation, peace of mind, an escape, is what yoga is for me. Now media has portrayed yoga as the new hip sensation that everyone should get into, which is taking away from the calmness, but that is why you can’t just go anywhere. I have realized I eat what makes me happy and I work out and keep my tiny little size. All this makes me happy. As long as I am happy, I am content.

  33. I think no matter where you go cultures are going to be different and idea of “beauty” is going to be perceived differently in every culture. My mother immigrated to the U.S. when she was a teenager, I don’t think the cultural and media really influenced her because she didn’t grow up with it. However, it’s been more than 30 years since she’s been here and I see a lot of changes. Even she get influenced by the media and it’s images of beauty. My mother, being a single mother has no man to impress, and when you exercise you should do it for your health benefit, not to lose a few pounds and reach a certain weight. However, lately I’ve been noticing that she’s been complaining about her weight and how she has a “belly” and that she needs to watch what she eats and start working out more. I however don’t look at her like that, I think for someone of her age and her height, she looks great. Not only is she worried about her weight, she worried about other body parts at her age. Then it comes down to me, there isn’t a day where I don’t hear her nagging about my height, when she alone is short too. She keeps telling me that if you eat more that you’ll grow. and that now-a-days guys won’t even look at you if you’re not taller than 5’5 (oh really, tell that to my boyfriend than). And everytime I do try to eat more, she’ll say that I’m eating alot and that I’m going to gain weight, and then when I don’t eat she tells me that I’m not eating enough. This is so confusing for me. However, lately I’ve just been tuning her out and doing what I want to do. I’ve been eating whenever and whatever I want to eat, and I know that’s not healthy, but that’s why I exercise too. I don’t exercise because I want to lose weight, I exercise so I can find a right balance in my life, and it also makes me feel good. I’m comfortable in my body, and that’s something that’s very hard to do. Yes I have those days where I don’t feel pretty but I’ll never really have those days where I feel like I’m fat and that I need to lose 10 pounds. I’m comfortable in my skin, only because I’ve found someone who’s comfortable with me and someone who sees my inner beauty.

    BTW if anyone is reading this, my boyfriend and I recently just took up hot yoga. If you thought yoga was great and that it gave you a sweat, you really need to try hot yoga.

  34. I think that everyone and especially every woman can relate to the negative comments that are justified in society made by family or family friends. I, too was called “big boned” by my mother to her friends and although it hurt it was always accepted and was normal. After reading these articles, and seeing how those comments can make young woman hood hell, I found myself telling off my friend for telling her niece in front of everyone to stop eating because she was getting too fat. I didn’t want that girl to go through the feeling of not belonging and not being worthy of being a woman. Even though people do it sub consciously and don’t realize it being a great woman should not be based on this one way idea of beauty but on your mind and soul.

  35. I completely empathize with everything you said. I’m part Italian and part Japanese; both cultures think that every conversation should begin and end with food. Ever since I was little, I can remember being told I had to lose “a few pounds.” This was usually just before or just after someone broke out chocolate cake they got at the bakery or a Domino’s pizza. I can completely relate to the part about parents projecting their insecurities on their kids. I read somewhere that many parents despise most in their children the things that the parents are most insecure about. As if that weren’t enough, we have the media chiming in everywhere we turn, reminding us that we need to be perfectly thin.

  36. Throughout this whole article, I was able to relate to many of the experiences you had gone through. I also got the genes in my family as a tall girl (5 foot 9), although my mom is a petite woman who is 5 foot 5. It makes me self-conscious and feel as though I am not living up to her expectations when she constantly badgers me and obsesses over what I eat and telling me to go to the gym more often. I go to the gym often and at my gym, I am able to do yoga classes also, which I go to frequently. I love yoga. It makes me focused on the positive, confident, and releases all the stress I have within my body. Most importantly, for me it has helped me deal with daily stresses especially due to the deep breathing that is incorporated, and I feel like a different person whenever I come out of the class. Not only is it a form of exercise that helps you slim down, but it also serves as a mental experience where you can learn to deal with stresses and anxieties. I think everyone should try it at least once in their lives in order to see what a difference it really makes.

  37. While I may not be a woman, I can completely understand this. My family has always been persistent on maintaining the highest standards of beauty when it comes to the clothes you buy, down to doing whatever it takes to change your diet to make you skinny. While both of my sisters were blessed with being skinny, I unfortunately was not and it took me a while to be comfortable in my own body. While I realize that it wouldn’t hurt to lose a few pounds, I can still feel comfortable that my body is MY body and I will do with it what I please.

    I was able to figure this out just through constant meditation on Saturday mornings. While my process might not have involved stretching exercises found in Yoga, I still was able to overcome my insecurities about my body through realizing that I shouldn’t have to conform to the standards that others wish to place upon me.

    After reading this article, I think I might try Yoga as a way to further boost my self-confidence and perhaps even lose a few pounds.

  38. This article is not the first of its kind, nor is the realization had by the author a new one. However, her experinces are important and relevant to many people. The shift from seeing the body as an aesthetic entity to being an expression of vitality and selfhood is a critical transition to be able to make in our image-conscious culture. At a certain point the price of approval and superficiality becomes too great. As soon as we are offered an alternative to hating our bodies and feeling at war with them, we can start to idenitfy with them and enjoy using them unselfconsciously.

  39. While reading this article I realized this is a prime example of the effects media and society has on our young women in their developing ages. I personally can relate to this due to having two sisters that were constantly on diets and were always to fat for the family. they were pressured by everyone even their mother that loves them very much to lose weight regardless the cost to their health as my sister at age 14 was so malnutrition that she broke her bones multiple times. The amazing part in this article is the idea of the flip of learning to love your body and surprisingly to me yoga I feel from this example this is an amazing tool that all woman should give a try because of regardless of how they feel about their bodies, the cultivation of these amazingly skinny body types has built that as the image of beauty so any measure they can use to aid the process of feeling more comfortable in their own skin.

  40. I grew up from childhood as the “big girl,” so this post resonates something previously undefinable in me. I have defined it as anger and this galvanized me to raise my awareness; I am sitting attentive by 8 in the morning. It strikes me that I had similar thoughts and reactions of why did I miss out on the skinny genes from my mother (she is also a petite woman at 5’4). I questioned my immigration: is it the influence of Americanization that I turned out so unlike the petite girls of Asia?! I blamed my dad for his ‘manly’ genes. I became very self conscious and self aware of how others perceived a big girl from a “normal” skinny girl. This similar response from you and other big girls expresses that this is not an individual experience but one shared with multitude of others. Therefore exposing the societal causes that create and contribute to the perpetual self-oppression females apply to themselves.

    What has helped me to start working towards acceptance is rather than a diet and weight loss oriented life, a fitness and health oriented life. These are values subjective to each person. I have taken yoga classes here and there at the gym. They were more fitness oriented than empowering. You are a strong advocate for yoga. I had previously been undecisive about taking a yoga class at school, but I’m seriously considering it now. 

    People automatically associate healthy eating and exercise to be for weight loss. Its assumed that fat people would be eating junk food and sweets if they weren’t fat. Who in their right mind would choose fruit over ice cream or wheat over white?! A saying that stuck to me about this was, “I’m not dieting, I’m choosing to eat healthy.” 

  41. yajaira villarreal says:

    Y Villarreal.

    Like you I have the same type of issues with my family in terms of body shame, even though their intentions are good they don’t realize how painful the underlining message: “your not good enough or if only you were taller etc…” is. A main difference between your experience and mine is that my family admires a well built, tall, curvacious body, and not a short, slim or petite one (which is what I have). I too inherited my dad’s genes and now more then before due to my parent’s divorce I can sense a bigger sorce of shame. As my mom tells me how much I resemble my dad’s side of the family.

    Oh but here’s the best part, not only do I hear it from my own mother I also have to bare and witness my aunt’s and little cousin’s comments where they make fun of my height, my little feet, and small frame.

    I’ve taken a yoga class before too, and I try to incorporate some daily. Here’s my experience with the little yoga I’ve done: Not only is it a great way of stretching my muscles, it also brings serenity. If we could just feel that sense of peace once a day things would be a lot different.

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