Saved By The White Yogi

How many desi / brown yogis do you know?

Ok, so this question is not for the yoga teachers & practitioners in India.. lol…  So the context is more western… but do read on, either way, because it impacts all of us…

I recently spoke with a yogi of color who was associated, work-wise, with the pretty problematic lululemon & Yoga Journal. To the suggestion of divesting these whitewashed businesses of the opportunity to tokenise & monetize off desis & POC (and of course culturally appropriate), she asked me 2 very pertinent questions.

First, if there was a BIPOC brand with an equal global reach (comparable to lululemon and/or Yoga Journal)? And secondly, who would we have as role models to look up to if famous people of color like Naomi Campbell or Oprah had not connected to the labels and networks and brands that they did. She didn’t think she’d be where she is had she not seen brown faces on the cover of Yoga Journal.

Funnily enough, Yoga Journal is always in hot water with the desi / BIPOCs simply because of their tone deafness & refusal to actively create change and showcase Desi & POC faces. lululemon similar stories. I have had peers, friends who have been working with these organizations for years to help their management from the inside out to help effect sensitized change – but…. yeah… but!

But today my thoughts are really drawn to the second comment this teacher made. Where would we be if we didn’t see brown faces on the cover of Yoga Journal?

This is what I heard instead:

“Where would we be without Yoga Journal?”

“Would we be successful enough?”

“How would we have shot up to fame and fortune?”

Of course she didn’t say any of these words, but there is this undeniable sense of being saved by these white businesses because, hey! Are there any BIPOC businesses with that kind of reach?

Straight cut answer? No there aren’t!! But any guesses why??? Because the white washed YJs & lululemons have denied us that space – rightful space, if I may! The crumbs they offer by means of split cover images and the occasional brown face they sprinkle like seasoning being the few role models the community is expected to lap up in the name of diversity, inclusion and representation.

Her words bothered me – I felt the cut deep within.

So I’m going to say it out loud & louder one more time.

I’m a Desi yoga teacher. My voice is clear and needs to be heard. I am taking up my rightful space to speak up on behalf of myself and my community. This is a face & voice you need to hear in the conversation of yoga, culture & representation.

Why?

Because we desis exist! Because our contribution needs to be acknowledged and we aren’t just talking about asana here – we’re talking about a practice and a lifestyle.

We’re talking about us.

We don’t need the likes of Yoga Journal & lululemon to save us – but they do need to clean up their act. Don’t capitalize off us – UPLIFT us & offer a platform! Don’t tokenize by picking on one model who checks your box of corporate diversity, open your eyes & look at the wider array of people – real authentic people!!

But what am I getting at again? Is is a plea to white businesses to again take the cues and use it to strengthen their position without making the change? Maybe that is what would happen in some cases.. So what is the alternative?

Perhaps collectively supporting desi & BIPOC businesses and doing so consistently. We have all sorts of businesses – teachers, mental health providers, LGBTQIA+ activists, speakers, product craftspeople, educators, musicians….. so many of us doing such diverse things – inside & out of yoga. Support them… uplift them… engage with them…. with US!

I do see the need to work with whitewashed orgs, especially the ones who are looking at making changes from within and I am happy to help – as are many other teachers and activists in the field – but that alone is neither the solution nor the means. It has to be a multi-level and multi-pronged approach. Clean up the gentrification of yoga. Support, encourage and uplift the communities of the original people.

We do not need white yoga saviors.

An Indian Yoga Teacher Speaks

yogalotus

A large part of this year has been opening up the Yoga Industrial Complex and the various facets of yoga today. I think it would be honest to say that with the various conversations, I must have been naive – very naive, actually, to all that was happening. There were times when I even felt reticent in the face of the aggressive debates and controversial arguments and at other times, I just felt emotionally torn that ‘others‘ were fighting a seemingly just cause on my behalf.

For all the unity that yoga is supposed to be, I felt pretty much isolated and watching in from the outside of the inside – does that even make sense?

But, as it happens with constructive conversations, including some heated discussions, I started drawing in on the various perspectives of the larger issues as well as a smaller ones. Aggressions, transgressions, blatant abuse, appropriation and microagressions. I started being aware and sensitive, not just to those matters that were obvious, but also those in which I seem to be involved and affected but until then, largely unaware.

Earlier this year, Yoga Journal was in the spotlight for racist and exclusive narratives by issuing split covers for the same issue – sharing the cover between a larger bodied, person of color and an able-bodied white yoga teacher. This month, Yoga Journal released their Travel & Culture issue with interviews and features of some of my very accomplished desi yoga teacher friends – that was a great start.

A few weeks ago, an article was published of 19 yoga teachers to watch for in 2019. The article received a bit of heat for highlighting an article where all but one or two were white and able bodied. Needless to say, a big part of the ‘international‘ yoga community made themselves heard around these instances and conversations happened. Some of the voices that made themselves heard were South Asian teachers and persons of color.

Last week, in response to that Instagram list, two yoga teachers (Sophie Griffiths of @feral_and_true & Jesal Parikh @yogawalla) proactively took on the effort to collaboratively issue a fabulous list of 19 Women of Color to watch in the Yoga World in 2019.

This list was brilliant… for a lot of the conversations and conversation starters and the multidimensional approach of the practice AND the narrative. This was important stuff.

Until, I noticed that a lot of the narrative was still focused on the western ideal or western narrative of the desi or South Asian yoga teacher. It was a start and a bloody wonderful start, but in a world where news and culture across countries is so easily accessible and connections are forged with one well-timed and/or well-received Facebook/ Instagram comment, the narrative from an Indian yogi, let alone an Indian yoga teacher, was missing!

If you’re wondering why this is important, it is because of one simple fact – an Indian yoga teacher in the West is a part of the Western narrative – a part of that ecosystem, with all its issues and drawbacks, but still fits into the parameters of the Yoga Industrial Complex & capitalistic view – even if they don’t necessarily subscribe to it.

An Indian yoga teacher, well, may have many views and experiences that are similar to their desi contemporaries in the West, but also have many other views, experiences and perspectives that are not being heard…. because in the entire collective voice in the west, even in the conversations around bringing the focus back to the indigenous South Asian faculty, the actual platform is missing. The work done by many local desis is comparable and so is, perhaps, the point of reference – training-wise or even effort-wise. But…. there is still a distance to cover.

I’ll be the first to agree that I have an advantage here by way of exposure and partnerships with teachers in the West, but there’s only so much one can do with prior exposure, industry connections and friendships. The rest is just as organic as everything else. I mean, how do we get to know each other, and all that, right? The larger game players and narrative shifters are all defining the way from the Western perspective – and those, may not necessarily be what the ground reality back home actually is.

From the Honor Yoga Collective conversations, I realized that there was much to share and learn in terms of cultural exchange as well as cultural honor and an awareness and sensitivity to appropriation. I also recognized that the onus to teach from my experience was not necessarily on me.

So it got me thinking about the missing link in all of this.

I realized that many NRIs or Indian-American or citizens of other western countries (of Indian origin) were already living a life far removed from the daily life & story of their resident Indian counterparts experienced. The common ground was a culture that may or may not be conveyed down generations, but the deeper connection exists despite the distance.

This distance is even larger between the stereotyped white person / white yogi (or white yoga teacher) and the average Indian yoga teacher.

The purpose of this post was to start sharing the experiences of what an average (or well,  maybe a little more than average) Indian yoga teacher experiences in India. As I type this I realize that this may not cover all the experiences in one post, so I’ll be consciously considering putting these out in a series of posts as and when I have enough to elaborate on some points or if something more relevant comes up in the process.

So what is it like being an Indian Yoga Teacher?

  • It is hard work & competitive.

I refer to the inconsistency in teaching opportunities and the varied systems of teaching and practice where some communities believe that yoga ought to be taught for free and others feel that they need to compete with their batch mates to make a living. The yoga industry is suffering from the effects of ‘Colonial Extraction‘. By now, not everyone in India is a yoga practitioner so the community really needs to be educated on the value of yoga and answer the ‘why yoga?’ question – but, the same starry-eyed community members will happily entertain the glossy repurposed & repackaged yoga that teachers get trained in the West to share in India. So sorry, the yoga teachers in the West who apply the western lens of modernity and rebellion to all things yoga because ‘yoga is for everyone’ and can be approached differently by different people – sorry, but your misinformed practice (or malpractice) is slowly eating into what little remains of the culture it originates from.

  • It’s hard to make a living with yoga.

Unless you’re working with an established organization where the essence of yoga is not a priority or if you work at an ashram or other well established school where your immediate & personal needs are taken care of, you can forget about making a living from yoga. I speak for the regular yoga teachers, who teach regular yoga asana classes. The few who super specialize and offer personal classes may probably make a decent income but if you’re the sole bread winner and have a family to support, it… is…. very…. hard.

The average teacher offers a quality asana class in India for about $1-3 per hour (yes $1 per class!). I honestly feel sick to my gut when I read the average class rates of mediocre and/or highly appropriated classes in the West starting at $30 and upwards. Sometimes fresh graduates of a YTT start at $30 when the draw is a flexible body and an Instagram account fully loaded with highly contorted bodies.

  • They’re losing their essence.

With all the Instayoga in da house, it is such a pitiful sight to have so many asana oriented teachers, especially the new graduates who immediately lock down their Insta profiles and flood their feed and stories with intricately ‘perfected’ asanas. Sadly, even the graduates from ‘good’ schools end up going the asana way and move away from the purpose of ever stepping on this journey. At the same time, Indian yoga schools are looking to meet the demand of the West and offering watered down ‘yoga courses’ and amping up the yoga tourism business with a flurried rise in yoga certification mills all over the country, especially in the yoga centers of India – Bihar, Rishikesh, Goa, Mysore, Kerala…

  • They’re lacking representation.

In the wake of the modern postural yoga identity, a lot of yoga teachers, like I mentioned in the previous point, tend to identify and exemplify yoga to be a postural aspiration and that too of the stereotyped western able bodied narrative – the ‘love & light’ narrative, as I usually call it. The philosophy of yoga is threatened by the constant application of the able-bodied supremacy with a culture that is promoting fitness, weight loss and an urgency to be outwardly well even if it means they’re breaking on the inside.

The idea of a larger bodied yoga teacher, or one with physical limitations or disabilities is an anomaly – it is disruptive to the common place stereotype.

  • They don’t really actively work towards social justice.

Believe it or not, this one just came up to me. I really, really had to scratch my head & think if this was a point I wanted to add here and I realised that I did want to. Why? Because of all the teachers that I know, I’m still not really sure how many actively move beyond their on-the-mat practice to off-the-mat advocacy of matters beyond asanas & philosophical debate, perhaps. To be fair, Indian yoga teachers are largely focused on their practice and their teaching and hardly know of the larger yoga conversations and controversies outside of the country – even if those conversation are actually about them and may affect them. So when the Western yoga communities engage in social justice, very few of them actually go beyond the shores of their countries and residence and seek to make a difference to the land of the origin of yoga.

  • We are diverse.

Most yoga teachers in India are asana teachers. But there are also many teachers devoted to their self study, svadhyaya, as well as their purpose to teach & learn. We have teachers of the different schools of yoga as well as the different limbs and approaches. It is a pity that while the Indian-American (or South Asian or equivalent BIPOC) teacher is given a platform to engage in diversity in yoga and yogic thought, no one goes back to India to reach out to those voices that have as much to share in terms of content, context, nuance and experience. They could and would definitely benefit from the exposure too with their work!

  • We are contemporary teachers.

Which means that we are very similar to most other teachers around the world with one exception – we are desi. We are practicing an art and a science that comes from a wisdom tradition that is ours and is home grown. We are global citizens, aware of what is happening around the world, but also struggling to come to terms with the generational inadequacy that many of us are not even aware of – a residue of colonization and an inherited trauma scarred in our historical, collective karma. In the process, we often forget that we are the inheritors of this practice, this wisdom – and many times inadvertently are complicit in how yoga is treated and misrepresented in the western world.

  • We are undervalued.

And in all this, the average Indian yoga teacher places a nominal value on their service. And the western world knowingly or unknowingly add fuel to that by continuing to take what this country has to offer by means of yoga – by way of an ‘economical’ exchange. Yoga Teacher Trainings in India come at a fabulous price to western aspirants! We have teachers who are happy to share our culture, norms, thoughts and learnings – sometimes even for free – because many of us believe that knowledge flows… and then have that freely offered knowledge priced and sold onwards. In the end, the disparity between the give & take remains.

There really is a lot to unpack here – and I still have many thoughts billowing in my head trying to settle and blow up at the same time. I also have the real uneasiness of witnessing appropriation and mispresentation of yoga and yogic thought on a daily basis – and the unpleasant taste of defensive, refusal to acknowledge harm when it is called out.

Yet, I do the one thing I really know to do to remain true to the practice and the values that make me ME – values that I have received through my practice, through my teachers and through the timeless scriptures that I have studied – all of which have opened up timeless wisdom as and when I may have been ready to see it. Am I a warrior to stand up for this? Maybe, maybe not… I may not necessarily be a custodian of my culture, but I most certainly can use my space, my personality and my words to share what I experience.

Again, I’m still unpacking all of this – and know that when asked, I usually have something to add on what it’s like to be an Indian yoga teacher living in India… because, well, I am one myself after all!

Day 13: Healing the Wounds of Supremacy

How many of us have felt we didn’t belong in a studio space?
How many of us have felt that our practice wasn’t “good enough” because we weren’t flexible enough or we couldn’t “land a pose”
How many of us critique our own bodies or others bodies for not fitting into a norm?
How many of us dim or put out our light because we don’t feel like we should shine it?
How many of us compete or compare and despair with the next yogi on the mat over?…. These are all elements of white supremacy culture in yoga. 
Healing our white supremacy culture problem in yoga takes all of us. 
What do I mean by healing white supremacy culture in yoga?
I mean examining the way we present ourselves as well as how we idolize others. I mean what we post and who we platform. I mean who we buy from and listen to.

Today’s prompt confused me a little bit.

Yoga practitioners in India also fret about an ideal pose, awesome ‘alignment’ & super ‘flexibility’ – comparing themselves with the next-mat yogi, but by and large our classrooms have an Indian audience. The comparison here is probably more ‘belief’ & conditioning than comparing immediately to white yogis on the internet.

But I am also not ignorant of the generic trend in India to assume that anything imported, even if it was originally Indian, but is now decimated, repackaged and sent back to us, is probably better since it is shinier and glossier, at the very least, than the original desi version. I am concerned that perhaps the Indian version of ‘body image’ perhaps is worsening with the idea of yogis on the internet demonstrating asanas in bodies that are clearly not Indian or desi or of POC – so bone structure, fat distribution and even mindsets are very different.

Yes, we do have supremacy issues even within Indian culture, but with an already fragile sense of self-identity, perhaps it makes it shakier to hold on to resolve when we constantly see yoga being portrayed the way it is every time we open a social media app – white, able-bodied, super-toned, super athletic, lean, tight, lycra clad in teenie tiny sizes… yes, I can see the mismatch and the need to succumb to that sheen… or at least lean towards that because it seems to ‘in‘ and ‘right‘.

So the next part of today’s prompt was ‘How to heal these wounds?’

How to heal this?

I’ll admit I get frustrated at times at the sheer enormity of the task. Educating an entire sub-continent – I get it, it isn’t necessarily a one-person task, but it starts somewhere!

So, I persevere – every drop makes an ocean and all that. From this side of the fence, the best that I can do is speak up, create awareness, aim to walk the talk as best as I can. I’m looking at more speaking and being engagements and also raising other Indian teachers to add their voices to the global conversation.

Hopefully the movement in itself is a good starting point to create more ethical and wholesome spaces for more honorable yoga.


 

This blog is a part of a very unique yoga challenge led by my dear friend and fellow yogi, Susanna Barkataki – the Dare to Discuss Yoga Challenge. Both of us feel quite deeply about cultural appropriation and bring an authentic purpose to shine through constructive discussion, dialogue and education to make people (yogis & non-yogis) aware – to ‘lessen the appropriation and up the honor’, in Susanna’s words. In support of the challenge and the work, I shall be blogging my introspection and reflection here to share the conversation and build the cumulative effect.

Day 12: White Supremacy in Yoga

white supremacy yoga માટે છબી પરિણામ

As a yogi based in India, it is easy to assume that white supremacy in yoga does not affect us, right?

Wrong!

A few months ago I was teaching a private student. During our zero session, she was demonstrating the asanas that she knew and confessed that she was a self-taught yogi – self-taught from YouTube and other online free videos. Needless to say, she was a huge fan of some of the Internet’s Superstar yoga teachers and was pleased with a lot of the things she had learnt, but was missing out the human touch.

All that aside, I was busy self-managing my internal conflict. Here was an Indian student, who had never stepped out of India, looking to fine-tune & improve her practice – asanas that she had learnt from a teacher on the internet, asanas that she only knew the English names of. I’m not one to shame a student for not knowing the Sanskrit names – but I was offended… deeply offended.

Awhile later, when I was discussing teaching curriculum with another senior teacher in the yoga community, she happened to mention another popular online teacher who was ‘brilliant’! I’ll be very honest, I didn’t know who she was at the time. I had to come home and do a Google search to find a hot-pants or bikini clad, able-bodied, toned abs, blonde yogi teaching asanas all in good form…

And I thought to myself, ‘Hmmmm… These are the teachers we are studying from. What does this mean for us?’

I couldn’t quite tell what exactly I was feeling… I know brilliant teachers right here in India in various cities in India, who teach awesome classes, and I  know they teach is regular tracks or yoga tights. Some keep their classes highly engaging and help their students pick up on the philosophy of yoga while others, strictly focus on asana – regardless, these were ‘homegrown’ yogis.

Now, I’m not actually being offended at the choice of yoga wear. What I am concerned about it the repackaged version of yoga that India is importing…. and in the process losing out our own heritage of traditional wisdom.

Many years ago, when I was learning a mantra for a part of my studies in the US, I had offered them feedback that one of the words on their recording was incorrectly pronounced and should be corrected. I  had read the mantra is Sanskrit and knew that the recording was obviously incorrect. The response didn’t acknowledge my concern, instead, I was given an explanation that pronunciations in various parts of India differed! Which, by the way, is true for local dialects, but not true for Sanskrit and the sounding of an ending consonant. Anyway, it that wasn’t bad enough, I was told to learn it for the exam the way it was recorded and later on I could chant it however I wanted!

Back then, I knew I felt offended and dismissed when it was a part of my culture that was being dismissed. At another event, there was this couple selling mandala art that was being sold for hundreds of dollars – and I noticed that the art just had a bunch of Hindi / Sanskrit / Devnagari script letters and vowel matras just randomly thrown together. When I pointed it out to the vendor quietly, needless to say, I was rewarded with a hostile look and a clear indication to keep away from his potential customers.

Back then, I hadn’t even heard of cultural appropriation, but as I recall these incidents today, I realize that yoga has been traded off in some places where the colonization still is rampant…. and us desi teachers are either tokenized or marginalised – both in and out of our own country.

I see that I am bringing a very different conversation to India, but I am probably also at a very good position to engage in a very unique conversation outside of India too. Here are some of the ways that I can be a part of changing the narrative and this culture:

  • Active engage with the larger yoga community, globally, in bringing a homegrown desi flavour and Indian yoga heritage to the conversation.
  • Include Cultural Appropriation as part of the YTT curriculum discussions in India.
  • Consider cultural exchange  – online as well as in person – for yoga.
  • Really study the roots of yoga & culture deeper.
  • Encourage other yoga teachers in India to tap into their potential to be a stronger voice and face of yoga.
  • Make myself available for more international engagements – offer to teach, speak, share.

 


 

This blog is a part of a very unique yoga challenge led by my dear friend and fellow yogi, Susanna Barkataki – the Dare to Discuss Yoga Challenge. Both of us feel quite deeply about cultural appropriation and bring an authentic purpose to shine through constructive discussion, dialogue and education to make people (yogis & non-yogis) aware – to ‘lessen the appropriation and up the honor’, in Susanna’s words. In support of the challenge and the work, I shall be blogging my introspection and reflection here to share the conversation and build the cumulative effect.

I Teach Yoga – with Electric Blue Hair

whatsapp-image-2018-09-28-at-10-42-27.jpegYesterday I streaked my hair an electric blue and magenta.

It was a deviation from my erstwhile choices of red, pink, purple – yes, still a bit outrageous, but in a sedate kind of way.

This time, it was blue (and magenta).

And not just blue (and magenta) – it was also a neat uber close crop on one side – a neat woman undercut to compete with my son’s from just the day before complete with sexy long fringe side swept and splashed with panels of electric blue (and magenta).

My mother loved it. My brother loved it. My kids love it. I love it.

So why this blog?

This blog, because I triggered a reaction – in some others and then, as I noticed it, in myself.

The reaction questioned my choice – the looks ranged from surprise, to appreciation, to a second-look and wow… and at the other end of the spectrum brinking on envy, nonchalance, refusal to meet my eye, or a quick look to my hair followed by an uncomfortable silence.

And these reactions were from other men and women alike.

Honestly, I was amused – really, I was. I was amused at the stark discomfort that some people felt at my extreme comfort I had in being me.

But more than amusement, it was the realization that stereotypes are always going to challenge a shift. And what exactly was the shift here?

3 panels of blue streaks?

So let’s see…. Did that make me any more or less of – a mom? or a mother of teens? a mother of three?? an Indian woman/ mother? a yogi? a yoga ‘teacher‘??

Or was it just that it was incomprehensible for a woman who ‘supposedly‘ facing so many challenges in life, to go out and have her hair done… and colored in an outrageously, wild and defiant color? Ermm… or was it just not fair for her to be unapologetically herself, happy, in-charge of her life, taking each day as it arrived every morning, fixing the fu*k-ups and still showing up to life – on and off the mat? With that 100-watt smile that is her trademark and a laughter more infectious that the viral that seems to be doing the rounds?

So what gives?

Either way, I don’t think my yoga mat disapproved. I don’t think my asana faltered any more in my arm balances than they were wont to. I don’t think my practice judged.

But I guess, somewhere in being triggered by the unspoken judgments where breaking free from preconceived ideas and stereotypes simply because of me being me, I had fallen prey to it.

And, well, it stirs the pot of upset and inner frustration. (Even yogis get upset and frustrated, in case you were wondering – at least contemporary yogis who can still call a spade a spade!)

But, well, operating from values mean a whole lot more than the trigger that upsets and frustrates. So, The Curvy Yogi still shows up – every day, every moment. She shows up with her flaws, with her imperfect perfection and her perfect imperfections…. she shows up with her mat and without, with her smile and her laugh and her gathered wisdom and learnt knowledge… and she shows up with that authenticity and integrity that form the crux of her being.

And yes, of course, she shows up as the Indian mom who teaches yoga and trains yoga instructors in electric blue & magenta hair!

Namaste

From the student’s heart

shiva
PC: Isha – Sadhguru

Today is Guru Poornima – a festival widely celebrated in India and Nepal, signifying the expression of reverence towards the Guru. Indian culture has always upheld the guru’s place – socially as well as in mythology. Growing up, and not coming from the essential Hindu culture, I was a bit removed from the concept of subscribing to a teacher, let alone a guru. However, the Indian fabric of culture did instill in us, a sense of respect towards our teachers and educators.

Over the years and through my yoga and spiritual journey, I had the opportunity to meet and interact with many teachers and thought leaders – people of significance who helped shaped my personality, my beliefs and my sense of integrity, values and purpose. Not all of them directly influenced this transformation, but some of them did. Some teachers were a glaring example of what I chose not to do in life and others were grounding examples of purpose, compassion and mission.

The days leading to this Guru Purnima I was contemplating on far I had come in my own journey as a  yoga student and as a teacher. I saw growth spurts as well as moments of inertia – I saw traction as as well as propulsion. I saw a line that I was following and I also noticed the hand that I was offering my students when they were stuck. There was this sense of give and take.

And in that moment, I realised that even without being directly in touch with my  teachers of significance, I was living my life on purpose with what I had learnt from them – and through them, from a lineage that goes back to significant source of grounded wisdom, energy and wholeness. Through my teacher, my lineage and that of my students was being moulded and strengthened. The power of that lineage had the tendency to spill over into my personal life has a householder, a mother, a woman, a friend, a civilian – an individual – an individual on purpose.

Omg! I’m getting the shivers as I share this now – this organic, in-the-moment, straight-from-the-heart sharing…

So here goes…

Today, I offer my heartfelt gratitude to my teachers. My teachers – my parents and grandparents who made me who I am, to my children who teach me every single day of how much more I have to work on to get there, my teachers in school, in college & University, trainers who have given me the tools to reach out to do the work that I do, to my students who see the light in me that I would see in my teachers, and to my mentors and teachers at The Chopra Center, Dr. Deepak Chopra. Dr. David Simon, Pandit Vamadev Shastri, Yogini Shambhavi…. thank you for your guidance and support.

But on the path of the yogi, my teacher, who was the first one to bring to me the teaching that definitively makes me the teacher who I am today, who has given me the numerous opportunities and freedom to be who I am and bring my skills to the fore, to establish myself in who I am meant to be and who was with me when we had the collective vision to build community in Bangalore. We’ve shared deep discussions, silly laughs and spent weeks and months over events, programs and courses. He invited me into the fold when I needed that space and he allowed me the space to leave when I felt I had to move on. He’s been a friend, a sounding board and my source of frustration when I needed to work my way through a challenge. He was with me when I had the biggest accident of my life so far, his comforting smile was the last I saw as they wheeled me away to the Operating Theatre and he gave me the gift of my lineage.

Pradeep Sattwamaya – forever in gratitude. Thank you!

Who is fat shaming after all?

A few days ago I came across this article on my social media about a girl who went from 100kg to 64kg with pure determination and that her story was bound to truly inspire the reader. (I choose not to share the article here)

Curious to know what the story was, I read through the article and then found the girl’s social media pages with her personal comments and responses. My mind was already processing the story, the circumstances and coming to my personal thoughts on it (that I share here) – and, needless to say, I did not exercise my privileged right and power to hit the Like button.

Here’s why…

The report began with this:

fatsh

And I disagree – because it is not a given, it is not a free-ticket, and it is not true for everyone.

I agree that fat shaming is a global, social epidemic. It exists and yes, we experience the effects of it – from clothing to ridicule or even the assumption that being overweight equals to being less active or mentally & intellectually slower that your lighter counterparts. Yes, that list exists and there is a movement happening around for it… and that is not the reason for this post.

Here was my observation:

For all the inspiration that this article was supposed to generate, the journalist, the commentators and most importantly, the inspiring girl herself, in my opinion, failed miserably by adding salt to the injury of those who are still being fat shamed. The story was an blaring indication that she not only succumbed to the fat shaming, but, in fact, still continues to fat shame herself. Her motivation to lose weight because fat was ugly, shameful and needed to be taken off was a slap on the face of those she was supposedly speaking up for.

So what is fat shaming after all?

Here is the Google dictionary quick ref:

fatsh

To lose weight / shed a few pounds / trim up – these are terms everyone hears. I guess there is a place and reason for those discussions especially where the health and well-being of the individual is concerned. These discussions are serious, however, and are meant to be taken in a professional context discussing the repercussions of poor lifestyle choices.

Fat-shaming, or body shaming, is different. It is not a professional approach, but a categorical discrimination and social or psychological torment of an individual based on their weight or size… based on someone else’s misguided or misinterpreted purchase of a social stereotype of what a right body shape or size ought to be.

Body shaming is never in anyone’s best interests – it is a prejudiced, slighted perception intended to humiliate and denigrate another human being.

But… yes, there’s always a BUT…

But… if we notice, in these ideas, the definition is always one of finger pointing towards the perpetrators. We are all pointing fingers at the shamers for passing nasty comments and designing clothes with sizes that begin in XXS and end at M because they feel that XL is not even a body type!

But hey!!! What about the fat-shaming that some of these victims are subjecting themselves to!?

This motivating drive of this inspiring weight loss champion was the ‘appreciation and support of her friends and family about her weight loss’ and ‘fitting into smaller size clothes, which she always wanted to, and now she does’.

Technically, I should rest my case – but no, I have some more thoughts on this entire ‘shame the shamer’ nonsense.

At the end of the day, who is conforming to the social stereotypes? Not just the shamers but these victims too, who feel that they are inadequate because of their weight, shape or size. And when they achieve their self-obsessed weight loss, they join the bandwagon and body-shame too?

Is it only about the clothes that we want to wear? I agree that the fashion industry is still largely walking the pre-dated ramp, but we have more than enough bespoke designers, and I personally know some really good ones, who create fabulous designs and prêt-à-porter for the body you are in. (Message me, I’ll connect you!)

So it isn’t about fashion!

So what is it about then?

Health? Ok.. let’s talk about health for a mo…

Is it really about health?

fatsh

In other words, health is a state of well and happy body and mind. Good health is not necessarily not being skinny or not being heavy. Yes, biophysics and science indicate that weight plays a big role in the effort taken and toll on the body systems, but hey! I’ve been a big, curvy girl for most of my life and I still do a helluva lot of stuff and have the brains to justify my work!! (I’ve registered for the Pinkathon next month and I teach yoga .. to yoga teachers, for crying out loud!)

So what now? Does health refer to longevity? And does longevity really equal to a predefined number, or could it just be a predestined time? If we are uncertain of that fact, maybe we should just concentrate on being healthy for the sake of a joyous and balanced life – complete with the ability and accessibility to do the things we love and enjoy – with happy relationships with the persons we love and harmony in the social circles we exist in.

Wouldn’t good health mean a healthy respect for our bodies and treating them with care, respect and nurturing, providing it with good food, fresh air and movement? But no, our proposed role model goes on on to hashtag a delete carbs promotion too, so now apart from insult to injury, there’s a crazy fad diet involved.

I am upset at the misrepresentation. I am upset because we are now given a story that is asking us to make choices that are downright obsessive in nature. Spending the entire day (morning, noon and evening) walking and running to keep any stray fat away is scary. I was impressed, though, that she chose to run – but in her words, she chose to run away from all the negativity surrounding her and ended up on the road to transformation.

The transformation that would force the people around her to finally… accept her.

So there you have it – what it all boils down to … acceptance… Body acceptance.

But… here’s the catch, does she accept her body as it is even in this shape and size? I don’t know. I hope she does, eventually, because her words are still echoing the loud whispers of lack of it. And the people she has inspired and all rowing the same boat – the conformation to what they should look like and be like or feel like based on what media or social stereotypes define.

fatsh

Here’s my final point, if you’re taking a call to action for specific health goals – and if weight loss or gain plays a significant role in that goal – and when you approach that goal with a balanced plan that includes your body, mind, emotions and spirit, all being happy, I believe that you can and are entitled to lasting change and a healthy quality of life.

Minus the ‘obsession

But if, for whatever reason and as a backlash from the fad diet and crazy weight loss regime you choose to endure, you find back the weight that you lost (you get it right? to lose it and then find it?)… if you go all mental over it, then seriously… wtf?!

Hello!! People of the media!! There is enough and more of inspiration, healthy inspiration, out there that the world can do with – inspiration from skinny, toned, overweight as well as not-bothered-about-weight-at-all individuals. People making a real difference. STOP making heroes out of people who actually need HELP in making better lifestyle choices. STOP setting unhealthy and ridiculous benchmarks and trends that our youth, children and lesser informed audience may make. It is a responsibility we all share!

That’s it… rant complete (for today)…

Disclaimer: These are my personal thoughts and opinions.