Today Beyonce’s video “Move Your Body” showed up on my homepage:
Part of me loves this. I’m wildly in favor of teaching people — and I primarily work with young people — about movement and joyful expression of their bodies. There are physical benefits, of course, but also cognitive and potentially emotional benefits to exercise. Physical movement has been a great tool for teaching me how to live in and love my body, and I don’t think it’s wrong to want to share that.
That said, I find the concept of “fighting obesity” — or “the war on obesity” or whatever folks want to call it — to be intensely frustrating and problematic. It seems to want to conflate healthy choices — whether with respect to nutrition or to exercise — with thinness. Or at least, you know, not being fat — as if fat was not only viscerally undesirable but worthy of a war against it. I won’t say there’s never a relationship between fat and unhealth, but I will say I don’t believe obesity is always the inherent or unequivocal product of poor health choices.
I am fat. So sayeth the clothing manufacturers, the health care providers, the OKCupid commenters, and many an asshat on the street.
I am healthy, mostly — And the health issues I have (predominantly PTSD and endometriosis) are definitively not caused by my weight.
Most importantly, my body shape and weight are the result of best-for-me choices. I am seventeen shades of awesome, and — when I can avoid the body policing and shaming (and even sometimes when I can’t) — I fucking love myself this way. This body serves me, and I find joy here.
But it’s taken me a long time — decades — to grow into that heart space, and I don’t get to live here every day. A number of negative messages have interfered along the way, and the “fight on fat” — or the “obsession with thin” — is one of them.
That same unhealthy fixation on body size is present today, and it sometimes keeps people from moving their bodies, whether we’d call that movement joyful expression or hesitant experimentation. I “activity lead” (I say it this way because I am not a certified yoga teacher, and I want to be 100% clear on that) asana practices for teenagers twice a week. The active participation I have is good. The number of students I speak to who are interested but too scared to participate is staggering — and heartbreaking. For every student I have in class, I literally have 3 to 4 outside of class who want to come to yoga but who are worried they’re not strong enough, not flexible enough, or not thin enough. And part of that has to do with yoga-specific stereotypes, I’m sure, but part of it also has to do with a wrong fixation on size.
And you know what? I could fight that by saying if you come to yoga, you’ll get stronger, you’ll get more flexible, you’ll get thinner. (Given the age and types of bodies I’m dealing with, the first two are more than likely true; the last is a different kind of conversation.) I could, but I don’t. Instead, I tell them, “If this is something you want to do, you are honoring yourself just by showing up.”
I kind of wish there was a celebrity music video and a national campaign for that.