Ask any yogi their opinion about having mirrors in a yoga studio, and you’ll probably get an earful one way or another. I am personally against mirrors in yoga studios, and I’ll tell you why.
Yoga, for me, is all about being in my body – celebrating what it can do, exploring the edge between effort and ease, returning again and again to my breath – the steady place inside me no matter what’s going on anywhere else. Yoga is experiential, not mental. The effort is turned inward, even though my body is performing the postures. It is a body and breath connection. The mind is the thing to control in yoga. The minute you put a mirror on the yoga wall, your attention is no longer inward. You are looking outside yourself at a reflection. You’re analyzing your body. You’re comparing it to the bodies next to you. You’re tweaking your posture to look like the other postures you see, instead of feeling the alignment of your spine. You’re not even thinking about your breath – wait, are you sucking in your stomach to make it look flatter? Are you even breathing?
Mirrors are wack.
Enter the yoga photo shoot
When I started this blog I knew I was going to have a yoga photo shoot in my future. The whole point of taking photos of myself practicing yoga is to normalize the image of a fat body practicing yoga. This is a visual that we don’t see unless we seek it out. Maybe we’ve seen one or two other fat women at the yoga studio (if we’ve even dared to go there). There are round-bodied women and men online practicing and teaching yoga (Anna, Meera, Abby, Megan, Sally, and Michael to name a few) but you won’t see them in a yoga magazine or an athletic wear advertisement, and for the most part, you won’t see pictures of people who look like us on a yoga studio’s website.
The point of taking these photos, of teaching my classes, of being fat and not shrinking or hiding in the yoga world is to make other large-bodied women feel more comfortable in their own skin, to get them to a yoga studio or onto their own mat so they can realize the benefits of yoga – physically, mentally, and emotionally.
So imagine the copious inner-eye rolling and berating of myself that occurred when I started previewing pictures during the shoot and absolutely hating what I saw. I didn’t “look right” in these photos. By which I mean I don’t look like a photo of a thin person practicing yoga. My legs don’t look straight because they curve in places that thin legs don’t. When I twist, things bunch up, flesh runs into other flesh. Gravity is inevitable in certain poses. I was wearing form-fitting clothing (and pants, which are stupid and I never wear unless working out). Flesh juts out here or there, and I have never seen a body like this in a pose like this – so to me it doesn’t “look right.” Even though my husband was taking the pictures, and he is a terrific photographer and one of my body’s biggest fans, I hated what I saw.
Well this felt familiar. Kind of like looking in a mirror while practicing yoga. Foiled! The more of my pictures I looked at, the worse I started to feel about myself. The playback loop of thoughts in my head went like this:
- Take pictures to make other women feel okay about practicing yoga.
- But don’t feel okay about taking photos myself because I don’t “look right” in the photos.
- I don’t “look right” in the photos because I don’t ever see photos of fat women practicing yoga. I only see thin bodies.
- This is why we need pics of fat women practicing yoga, I should take some more.
- But I don’t look right in them so I feel bad. (Rinse and repeat.)
Talk about messing with my head. It starts to get a little meta after a while. It also reminds me of why I really couldn’t see myself practicing week after week in a studio with mirrors. I know in my body what the correct alignment in my body in trikonasana feels like – but when I see myself in this pose from outside my body it looks “wrong”.
After a while, I got sick of thinking about all this, decided that I was either committed to sharing my yoga with the world or I wasn’t. Once I made the decision to get over myself already, we got some really great shots and I stopped being such a jerk about the whole process. Which made it more fun for the photographer too.
So I learned that even though I am putting myself out there as someone who is making peace with her body, that it’s not an all or nothing battle. Some days are better than others. Even as I accept the body I bring to the mat instead of the one I think I should have or the one on the cover of Yoga Journal who can do ardha chandrasana without standing near a wall (someday!), sometimes I’m just gonna have one of those icky body image days. I learned that the work of visibility, of normalizing bodies like mine by showing them moving, exercising, practicing yoga, dressing well, eating, and having relationships is still important. Because if the message hasn’t sunk in for me yet, then there are others who feel the same way I do. We’re not alone. You’re not alone.
What do you think?
Do the pictures matter? Tell me in the comments.