By NATALIA HAWK
This is Trina Hall. She’s a yoga teacher.
And in March this year, she decided to start a body-image-self-awareness campaign by deliberately gaining weight to become “The Fat Yoga Teacher”. (A name, for the record, that she gave herself.)
The photo above shows Trina at her usual weight.
Below is a picture of Trina after she deliberately gained 40 pounds (that’s 18 kg) over a period of four months.
Trina is 34 years old and she started on her gaining-weight mission after talking to a friend who suffered from an eating disorder. One of the driving forces behind her friend’s anxiety about her own weight was that she (also a yoga teacher) didn’t want to be known as the “fat one”.
This statement set off alarm bells in Trina’s head.
So she set out to prove that size doesn’t matter. On her blog, Trina explained that she wanted to “slay the notion that people who do yoga need to look like the beauties on the cover of magazines.”
Trina began eating whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted. She gave up on her healthy, regular, moderate eating and started eating a whole lot of Mexican food.
And while her aim – of showing that you can be proud and confident in your body at any size – was a worthy one, the results of her experiment didn’t quite end up sending that message. Because, instead of growing to love her new (still healthy-sized) body, Trina became plagued by insecurities.
She began wearing loose-fitting dresses and wraps instead of her usual tight yoga clothing. She started criticising herself more than usual. Her self-esteem eroded. And she wrote about it on her blog:
I noticed the self-talk was that my beauty is only on the surface. I feared no man would want me this way and that I would die alone, probably from choking on a potato chip.
There was a war going on inside of me and neither side was winning.
Once I unraveled the fears and self-assaulting language as irrational, they no longer had power over me and I began to relax into my new found “goods”.
Although no-one ever said anything to Trina about her weight, she still felt as though she was being judged by others for her fuller figure. She told US ABC news that people stopped making eye contact with her and started treated her differently: “It was like the more visible I became, the more invisible I felt.”
So… then what happened?
Trina stopped her experiment in July. She went back to her usual, healthy diet (although she still likes Mexican food, apparently). She refuses to weigh herself, but has naturally returned to roughly her previous size.
Trina told US news: “I learned that I was – and still am – very judgmental about physical appearance. I was afraid of dying alone.” To ABC, she also said that the experience taught her empathy for those who don’t find it so easy to lose weight. “I now have a firmer appreciation for students who work with extra pounds when they practice yoga and I see now it’s a completely different sensation,” she said. “I am a better teacher and a better human being as a result of this experiment.”
There’s a lot going on in this story. Let’s unpack it, shall we?
Trina learned that life can be more difficult when you don’t live up to society’s ideals of what women should look like (nothing new there). She learned that self-esteem is a tricky beast (also nothing new there). And now she’s a slim size 8/10 again, she has developed more empathy for those who are bigger and might feel uncomfortable about their weight.
And that’s a good thing. Empathy, understanding, introspection. All good things.
So why am I so uncomfortable with this story?
After all, I do like the idea of tackling the myth that all professional yogis should be stick-thin and look perfect in Lycra. When was the last time you saw a yoga ad or image featuring a model that might be bigger than a size 8? Not ever, right?
In reality, you cannot measure fitness or wellness or health by how big or small someone is.
Everyone has their own body shape. A person might be a size 6 and unable to hold a plank pose for more than 3 seconds. Similarly, a person might be a size 16 and be able to quite comfortably get through a Body Attack class without, you know, feeling like they’re about to pass out (those classes are HARD).
I love the idea of showing people that health doesn’t necessarily mean being a certain size. But I feel like Trina – despite the best of intentions – didn’t make the point she set out to. She got fatter, she said, “well, this really sucks” and then she went back to being slim again.
When I finished reading Trina’s story, I didn’t feel inspired. I just felt sad.
It seemed to just send a clear-as-mud message that life sucks if you’re fat and the only solution is to slim down.
Luckily for Trina, she was able to very easily go back to her healthy weight. But the great majority of those who have genuine problems with their weight, can’t just shed weight quickly and claim some positive self-esteem prize. It doesn’t work like that. And nor should it.
Rather than teaching her devotees to love themselves no matter what their body shape – Trina has shown the opposite.
And unsurprisingly, some people are angry about Trina’s story. Really angry. Comments on other news stories have even compared her story to the fat-person-equivalent of black face.
Me? I’m not so much angry as I am disappointed. If Trina really wanted to make a statement, she could have done so much more with her position as a yoga teacher. Maybe taken photos, or made videos, of her fellow yoga teachers and students doing amazing poses at any size. Like this (right) one she posted on her blog a few months ago:
Now that’s amazing.
I couldn’t ever hope to do that – regardless of what size I am.
Help me out here. Are you uncomfortable with her story, too? Or do you think that she did a seriously good thing for all aspiring yogis that aren’t a size 8?