All The Space You Need

By Angie Hay

Years ago I came across this quote from supermodel Cindy Crawford: “They were doing a full back shot of me in a swimsuit and I thought, “Oh my God, I have to be so brave.” See, every woman hates herself from behind.”

I was recently reminded of this arguable statement when I received an invitation from my colleague to be photographed doing yoga for the studio’s new promotional materials. The instructions specified that one’s hair should be neat, and included hopes that clothing for the shoot would be provided by a fancy national yoga gear chain known for their behind-flattering pants.

My brain, known for occasional moments of cruelty, instantly flooded me with images of my out-of-control dreads, my big butt, and the package of vegan cookies I ate almost entirely by myself the week before. They sent this to everyone, my brain said, but clearly they didn’t mean you. I mean, let’s be realistic.

Oh. Right. You’re probably right.

I took my first yoga class when I was twenty-one through Gahanna Parks & Rec. One day, unannounced, a guy from the local free paper showed up asking to photograph our class. The other yogis refused, but I was feeling fearless and said yes. In class I felt like a gazelle, like a water lily, like the Grand Canyon, and it was new feeling for me. Why not capture it in pictures? I practiced like he was shooting a feature and waited anxiously for the paper to come out. The image that made it to the cover was my face in profile in Trikonasana. My round cheeks. My soft neck. Me, just me. Not the yoga model I expected to see. My face was as serene as a bonsai tree, but it was difficult to see that through my disappointment. I didn’t even save a copy, not one.

These are the facts: there has never been a body shaped like mine on the cover of Yoga Journal. Lululemon’s snazzy yoga gear isn’t made in my size. They don’t look at me and see a yogi. But, miraculously, I do. Almost every hour of the day, almost every day of the week. When seeing myself as a beautiful and valuable person is the hardest thing I have to do all day, I stay in the fight. But not in that particular moment when I was invited to have my picture taken. In that instant, it was a fight I couldn’t win. It was bravery I didn’t have.

As a fat lady, professions other than belly dancer and yoga teacher might have made more sense. Maybe there are jobs where a big gal is just the thing. I worked in a café for a year where the boxy men’s chef coat I had to wear because the ladies sizes didn’t fit made my eyes sting with tears. For two years I sat in a basement office where all anyone talked about was how few calories they allowed into their bellies. The truth is that there are no safe havens for fatness, not yet. So I take my body to the dance floor and the yoga mat, the places it feels best in the whole world.

This is the type of bravery I do have. To stick with it. The courage to be the fattest lady in class so another woman doesn’t have to worry that it’s her. The courage to come to the mat as I am, even if I’ve never received the “yoga body” promised by the world’s ad men with the purchase of your first mat. The body I see in the mirror is a yogi’s body shaped by fifteen years of practice. A dancer’s body shaped by sixteen years of undulations and shimmies. The body of someone’s favorite aunt, someone’s beloved girlfriend, a girl who watches hours of vampire TV and eats too much ice cream, who rides her bike singing down High Street in the spring. A body created by two lineages of exceptional women who I am proud to call my ancestors. I am shaped exactly like myself. On this point I am unfalteringly, unshakably clear.

Though the yoga industry does not make space for all of us, the practice of yoga does. I believe there is a room somewhere with a vacant space that is exactly your size, waiting for you to roll out your mat. I promise to greet you there exactly as you are, with my head bowed and my palms pressed together in front of my heart.

If what we want does not exist, it becomes our responsibility to create it. Knowing this, I will put on my own clothes, and, when invited, turn to face the camera.

14 Responses to All The Space You Need
  1. Paula Nelson

    Brava! Beautifully said.

  2. Maranda

    This blog post absolutely made my year.

  3. Dabney

    You are truly beautiful and an inspiration. Thank you for sharing you.

  4. Susan

    you are amazing. thank you for this >>>”If what we want does not exist, it becomes our responsibility to create it. …”

  5. sheila

    thank you ~thank you~thank you~~~
    Angie. you are a powerful presence of loving acceptance.

  6. Rhonda

    So beautifully written and even more than that, beautifully felt in your words…

  7. Erika

    This post should be required reading for yoga students and teachers. The points that yoga is really for every body (not just for thin people or people who want to be thin), and that yoga is about encountering ourselves as we are now with respect are especially important to make. Thank you so much for writing this.

  8. Linda Chun

    Loved this. Thanks for writing…

  9. Jasmine Astra- elle Grace

    Rock on Angie!

  10. Bettina

    Thank you so much for posting that! I enjoyed reading your blog. Yoga is such a refuge, we ought to look at it that way for everyone on a mat,no matter what or how or who they look like! Bravo!

  11. Connie

    You are amazing in every way. I wish I could express how much I appreciate you. Thank YOU!

  12. Jessica Ann

    Wow. Now I want to come to YOHI just to met you and take your class.

  13. Christine

    Exactly as it should be, you beautiful spirit who, I only slightly recognize in photo, but know in presence fully.

  14. Aimee

    This was awesome! As a curvy girl this was soooooo inspirational. I love how yoga feels and what it is doing to my body. Thanks for writing this.