Scrap the Yoga Butt. Let’s Make Inclusion Our GoalFebruary 22, 2021
The Yoga and Body Image Coalition is a 2021 Featured NEDAwareness Week Partner. The following is a YBIC National Eating Disorders Awareness Week post that highlights how the practice of yoga can be an integral component in the effective treatment of and on-going recovery from eating disorders and disordered eating. The shares included are from those who have first-hand experience with disordered eating or from those who are called to share their body acceptance journeys.
The first time I heard the term “yoga butt” was in my yoga teacher training. I fixated on the phrase shared by a fellow student for far too long, thinking about it over and over again throughout the six-week training. I know now: even just a moment’s consideration of the phrase “yoga butt” is far too long.
Plenty of yoga teachers and body acceptance activists—namely, those who do not fit the mainstream Westernized, thin, able-bodied, white yoga mold—have called out the harm caused by such phrases and the fact that achieving a perfectly-chiseled butt or body is not the purpose of yoga.
Achieving a perfectly-chiseled butt or body is not the purpose of life either.
As someone in recovery from both anorexia and bulimia, it is much easier to write that statement than live it. But, as a teacher and student of yoga—one whose body fits the mainstream yoga mold—I see it as my responsibility to try.
Perpetuating the “yoga body” archetype is dangerous, not only for those of us who have eating disorders, but also for non-white, non-thin, non-able-bodied practitioners who benefit from yoga, too.
Whether consciously or not, when we idealize a particular body type, we are saying to other bodies: “You’re not good enough.” We are saying to people of color, larger-bodied practitioners, and those with disabilities: “You do not belong. There’s nothing for you here.” Because, while the media would have us believe differently, eating disorders affect all races, ethnicities, gender identities, and body sizes. And, while the multi-billion dollar yoga industry would have us believe differently, yoga is for all people.
Yoga studios, fitness centers, and gyms are microcosms of our social and political landscape. Racism, sexism, ableism, and more do not end once we set foot on our mats. Creating a more equitable, just world requires the participation of yoga and movement teachers, too.
The following suggestions can be used in a yoga studio, fitness center, or in day-to-day conversations. May they be of benefit, whether you teach yoga or not:
Avoid any description of body parts. In a yoga class a few years back, a teacher instructed us to find chair pose by “sticking out our big, beautiful butts.” While “beautiful” certainly has a positive connotation, the word “big” takes me out of my yoga practice and triggers thoughts of disordered eating. I find it best to avoid any comments on individuals’ bodies in and outside the yoga classroom. Swap out appearance-based compliments for those related to someone’s personality, talents, or skills.
Avoid terms like “burn,” “shred,” “melt,” or “tone.” When speaking about a particular movement or exercise, I prefer to use phrases that offer agency and empower others, such as “strengthen” or “engage.” Or, encourage a more somatic experience by using “feel,” “notice,” or “draw attention to.” While it may be difficult for of us those with EDs to sense what a movement feels like in our bodies after years of disassociation, gentle encouragement with nothing to do with achieving a certain body type or look can help.
Use non-gendered language. There’s no need to refer to others as ladies or gentlemen. Not everyone identifies as a man or woman. Some other options include: “folks,” “y’all,” “you all,” “everyone,” “everybody,” or “friends.” When referring to a particular body part, try using non-gendered, non-triggering language such as: “chest” instead of “breasts,” “abdomen” instead of “belly,” or “navel center” instead of “belly button.”
Eating disorders thrive on seclusion. Community thrives on inclusion. How can we do better to consider everyone in our approach to healing?
This is the question I ask myself every day, and I will continue to ask it until we’ve reached a solution that includes all people, not just those with yoga butts.
Liz Getman is a content creator, teacher, and community builder who splits her time between social media management and teaching yoga and meditation. As a teacher, Liz’s goal is to support others in developing resiliency skills, deepening their spiritual practice, and creating equity in wellness. When travel was safe, she led retreats and trainings in the U.S. and abroad. She is also co-host of the podcast Stretched, which addresses race, inequity, and privilege in the ever-changing world of wellness. As a digital creator, Liz works with justice-minded clients dedicated to creating lasting social change and uplifting the collective good. She studied journalism, Spanish, and Italian at Ithaca College and received a master’s degree in Latin American Studies with specializations in gender and development from the University of Florida. Her continuing education includes Trauma Sensitive Yoga, Accessible Yoga, Digital Minimalism, and Digital Allyship. Her goal in all she does, both online and in the spiritual world, is to work for justice, peace, and equity for all. Learn more about Liz at LizGetman.com and follow her journey on IG @LizGetman.