Hey Fat Yogi friends! I’m Maggie Salem. I’m in the middle of my 200 hour yoga teacher training program at Yoga East Healing Arts in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. I love using props in my yoga practice so much that you can find me on Instagram @propqueenyoga! I love my fat yogi body and strive to help others love their bodies and be at peace with their bodies in the context of their yoga practice. When I’m not yoga-ing, my primary job is being a middle and high school choir teacher. I love bringing mindfulness into my classroom and promoting a practical approach to mindfulness in my students. Throughout this blog, I’m going to take you through my life as a fat girl and a fat yogi and tell you some of the key moments in my life that have shaped my personal opinion about my fatness.
I grew up in Fulton, Missouri. My parents raised both me and my older sister to eat what was on our plates. My mom was overweight, at about a 22/24 size, and I remember her expressing her own insecurities about her body. I have a distinct memory of a hot summer day, and we were getting ready to be outside and my mom refused to wear a sleeveless dress. I remember saying, “but mom, it’s hot outside!” and she answered, “I just don’t like to show my arms.” This memory instantly flashed through my mind a few years ago when I was getting fitted for my wedding gown. I had the same thought of “ugh, I don’t want people to see my arms.” I kept telling myself I needed to do some arm workouts to tone up the flab. Eventually I threw that idea aside and decided I would be beautiful in my wedding gown and people really weren’t going to be paying attention to my arms. If they were, then that’s their problem and not mine.
My dad was on the other side of the spectrum. He was fit, athletic, and always encouraged me and my sister to be more active. When I say fit and athletic, I mean he was on the Egyptian national soccer team when he was younger- like could have played in the World Cup or the Olympics if the timing was right. Anyway, I don’t want anyone to think that he fat shamed me, because he didn’t. He did try to guide me toward being more active when I was little- teaching me how to play tennis, walking with me to my piano lessons, etc. But the same time I started gaining weight a little, his health was declining. He had multiple heart attacks, was diabetic, had a foot injury (which, if you know about diabetes, you know it’s worse), and it didn’t get better from there.
I didn’t really realize I was fat until about 5th grade. I have a memory of my peers pointing out the size of my pants, how I was wearing a double digit. I think I wore a juniors 11 in 5th grade and my peers probably ranged from size 0-7, mostly on the 0 end. This wasn’t a huge deal to me though. I didn’t let this change the way I lived my life. I do think, in hindsight, that throughout middle school, this made me try a little harder to be friends with people, or to get boys to pay attention to me. I subconsciously knew that other girls were going to get the attention before me, so I inserted myself into friend groups that if I was being true to myself, I probably wouldn’t have been a part of. These were the “popular” kids, who dressed in name brands and went to parties. I remember trying to get clothes from those same name brand stores like Aeropostale and American Eagle, but they didn’t quite fit. I remember going to these parties, but the skinny girls were making out with their boyfriends in the corner and I got called a fat bitch. But overall, being fat didn’t shake my confidence. I was always proud of my curves, I found myself beautiful and sexy, and that’s how I always tried to live my life.
I was really lucky to have my older sister around when I was in middle school to help me find my way in my fat body. She was also in a plus size body and at the time worked at Lane Bryant. She would take me shopping with her. I borrowed a LOT of her clothes. Eventually, she was the first person to get me into a real bra! These experiences allowed me to form my own sense of style and find clothes that actually fit me and looked good on me, bringing out even more of that inner confidence.
Going back to the word “confidence,” I always showed more confidence than what people expected of me. People would always remark saying, “Wow! You’re so confident! I wish I was as confident as you,” and looking back, that wasn’t exactly a compliment. They may have intended for that comment to show their own lack of self-love, but it really showed that they didn’t think a fat girl should be as confident as I was.
Throughout high school, going back to the way I dressed, I tended to wear clothes that would show off my curves a little. I wasn’t necessarily dressing “sexy,” but I thought if I was going to get male attention, it would be because of my curves. I brought this same mindset with me into college and tried to get attention based on the way I was dressing, or the way that I walked, swiveling my shapely hips. (This blog is turning into a therapy session of me figuring out a lot of deep seeded behaviors… jeez!) This behavior did manifest sexually in that I thought sexual activity was the only way I’d get a guy to like me. I had a few flings throughout my first year of college. There weren’t really any serious relationships at first. Later on, I had a few guys who were interested in more than that, but they didn’t pan out for whatever reason. Eventually, I met the man who is now my husband, and with him, the tactics I’d used with other guys fell to the wayside. They weren’t necessary with him because we had kind of this fairytale “we just knew” moment. We knew that we loved each other and cared for each other, so I didn’t need to try so hard with him. It was a refreshing change of pace.
My (now) husband and I were both music majors and knew each other from classes we were taking. We both became music teachers when we graduated. My focus shifted from getting attention to being a badass bitch! I turned all of my focus to being happy in my relationship and doing the best I could as a beginning teacher. In my teaching positions, I was no longer in an environment where I was the fattest one. I was still bigger than most, but it was different for me. My body wasn’t a topic of discussion.
In the school that I’m in now, I have one of the bigger bodies, but I’m in a place where I can use that as a positive thing and to spread the ideas of body positivity and fat liberation. I frequently make comments about my own body in a positive way, especially with my students. If I catch a kid fat shaming, whether it’s to themselves or another student, I call them out, tell them to stop, and talk about my own body and how fatness is OK. I do the same things with other teachers. It’s little, but hopefully powerful, because I know I didn’t hear many adults talk positively about their fat bodies growing up. Maybe if I did, I wouldn’t have used my body as a tactic to get attention. Maybe if I did, I would have put more worth into myself as a human with a personality. Maybe I wouldn’t have been trying to find a way to put a positive spin on a body that would otherwise be viewed negatively by others.
I think I’m in this mindset that allows me to spread body positivity and fat liberation because of the online body positivity movement and because of my experience in yoga. When I started doing yoga, my body wasn’t able to do a lot of the things other people were able to do, but the deeper, more subtle practice of yoga and mindfulness allowed me to be at peace with my limitations. The introduction of props into my yoga practice opened up a world of abilities I didn’t think I had. I was amazed at what my body was capable of doing. I was proud of my own strength. I was proud that I didn’t feel shame anymore like I did in other group fitness classes. Yoga wasn’t like the other kinds of exercise I had tried. I love dancing, but dance fitness classes that had me sweating profusely and out of breath made me feel defeated rather than liberated. For some reason, sweating in yoga felt like an accomplishment. Like my body was helping me do things that I’d never been able to do before. That feeling, that liberation that mindfulness brought to me, those are the reasons I’m now in my yoga teacher training. I want to bring those feelings to other fat people.
So let’s talk about that. The very first time I ever took a yoga-like class. My first teaching job offered a free gym membership with our health insurance, so I decided to take advantage of that and hit up some of the classes at the local gym. I tried a spin class that was GOD AWFUL (I mean come on, my ass is way bigger than that tiny little bike seat. I was bruised for days!) and I tried Les Mills Body Flow- which was a combination of yoga, pilates, and… (I never remember the third one, but luckily I have the internet at my disposal right now…) Tai Chi! Well, the class that I went to was in a huge room. There were a lot of people and the teacher was 20-30 feet away from me. I know now, because I have a friend who teaches at that same gym, that the teacher wasn’t allowed to leave her mat at the front of the room, so I didn’t get any individual instruction. I was stuck in the back of the room, watching all the thinner more experienced people contort their bodies into shapes I couldn’t get into. I tried my hardest, but felt like a failure. There were no props offered other than a mat. I felt so defeated. I did talk to the instructor afterward and she was very nice. She gave me some ideas of hip opening poses I could attempt at home, and offered to help any time, but I felt a little intimidated by the whole experience. I may have gone to that class one other time, but it was another experience that I didn’t prefer, so I gave up on that.
Flash-forward three more years. I’m beginning to feel the results of inactivity and aging. My hips were incredibly tight, I had pain in the top of my foot. I wanted to do something about it, so I decided to look into the local yoga studio (Yoga East Healing Arts Studio) and see what they had to offer. I considered private yoga therapy sessions, but at the time, I wasn’t in the best financial situation, so I just decided to go to a class instead. My first few classes were titled Gentle Yoga with a teacher named Kelly Downes. She has this inviting energy that just makes you want to keep coming back. She is thin and tall and beautiful, someone I might normally be intimidated by in an exercise class, but she had this vibe that made me feel super comfortable. She used blocks in her practice. She touched on the more subtle and spiritual aspects of yoga. She encouraged me to turn inward and really think about how things felt in my body. I felt comfortable asking her for help figuring out certain poses in my body, and when I did, I was able to figure out modifications that worked for me.
I was hooked. This was the first form of exercise that I really stuck with. I started going to more classes. I went to a Hatha Flow class with Sue Nesler, the owner of the studio. In my second class with her, she said “you’re going to be a yoga teacher.” I thought she was nuts! I thought “me?? No way. I’m not a fitness person. I’m barely flexible. That’s silly.” Now look where I am- halfway through my 200 hour teacher training! Sue saw me experimenting with props and making things work in my body and encouraged me to show these things to the other students. I remember her asking me to come up to the front of the studio and demonstrate my modified crow pose using blocks. I walked them through it and encouraged them, saying things like “if you’re putting weight in your hands, you’re doing crow! It doesn’t matter if you lift your feet off the ground. Your version of crow is still valid.” I now know that she was preparing me for becoming a teacher, showing me my niche, and getting me comfortable in front of a very full room of yogis.
The other yogis at the studio are of all different ages and ability levels. It was apparent to me that I was not the only one who had the experience of feeling welcome and getting individualized instruction that pertained to my personal needs. People who had injuries, and surgeries, and pre-existing conditions were all coming together into this space and practicing yoga together even though each one needed different things and were getting different things out of it. I love that about this studio. And now that I’ve become more acquainted with the yoga community, I’ve noticed that this is standard for a lot of yoga studios. This idea of body acceptance and accessibility is key. I want to be a part of that. I want to show the world that yoga really is for Every Body.
Currently in my personal yoga practice, I am working to stay mindful and think about my own body. I’m struggling a little bit because the teacher in me is always thinking about the potential student, so even when I’m practicing on my own, I’m thinking about “how would I teach this? What would I say to a student?” I’m letting those thoughts take over instead of listening to my body and practicing for ME. This is making it easier for me to teach, but also harder in some ways because I’m not giving myself the proper attention. In some ways, thinking about how I would say certain things to my students allows me to think of how I talk to myself getting into certain poses. It has also allowed me to examine the reasons I use props in certain ways. As a student, I improvised props a LOT- trying different stuff until something worked and felt right. Now that I have a pretty standard way of doing things for myself, I’ve been able to think “ok, why do I use blocks when I fold forward in Upavistha Konasana? I am keeping my spine straight, I’m letting my pelvis tilt forward, I’m leading with my belly button, and if I put my hands on the floor, my spine would round, it would close off my space to breathe. Perfect! Now I know what to tell my students- AND these are all things that could help ANYONE, not *just* fat yogis.”
I am so proud to be a fat yogi. I am excited to show people that if I can do it, they can do it too. Whether that person is also fat, or if they have other physical limitations that make them think they can’t do yoga, I want them to see me and be inspired to try. I’ve already seen the effect I have on people, both in my yoga studio, and on the @propqueenyoga Instagram page. I’ve had fellow students come up to me after class and tell me how I’ve inspired them. Sometimes I’m the token fat girl, and I’m totally okay with that. If there’s another fat person in the yoga class I will always reach out to them and try to help them feel more comfortable. Some people don’t like being the “token fat girl,” but I love it. It gives me the opportunity to help people and to bring yoga to someone who may not feel comfortable enough to seek it out on their own. The media perpetuates this visual of a thin, lithe, bendy yogi, and so many people see that and think that they can’t do it. How many people actually have that kind of body? Not many! I want to be a part of changing that narrative. So many people have already been doing a ton of work to change it: Amber Karnes, Jessamyn Stanley, and Dianne Bondy, just to name a few. But I think in a small community like mine, we need a local voice and I’m ready to be that.
Overall, being a fat yogi is empowering for me. I have learned about so many new things I’m able to do with my body. I’ve been able to enjoy moving my body for the first time in a very long time. While I already loved my body before, the practice of yoga has allowed me to love and appreciate my body in new ways. I’m so thankful for my body allowing me to be on this earth and live the life I’m living. Without it, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t get to experience the things I experience. I look forward to seeing where my body takes me on this journey- not just my yoga journey, but my whole life!
As a fat yogi and a fat yoga teacher, my goals are to continue showing people that they can do yoga in whatever body they have today. Props and modifications are your friend! Do what feels right for you! I would love to start a yoga class that is specifically meant for fat bodies, but is accepting of all bodies, that focuses on prop usage and modifications. I also want to expand my usage of yoga and mindfulness at my school. I want to start a yoga class for teachers after school and also a yoga club for the students where we’ll focus on mindful movement, but also on mindfulness strategies that they can use throughout the school day to help them become in control of their emotions and their responses to the things that happen to them. I also hope to help with my school’s behavior intervention team to use yoga and mindfulness as a way to help students who have consistent behavior issues in the classroom. Yoga and mindfulness practices have transformed my life and I truly believe that the world would be a much better place if our children were taught these practices from a young age.
You may have noticed that throughout this whole blog I’ve been referring to myself as fat. I see the word fat as a neutral descriptor. Fat is something that I have on my body, therefore I am a fat person. I have no problems with people calling me fat, even if they mean it in a negative way because I will come back with “Yes, I am fat. So what? I’m fat, and I’m beautiful. I’m fat and I’m sexy. I’m fat and I’m a badass. I’m fat and I have an awesome personality. Being fat does not lower my value as a human.”
To those of you who are in a fat body and are starting a yoga journey, I hope that you can surround yourself with the influence of other fat yogis. There are so many of us out there! Just because we aren’t the media’s first portrayal of a yogi does not mean we’re nonexistent. Follow fat yogis on social media. Find some body positive yoga classes. Especially right now in this time of online learning- you have access to classes from all over the world! I got to take a yoga class with Body Positive Fitness in Toronto, Canada from all the way down in Southeast Missouri! Seeing people doing yoga in bodies like mine is inspiring to me. Second word of advice- props are your friend! Get yourself some yoga blocks and a strap (or if you don’t have that available to you right now, find some books and stack them up on top of each other, and grab a scarf from the closet). These props will open you up to poses that felt uncomfortable in the past or that you didn’t think you’d be able to do. And if you need assistance figuring out how to use these props (shameless plug) check out my Instagram page- but also check out some of the other fat yogis and see how they use them! Just know that the purpose is not the poses. The purpose is to be mindful of how things feel in your body, to quiet the body, and to turn inward. The practice of yoga is much more than contorting your body into different shapes. Allow yourself to find what works for you. What quiets your body and quiets your mind? What helps you feel comfortable and safe, but toes along the edge of your comfort level and pushes you a little further? Play with things and find what works for you.
I want to leave you with some final thoughts about just being in a fat body. Do not let the body you have keep you from doing things that you love. You can do these things NOW. No, you do NOT have to “lose a few pounds” before summer so you can have a “beach body.” Your body deserves to be on a beach NOW. You do not have to lose the fat between your thighs before you wear shorts! Yes, chafing happens, but there are products for that (Monistat Anti-Chafing Powder Gel is the SHIT). You do not have to change yourself because the media tells you to. Make a radical statement and BE HERE NOW. Be in your body NOW. You only have one life, why spend it waiting until your body is different? You can live NOW.
If you’ve made it this far, thank you for listening to me ramble on about all these things that I’m so passionate about. I hope I was able to help you see something in yourself that you didn’t see before. Don’t forget to subscribe to The Fat Yogi Show podcast if you haven’t already, and follow @TheFatYogi Show, @tiffanycroww, and @propqueenyoga on Instagram! Feel free to reach out with any questions you have about being fat, being a fat yogi, yoga props and modifications, or fat fashion (I don’t think I mentioned before that I also work at Lane Bryant part time and love finding clothes for people that make them feel good about themselves.) I am pretty quick to respond on social media, especially now during this quarantine, so reach out! I’d love to talk to you!
Ok, how to close… I don’t know you, but I love you! I hope you know how strong, badass, and beautiful you are! Live your life NOW. ❤