Stanley: It’s really helpful to remember that anyone saying you can’t do something is repeating something that they believe about themselves. They’re not talking about anything related to you. It’s not just yoga, either. It’s anything you would like to do in this life. But if we specifically focus on wellness and health, any type of movement, modality, like running, Crossfit, swimming, ballet, boxing, all of these things, you can have any body type and practice them.
In terms of combating one’s own internalized anti-fat bias, my biggest tip for anyone who wants to start a yoga practice but doesn’t feel good enough is to start at home and start from where you are right now. Don’t try to get the perfect outfit. Don’t try to find the perfect teacher. Don’t decide how many days per week you should be practicing or how long you should be practicing. If you have a yoga mat, that’s great. If you don’t have a yoga mat, that is also great.
Start with one pose and just say, “I am going to practice this pose. This is going to be my pose.” Maybe the pose is a corpse pose. Maybe the pose is downward facing dog. It could be anything, but find a pose that works for you. Just try to focus on breathing. When you build that confidence in your breath and in your connection of your breath and the movement at home, then it makes it easier to carry that practice from your home to studio classes.
SELF: If you were to reflect on a truly inclusive future within your field, what would that look like?
Stanley: What we can offer children is actually for every adult to look within themselves and see the internalized bias, the bigotry, the self-hatred, and just be present to it. It’s not even about fixing it or changing it, just be present to it. Notice. Through that noticing, we can create space for us to share a new idea of what it means to be healthy and to be worthwhile as a human being. We can create a whole new narrative that we then share with our children and then they share with their children, and then so on and so forth. But it’s really got to come down to doing that internal work on a personal level and letting it influence those around you.
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Certified personal trainer, author, and founder of FORM Fitness Brooklyn
In a fitness realm where so many people of size are reluctant to enter IRL workout spaces for fear of abuse or a lack of physical access, inclusivity-led spaces like the women-owned, body-positive training studio FORM Fitness Brooklyn are imperative.
Having been a fat kid growing up, Summers, who in addition to being FORM’s founder is the author of Big and Bold: Strength Training for the Plus-Size Woman, knows firsthand the bias that can follow people in larger bodies. She discovered joy in movement at a young age, though, with the help of a personal trainer who didn’t perpetuate those feelings of shame. “When it was time to go to college, the only thing I really enjoyed was being in the gym,” she tells SELF. “So I decided to go to school for kinesiology and exercise science, and I wanted to become a personal trainer to help people like my trainer had helped me.” She’s been training for nearly 16 years now. Much of her work now revolves around helping plus-size folks get stronger, not smaller.
“I believe that women are stronger than they realize and can gain so much physical strength but also confidence and mental strength with what the gym can offer,” she says. “Every single time I work out, I’m working through a mental feat. I leave feeling more accomplished, and I want people to know that they can do that, too.”
SELF: What do you think are some of the most pressing consequences of anti-fat bias in fitness?
Summers: Most of the time, there is an assumption that when a person walks into the gym, they want to lose weight. When people are working with trainers, the goal that the trainer believes is what the person wants—or the goal that the trainer wants—is what is put on the client. So many times, people come into these spaces because they want to get healthier in some way, but the trainer will immediately assume thinness and health to be one and the same. I want to get the word across that everybody has their own goals.