The internet recently exploded with news of Trina Hall, a yoga instructor who gained 40 pounds in four months for an art project she called “The Fat Yoga Teacher.”
Despite Hall’s good-faith efforts — she had intended to “empower people to love their bodies” — plenty of people are finding flaws in Hall’s experiment.
For example, her explanation of how she gained weight, as told to the NY Daily News: she decided to eat anything she wanted, specifying “I ate a lot of Mexican food. Forty pounds just came as a result of that.” She also noted that her diet included a bar of chocolate every day, and described her diet as “bad.”
This type of disordered thinking is unhealthy for people of all sizes. As Health of Every Size practitioners note, repeatedly: food is neither good nor bad, it is simply food. Likewise, when someone like Trina Hall blithely tells the NY Daily News that she gained weight by eating piles of sour cream and daily chocolate bars, it implies that everyone else who is her size is indulging in the same practices.
The truth is — as we all know — that it isn’t as simple as that. Trina Hall claims she maintained her “before” weight by eating “healthy food,” but two different people can eat that same healthy diet and maintain two very different weights. Not everyone who is overweight got there by eating daily candy bars. Any individual’s weight is determined by a number of factors, including genetics, metabolism, age, health, medications, even digestive bacteria.
Nor is one woman’s “Fat Like Me” art project going to make a significant dent in body empowerment issues. Trina Hall is currently working to lose the weight, and if she does, the message will also be “it’s okay to love your bodies, but it’s also easy to lose 40 pounds just by eating right and exercising.” Personal trainer Drew Manning did a similar project in 2011, gaining 70 pounds in 6 months and then losing it in the next 6 months to prove it could be done. His resultant book, Fit2Fat2Fit, became a New York Times Bestseller. Instead of teaching body empowerment, he simply created another diet guide.
Do you know what truly creates body empowerment? Not creating weight-gain gimmicks or equating weight to “bad” food. It’s simple changes like companies that create flattering, supportive women’s plus size swimwear. Businesses that refuse to discriminate against large job candidates, even in “forward-facing” positions. Actors like Rebel Wilson and Melissa McCarthy, whose roles are not defined by their weight. Accepting people at every size creates health at every size.
What does this mean for people like Trina Hall? Yoga instructors who want to truly empower their students need to make sure the words “weight loss” never appear on their websites or class advertising materials. (Hall’s website, Treenuh.com, thankfully makes no mention of weight loss as a yoga goal.) They need to create a safe space where it’s just as acceptable to wear baggy pants as it is to wear tight spandex, and where people of all sizes and flexibility are encouraged to push at the edges of their limits without feeling pressured to enter overly-demanding yoga positions. They don’t need to perform a weight-gain stunt to teach anyone about empowerment. Empowerment comes through action.
So — what do you think about “The Fat Yoga Teacher?” Did Trina Hall effectively communicate her intended message, or did she create a stunt that further reinforced stereotypes about what causes weight gain and what types of people are overweight? Are projects like “The Fat Yoga Teacher” assets to the Health at Every Size movement, or do these types of efforts get in the way?