The Language of Bodies
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I use words to describe bodies of various sizes and shapes, thinking catalyzed by excellent questions posed as part of the Curvy Yoga certification I’m doing with Anna Guest-Jelly. I realized that when it comes to bodies that don’t look at those regularly seen on the cover of yoga magazines, I’m wandering through a language minefield:
- “Overweight” means that the person is over the “right” weight;
- “Obese” sounds like “obscene,” and it’s also a more official medical term that clearly communicates someone is wrong size-wise, and “morbidly obese” is downright terrifying;
- “Chubby” and “Husky” remind me of sections of clothing stores or clothing catalogues from the 1970s, and both mean something is amiss about a body (besides, chubby or chubbs tends to be an insult);
- “Large” and “Big” don’t always fit since there are some people (like me) who are small and short but still curvy;
- “Fat” is downright insulting and word associated often with ridicule or self-deprecation; and
- “Curvy,” while a wonderful term for women with curves, doesn’t fit all women and doesn’t resonate as much with men.
Anna Guest-Jelly’s description of “yoga for all shapes and sizes” works the best of any words I can conjure, although it would be nice to have one great adjective instead of six whole words. Still, the problem I’m having with getting the words right is a mirror of a larger societal issue. We tend to say “African-American” or “Women” or “Gay” or “Jewish” as the word before man or woman or person often, connoting anyone who isn’t privileged by being in the center of the status quo (e.g. white, Christian, straight men). The same is true for speaking of people who don’t fall smack in the center of recommended weights for specific heights.
At the same time, I seek the right words to reach out to people of all shapes and sizes just as Anna is doing globally and daily because I know how much yoga brings us back to our bodies, and helps us practice loving who we are, whatever our appearance. And doesn’t everyone, especially those most marginalized because of their shapes and sizes, deserve opportunities to practice such a homecoming?