“The idea of a fit body is a social construct,” says Dolly Singh, a yoga enthusiast, media professional and part-time chef. Singh forayed into news with her difficult yoga moves which she executes with ease and agility though she is not the typical slim girl on a mat. She says with confidence, “I can do moves that even so-called fit-bodied girls struggle with“, and questions ideas of beauty, physical strength and fitness, all at the same time.
After Buzzfeed put up a video of her practicing yoga with the title Who says curvy girls can’t do yoga, Singh has received both flak as well as admiration from viewers. Many have resorted to plain-old fat-shaming and pointed out “she is not curvy” because they associate “curvy” to sex appeal, and of course, only Bollywood heroines who are not a size zero can be called “curvy”. Some have commented that she should exercise to lose weight and yet cringed at the video because they did not actually want to see her exercising. Others have commented that she should lose weight because “fat is unhealthy” but refused to see that her yoga moves busts a stereotype that only slim people can be fit and healthy.
Many of these commentators seem to be under the illusion that they are doing a public service by encouraging Singh to love herself and seek a better life but instead they are being vicious to a woman who has the right amount of self-love to put a video out there and the confidence to ignore their negative feedback. Like Singh says, “I don’t get bothered (with negative feedback). So many people are reaching out to me with awesome things to say. I retain the one good thing someone says among hundred other bad things.”
Singh says she did not grow up with body issues because she had a family who never bothered her with her weight. “My mom never told me I had to look pretty,” she says. “Why can’t we be adventurous or humorous or even crafty? Why are women told they have to be pretty?”
But in her twenties, the notion of looking a particular way started affecting Singh and she felt she was overcompensating for her weight in other ways. “I was at the best of my game at work and I would be really funny,” she says. Then she sprained her ankle in a trekking expedition in Hampi and a doctor told her she needed to lose weight as her legs were getting affected. Singh got a personal trainer who put her on an exercise and structured-eating program. When asked whether she missed the times when she could stay up late and binge eat, Singh says, “I still lead a very active life and do all the things I want to. But now I know when not to, too.”
However, gym, Pilates, and the likes were getting too monotonous for Singh and she finally joined a yoga class that she claims changed her life.
“I could do most of the postures. It was not like Zumba where I had felt I lacked some skill,” Singh says. She claims to be a very competitive person, and that she was doing better than some so-called fit-bodied people in class, encouraged her to continue yoga.
She even started watching yoga videos online and practicing the difficult postures. Then she had a brainwave to practice yoga in public spaces. She was apprehensive of the idea and knew it would attract unwanted attention but was also determined “to reclaim public spaces”. Her experience of practicing yoga in parks has been mixed with many people simply staring at her but Singh mostly recalls the positive incidents of older people appreciating her posture or wanting to learn from her.
Yoga has been empowering for Singh. She chuckles and says she chooses skimpier clothes for her yoga practice than for parties. She thinks some other activity can be as empowering for other women and insists “body is not the limit”.