Wellness

In a Society That Idolizes Thinness, These Women Love Their Larger Bodies

As body positivity advocates, they're bringing a health at any size approach to the Boston wellness scene.


body positive

Constance Smith, photo credit Julio Lopez / Linda Ayrapetov, photo provided / Rachel Estapa, photo credit M. Davidson-Schapiro Photography / Linda Wells, photo provided

Weight loss has always been at the forefront of health and fitness. Fad diets and exercises to “blast fat” and “tone” are marketed to the masses. As a result, we feel the only way to be fit is to lose weight and change the way our bodies look—then, and only then, will we truly be happy. While it is not inherently bad to want to change the way your body looks, the social privilege we give to thinner bodies and the shame we place on larger bodies can be detrimental.

Lindy West, a writer and activist covering feminism, culture, and fat acceptance said it best when she told NPR, “The reality of being a fat person isn’t that every moment of your life is about being fat. It’s that you’re trying to live the same kind of complicated, exciting, fun, beautiful, difficult life as everyone else. The only problem, is that at every turn society says you should apologize for just living in your body.” In an article she wrote, titled “My wedding was perfect—and I was fat as hell the whole time“, she says that existing as a fat woman every message comes back to some form of, “Take up less space.”

By continuing to judge people’s health based on their weight or size, we attach negative bias to larger bodies and make them feel excluded from spaces and activities meant for everyone. And research shows that stigmatizing a person’s weight contributes to poor emotional and physical health issues including depression, binge eating, health-related quality of life, and more. We also continue to feed a social preoccupation with self-hatred and seeking an ideal that may never be attainable.

It is possible to be happy and healthy in your body, no matter how much space you take up, without having to count your calories, spend a soul-sucking amount of time on a treadmill, and deem yourself unworthy until you see a certain number on the scale. Just ask these four women, who are proving that all bodies have a place in the Boston wellness scene.

Rachel Estapa, founder of More to Love Yoga

When you look at a room full of yogis, they typically aren’t plus size. Rachel Estapa, who has always lived in a larger body, wanted to change that when she realized she was often the largest person in the room. Three years ago she started More to Love Yoga, a yoga class geared towards those in larger bodies offering modifications and poses so that everyone can feel comfortable. “More to Love began as something I personally needed,” she says. “In my early 20s I began to understand that there has to be more to love about me than what I weigh.” And through her classes, which she says are almost always sold out, she helps people feel welcomed and comfortable. She even has classes dedicated to certain body parts, like “boobs, butts, and bellies” that help participants manifest self-love around features that we most often hide and cower from. For more information: moretoloveyoga.com

 

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I spent large chunks of time today letting my mind and pen wander. In that journey, I thought about the way I interact with space in my life. As a fat body, I’m habitually bobbing and weaving to make it through. I instinctively suck in my belly when slipping behind chairs. I eye the people beside the empty spot on the train- can I slide in without hearing a heavy sign from them? The usual line is “well then lose weight!” And the root of this is not about size, but of the belief that larger bodies are an inconvenience. That my perceived size must go the extra mile to ensure I don’t disrupt the thin esthetic of comfort. The murky lines of fat, presence, the truth of life’s annoyances: they play out for something as simple as navigating a cafe as I catch up with a dear friend. . . . . #SelfiesForSelfLove#bodylove#yoga#plussizeyoga#curvyyoga#bodypositve#bodypositiveeveryday#effyourbeautystandards#sizedoesntmatter#celebratemysize#lovemyshape#bodyposi#pizzasisters4lyfe#celebratemysize#weightloss#fitfam#nutrition#nobodyshamecampaign#yoga#curvyyoga#boston#cambridge#somerville#yogaboston #moretoloveyoga

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Linda Wells, yoga instructor and health and wellness advocate

Similar to Estapa, Wells is a yoga instructor catering to those with larger bodies. She teaches in high schools and works with community outreach programs to serve underprivileged areas while helping her participants stop toxic habits, like negative self-talk. “Wellness is our birthright,” she says. “You don’t need permission, based on your size, to be here.” She says that there’s a lot of ableism out there. Meaning, we’re not all able to do something a specific way, but that shouldn’t limit us from doing it a different way. Oftentimes people in larger bodies are left out of the conversation because they’re seen as incapable, when that’s really not the case at all. “When I started outwardly embracing my larger features like rubbing my belly, I started to change from the inside out,” Wells says. “There’s no point in sitting around being miserable about what size jeans we’re picking up at the store. We have to find joy.” For more information: lindawellnesswarrior.com

 

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#RepostSave @erinkayanderson with @repostsaveapp ・・・ “When women make the choice to call them selves warriors, we know that they have both seen & been to battle.” -#Us • As of late, I’ve binging on “The Last Kingdom.” There are lots of talks of great warriors – the greatest them seek #peace, but who know the waring ways of men – of both others & themselves & who fight when deemed necessary with grace, intellect, & wit. • What we know as yogis is that the only real battle is the battle of the self. The warriors’s challenge is to go head to head with the voice inside of our minds – the one that yields self doubt saying ‘we are not: good enough, strong, enough, smart enough, or beautiful enough.” It is our job to daily silence that voice, by acting in greatness. & #LindaWells reminds us to do just that. • Recognized as @lindawellnesswarrior, she is one of the first within Boston to stand at the front lines of self love as a black woman in the Boston Yoga community. • Not only did she dive into her personal self care practice, she recognized the importance of being able to teach the practice to the all. She understood that access to safe space, breath, & posture create evolutionary awareness. The Force within her opened up the gates for many. • She has been teaching almost 9 years now, & practicing far beyond. She is a woman with a voice for life. There is something about her vibrato – the vibration & effect that invites us into class. It smooths the stubbornness that we hold in our body. She asks us to move with thoughtful, fluid & controlled motions. • Outside the classroom, she verbally & in action advocates for self care ALL Day EVERYDAY, & coaches others to do the same – from what we eat, to how we sit, flow, walk, or clear our cluttered thought. • Even before my Xmas binge, I told her that she was made for this – that it was written into her name. That ‘Well’ is her constant & the sharing of all that is ‘Well & Great is her fate.’ • She is a teacher that has shaped the way we handle our own advocacy, time, space & initiative & who has reminded us to #DoGreatThings & for that we are forever thankful. • #Namaste, sister. • #Yoga #YogaInBoston #divinefeminine

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Linda Ayrapetov, host of the podcast PLUS 1: self-love & dating

As an avid spin-goer and salsa dancer, Linda Ayrapetov says she walks into classes at Turnstyle past “really hot Lululemon girls” and just thinks to herself, “whatever, I’m just here for spin (or dance) and I don’t have anything to prove to you.” She wasn’t always that confident, though, and says it took her some time to unlearn those feelings of different that she grew up manifesting while living in a larger body. “At an earlier time in my life it would have been easy to judge someone else based on the way they looked because I was so judgmental about myself,” she says. “It’s not malicious when people have those thoughts. They’re just having them because they feel that way about their own body.” She recently started the podcast Plus 1 and, being a straight cis gender white woman, she makes it a point to feature people who have different experiences from her. They discuss everything from self-love to dating and ways to unpack the shame society places on fat people, emphasizing that the word “fat” isn’t negative or positive—it’s simply an adjective. “If I can help smaller people love themselves the way they are by unapologetically loving myself, I’m not offended by that. I’ve done my job,” Ayrapetov says.

Constance Smith, model and body advocate

As we’ve said before, representation matters. And representation of larger bodies is no exception. One of those people smashing the typical double 00 standards in the modeling world is Constance Smith. As a queer, Afro-Latina plus-size model she says she’s always had a passion for modeling and at a young age she was advocating for all people to love themselves by participating in campaigns geared towards self-love. She recently participated in one called “I Embrace Me” where she posed in her underwear and bra. She says it’s important to continue pushing the boundaries in the fashion industry to be inclusive of all bodies. “You’re going to have your bad days and your good days, but you just keep pushing forward,” she says. “Self-love is a journey.”

 

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I’ve always been “complimented” for having so much confidence, as if it was unattainable for someone of my weight, height or ethnicity. Yet, I’ve had it since birth without any positive representation in society or my inner community. I was witness to individuals unnecessarily changing themselves for the sake of vanity. In many instances those same individuals would attempt to sway me into following suit but I never failed to lose sight of self and embrace me. If you feel like this project resonates with you take a selfie and hashtag #IEmbraceMe —— 📸: @radtrav Creative Director: @adydelvalle_ & @radtrav —— #csmith #lunanation #afrolatina #iembraceme #naturalista #representationmatters #visiblyplussize #celebratemysize #goldenconfidence #bodypositivity #selflove

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For more information on the Health at Every Size approach to health visit: haescommunity.com. And if you know someone else making a difference in this space, let us know!