Kathryn Budig on Body Image And The Myth Of ‘The Yoga Body’

Eating Disorder Awareness Week

kathryn budig yoga bodyAs a world-famous yoga instructor and writer for several publications, Kathryn Budig is one of the most widely recognized faces and voices in yoga, but her body has also been the subject of great debate. In 2009, she posed nude for ToeSox ads (below), spurring controversy over the sexualization of women—and body image—in yoga. In honor of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, Budig agreed to talk with us about what all of this has taught her about body image and the myth of ‘the yoga body.’

Check out her answers below:

You posed nude for ToeSox ads and your body became the center of huge controversy in yoga; it must take a lot of confidence and courage to put yourself out there like that. Do you ever struggle with body image issues yourself?
I’d say I have way more confidence in my yoga practice and the amazing Jasper Johal (the photographer from ToeSox) than with my body. Yes, I have completely struggled with body image issues. Being regularly profiled in the fitness industry and living in Los Angeles isn’t the healthiest recipe for contentment. I find myself surrounded by people sacrificing their happiness and often health to achieve a certain look that makes them feel acceptable. This is why I’m so careful with the company I keep—my closest friends are remarkably confident and strong women who own their strengths and insecurities. My two dearest friends have both struggled with eating disorders so they keep me in line when I find myself wanting to be the air-brushed version of myself versus the beautiful woman that I already am.

As someone who teaches yoga and writes about food for a living, how do you keep from obsessing over those things in an unhealthy way?
I’ve always loved food—cooking, eating, dining out—basically the entire experience. Sharing and preparing food is a way for me to express my love. So as long as it’s always coming from a place of love it’s hard for me to think in an unheatlhy manner. I strive to eat healthy on a daily basis but I’ve also learned where to draw the line. I believe food is meant to be enjoyed, so if you find yourself out to dinner at a fantastic restaurant—enjoy it! You can go back to kale and quinoa tomorrow, but life is meant to be tasted and enjoyed. I’ve also found that the more rigid I am with my diet the more tense my body becomes and it holds onto weight. My body has looked it’s best when I’m eating healthy but also kicking back and drinking beers. The key is that I’m most beautiful when I’m happy so I work on blending my happiness with a sense of adventure and health.

Yoga now gets marketed as a means to lose weight and make your body look a certain way, which has angered many yogis. Is the idea of the “yoga body” a myth?
I don’t love the idea of yoga being sold as a weight loss tool, but just to be fair—why is it wrong to use yoga to lose weight if it helps you and makes you feel better? We’re all on different paths with different needs and if losing weight is going to bring you more happiness and yoga can get you there, then I say great. I do think the “yoga body” is a myth though only because I’ve seen amazing yogis come in all different shapes and sizes. It goes back to my last answer—I think people are sexiest when they feel happy and confident and yoga can definitely provide that.

On the flip side, do you think yoga can help women avoid eating disorders or recover from disordered eating?

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    • Briana Rognlin

      I think Kathryn’s points about focusing on what yoga can do for us beyond just the physical is so important. I’m so tired of people telling me that yoga will make me thinner or make me “leaner”—I know they do it because that’s what sells yoga, but I wish more of us would buy into it for the stress-relief and overall health benefits, too!

    • Alex @ Raw Recovery

      This is a fantastic interview! I’m in recovery myself and I’ve finally started taking yoga classes this past month. I used to do a lot of “weight loss” yoga in my eating disorder and I hated it. I think a combination of having the right intention for my yoga (not to lose weight but to connect with my body and feel good about myself) and not engaging in eating disordered behaviors has made me learn to love yoga. It’s my favorite part of the week now :)

      • Briana Rognlin

        Alex, that’s so great to hear. I’m so glad that you’re on the road to recovery and that yoga is helping you, not hurting you!

    • Heather Day- Vital Being Wellness

      SO pertinent to the struggles today’s yogis face. Kathryn, thank you for emphasizing that even “skinny, pretty people” have issues with body image- a cultural problem we have as we constantly pursue this nebulous thing called “perfection”. On our mats, we find we ARE perfect, no matter how far we are from touching our toes or how strong our practice. Just as negative thoughts become destructive patterns, so do positive ones lift us up. Embrace your perfect self!

    • Hilary

      I lived in India for a year and was so lucky to have a yogi that worked with a group of us at my workplace. It was a great experience – she was 86 years old then and didn’t speak a drop of English, and myself no Mharati. But we did just fine and I really love her and well as my yoga time there. When I got back to the states I found that its hard for me to do yoga alone (even with her granddaughter’s hand drawn instructions and additional info in english her granddaughter helped her find for me to take home). But in the US I have struggled to find a yoga class that doesn’t feel superficial and all about how you look. I miss the connection I had not only with my body – but also with the others who where there for the yoga and not its results (so to say). Where can I go to find instructors that offer yoga not for ‘health/weight loss/relaxation’ but for the way it can help you truly connect to yourself? I really dislike the spirit of competitiveness that I find in many places when I first got back to the USA, and have just given up on looking – but I miss practicing with friends terribly!

    • Linda

      You said it all right here….

      My number one goal in yoga is to be happy. Happy people are beautiful people and it’s infectious. Don’t worry about the physical shape of your body. Let that be an added bonus. Focus on setting intention and finding the joy in your life and on your mat.

    • Emily

      My yoga teacher is amazing – strong, flexible, happy, and beautiful – and she doesn’t have a stereotypical “yoga body”. I think she’s a fantastic example to those of us who want to practice yoga but aren’t blessed with a genetic makeup to be extremely thin.

    • Ray

      What an incredibly self-obsessed person. I guess yoga doesnt help when someone is delusional.

    • Geoge

      Wow, her idea of happiness is on an elementary school level + looking good as a bonus (but hey, it doesnt matter what you look like). Thinking before speaking in public required.

    • Kate

      Sure, yoga can help eating disorders. Sometimes strengthen them. Shallow self-involved puddle.

    • danih

      I don’t even understand why people left such negative the comments below. There is no need for criticism. Kathryn, thank you for your service and all the love you spread. Totally get what you are saying in this article. Lots of love xoxo

      • Marc

        Not everyone can understand everything. Some people are more intellectually limited than others.