New Kid on the Block
The Body Positivi+y Blog
Fat Kid Yoga Club founder Marc Settembrino talks to OM’s Jane Lambert.
We’re all looking for different things from a yoga teacher. For some, it might be that they are uniquely qualified in a particular practice, or a specialist in yoga that targets a specific part of the body. Most people will agree, however, that finding a teacher you feel comfortable and safe with is incredibly important, and once you find this, you’ll never want to leave.
Finding a class and teacher that you feel comfortable with when you don’t look like the rest of the people rolling out their mats around you can be difficult. Not all teachers are understanding of the fact that a yoga class can be intimidating for people with bigger bodies; taking up more room than your fellow students often makes you feel conspicuous.
Luckily, there are teachers out there who are committed to providing welcoming and inclusive spaces for all types of people who aren’t comfortable in regular classes.
Marc Settembrino is from New Orleans; he identifies as a fat, queer yoga practitioner, and is the founder of Fat Kid Yoga. “I created Fat Kid Yoga Club (FKYC) to hold space for people in bigger bodies,” he told me recently. “As someone who has been a fat kid their entire life, I have always felt intimidated in gyms and other wellness spaces. FKYC exists to create a welcoming environment for people in bigger bodies who want to experience the benefits of yoga without feeling judged.
More importantly, most yoga teachers aren't trained on how to work with larger bodies. In my classes, I am able to offer additional assistance and adaptations that other teachers can’t. I also want to add that I’m not the first person to do this kind of work. Michael Hayes from Buddha Body Yoga in New York has been offering accessible yoga for ‘people of size’ for more than 20 years. I’m honoured to continue the legacy of those who came before me.”
Settembrino offers in-person classes, but has also set up an online yoga space, to offer people the opportunity to practice at home. “People want online options for many reasons. I’ve found that many of my subscribers sign up because there aren’t any options for them locally. They live in small towns in the US, Canada, Europe, and Australia, and are looking for accessible yoga. In some cases, there isn’t a yoga studio nearby and if there is a studio, they are hostile to fat folks.
“I really cannot stress enough that yoga studios need to do more to welcome diverse clients. This is true for race, ability, gender identity, and sexual orientation, but it’s especially true for body shape and size. Yoga studios that promote detox plans and offer ‘yoga for weight loss’ (or whatever they want to call it) send a clear message to fat people: your body is bad, and you don’t belong here. That is the opposite of yoga. In general, I think the yoga community needs to reassess our commitment to healthism. At the end of the day, I think it may push more people away.”
Settembrino’s brand is Fat Kid Yoga, but how does he feel about the terminology we use to describe bigger bodies? “Words are powerful, we can’t forget that. Personally, I describe myself as fat. ‘Overweight’ and ‘obese’ are medical terms which have been used to stigmatise bodies, so I avoid those terms entirely. I know that not everyone feels like me: if you prefer to call yourself ‘plus-size’ or ‘curvy’, that’s your choice and I respect it. It’s hard to be a fat person, everywhere you turn you are reminded that your body is wrong. So I am not about to judge another person for the words they use to describe their body.
My personal brand is ‘Fat Kid Yoga Club’: it makes me smile when I say it. It just sounds fun! Since I don’t own my own studio, I don’t get to pick the names of my offerings. Like I said, not everyone is at the same point in their body acceptance journey. I am sure that some folks are turned off by the name Fat Kid Yoga. Ultimately, I try to make every class I teach accessible to every body, regardless of size, shape, strength or level of flexibility.”