Trip to Asia leads to a new perspective on fitness and body image

india-bodyimage-tbWe leave behind the three young girls on the ghats at Varanasi. I’m examining the careful lines of drying henna they’ve drawn on my palm. I feel decorated, ornamental and finally a part of the place.

Between the heat and illness and an aversion to the food, I’ve lost 15 pounds over the month of travel in India. I feel confident and healthy. And when a group of young men walk by me and my pal Corinne, I feel friendly enough to smile.

They respond to my gesture by calling me “fatso.”

The comment is a blow that hurts my heart like a fat blockage in an artery. And it’s the second time on the trip a stranger has pointed out my imperfection.

Back home in Canada, I weighed the same. I’ve always struggled with the numbers on the scale, but no one has dared make mention of the winter cushion which pads my rear end. In Canada, I am safe beneath layers of wool and my friends’ assurances that I “carry it well” or that I’m just naturally “curvy.”

But in India, I am fat.


“Hindus believe in karma,” our yoga instructor says. “Every choice you make reflects and resonates throughout your life.”

He looks at me and says, “For example, if you’ve had too much food, then you get fat.”

I glare at him for the remainder of the class, unable to relax into a back bend, or calm the fury in my mind.


Jessica Clark (left) and Keisha Kipling model their saris for the Bollywood dance performance.

Photo by Corrine SatoThe trip to India was an opportunity for cultural immersion. And I learned fast that the culture stresses outward appearance as much as they promise spiritual enlightenment.

But they’re also just honest to the point that it’s blunt fact.

I am fat. And how could I have tried to hide from that for so long?

I knew before embarking on the trip that I would not escape such a weighty personal issue. I worried that the months of sloth, late nights and high-calorie alcohol binges associated with journalism would manifest itself in my physical inability to keep up with the field school group during all those temple tours.

But I really never thought anyone would say anything to me.


While in India, we stayed at Sri Ram Ash Ram (an orphanage) in Haridwar. The children living there don’t incorporate exercise in their routines as an afterthought, or a chore. They use fitness to bond and interact with one another. It’s a form of communication and a source of constant growth.

One of the activities at the Ash Ram was a choreographed Bollywood routine that our field school group would perform for the kids. We were slated to perform last. There were groups of kids performing feverish dance numbers for us — all of them so in-tune with the music and the movements of their own bodies.

I wanted that kind of awareness and health for myself.

I decided to follow their example when I returned home to Canada. I’m enrolled in a summer boot camp. I’m also riding my bike to work and giving up the couch sessions with my friends in favour of basketball games and Frisbee golf. And in the fall, I will rekindle my forgotten passions for belly dance.

Before leaving to Asia, my friends and family joked about attaining enlightenment. I don’t know if that’s what I’d call it, but I’m starting to feel lighter already.

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