Published in Sweat Equity Magazine, April/May Issue
“As a teacher and practitioner of yoga, it would make me immensely happy to see the media properly portray and embrace all the different body types and races that are actually practicing yoga.”
Globetrotting yogini, internationally celebrated teacher, author, and founder of Aim True Yoga, Kathryn Budig is one of the most famous faces of yoga today. Her yoga career is an illustrious one, having entered the scene just 12 years ago in 2004. In yoga years, that’s equivalent to about one-eighth of a past lifetime! In that brief span, Budig has appeared on magazine covers, featured in ad campaigns, written a guidebook for yogis, and become the official face of Under Armor’s women’s studio line. In just over a decade, Budig has learned a lot — a whole lot— about success, media representation, body image, and above all else, how to stay true to yourself.
We were lucky to catch up with the 33-year-old Kansas native (somewhere between skydiving, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, karate, sparring, and walking her dog) to learn her thoughts on the representation of yoga in the media, what it means to have a “yoga body,” what it means to be healthy, and more. Her responses were nothing less than grounded, empowering, and sincere.
Budig dove headfirst into the yoga limelight with a splash of controversy in 2008, when she posed nearly nude in a campaign for ToeSox. When the photographer explained that the main thrust behind the ad was “your body is your temple,” Budig’s reservations dissolved, and she’s maintained that philosophy ever since—not just in her practice and teaching, but as a way of life.
With increasing fame, came a choice: whether to follow the tide and accommodate the stereotypes we’re familiar with—to drop more weight before photo shoots, to refuse skin-baring images and cover-up imperfections—or to celebrate who she is at that moment, inhabiting the body she has at that moment. There’s no question which route she took. Budig’s definition of a ‘yoga body’ is as straightforward as it gets: “A yoga body is anyone who possesses a body and does yoga.” And then adds, “The classic media standard has portrayed something else: typically a long, willowy, thin white body, which doesn’t reflect the diverse bodies of the yoga community. As a teacher and practitioner of yoga, it would make me immensely happy to see the media correctly portray and embrace all the different body types and races that are actually practicing yoga.”
But that’s easy to say, coming from someone who is the perfect blend of strength and flexibility, with a high-voltage smile that can light up a room—right? We think: What would she know about poor body image? “I’m profoundly aware that, from an aesthetic standpoint, I fit the mould,” she says. “I’m a size four, blond, white woman—so I know I fit the typical representation of what a lot of people are ‘used to’ seeing in the media. I get that. But I also know that I’ve put in the blood, sweat, and tears to become an excellent teacher with a strong message. And at the end of the day, regardless of how I look, I’d like to think that my message will connect with people.” That lesson is one she’s lived through personally and earned the right to pass on.
There was a time when even she was turned down for a role because of her weight. She says, “Like every human being, of course, I’ve struggled with body image issues. I’ve gone through different phases in my life where I’ve loved my body and ones where I’ve despised it. But now I’ve finally reached a level of acceptance, whether I’m at what I consider to be my fighting weight or not. The issue isn’t really about how I look or how anyone looks, or how if you look reflects what we see in the media, in society,” she says. “The issue is about how I feel inside, how everyone feels inside.”
Because that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? And it’s what yoga’s all about, too: connecting with your truth and finding the strength and courage to live it.
Kathryn is no stranger to the noise of criticism, either. With her breadth and variety of experiences, much of it playing out in the public eye, she learned early on that her position in the spotlight carries a certain responsibility and accountability to women looking for a strong female voice. She says, “Without a doubt, as a public persona, I realize that putting myself out there into the world comes with free cartons of rotten tomatoes. I’ve also realized that speaking my truth is going to be incredibly empowering to people who need to hear the message . . . Part of aiming true is learning to move past the noise and expectations of others.”
How does Budig dodge the rotten tomatoes, then? She answers, “I don’t encourage myself or others to engage in the negativity . . . If you post something, you should have the confidence to stand by it. I’m encouraging people to say what you mean and don’t beat around the bush, because if one negative comment causes you to crumble, then you probably didn’t have a great foundation to begin with.”
Budig’s been given a unique platform upon which to speak out about these types of issues, in an often-warped medium that considers a size 0 to be ‘normal.’ Through the articles she writes, the presentations she makes, and classes she teaches, every day she has the opportunity to provide women with an authentic picture of health and self-love. But to be healthy, you first have to know what that is. For Kathryn, health is “the ability to feel comfortable in your own skin, to nourish your body and to treat your body like a temple. ‘Health’ doesn’t mean that you fit a certain size or sweat a certain amount each day.”
So how do we develop this strength and integrity? How do we reinforce this message of “true health” in a society so invested in something else?
Budig answers, “Ultimately, I think the best way we can support each other is by speaking positively, out loud, about ourselves and not being afraid to give genuine compliments to one another . . .”
Like the Greek goddess Artemis, after whom her Aim True philosophy is named, Budig spreads the message of authenticity; she touts self-confidence and speaks her truth; she emphasizes a new perspective on our body as the temple of our soul. She challenges assumptions about the practice, amidst the clamour of promotion and public pressure and, in so doing, always hits her mark.
“Aim True is this ability to embrace your personal talents and passions knowing that not everyone will necessarily agree with and support you, but that when something makes your heart beat, you have to stick to your guns. When I do this, I always hit my mark.”