Amber Karnes is well aware that the body positivity movement has been co-opted by commercial campaigns designed to sell us soap and overpriced razors under the guise of developing self-esteem. But when she founded Body Positive Yoga in 2010, the concept was more about social justice than capitalism—“to make room and access for all bodies,” she says.
At the time, Karnes was halfway through a yearlong 200-hour teacher training, and the same issues kept cropping up in class: She and the other students were learning how to teach poses in a way that’s really only effective for one body type: thin and able. “I was always the person giving feedback, like, ‘Well, actually, my foot doesn’t step forward between my hands,’” Karnes tells me one August afternoon as we sat on a sun-kissed park bench overlooking the Inner Harbor in Baltimore’s Federal Hill Park, near her home. “It was like, Oh! We’re actually not learning how to teach to bodies like mine.”