Meet Dolly Singh, a plus-sized internet yoga queen who is defying all stereotypes
Dolly Singh, India’s most famous plus-sized yoga practitioner, tells us how she fights body stereotypes on the social media, the reaction of men when they see her work out in the open, and much more.
An ankle sprain a few years ago led her to discover yoga. Now 34-year-old Dolly Singh, weighing 72kg, is India’s most famous plus-sized yoga practitioner who challenges body stereotypes on social media. She promotes body positivity by showing that size doesn’t matter when it comes to performing complex yoga poses.
We caught up with the yogi after she walked the ramp at the recently-concluded Amazon India Fashion Week, where she was the showstopper for the brand Deivee.
In an interview, Dolly tells us about battling internet trolls, diverse reactions from Indian men, practising in the open as a big-bodied person, and more.
Four years ago a doctor advised you to lose weight after an ankle sprain. How did yoga come into the picture?
Due to the ankle sprain, since my mobility was limited, I started off with functional training. The whole idea of waking up and doing something in the morning was pretty daunting in the beginning. I tried zumba, running, pilates. Running is the only thing I still do.
Then one day I stumbled upon a yoga class. The yoga teacher got really interested in teaching me, probably because for him also it was a new experience teaching a big-bodied person who could twist and turn and do all the postures with ease. So when you have someone who appreciated what you are trying to do, it does become easier.
Did you learn yoga from a professional teacher?
I did go for a group class for almost four months. The teacher who I had started with was someone who would push me a lot, which helped me. Post that, a new teacher came that was very traditional and couldn’t keep up with my enthusiasm. I also thought of private teachers, but being big-bodied, I didn’t know whether I could trust myself with someone and whether they would be good for me.
So after the quest for private teachers didn’t work out, I started running. I still run marathons, around 10 km.
Then after almost a year, I started going online and downloading videos, and I remember the first time, I was really overwhelmed, because it was like having a private teacher. It’s been a year and a half doing that and that’s how I practice.
What is your yoga schedule like? How much do you do every day? What all do you do?
I practice 5–6 times a week, sometimes even 7 times. Most of the time it’s generally after work. My sessions are for around 75 minutes. On days when I know I’ll be at office for long hours, I practice in the morning or at office itself. I have a yoga mat there and take an hour off in between while I do yoga in the studio or in the makeup room.
The bottomline is the practice is always there. It’s something I prioritise above a lot of things.
Do you have a particular diet too that you follow?
I don’t follow any particular diet, but I mostly eat home-cooked food. I don’t eat processed food. I am a Bihar-born person and brought up in Bengal. So, I love sattu, fish curry and rice. I also eat a lot of traditional food, which my grandmother or mother used to cook. I don’t have fast food at all, and cook in mustard oil and eat a lot of vegetables.
And yes, if I do go out, I make sure I go to places where I can control my ingredients and sort of customise what I’m eating, so that I don’t have to feel guilty about what I am eating later on.
What do you do?
I am a media professional and the programming head of a leading youth channel. I’m also a part time chef who promotes regional cuisine.
Is there a notion of not showing your body if you’re big bodied?
There is only representation of one body type in the media and there is a whole range of body types which are either misrepresented or not represented. In those whole range, big bodies probably comes last or second last. I am not into showing my body, but I feel yoga cannot be practiced in full clothes because that kind of limits your movement.
Why practice out in the open?
Practicing in the open is not something that I decided on purpose. It’s just that I stay in a studio apartment in Mumbai and in the summers it gets very humid. So one day I just decided to take my yoga mat, speakers and laptop and started practicing in the park. People in Mumbai have been very appreciative. Many times, some uncles, older people, have come up to me after I finished yoga and said, “You do this so well. You know I have a back pain. What should I do about it?” after which I give them a few tips about what all they can do.
How have the Indian men reacted to your photos and videos? What sort of stuff did they say?
One of the most common things that happen is receiving d*** pics and messages such as “Hi sweety.”. Followed by some really cheesy and innovative pick up lines.
Then there are a lot of men who say that I’m fat and how come I haven’t lost weight after doing so much of yoga. They say a lot of nasty things and some of them are really imaginative in the things that they say. But there are women who say things also, like recently I got a message from a woman saying, “What you are doing is commendable, but why don’t you do it in more decent clothing. Why are you doing indecent exposure of your body?”
So I replied very politely to her, and the rest my followers took over and gave her the reply that she needed.
How does one deal with internet trolls?
For every troll message that I receive, I receive an equal number of good messages where people pour their heart out and tell me what they have gone through, how I’m an inspiration to them. Even if I receive a 1,000 troll messages and one such positive message, that’s good enough for me.
What about the favourable attention from men? Has the love life significantly improved due to yoga and the fame it has got to you?
A lot of the men who I know, like friends or colleagues have been really appreciative, like I can see a new found respect for me in their eyes. And yes, there is the other kind of attention too because you are doing stuff, and you’ve become popular, but I don’t pay attention to any of that stuff because I’ve kind of grown over it.
What sort of benefits have you received by doing yoga?
Every day, with my yoga practice, I am pushing the boundaries of my own strength and ideas. My physical strength has translated into mental strength and that’s where the entire idea of body positivity comes from. I also love the fact when I tell people that I’m 34, they find it amazing. Yoga is age reversal! The practice has completely changed me as a person, I am more receptive, I understand people better, and it has also made me humble and modest. Yoga has made me become more friendly, and made me go beyond myself.
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