“I’ve lost the same hundred pounds about three times,” Dianne says. Her tone isn’t one of sadness, but of disbelief. In one hand, she has a cup of tea, and with the other she’s digging through a shoebox full of glossy prints from as far back as the early 90s. Dianne Bondy is a vivacious woman who wears lots of bright colors and talks with her hands. She’s 45, but looks easily ten years younger. She wears her hair in long, twisted strands that bounce when she moves, and is quick to flash sparkling white teeth when she’s telling a story.
One photo, pulled from a photo album that’s been gathering dust in the basement, shows her standing at the finish line of a marathon she just ran. Another looks like it could have been taken in the past year, if not for the bright red “1993” glowing in the bottom corner. Her hair goes from long to short to long again. “I was fat when I got married, and then I got thin after I got married,” she says, marveling at how many changes her body has endured in the last 20 years. “But I was fat before, when I was in high school.” Between her fluctuating weight and her permanently youthful smile, continuity in these photos is hard to detect.
Dianne lives with her husband and two kids, Nathan and Dylan, in a little split-level house in a suburb of Windsor, Ontario. There’s a basketball hoop in the driveway, a gas fireplace in the living room, and a cozy office with a mat on the floor where Dianne runs her website and shoots videos for her YouTube channel. It’s a quiet, gray day in a quiet neighborhood, perfect for creamy homemade chai and telling life stories. Dianne’s journey to who she is today has been a long one.
Dianne’s struggles with her body image started at a young age. When she was seven or eight years old, she started to gain weight, much to her father’s disappointment. “He told me several times he didn’t want a fat daughter,” Dianne recalls. At the time, she was devastated. “I grew up when Charlie’s Angels was the norm of what was beautiful. So that, coupled with my dad being disappointed that I was gaining weight, and making fun of me…and disciplining me for eating…culminated in a very serious eating disorder.” Her parents put her on diet pills. She jumped rope and went running with her mother. She took Jane Fonda aerobics classes at the local rec center.
After childhood, Dianne’s love-hate relationship with food continued for years. She developed an obsession with counting calories that lasted well into adulthood. The breaking point came in her thirties. “I had been doing really restrictive eating,” she says. “I had been working out ridiculous amounts…I would get up at 4:15 to be at the gym.” She would lift weights for an hour, take an hour-long aerobics class, and then run three to five miles after work, subsisting on little more than protein shakes. “All to maintain a zero-to-two body.”
Then she became pregnant for the first time. “When I got pregnant with my son, it took a year,” Dianne recalls. “I remember my doctor finally saying to me, ‘Either you want to be a size two or a size zero, or you want to have a family. At this point, you can’t do both.’” Dianne’s normally a fast, animated talker, but she pauses, hands in her lap. “That was the turning point for me,” she says, thinking back. “I had to make a decision on my health and a healthy baby or looking a certain way because I thought this is what was beautiful.”
When asked if she felt an impulse to get back to her former weight and eating habits after her first son was born, Dianne has to think about it for a second. “At first I really tried,” she says. “I remember I had managed to get down to a size ten and I was like, ‘this is good, that means I can put Nathan in the stroller and walk for an hour.’ And I really tried to stick to that, but my priorities just shifted. I didn’t have the time that I could commit to being obsessed with eating.”
Rather than returning to her gym-obsessed ways, Dianne decided to get back into yoga. She’d practiced yoga off and on since the age of three, but never in a structured, formal class. Dianne and her mother would go into the basement of their home in Burlington, Ontario, put her younger twin siblings in a bassinet, and do yoga poses. Her mother didn’t know much about the poses or how to transition between them, but she would pick photos out of the book and try to replicate them, while young Dianne followed suit. Her practice dropped off when she went to school, and she didn’t set foot in a yoga studio until after her first son was born.
“I had run marathons, I had worked out, so I figured I could keep up,” she says. But when she visited the studio, the teacher was skeptical. “They look me over, and they see that I have a big body and I had just had a baby, so…everything is not where it was before. The teacher said to me, ‘You know this is going to be hard, right?’” The class was an Ashtanga class—a fast-paced, high-energy sequence of poses—and Dianne’s loosely structured practice with her mother hadn’t prepared her. “It wasn’t that I couldn’t do the poses,” she explains. “I just didn’t know what the poses were in Sanskrit. I didn’t know the sequence. I didn’t know what was coming next. And I didn’t know the speed at which things were going to be flowing in Ashtanga.”
The instructor was less than forgiving. “I fell behind,” Dianne says, “and the teacher was saying things like, ‘this practice is not for everybody, and if you’re not keeping up, it disrupts the flow.’”
Since that class, Dianne founded a studio, got her RYT-500 certification, and started teaching private classes in her own house, specializing in modifying the practice for those who might have trouble keeping up in a standard class. Along the way, she decided that yoga meant something different to her. “Ashtanga might not be for everyone,” she explains. “A very vigorous practice might not be for everyone, but we can all find something, whether it be physical, or about the philosophy, or about the lifestyle that we can be a part of.”
She wrote a blog post for Elephant Journal called “Yoga: Not Just for Young, Skinny, White Girls,” then a chapter in Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories about Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body. She’s taken her mission online as well, joining a growing movement of what she calls “disruptors.” Along with women like Jessamyn Stanley, Valerie S of “Big Gal Yoga,” and dozens of others, her mission is to flood social media with images of women who don’t fit the narrow mold of yoga models from magazine covers and mainstream websites.
“I like social media because you don’t have to wait for a big publication or a clothing designer to validate you,” she says, her passion obvious in her voice. “We can put our own images of what we look like in yoga out there, and it can gain just as much traction, if not more.” She smiles. “They don’t get to define what yoga looks like any more.”
It’s been a decade since Nathan was born, and Dianne hasn’t been back on the body image roller coaster since. When asked what finally broke the cycle, her answer is simple: yoga. “What yoga taught me was contentment,” she tells us. “That nothing in the outside world, nothing outside of myself was going to make me happy. Everything I needed to make me happy already resided within.” She smiles. “It taught me so many things that I couldn’t ever see if I was constantly concerned about the size of my jeans.”