Thousands take to Instagram to show off their complicated yoga poses – and Valerie Sagun is no different. Clad in colourful lycra shorts and a sports bra, she dazzles her 97,000 followers with headstands and splits.
But unlike the skinny and toned yoga stars that have made their fame on Instagram, Valerie, from San Jose, California, weighs 240lb and is a UK size 22.
The 27-year-old says, ‘Some people are surprised by how I can move my body and I even get nasty comments on my Instagram. Some people may be offended by me but I accept myself and my body. They need to get over it.’
Valerie had always been large and was teased at primary school, but had never felt the need to change her body because of her loving parents. ‘My family has always been pretty positive about body issues so I didn’t grow up hating the fact that I was bigger,’ says Valerie.
At university four years ago a friend dragged Valerie to a yoga class and she suddenly fell in love with the calming but challenging exercise. ‘What attracted me to yoga was just about being flexible,’ she explains. ‘I wanted to move around easier and as I’m bigger I’ve always wanted to touch my toes. At the beginning I did struggle but I was actually pretty excited about it.
‘Sometimes I would come from a school class frustrated and doing a bit of yoga would calm my mind and help with my anxiety.’
Valerie ran into a bit of difficulty at first as she found herself unable to twist into the unusual poses with her inflexible body. And even now after four years, Valerie finds balancing on her hands difficult because of the weight she places on her wrists. But soon Valerie was overcoming barriers she never thought she would pass – first by touching her toes and then achieving complex poses such as a headstand and splits.
However, fame on Instagram under the moniker ‘Biggalyoga’ has brought hurtful comments about Valerie’s weight and skin colour. ‘I get fatphobic and racist people on my Instagram. I read their comments and I’m like, “How dare you say that kind of stuff about me.”
‘I haven’t done anything to them and I don’t know them personally so I don’t know why they want to give me their unwanted opinions.’
But despite the negative comments, her willingness to develop her yoga skills has won her thousands of admirers and earned her praise for her body-positive message.
Valerie posts videos of challenging poses and sexy selfies in the yoga studio mirror. And her yoga practise and Instagram fame has helped her accept herself.
‘I’m happy with the way that I look. It’s taken me a while to fully sit into my own body but I’ve gotten really comfortable with it. I think through yoga it helped me appreciate my body even more,’ says Valerie.
‘Body positivity is important to me because it’s important to be accepting of your body as it is now and not have to worry about losing weight. Just be happy and accept yourself in the body that you have.
‘Your body can do whatever you want it to do as long as you have the mind and determination to keep pushing yourself.’