I stumbled upon an article recently that I really wanted to talk about.
This piece by Dianne Bondy talks about how “a size fourteen black woman fit[s] in amongst what the media has created as the ultimate yoga beauty standard” of a young skinny Caucasian in Lululemon. She points out that she has never seen a yoga model that comes in her size and color grace the cover of a magazine.
Now, of course, in a classic the-majority-can’t-see-the-problems-of-the-minority move, I was immediately thrown off by this claim. I felt like that couldn’t be true.
So I googled.
And it’s very true.
The first six pages of a Google search of the word yoga yielded many, many good-looking bendy white women, a few kids, a few Asians of various ethnicities, three men (two white, one black), and quite an odd number of cats. After that I stopped looking.
“Overweight yoga” was slightly better, but still extremely whitewashed, and a good number of skinny models leaked through, as well as a number of weight-loss ads.
I bit the bullet and went straight for Yoga Journal.
A search for Yoga Journal immediately yielded the diversity I was looking for ethnicity wise, but man are these girls skinny. I’m starting to see what Dianne was talking about.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to bash on Yoga Journal. I’m a huge fan of the magazine. Yet I can see the argument on Dianne’s side that their body sizes fit a certain media Yoga Barbie image. I’ve talked before about how I dislike how clients will use yoga solely as a way to lose weight. I don’t think that the thin yogi image is one that we should continue perpetrating.
I have clients of various age, race, size and skill level. I know several yogis that are not classically thin that can pull off a decent amount of the cool yoga poses magazines typically put on their covers. There are a few students that come in that fit the Yoga Journal cover profile, but they are few and far between, and god knows I am not one of them.
Surely a yoga magazine could afford to put at least one Anti-Barbie on their cover.
I recently read an article on the blog The Not so quiet Feminist called New year, same body-shaming crap. It’s a bit late to bring it up since we typically reserve all the New Year’s resolution hoopla for the first week or so of January, but the author makes a few great points I’d like to touch on.
The article talks extensively about how social pressure and media outlets shame women into hating their bodies and hurting themselves to change the way we look, because “if we do not adhere to this ‘ideal woman’ that is probably photoshopped within an inch of her life anyway, that we are doing something wrong… It’s very fucking clever, and it works. I have seen so many women, including myself, spend hours panicking about a bit of cellulite here, and a bit of wobble there. I’ve even looked at my hands and thought, shit are they getting fat”.
As an alumni sorority girl and a yoga teacher working in a studio that teaches three different disciplines of exercise -yoga, pilates and barre – I think about the ideal of “perfection” a lot. Sadly, like most girls my age, I’ve struggled with weight, dieting, and eating, had a flirtation with eating disorders and body dis-morphism, gained and lost a ton of weight, and came full circle back to where I’m supposed to be on the scale. My story is not particularly unique, and at the moment, I love my body wholeheartedly. However, as a fitness instructor, I do feel a certain amount of pressure to look a certain way, much like a hairdresser isn’t allowed to have a bad hair day.
If you asked me whether or not I exercise to look “fit”, my honest answer would be no. I exercise to feel strong and capable. I like being able to run up a flight of stairs with a mini fridge when I’m helping people move. I like feeling the strength in my quads as I ski down a hill. I love knowing that I could run a mile if I needed to without collapsing. The fact that I also happen to look damn good in a pair of skinny jeans is a nice perk, but not Objective #1.
I am fully aware of the fact that some of my students come in so that they will look good, and to an extent, that bothers me. I don’t want my students to come into class because they looked in the mirror and noticed a little pudge on their bodies and they think they need to punish themselves for daring to have extra weight on their bodies. In an ideal world, I’d think that everyone could and should feel perfect and beautiful the way they are, but humans are insecure and scared and sometimes incapable of seeing how fabulous they really are.
Yoga is about empowering people. That’s what I like to think that I am good at doing- at helping my students feel like they have achieved something beautiful in class that day whether they mastered something new or spent 75 minutes in child’s pose. To use the classically misquoted Gandi cliché, “You have to be the change you want to see in the world“. It’s not enough to complain about the media hype, the magazines, and the judgment. If we don’t start to change our own attitudes, nothing will happen- and the perfect place to change someone’s attitude is in the yoga studio.
This is what I want to happen for my students, myself, and for you, dear reader. I don’t want you to look perfect. I want you to feel perfect. I don’t want you to commit to losing ten pounds because a supermodel on T.V. looks good in a bikini. I want you to commit to being able to climb 4 flights of stairs without losing your breath. I want you to come in and tell me that your goal is to be able to run a marathon or touch your toes or go to a yoga teacher training, and hell, if you happen to look good doing it, that’s an afterthought.
I want you to know that the sexiest person in the room isn’t the twig in the sports-bra. It’s you, sweaty, tired, and smiling, because you just love flip dog and it just makes you grin every time.
Cheers to 2013. Let’s make this the year we all get over ourselves and start living, internet.