Social Media,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Will We Ever Get Past The Yoga and Body Image Diversity Issue?

Yoga Journal is coming under fire again because its attempts at body positivity has yet again missed the mark. They were supposedly doing an issue that spotlighted plus size practitioner Jessamyn Stanley but did not put her on the cover and gave her a tiny picture and a little article on the inside instead.

While Jessamyn Stanley may be included in the November 2016 issue of Yoga Journal, she’s definitely not included on the cover, which features teacher Liz Arch who largely fits the stereotypical yoga body and practice and has, perhaps no surprise, been featured in SELF and on the covers of numerous magazines previously. Jessamyn is the “teacher spotlight,” yet the table of contents doesn’t even display her image, which is featured all of once in the entire issue on the single page story they wrote about her. In their TOC, the magazine instead opted to include photos of a close up on a (white) woman’s hands and stomach, a picture of a bowl of food (for their “Eat Well” section), and a picture of (ironically, a brown) dog on a yoga mat for the section Jessamyn’s feature is included in. The picture of the dog is in connection with a one-page feature titled “In Focus” about animals sharing their favorite yoga poses that is mostly just images of different critters on yoga mats (which apparently is more important that spotlighting a diverse teacher promoting body positivity). So in their table of contents Yoga Journal prioritized sharing images from a one-page article on animals “doing yoga” over an image of Jessamyn Stanley breaking yoga stereotypes in all her controversial, fat black femme glory. But I guess, dogs over diversity?- Yoga Dork

While I find this totally interesting, I think we are missing the point. There is no verse in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali  covering “13 poses for a strong core and upper body”. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika does not talk about “27 natural beauty wonders”. The Bhagavad Gita does not talk about “fast, fresh fall recipes”.

We are missing the fact that none of this is the purpose of Yoga. We are missing the same fact that the Yoga Journal is not about Yoga. Yoga Journal is closer to a fashion magazine then it is to a Yoga magazine. The fact that we are focusing on body image, the same way we do with other fashion magazines and the fashion industry as a whole, shows that it is a fashion magazine.  The Yoga Journal is closer to a Shape or Health and Fitness Magazine then it is to Yoga. If you give someone the Yoga Journal, Shape Magazine and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and ask them which one the Yoga Journal resembles the most, they are going to say Shape Magazine.

If we as a Yoga community want a magazine on Yoga, we need to start one like Peg Mulqueen did with the Ashtanga Dispatch. The Yoga Journal is more interested in readership then they are in disseminating information on Yoga.

The only way we can change the face of Yoga is to change ourselves. We have to be really honest with ourselves. Everyone talks about body positivity and wanting to go into the other 7 limbs of Yoga but when I go to Yoga studios and look at social media, I am seeing the same old, same old. The people with the most followers and the classes with the most students are still the folks that talk about Yoga the least.

We are not being honest with ourselves. The Yoga Journal feels that if they don’t put pretty people on the front, they will go out of business. As much as we talk about half naked girls on Instagram doing handstands, if they wore a hijab and talked about Samadhi, no one would give them the time of day. I know so many pretty people that would love to do something other  than talk about asana and smile, but when they do, they get no love. Even though 90% of the blogs I write are Yoga Sutra based, the occasional blog I post on Yoga shorts or asana, beats them every time.  What really blows my mind is that on an Ashtanga blog, that the videos and posts I put up about Pattabhi Jois or Sharath get very little traffic or shares.

We are not being honest with ourselves. If your social media feeds are full of pretty people or pictures of asana, you need to be honest with yourself. If your yoga practice revolves around asana, you need to be honest with yourself.  If the Yoga classes, you frequent the most, focus on Asana and you avoid all workshops and teachers that talk about the other limbs, you need to be honest with yourself.  Like I have been there. I recently noticed that, the people I followed for beauty advice on YouTube, don’t look like me. I had to have a “come to Jesus” moment with myself.  We created this!!! The shift from an internally focused practice to an externally focused one happened because we let it.

I am not saying that representation and body image in Yoga is not a valid conversation or a valid issue to champion . It is. If you feel strongly about it, you should do it. However, if we get back to Yoga, there would be no need. I would love to get to a place where body image in Yoga is not even a conversation.  What a lovely dream.

Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@shannasmallyoga.com.