I love my Kindle. I was against it for a very long time because I honestly love the smell of books. Old books, new books – I could bathe in that smell. It’s heavenly. So when my husband bought me a Kindle for Christmas a few years ago, I at first thought I would never use it. But you know those times when you finish a book at 10 pm and want to immediately start another without leaving your warm bed? …Maybe that’s just me. Anyway, the Kindle is perfect for that. It’s actually pretty dangerous for me. You buy a book and it doesn’t really feel like you’ve purchased anything because you press a button and then – voila! – it’s there on your Kindle for your pleasure! Talk about instant gratification!
Anyway, I had finished my book a few nights ago and thought I would peruse the Amazon store on my Kindle for books about yoga and body image. I was absolutely amazed at what came up. Yes, there were definitely a few books that came up that were what I was looking for – some memoirs about battling eating disorders, or coming to terms with your body through yoga, etc. But I thumbed through pages and pages and pages of “Yoga for Weight Loss!” or “Lose 10 Pounds with Yoga!” books. My jaw dropped. Honestly, I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was! Yes, yoga is a perfectly good example of exercise that can definitely help you lose weight. But it was never about that for me. In fact, yoga has helped me accept my body and feel even more comfortable about my body shape. I no longer desire to “lose 10 pounds” or “reach my goal weight” like I did when I was just doing weights and running. It’s all about balance. Yoga, for me, is about learning to simply be in the present and accepting whatever that present may be for you. I was a little shocked to think about how the “yoga culture” has become just another part of the “weight loss culture”. I already knew it was a part of it, but I was in my own little yoga bubble that I was not thinking about it.
I enjoy reading Yoga Journal for the great information about asanas, food, and history of yoga, but I have read several blogs and interviews that scold Yoga Journal for their use of very thin and white models. It appears that most people believe Yoga Journal is falling in to the trap of “if you practice yoga, you can attain the very desirable ‘yoga body'” trap. For what, though? To sell more money, of course. (I’ve also read similar things about lululemon since they do not sell “plus sized” clothing.)
It’s sad to me, really, when I think about how the yoga culture is playing in to this game for monetary gain. Yoga is supposed to be about peace, love, balance, and acceptance. I am very lucky to get to practice yoga at a studio in Austin, Texas. I say this because Austin is full of a wide range of body types, cultures, and races. It’s not rare for me to glance around the room in my weekly yoga class to see an older male next to me, or a black woman, or a “plus size” girl. (Note: I’m hesitant to not put the words “plus size” in quotes. I kind of dislike that term. It’s so…negative. And hurtful. I know it was not started that way, but it’s come to be that way.) There will be women with unashamed arm pit hair, or men with dreadlocks. These people do not pay any attention to what society tells them is acceptable, and I praise that. But, on the other side of the room, there is almost always a very thin girl in lululemon pants and a crop top. Usually at least two, if not more. Even in a place as accepting and open as Austin, there are still people buying in to this “I must have a certain body and physique to practice yoga”. (Another note: I know there are some people who naturally look like the typical “yoga body”. And that is GREAT for them. I am in no way trying to offend individuals who naturally look like that.) I wonder what the nervous first timer in the back thinks when they see these confident and thin women in the front? I can’t imagine it’s anything that makes them feel comfortable in the room.
It makes me think of one question:
Why aren’t the rest of us being represented in culture?
Why not put someone who is larger than a size 2 on the cover of Yoga Journal? They are equally as accomplished and beautiful. They most certainly represent more of the general population. They would probably inspire more hope and body positivity in young girls and boys everywhere. We should be representing all different races, genders, sexual orientations, body sizes, etc. in the media.
Nita Rubio put it very eloquently in the book Yoga and Body Image:
“Reverence of beauty is not a new thing. Beauty has been exalted for thousands of years, according to surrounding cultural and political mechanisms that define a society’s norms and moral values. … In great traditions such as yoga and Tantra today, the current barometers of being rich, white, popular, and thin have infiltrated the field, further perpetuating patriarchal paradigms that being beautiful, successful, and, yes, a consumer gives you value and worth as a human being. This is a long way from the roots of yoga and Tantra. The further away from the roots we get, the easier it is to forget what truly informs our value not only as spiritual practitioners, but as human beings (p.132).”
I love what she says about value. Society places an individual’s value on their beauty – are you a pear shape, or an hour glass, or an apple? Do you have pouty lips and long luscious hair? Do you have a “Dad bod” or are you muscular? I want to scream – WHO CARES!? You are who you are. You’re not defined by your skin or your hair or your body. You are defined by your actions and your words and your thoughts and your decisions and the way you live your life. These things are so much more important than being a size 0. I hope you know that. More importantly, I hope you believe that.
I will close with another quote from Shana Meyerson in the great book Yoga and Body Image. (It really is a great read.)
“When we learn to accept that we are perfect in and of ourselves, by default we also learn that everyone else is as well. Take it one step further: if I can accept the perfection of my current self, then I must, in turn, accept the body that contains me. The process of learning self-acceptance is a difficult one. We are taught from an early age to be both critical and humble – two sides, in a way, of the same coin and ourselves (p.204).”
This post wasn’t my normal counseling and yoga mix, but this is something I really feel passionate about. Maybe the only way I can begin to change the norm is to talk about it, write about it here, and work on myself.
Anyway, just something for you to chew on over the week. 🙂 Thanks for reading! (Oh, and I’ll have it be known that I own one pair of lululemon pants – hey, they are expensive! – and I absolutely love them. I don’t know if I should feel guilty about that or not!)
Happy OM’ing and namaste. ❤
Meyerson, S. (2014). I’m ugly! I’m so ugly!. In M. Klein & A. Guest-Jelley (Eds.), Yoga and body image (pp. 201-209). Woodbury, MN: Llewllyn Publications.
Rubio, N. (2014). Beauty, value, and the feminine roots of yoga. In M. Klein & A. Guest-Jelley (Eds.), Yoga and body image (pp. 129-137). Woodbury, MN: Llewllyn Publications.