While perusing my source of news (Facebook), I came across an article by People magazine about a new yoga “Instagram star,” Jessamyn Stanley. Jessamyn is a self-proclaimed “fat femme” yogini, and is gaining many followers of her pictures.
I “liked” this post, and was then directed towards another article on Rebel Circus entitled “Curvy Girls Nailing Yoga Poses.” Although I am not sure that the phrase “nailing yoga postures” makes sense in any context, I also “liked” this story.
Then I thought to myself, “What the F is going on here?” How did yoga become a cliché portrayal of bullshit western beauty standards just like every other depiction of the feminine form? Blah!
Yoga Gone Wrong
Of course, this issue has always been in my face. If I open any yoga magazine, the majority of images that represent the yoga lifestyle are mostly pretty white girls bending their slender bodies in various contortions.
I even Google searched the word “yoga,” and the dominant depictions are similar to any advertisement you would see for beer, cars, or color printers—sexy, skinny, fair-skinned women in tight clothes.
I am so used to hot white women selling me everything that I had never thought deeply about the hypocrisy of having one body type and race represent an ancient Indian tradition.
Of course these one-dimensional representations are problematic regardless of industry, but I have become somewhat immune to noticing the corrosive messaging with everyday products. “Sure, fine, this sassy 19-year-old’s boobs can sell me Band-Aids. Whatever.”
A Problem of Barbie Proportions
The fact that these absurd beauty standards also symbolize “the ideal yogini” rips my heart chakra out of my chest and rubs my radiant body the wrong way! My aura is all twisted up and I am not getting detoxified!
The contradiction is maddening: that yogic philosophy is mixed with mainstream marketing agendas where women are forced to only aspire toward Barbie proportions. Come on, yoga community! We can do better than this!
Although I think Instagram accounts like Jessamyn’s are encouraging, I don’t think we are moving towards the solution if we single out her physique and call the phenomenon of her doing yoga "curvy girl yoga" as it if were a different than actual yoga. That is the same paradigm we need to get away from.
When The Guardian runs a piece called “Fat Girls Do Yoga Too,” the message is clear that yoga is for all humans who have bodies (even if you don’t have a body and just a head…you can still meditate).
Diversity, Acceptance, and Non-Judgment
Still, we don’t need to make these drastic distinctions between those who look like Kate Moss and those who don’t. The yoga community needs a variety of bodies to demonstrate poses, because how else will people best learn?
While it is intriguing to see a picture of Master Iyengar where his feet are turned inside out in Bound Lotus, since my body type is so different from his, I don’t exactly get a better understanding of what I should be doing. It is helpful to see someone with a similar physique to better understand proper form.
Yet that doesn’t mean we have to focus exclusively on what size Lululemons someone is wearing. We could also just see a person in a Scorpion Pose and not place any loaded cultural conditions of perfection on the image.
The more different kinds of bodies doing yoga, the more people can achieve an understanding of the anatomical alignment for their particular body. Why can’t there be images of yoginis in poses and have the story end there?
I believe the yoga world can exist in a space of observation without judgment. You guys, isn’t that what we are about? If we can’t do this, then how can we expect the rest of the world to? This is our thing!
We want to be an encouraging and accepting community, and alienating people with archaic backwards optic messaging is not good for our spirits. The brand of yoga has to embody the philosophy of yoga, and it is up to us to streamline our intentions.