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Yoga Journal Has a Major Body Image Issue, and By Issue, I Mean Problem

in YD News, Yogitorials


Yoga Journal has a major body image issue, and I’m not talking about the latest one with Hilaria Baldwin on the cover. Actually, I kind of am, but it goes a lot deeper than that. YD recently posted a peek at the suspected new Yoga Journal website, complete with diet tips and lots of Lululemon sponsorship, to the tune of many in the yoga community canceling their subscriptions. It’s been a long time coming and YJ is finally getting hip to the yoga trends, except they’ve got it all wrong and it doesn’t look good. But it’s not for a lack of trying.

The latest issue did show a glimmer of hope. The “Love Your Curves” article sounded like a great way to embrace this positive body image movement that’s been shattering the “typical yoga body” stereotype and cutting through the layers of thin, white women we’ve been seeing for years in the pages of their magazine (we still love you thin, white women! we just want to make room for everyone else, ok?). But instead of taking the opportunity to celebrate our differences, our shapes, bulges, and dimples, YJ chose to share tips on how to hide them instead.

For instance, do you have an hourglass figure with wide shoulders? Better wear broad-strapped tops. Want to hide your butt dimples aka cellulite (*gasp*)? Dear god, don’t wear thin yoga pants, go for the “yoga version of Spanx,” we’re told. Want to slenderize your apple bottom? For the love of all that is holy, WEAR BLACK. But if you must wear a print, only vertical stripes for you, “to draw eyes away from the tummy,” because tummies are unacceptable for yoga class.

You’ve got to be kidding, YJ. Only they’re not. The whole article is about how to hide your body to look leaner, more slender and more like a homogenized, vacuum-sealed yoga pants mannequin who’s finally acceptable enough to be seen on a mat in public. I’ve taken issue with the whole body type thing in general – who says I look like an apple, hourglass, rectangle, or pear? I look like my body, thank you very much.

The reaction from both the article and from the new website design has been overwhelming, in a not so good way. Swarms of yogis have been calling them out for body shaming and for hopping on the body positivity train without really getting it.

In her post entitled “Why My Butt-Dimples Just Unsubscribed From Yoga Journal,” which has been shared hundreds of times, Rachel Meyer, a mom, yoga teacher, and writer, explained her reasons for canceling her subscription:

I felt sad. And dejected. And not good enough, especially since I’m a butt-dimpled new mom with a muffin top and it’s been awhile since I’ve done Natarajasana in high heels on a rooftop like Hilaria Baldwin. But mostly, I felt disappointed, because I’ve written a few pieces for YJ in the past and have always felt proud of finding a market for intelligent mindful writing amidst the glossy mainstream rags.

Today I’m sitting on the floor with my kid in my lap and he’s chewing on a soft fabric car with wheels that spin across the 3 sheet-covered yoga mats that we’ve laid out across the living room floor as a playmat. We’re making frozen toaster waffles (nope, not organic) with maple syrup and reading Where The Wild Things Are, which, incidentally, includes no fashion supplements. He’s learning how to sit by himself, and falling forward into Paschimottanasana every time. I’m wearing old black tutu-leggings with a hole in the crotch, my peeling, calloused feet haven’t had a pedicure since January, I ate 27 dark-chocolate-covered almonds from Trader Joe’s for breakfast (after finishing the peanut butter cups first), and my bare face is blotchy with postpartum rosacea.

It doesn’t look anything like a Yoga Journal spread. There are no high heels or probiotics to be found. And yet, it feels very much like yoga.and body shaming

Another yoga teacher, Carling Harps, had a few words as well. She wrote in a recent blog post:

I think they must have heard some of our cries, but sorely missed the point. Including different body types other than the usual waif-ish woman or slender white man in tiny shorts does not count if you are only going to use them to serve up more negative body talk. We can love our curves, or love our lack of curves without being talked down to and promptly instructed how to cover them up. Love your curves! but dear lord, please don’t make us look at them. Pear, wedge, hourglass, rectangle, apple, this is just the same crap article that every fitness magazine publishes each month reminding us that we need to fit into their consumer demographics. Don’t you dare wear spaghetti straps, you’ll totally flatten your chest! Pear shaped and you want to wear crops? Oh honey, you’ll look 3 inches shorter and that will have a serious impact on your meditation practice.

(Interestingly – ironically? – Carling is a Seattle Lululemon ambassador as well as being represented with her partner Patrick by YAMA Talent Agency.)

It should be said, though, that the best part of this whole YJ body image fail is the wonderful women posing in the photos who DO represent different shapes and sizes (not colors though. nooo, YJ isn’t quite ready for that, yet.) The quotes from these women about being comfortable in their own skin, owning their shapes and loving their bodies is refreshing but only stands to reinforce the glaring juxtaposition between their empowerment and the shoulds and shouldn’ts of what they can and can’t wear to be “beautiful” on their mat.

Unfortunately, we don’t think Yoga Journal is getting the message. And when they do, they get it twisted, like a really uncomfortable parivrtta ardha chandrasana. My best advice? Peace out. Leave now while you still can. Set your bulges free!

I leave you now with a few words from Hally Marlino AKA YogaBeast, who maybe said it best:

I wish I could cheer for Yoga Journal. *puts poms poms aside*

The current issue is breaking my balls though.

PS. Yoga Journal just posted their new website (in beta). Who can say what prompted it? The curves article is yet to be found online.



hollypenny is a writer, yoga practitioner and dimply-butted gal living in New York City. Her interests include taking long walks, meeting smart people and trying to make sense of the world. She appreciates those who dig “yoga fashion” though one would likely catch her in her version of stylish comfort: a pair of 6-year-old worn-in pajama pants and a beat up t-shirt.



32 comments… add one
  • Mary

    Well said, oh great Dork! As a teacher I know it’s important for students to see images of yogis in postures with proper alignment. But must they always be “picture perfect”? When regular folks see those postures, they think, “Sure, she can do that. Look how thin she is. But I won’t be able to.” Hogwash! I’m curvy and I do lots of postures that my skinny counterparts cannot and visa-versa.

    Also, most of the explanations (as well as the images) in YJ give instructions for how to get into the full expression of the posture (e.g., Fold forward and place your palms on the floor.) Many of my students can’t get their palms anywhere near the floor. What about them?

    Just my thoughts. Thanks for sharing yours!

  • Angie Lawrence

    The last issue of Yoga Journal was terrible. I will not renew my subscription if it does not get better.

  • Val

    I am a large women who does Iynengar yoga and I dropped my subscription a couple of years ago, I am not paying for adds of clothing I can not afford let alone get into. And each issue got progressively worse 🙁 phooey on YJ

  • Ed

    Was it on this site a couple of years ago that I read it wouldn’t be too long now that YJ has been taken over by corporate investor types that the marketing would change to favor the bottom (pun intended) line? As to the famous Mrs. Baldwin aka Hilary Thomas from Boston:

    ” becky Commented on this photo:

    her real name is hillary, she changed her name to try to seem more spanish and then dyed her hair black. she even makes a fake accent. used to be my yoga teacher… super fake

    Selling Yoga Journal is more important than selling yoga (if it has price, but it is the good old USA and free markets).

  • digiwonk

    oh it’s all terrible. It is. I’m never buying another issue. Forget hide my cellulite; I’m hiding my wallet.

    I do have to say that it’s very funny that if you click anywhere off the main page of their new site, that godawful 1995-style get a subscription popup is still there. Now I’m offended as a yogi AND a web design teacher …

  • Vicki Hibbert

    Thank You. I was really steamed that their were no plus size women featured and no plus size clothing represented.

  • Yoga Journal~”Vogue-a-Journal” nuff’ said.

  • Sunshine

    Did you expect different from them moving to Boulder where that other freak show Elephant Journal is located?

  • Thank you Dork! Well said. At a time when magazines are dying in general, it is interesting to see someone cut their own throat. It’s over between me and YJ. No big loss.

  • Does anyone get the significance between the dramatic decline of Lululemon and Y/J at same time???? THE old is on it’s way out. Make room for the new. It’s all good news.It was over for me when I opened an issue and it was FULL of diet supplement ads, as in a double page spread. Really Y/J? How low can we go? It’s sad but hey, what about other worthy publications like this and Yoga International and YogaBasics website is really great too… we have to support the real deal in publications and clothing.

  • Does anyone get the significance between the dramatic decline of Lululemon and Y/J at same time???? THE old is on it’s way out. Make room for the new. It’s all good news.

  • paul

    soon, all active interest media brands and their products will be printed on 100% recycled paper using plant-based ink. images displaying an easily discernible human physique will no longer be used on magazine covers or web frontpages, nor on any promotional material of aim brands or affiliated products, services, or companies. yoga journal will refocus around three principles: activity for peace, the inner world, and devotion, and feature a 72 part monthly series discussing space and srī yantra. maybe.

  • Rachel

    In 2007 I wrote to yoga journal asking them why they only ever put skinny, bendy white girls on the cover. They never replied. The next issue had Trudy Styler on the front. Not really my point. I haven’t read a copy since. It’s as bad as Cosmo.

  • PS in NY

    Thank you thank you thank you. I’m so tired of seeing the young, the skinny, the beautiful, and the blonde as representatives of yoga. I’m also sick of celebri-yogis. The students I teach are of different ages, sizes, and colors, same as the general population. Some come with physical issues or illnesses that yoga is helping them with. These people are my heroes/heroines, not (gack) Hilaria Baldwin. Stop with the celebration of perfection – there is no such thing.

    • Kelly

      It’s unfortunate that your perfectly warranted criticism had to come at the expense of other groups of people (and body types) who are…gasp…also a part of the general population. While I agree with your point that diversity should be celebrated in yoga and reflected in its’ publications, you didn’t have to delegitimize specific groups to make it. Unfortunately the judgements you pass are part of the problem; your so-called “representatives” of yoga are also just people, equally deserving of yoga and diverse in their reasons for practicing.

      • Kelly

        I should specify that my response was to @PS in NY. I thought it would be more obvious with an indent or something!

  • Well put. YJ is very troubling.

  • Carin Gorrell from Yoga Journal here. Thank you for your post, I appreciate all feedback, both positive and negative, and try to learn from it. Our sincere intention with the “Love Your Curves” story was to celebrate women’s bodies, definitely not to shame them, and I’m happy that the images of beautiful yoga teachers support that intention. But I’m unhappy if we gave the impression that people’s body shapes need to be concealed, which was not our intention. I also recognize that the labels we chose to represent women’s bodies, which were intended to help readers to find their way in to the story quickly, fail to celebrate the uniqueness of every woman’s body. I’m committed to tackling hard topics like body image and want to do it in a way that moves the conversation forward. Thank you again for your thoughts and comments. Please know that I’m listening.

    • tabby

      Nope. You don’t encourage loving one’s body by telling them how to hide them. It’s a fail, a real steep fail.
      But nice try, though. I’m not buying it — or your magazine — but nice try.

  • Leslie

    Great post and happy to see the quote from one of my all-time favorite yoga teachers, who is nothing if not authentic, Hally Marlino…

  • NJacana

    This is why people from all over Philadelphia go to Studio34Yoga. It is a real community. I am learning what is inside my container. I enjoy the tradition of Patanjali’s sutras and meditation and breath, intention, projections, truth, the body as metaphor… I am so grateful I started yoga practice there 2 years ago rather than one of those PYT weight-loss places; otherwise, I doubt I would have made it this far (at 65-years-old now).

  • Great article! One of the major ideas I’ve taken away from yoga teacher training is that every body is literally different. It was so refreshing to see the many unique, healthy body types stretching and bending as we practiced yoga: tall, short, thin, wide, narrow, thick, muscular, flat bellies, puchy bellies- all of which were healthy and beautiful. This reminded me that although my body isn’t typical, that’s what’s so beautiful about it.

  • Great article! One of the major ideas I’ve taken away from yoga teacher training is that every body is literally different. It was so refreshing to see the many unique, healthy body types stretching and bending as we practiced yoga: tall, short, thin, wide, narrow, thick, muscular, flat bellies, pouchy bellies- all of which were healthy and beautiful. This reminded me that although my body isn’t typical, that’s what’s so beautiful about it.

  • Himix

    Is this article only about woman? or is it the fact that girls are the only ones being looked at in yoga class?
    hey guys!!! are we being discriminated????? LOL

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