Have you been keeping up with the evolution of positive body image awareness in yoga? The love your body message has made it all the way to the pages and the cover of what many of us might have considered to be the antithesis of body positivity before now: Yoga Journal. But the folks at YJ, with their rebranding and the magazine’s own image “refreshing” are making an effort, especially recently, with their (albeit ill-fated) “Love Your Curves” article from the September 2014 issue, and the newest issue, also known as their “Body Issue,” with Kathryn Budig gracing the cover and an article touching on the serious matter of eating disorders. Recognize, this is most likely not something we’d expect to find in the YJ we’ve all come to know, though it’s probably something we’d have found in the magazine when it was first started back in 1975. Somewhere along the way they fell into a spin cycle of yoga fluff and tired uniformity.
But that could all change. It’s baby steps, but at least there’s potential. According to a press release about the rebranding, Editor in Chief Carin Gorrell et. al will be “a part of the more difficult conversations that are happening within our community, such as addressing body-image issues and related concerns like eating disorders.”
“The yoga community is growing and becoming more diverse daily, and with that growth, their needs and desires are evolving,” says Gorrell. “We want to better reflect and serve that community by delivering on their call for a more welcoming, inclusive voice, more-accessible instruction that meets them wherever they are on the mat, and more timely news and trends. This also means being a part of the more difficult conversations that are happening within our community, such as addressing body-image issues and related concerns like eating disorders, as we do in the October issue. That said, we continue to remain dedicated to honoring the traditions of yoga and maintaining the authority and authenticity of our almost 40-year-old brand.”
For those of you who have seen the cover of the October issue and were not impressed, perhaps you’re not entirely sold on their new mission to be more inclusive and accessible. Carol Horton, yoga blogger and author of “Yoga Ph.D.: Integrating the Life of the Mind & the Wisdom of the Body,” wasn’t exactly convinced herself, sharing that she found the issue to be “both encouraging and disturbing,” while also explaining why it’s something worth caring about. She writes via her blog:
According to their recent press release, YJ has “2 million print readers, 1 million unique Web users, 1.2 million Facebook fans, half a million newsletter subscribers, and 11 international editions,” making it “the number-one, leading yoga media brand in the world.” That’s a wide reach, and a lot of media influence. I care about what Yoga Journal does because I care about how yoga is being taught in the world – and magazines, web platforms, and social media are powerful ways in which people transmit ideas and information and, for better or worse, learn about yoga today.
…Of course, insofar as the “rebranding” brings such literally life-threatening problems to light, it’s important and good, regardless of how disturbing the news it communicates may be. But here’s the twister: While the “Body Issue” frankly acknowledges that there’s a huge shadow side to yoga today, it does so in a context that in many ways perpetuates the very same problems it’s critiquing.
The “Body Issue’s” unacknowledged internal contradictions makes reading it a strangely contradictory experience: encouraging for the many positive steps it makes toward developing a more healthy and inclusive practice, and disturbing for the dysfunctional silences surrounding content that’s part of the very same set of problems being critiqued.
Horton goes on to point out, in a full critique of the issue, the jarring juxtaposition of progressive content, like an excerpt from the forthcoming Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body by Dianne Bondy, a self-described “fat, black yoga teacher,” and a quote from Kate McIntyre Clere, director of “Yogawoman,” about how she wants to raise her daughter to be free from body image issues by “bringing a conscious and critical eye to the media, challenging the capitalist business model,” which appears directly next to the full-page Toesox ad with the now-famous naked image of cover model Kathryn Budig. “Particularly given the larger context of the magazine itself,” says Horton, “the messages that these two images communicate directly contradict each other. Are we not supposed to notice this?” she asks, only half rhetorically.
Anyone who knows modern media, has watched it, read it, worked in it, spent time creating it, understands the conflict faced when it comes to an ad-supported business model. But what happens when the original message gets muddled and marred by its own sponsors?
Horton establishes balance in her critique by commending YJ for taking risks and sharing “nonfluffy” articles, but to us, at this point, we feel content like this is a no brainer, and, quite frankly, necessary. Ignoring the growing concern and awareness over the lack of diversity in yoga culture is just plain dumb, and not in the best interest of a publication wishing to succeed in today’s increasingly conscious yoga community. You can only pull the sweat-wicking wool over our eyes for so long.
But it’s not only YJ editors, though they do seem to be the enablers in this situation. Horton makes the distinction between being an advocate for healthy body image and capitalizing on it when it’s the hot buzz topic of the moment, taking on mixed messages conveyed by the likes of today’s popular faces of yoga, such as Kathryn Budig and Tara Stiles, though it’s a comment made to the general yogapop culture.
I don’t believe the yogalebrities can have their cake and eat it too, capitalizing on the idealized “yoga body” one day and advocating for healthy body imagery the next. If such mixed messaging continues unchecked, this pattern is simply going to produce a new round of confusion, dysfunction, and denial in the yoga community, which already has a history of serious problems on all counts.
And maybe that’s the underlying problem. Yoga Journal can’t have its cake and eat it, either. If they’re going to make a real shift, real change, real “rebranding” they need to take a look at the entire magazine, dig between the pages, and not just pat themselves on the back for the popular of-the-moment cover stories.
If you’re interested in body positivity in yoga, the Yoga and Body Image Coalition is on a mission to create a safe space for bodies of all types and promote yoga that is accessible, body positive and reflects the full range of human diversity. Learn more about them here.
- Yoga Journal Has a Major Body Image Issue, and By Issue, I Mean Problem
- Introducing: The Yoga and Body Image Coalition
- Behold, This is Your Yoga Journal October ‘The Body Issue’ Cover Featuring Kathryn Budig…
- From Backlash to Benefit of the Doubt: On Yoga Journal, Body Image and Building a Conscious Community