Dear Ms. Budig,
I’m writing in response to your recent blog post, Color the World, in which you share the “venomous” rejection of you as the face of body positivity and call it an act of bullying. While I, nor the Yoga and Body Image Coalition I co-founded, wrote the post you were referring to, it was shared by YBIC leader, Elen Bahr, on her “Yoga for Every Body” Facebook page, and due to the strong words you used in a very public blog post to your hundreds of thousands of fans and readers, I feel compelled to publicly respond – not just to address specific points with you personally, but to address them with the general public and, hopefully, help educate people on some key points, and help raise consciousness and elevate the conversation.
The Yoga and Body Image Coalition is a grassroots movement dedicated to community, collaboration and creating a paradigm shift in yoga culture. We recognize that #loveyourbody is more than a hashtag, marketing slogan or commodity. We believe it is a fully dimensional mantra and we invite you to join us, dig deep and elevate the conversation. It takes a conscious community to do this work and we’d like to offer the following:
- I’ll happily send you a copy of Yoga and Body Image so you can read the diverse stories contained therein, including Seane Corn, Bryan Kest, Rolf Gates, Vytas Baskauskas, Alanis Morrisette, Marianne Elliott, Chelsea Jackson, Dianne Bondy and countless others.
- Explore these issues and engage in a dialogue with Elen Bahr and Dianne Bondy as part of our ongoing podcast series.
- Join us for a panel discussion Yoga and Body Image partners and leaders, Lauren Eckstrom, Thalia Gonzalez and I are organizing around these issues as part of the Conversations with Modern Yogis Series in partnership with Piedmont Yoga.
- Share the complexities of your own story in the second installation of Yoga and Body Image that is in the works now. You have the potential to reach a wide audience thereby inspiring and spreading the message far and wide.
Before I continue, I want to state that I am writing to you with sincere kindness and compassion and a genuine interest in creating dialogue, deepening a sense of community and promoting healing and understanding. I am writing to you as one heterosexual white woman to another. I am writing to you as a Sociology and Women’s Studies professor who is interested in strengthening our sisterhood and elevating one another to our highest potential. I should also point out that as an academic and long-time activist (I’ve been doing this work for 20 years), I see things structurally and systematically. As such, I am interested in examining (and dismantling systems) of oppression.
With that, I hope you can read my words with an open mind and heart (and, hopefully, you’ll read to the end and check out the list of resources my fellow leaders in the YBIC have put together for you and everyone reading). I want you to know that most of the issues that I (and many others) have is primarily with the yoga industrial complex as well as the media’s framing of yoga and its perpetuation of the “yoga body” stereotype. And the industry and that model reaps huge profits while statistically lowering self-esteem, increasing body dissatisfaction and, even, depression. The critique doesn’t solely focus on you. In fact, from what I’ve seen over the years, you seem like a genuinely lovely, spunky, kind-hearted and likeable individual (with tons of style and sass to boot!).
While I realize you took personal offense to Elen’s tweet — “Saying NO to @kathrynbudig as face of #BodyPositive #Yoga. Where are larger bodies? People of color? http://ow.ly/LGMe8 #MediaMadness” — I wouldn’t classify it as an act of bullying or shaming (nor do I see it as venomous). In fact, it isn’t about you as a person but you as a symbol, a symbol that has been widely proliferated over the years. It is part of the dominant trend of media (yoga media and mass media, in general) to showcase and highlight homogenous images that don’t in any way shape or form reflect the full spectrum of human diversity in the culture. It’s called “symbolic annihilation.” In short, her post is an act of resistance, something that members of marginalized groups have every right to do in combatting oppressive systems (and something that is much, much larger than you as a woman or a symbol).
As Elen herself writes in reply to you, “My statement had everything to do with the media’s portrayal of yoga and very little to do with Ms. Budig herself.” And she continues by stating, “Because, really, the yoga community might not need fewer Kathryn Budigs. The yoga community absolutely needs more of the rest of us.”
I hope you can see that we’re not saying you aren’t talented or inspiring or that you shouldn’t be on magazine covers or be successful. It just means that there are also a lot of other talented and inspiring people out there doing good work who exist on the margins, whose contributions and gifts aren’t acknowledged or celebrated because they don’t fit into the desirable and marketable media conventions that determine who is seen and heard and who isn’t.
And we’re not saying your experiences with body shaming and general body insecurities aren’t valid or worthy in the body positive conversation. In fact, I applauded you for being candid and vulnerable in a post I wrote in 2012, “I appreciated Kathryn Budig’s candid remarks about her own body image issues in a recent interview. The interview didn’t include a conversation regarding the notion of the “yoga body” and its proliferation in much of the popular yoga photography or the advertisements and images populating many of the major yoga magazines. But I appreciated the honesty and courage to be vulnerable. (I also appreciate her photo shoot with Daniel Stark that produced images that are much less digitally altered and polished than most).”
It takes courage to speak your truth. And your voice and your truth carries weight and travels far. You have legions of adoring fans. I applaud you for your willingness to put yourself out there and I hate that you have experienced body shaming. Because, yes, absolutely, negative body image and body insecurities don’t come with a size tag. Early in my career, I was astounded by the number of women that would participate in my Women’s Wellness Workshops that were incredibly beautiful by conventional standards yet had low self-esteem and felt uncomfortable in and insecure about their bodies. And that’s why my Yoga and Body Image co-editor, Anna Guest – Jelley, and I did not write the book ourselves. We wanted to provide readers a vast array of stories from people of every size, age, race, gender identity and sexual orientation, class and disability.
It’s also why the Yoga and Body Image Coalition’s “This is what a yogi looks like” campaign features dozens of yogis of all sizes (from sizes zero and four to sizes ten, fourteen and twenty-two etc), as well as all the other areas of diversity.
You can read more about our work in the January issues of Yoga Journal and MANTRA Yoga + Health etc. or our press page. There’s also a new installment of the campaign with a fresh photo shoot and article in the latest issue of MANTRA Yoga + Health in which you happen to appear in the cover. Check it out. We’re proud to be doing this work.
No one is immune from negative body image or body shaming. Everyone is welcomed in this community because all our stories matter.
As Amber Karnes, Body Positive Yoga, stated, “I honestly don’t have a problem with Kathryn Budig or her use of body positive messaging. She can obviously reach people who look like her who are still insecure about their bodies. Lord knows body insecurity isn’t only for people of size.”
Tiina Veer, Yoga for Round Bodies, said, “I don’t object to Kathryn Budig’s work in body positivity — anyone can be a body positivity and body acceptance advocate and role model. I honor her experience of negative body image and experiencing body shaming/policing — a common experience shared by women of all stripes — and I honor her vulnerability for sharing her story.”
But (yes, there’s a but…), there’s more to examine. And that’s where people, including myself, have often felt disappointed by your statements. Often, your shares feel incomplete, they’re powerful stories lacking a deeper analysis. Because, while you may feel like a “monster” as a size 4, you do have thin-privilege in a country where the average woman is a size 14. And while the people that raked you over the coals about your “spare tire” (what spare tire were they talking about?), the yoga industrial complex has treated you well and you have become a yoga icon and a yoga celebrity. I mean, you benefited from fitting the “yoga body” stereotype early in your career and it has served you well. You have graced countless magazine covers, have been featured in numerous ad campaigns and have sponsors and endorsers. And you also have deals with mainstream fitness companies. In short, your white, able-bodied, young and thin body has been a marketable commodity for advertisers and corporations. So, as screwed as your experiences have been (and I agree, they have been screwed), you have also been rewarded by the dominant culture and profited handsomely. And that’s what stings at times – you call out the body shamers but don’t take accountability for your role in the industry or your own privilege.
As Tiina Veer states, “Kathryn responded defensively and by expressing hurt feelings, that her experiences of body dissatisfaction are valid and just because she is white and a size 4 doesn’t mean she doesn’t struggle with body image, and she has just as much right to espouse body positivity as the next person, regardless of size, race, etc. It is not because Kathryn is neither larger-bodied nor a person of colour that she neither inspires me nor can I accept her as a body-positive icon (I believe that body positivity belongs to everyone), it’s because of her active participation in perpetuating the yoga body myth by the commodification of her body… and active participation in the perpetuation of yoga for weight loss.” (Copy for The Big Book of Yoga on Amazon claims, “Unlike fitness fads, yoga is worth the hype. The postures stretch and tone lean muscle mass and sculpt a strong and slender physique-burning up to 400 calories in a 90-minute session.”)
Amber Karnes continues, “Kathryn Budig might have her own body insecurities, but she also has an immense amount of body privilege (to the degree that companies that sell yoga products pay her to be their model). That’s why Women’s Health and other media outlets approach her first before they’d ever ask a person of color, a person in a fat body, or transgender, queer, or a differently abled yogi to chime in on body image issues. Kathryn needs to acknowledge and recognize her privilege in these situations, and I don’t see that happening.”
And it’s hard to acknowledge privilege, those unearned advantages some of us have for fitting into the dominant category when it comes to race and/or sexual orientation and/or age and/or sex & gender and/or class etc. It feels uncomfortable, raw, vulnerable and, possibly, scary. And, often, it’s difficult to even acknowledge our privilege because it’s taken for granted. Peggy McIntosh’s piece, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack” is a classic read an awesome resource in thinking about these things. I also encourage you to watch this video with her on how studying privilege can strengthen compassion.
In responding to being called up on privilege, Beth Berila states that there is a “tendency to turn into the victim and call the other person a “bully.” That comes from both privilege and vulnerability. There are several more useful practices–that yoga itself offers–for how to sit with the pain of being called on privilege.”
In Dianne Bondy’s reply to your post, she states,”When some people are asked to examine their privilege in the same way that people of colour are forced to do on a daily basis – they instantly become the victim. It very quickly becomes an emotionally driven experience in which the privileged feel hurt and thus they fall into a pattern of blame and accusations – of ‘reverse discrimination’ and self-aggrandizing behaviors – as opposed to stepping back and stepping up to a real dialogue.”
You don’t need to apologize for your genes or where your ancestors hail from.
As Beth Berila continues, “Recognizing the pain of privilege does NOT mean being a victim. It means the pain of seeing we are doing harm to others and have been taught not to see it. It means that systems of oppression dehumanize EVERYONE, in different ways, and to different degrees, but we ALL have a stake in dismantling it, including those with privilege.”
It’s a process. It’s hard work and I and the Yoga and Body Image Coalition are committed to creating safe spaces to learn new skills in which to deal with these issues, work that we have done in our individual classrooms (academic, yoga or otherwise), in workshops and on panel discussions, including the Off the Mat Practice of Leadership Series at Yoga Journal LIVE! where we discussed these very issues with the intention to have the hard conversations and raise consciousness thereby allowing everyone to speak their truth, be validated and create positive change individually and systematically. And that’s what yoga’s all about, right?
I know this is long and I hope I haven’t lost you or other readers because I have a list of fantastic resources for you (and others) to read that the Yoga and Body Image Coalition leadership team and I have put together.
- 4 Uncomfortable Thoughts You May Have When Facing Your Privilege
- Moving Past Privilege Guilt
- Let’s Talk About Thin Privilege
- Confessions of a Thin-Privileged Fat Activist
- Reflections on Thin Privilege
- Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight by Linda Bacon
- Body Respect by Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor
- How to be a Better Ally
- Allied Force: A Guide to Showing Up Without Getting in the Way
We look forward to growing in this work with you and everyone involved in this conversation.
Melanie Klein, M.A., is a writer, speaker and Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies at Santa Monica College. She is a contributing author in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice and is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body and co-founder of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. A body image activist and media literacy advocate, she is the founder of the Los Angeles chapter of Women, Action and the Media, is on the board of Global Girl Media and the Brave Girls Alliance and she has worked with Proud2Bme.org and the National Eating Disorders Association. Her work has been featured at Ms. Magazine, Feministing, Yoga International, Yoga Journal, LA Yoga Magazine, Adios Barbie and Mantra Yoga + Health Magazine. Wear Your Voice Magazine listed her as one of the 30 Most Influential Women on Social Media.
- Yoga and Body Image – It’s Time To Talk
- Power and Privilege in Yoga (Part 3) – How to Effect Positive Change
- ‘When I look at this, my first reaction is of disgust. I didn’t see what my yoga teacher saw.’
- How to Protect Yourself from Thinspiration Disguised as Yoga