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An Open Letter to Kathryn Budig on Privilege, Power and Creating Social Change

in YD News, Yogitorials

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.

LA Yoga Magazine Fall 2014

Mantra January 2015

YJ Jan 2015 1

YJ Jan 2015 2


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.

We look forward to growing in this work with you and everyone involved in this conversation.

In solidarity,
Melanie Klein


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.




76 comments… add one
  • Ana Sofia Ferrara

    I read the whole thing. I read Kathryn’s body shaming experience. I read her blog calling this bullying. I see both sides. I see truth in both sides.
    It is true that Kathryn has the white privilege and the thin privilege and makes money with it. What you are missing with all your sociology degrees, is that it is not only her size four and blond hair. Kathryn is an amazing writer, an approachable human being (she answered me an email in a time of need. Who else does that?). She is an example of health: trains but also eats pasta and bread and wine. She addresses her shaming from a non-victimizing or negative way. She is a crazy good instructor, my classes are inspired in hers very often. And of course, there’s all the work she’s done to be where she is.
    When you use you # no to Kathryn, you are denying all of that which is part of her, her story, and her message. Don’t take away that from the world! Her lovely voice and humor and teachings in out of the mat! Asteya is the Sanskrit word for non-stealing.
    If your message was really positive, you don’t have to wipe out her campaign. You can add another lady, of color, or more size, or queer gender. But not only that, a lady with those characteristics AND who is also an example of positivity, mindful living, hard worker in the yoga and mindfulness field, who also eats both junk and healthy (you don’t want to promote eating only junk), and so many other things that represent a role model.
    Honestly before reading this letter, I did feel negative about your hashtag and campaign. It does look wrong. Now I understand the motives, but it was still not the way to do it. Approach Kathryn and tell her that. I am 200% sure she will help you do a campaign with different yogi representations without the need to lash her.
    – (Dearly, a sometimes size 8, 10, or 12 yogi).

    • Suzannah

      I agree with you 100% Ana Sofia!

    • Melanie

      Yes, I did commend her on her talents, skills and inspiring qualities. I hope you didn’t miss that in my post. I feel good about this letter – it took an incredible amount of time, thought and energy. I feel it’s balanced, fair, direct and kind. There was no lashing involved. Critical thinking and constructive dialogue is part of raising consciousness and yoga – it’s not hateful, shaming or negative.

      Thanks for chiming in. I appreciate your words.

      • hanna

        I think there was a remarkable amount of lashing involved. I take some of Kathryn’s classes she seems to be a lovely person, an expressive writer and an inspiring teacher. What I get from this article and that # is sour grapes basically, an inability to accept that hey maybe she did get where she is today based on hard work and hey maybe she does deserve it. Like other commentators have mentioned, why not approach her and get something positive going? Why a vitriolic #SayNo campaign that you will definitely need to defend in 1000 word articles that still manage to not get the point across?

    • FullyFiguredYogaTeacher

      I too agree the lash out at Kathryn was overly negative. Having a piece of paper, your degrees, does not make you the expert. The fact that you have to note that you have degrees shows your lacking in your own confidence. As a larger yoga teacher I have to say I did not know the “Yoga and Body Image Coalition” exsisted. I know who Kathryn is though. Not because of her body size or skin color. The more you concentrate and put energy into these “injustices” the more it keeps the stigmas a live. I teach yoga for everyBODY. The desire to address Kathryn back displays negation of Ahimsa, or non-hurting..compassion. Perhaps your degrees need some continuing education. Sad to find out who YBIC is this way.

      • inanna

        have you considered the possibility that the fact that you know who kathryn is, but not the ybic, might be part of the wider debate here? that readily available media imagery leaning rather more heavily towards pretty women than political movements is in itself problematic? that we have to hunt this kind of stuff out even if it would be of enormous help to us, whereas kathryn’s image and many like here, is inescapable? that we’re therefore all caught in oppressive marketing etc?

    • Carol

      I agree with you about #no. Context is everything and in that context the #no post misses the point big time. It would feel like a personal attack to anyone.

    • Christina

      What a shame that a message we could all get behind turned into a negative campaign. Leave KB alone and focus on furthering your message in a postive way.

  • Thank you, Melanie, for a terrific post. I think the big issue here is that of privilege and lack thereof, which is something we can all explore in our life experiences, in yoga, in our careers, personal interactions, and beyond.

  • veronica

    shut up. give some respect and love to a woman who has worked really hard to achieve amazing things in the realm of yoga. sounds like you are the one shaming people for actually being healthy and accomplished.

    • Candice g.

      I think whatever point about respect you were trying to make was lost in your first sentence.

  • Melyssa

    Heavily agree with Ana Sofia, but I am a much more critical person (even with 4-5 yoga classes per week) and am going to take this a step further.

    Kathryn’s posts & writings have always given me a positive feeling. That’s an incredible gift that not enough people in this world possess. She’s not successful simply because she fits into what the system prefers, but because she is authentic, contagiously joyous, and is very well educated in her field.

    As a quick anecdote, I used to use Yogaglo and free online videos exclusively for my practice. I tried teachers of different colors, genders, and sizes. I settled on Kathryn as my favorite instructor because I have never encountered a human that could generate so much joy in others. I’ve never had as much fun in yoga as when I started taking her classes. Teaching is an art.

    Since your post included so many plugs for your own agenda it is obvious that your rebuttal is an attempt to ride the coat tails of her success, likely because you cannot generate an audience as big as hers on your own merit. I have little respect for this strategy and am still in shock that you (or your friends) could gleam so much negativity from such a positive post.

  • inanna

    awesome work melanie.

    i feel like it would be useful if we could, um, get out of our own way a little here in terms of not taking this kind of thing so personally. not much is added to the debate by praising kathryn as far as i can see. as well as being a (probably very nice) human being and a good teacher, she functions as a symbol. that’s what happens when your image is out there. so if, as kathryn says herself, her image is not the sum total of her being, there’s really no need to leap to her defense when her image is critiqued. the way we take this stuff personally stifles the debate and is probably a defense mechanism built into the structures of oppression that are slowly, slowly being teased apart. so none of us wins, really, in late capitalist patriarchy – and that’s why this kind of conversation is so important.

    blessings x

  • al

    It just hurts to see these two groups pit themselves/be pit against each other when we are all on the same side. Like watching a snake eat its own tail.

  • Northern Harrier

    Great description on the process of how you open your blinders, one of the best I have read in a while. So relevant to so much that is happening right now in the world, with so many people waking up to oppression and pushing for evolution, in so many different areas.

    Yogis who are upset because you love Kathryn and feel its an attack on the truth of your experience: it is possible to both hold what is sacred in you and to also see the truth of the larger picture in all of its awfulness.

    • inanna

      yep. and for me, that flexibility of vision (= compassion) is an aim of practice.

    • Libby

      Agreed. This is about a larger issue. I have gotten a lot out of Kathryn’s instruction and have also felt a strong push from her on social media land that for me, personally, is a turn off. But I value her approach to yoga. I feel this is a very thoughtful writing and a topic that is messy for most people and yet, necessary. Thank you for your thoughts.

  • Norma Desmond

    I auditioned for a yoga video as well.
    I was rejected because I was too old.
    At least there is something you can do about the negative body problems you have (why pose in your underwear and/or naked if you don’t want to be judged on your body).

    Old. I know. How disgusting. Saggy skin. Floppy arms. Double chin.

    Pardon me for saying this but get over yourself. What you look like has nothing to do with anything except your ego.

  • Jennifer

    I found this article to be a bit desperate, rude and poorly directed. One second you’re praising the woman and the next second you are bashing her. The whole hashtag was wrong. Just wrong. No excuses. I have no doubt that Ms. Budig will respond with grace and respect, as it is how she acts at all times in her life. I think your words, which were frequently eloquent, could have been best used by reaching out for her support and what she can add to your movement. I am a size 2. Sometimes a 0. I have cut, been bulimic and worked through my body image problems my whole life. So my story isn’t worth it because I’m skinny and white? To me that sounds as anti yoga as saying people of color or obese people can’t practice.

    Re-examine your motives and words. Because these didn’t do much except add more negative fuel to a fire that already burns too brightly in the yiga community.
    Peace – Jennifer

  • Candice G.

    I think Melanie bringing up her degree is perfectly appropriate. When someone speaks with authority about an issue, you want to know what makes them qualified to do so.

  • Jane

    I do not see a ‘lashing-out’ at Ms. Budig–not in this open letter and not in other blogs I’ve read critiquing the Women’s Health article. What I have seen are people speaking their truth about the nature of yoga media and its effects on practitioners who don’t fit the image. I’ve read critiques that–while uncomfortable–have been respectful and honest.

    These are uncomfortable discussions to have, especially when they revolve around well-intentioned, good people. But complex reactions to the article are occurring. Conflicting thoughts, feelings, and experiences do exist. Asking people to silence themselves to prevent discomfort only serves to perpetuate the negation and marginalization.

  • paul

    “no thanks, i already have a bikini body.” is what you click to close the ad for women’s health’s bikini body makeover contest thing you have to give an email for in order to read budig’s initial article.. there’s better, more important things to say no to (and fuck you women’s heath!), though they aren’t as fun as the interpersonal ones.. (and if you don’t want it to be personal, don’t @ them, and instead make it about the corporation.) the white entitled bitch is becoming as popular and ingrained a negative as the dirty hippy.

  • Jessi

    I thought Melanie’s letter did an excellent job at addressing oppressions and the different ways we participate and the opportunities we have to interrupt systemic oppression. What about the giant isim in the room no one is addressing? Sexism and more specifically, internalized sexism and the sexualization of yoga is a root issue in this instance and wrapped in to body image. While I am guessing that Ms. Bahr is not trying to act out internalize sexism on Ms. Budig and Ms. Budig doesn’t intend to be oppressive, it is happening. The corporate world, media, culture sexualize women and yoga and we play into it when we enter the yoga celebrity scene. Whether it’s Ms. Budig, who’s body image is her net worth or whether its Ms. Styles putting herself in a glass box on a bed doing yoga in NYC, its just a different brand of internalized sexism. We hold our own selves down when we partcipate in captializing on our body image. You can be an amazing yoga teacher and have an amazing following and have an amazing business sense and be an amazing person without being a yoga celebrity or captializing on your body image or sexualization. What would be a huge contradiction for the yoga world is to not have a body represent yoga! Let’s stop following the yoga celebrities and gurus and start following groups like YBIC and take a direction towards healing instead of piling on the hurt, confusion, or idealization of the yoga celebrities like Budig, Styles, Bikram, and so on!

  • LoRo

    Meoooooow! I LOVE it when yoga and Women & Gender Studies collide-both of which help to bring more mindfulness and meaningful change to our lives and world. What a FaNtaStiC open letter and invitation to Kathryn to explore how her privilege and status as a yogalebrity has been a source of profit for herself and the yoga industrial complex. (And for those who have written comments saying they are unsure of what that means, it refers to institutions being co-opted by private industry motivated solely of making a profit. i.e., the military industrial complex, the prison industrial complex, the wedding industrial complex, the college industrial complex, and yes, the yoga industrial complex.) I agree that while it’s been great to see Kathryn get on the body posivitiy train, it seems to lack depth and a deeper exploration of what has motivated the powers that be who make the calls and how she has also benefited from said powers, in spite of the b.s. she’s had to deal with. I also love the call for Kathryn to move away from being defensive, to reaching out to those in the community who have a history of being marginalized and the AmAzinG list of resources for Kathryn and readers to check out. Bravo!

  • Asananine

    This strikes me as self promotion and public shaming masquerading as a critique. Sure the author addresses some important issues, however she could have done this all privately if she had an issue with Kathryn. Likewise, she could have addressed the issues themselves, without singling out a particular teacher. She is elevating her own career on the back of another, while trying to sound altruistic.

  • Northern Harrier

    So what if Melanie has elevated her career for writing this open letter? Her taking a moment of inspiration to speak her truth and make her place in the world does not necessarily have any impact at all on the the validity of what she has to say.

    I agree that Budig is a symbol much larger than the actual person at this point, and these days, an open letter is perfectly appropriate as an avenue of meaningful dialogue. When you have a following of millions, this is just the course of things. You are open to public scrutiny in a way others are not. That is a downside of taking on so much power and privilege.

  • Asananine

    If Melanie feels so strongly about expressing “her truth”, I am certain there is someone less privileged and whom she can offer her academic position to. I invite her to do so.

  • Donald Marteen

    The folks are hustlers, using Budig as a vehicle to blow themselves up. Classic.

    • “Just say NO to @kathrynbudig” was uncalled for, and I read this whole piece in search of some form of apology, and felt her platform rather is being used here to promote an albeit important movement. But none the less, you exploited her. While Kathryn may be an “entity”, she is a person first. Kathryn, I know you’re taking heat for this now, but as in previous criticisms of your work in which you rose above it for the good of our yoga community as a whole, you will rise from this, too, and teach us. Rise & shine on, KB!

  • Thank you for a very interesting and sober turn in this debate. I like the invitation you extend to Miss Budig and see your efforts in taking this debate to a more constructive place. I would also like to hear your reflections on how your own privilege of academic training plays a role in the power dynamic of this particular conversation.
    As an academic, I couldn’t agree more with your reflections and welcome your analysis. However, I am not blind to the fact that my preference for your writing over Budig´s is shaped by the fact that I share your privilege: academic training. As an ex-academic now full time yoga teacher I share your feeling of wanting to “educate people on some key points, and help raise consciousness”. However, it has also become painfully clear to me that my privilege and the desires it installs in me has its own power dynamic and subtle mechanisms of oppression. That academic authority is a razor sharp, double-edged sword to be handled with great care.
    You write to Budig:
    “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.”
    However, that very ability to analyze contemporary phenomena and see the power structures and systematic oppression within them is your privilege, not hers. You had training, you had 20 years of working in this field, she didn´t. When we well-read yogis back up our claims with academic resources our statements comes off as neutral and non-debatable unless the other side can mobilize a suitable counter-strike of academic references. To do that you have to be an academic too. The power of academic authority is a trump card. It gives voice and this voice can (and should) be used politically in a conscious way. And I see you do that, and it’s great.
    But (yes there is a but) you also write: “it’s difficult to even acknowledge our privilege because it’s taken for granted”. How does your own position as an academic constitute a privilege here? And is that privilege not taken for granted in this debate? As academics, we do see things structurally and systematically, but does that give us the right to be “disappointed” when we read statements from people who have not had the training, resources, desires and structural conditions to do what we do? I´m not so sure.
    I have no doubt in my mind that your response to Budigr expresses your genuine concern and desire to generate “a sense of community and promoting healing and understanding”. But I do have doubts as to whether that message is going to be heard when it is backed up by the power/knowledge nexus which to me is the privilege that beats all other privileges. It beats all other privileges because academic authority comes with the illusion of neutrality. The illusion that “anyone can do this”, anyone can go and educate themselves. But in reality there are lots of structural, political, economical and social factors who has to be in place for that to happen. The literacy and sensitivity to power you acquired is not available to everyone. I see your passion for sharing it, but I also wonder if there could be better ways of doing that.
    Building a real sense of community seems unlikely when the invitation to miss Budig to join your party rests on the premise that she first accepts to be “educated” and “elevated” by the very people she feels perpetrated by. Her feelings can be brilliantly analyzed as not wanting to be called on her priveleges, as her exercising power by slipping into the victim position and evading responsibility. But will that brilliant analysis of yours generate healing, understanding and a sense of community? My guess is no. Its educative but not healing. Your mission to educate and elevate consciousness presumes that you are already on top and your partner in dialogue will have to accept a position at the bottom and in addition agree to need your help in rising up to your (privileged) level of consciousness. You invite miss B to enter into a dialogue and collaboration but on the premise that she first accepts that she has to become more like you. I doubt miss B will step up to that level of vulnerability. If she does that would be a true act of courage and wonder-woman strength. We can only hope. It would be nothing short of a miracle.
    For this conversation to produce the healing, understanding and community I see you aiming for, maybe we all need to be ready to be called on our privileges without slipping into the position of victim or the rescuer (both positions tend to just generate more perpetration). I have no solution to this problem. I have no idea if this is even intersting for you to think about. I am just sharing a concern. Again, thank you for your continuous efforts to reflect on what we are busy doing in the yoga community. Please rock on!

    • Northern Harrier

      Very interesting points to chew on, Birgitte, alot of truth in there.

      I think we should unpack the definition of “healing” a little more though, both in your analysis and also throughout this comment section. There seems to be a shared presumption among many of us that the yogic path, which I think we could all agree is a “healing” one, has to always lead to more positive things. And this becomes the measurement used for evaluation of how “healing” or yogic something is. If bad feelings and negativity are produced, that was somehow the wrong road to take or at least not the one to take the next time. By extension this would also mean for some in this conversation that an attack on her deservedly beloved teacher Budig, could not be yogic and is therefore wrong and should not happen.

      From my privileged knowledge position of study in both yoga and academia however, I think this is out of touch with reality and what the ugly forces are that unfold when deep change is upon us. An open letter like this one has the touch of Kali. Why should it not be destructive? Why does destruction and negativity not have a place on the yogic, “healing” path?

      We can only know the final result of an event like this from afar, when more data comes in. I am sure Budig is deeply hurt by this. But as an overweight yoga teacher myself, I was healed by this letter. The touch of Kali usually looks like this – brutal yet amazing.

  • mimsie

    I just wonder if there was a missed opportunity here. What was behind the choice to say “NO” to this woman’s writing rather than “Yes AND”. It just seems to me both writers have really similar points of view and could have been allies. I wondered, too about the reaction a “fit” (for lack of a better term) man would have if he wrote on body image in yoga. I’m not really sure myself but it is interesting to think about what the differences might be. Also both writers really look thin and blonde to me, I really don’t see that big of a difference in the two, sorry! I guess they feel like they are really different from each other which is fascinating to me from my average weight, post- 3 baby belly perspective.

  • Kelly Lengel

    Ms. Klein,
    I applaud the work of your coalition. Opening our community to more people can only benefit us all. Unfortunately, engaging in personal attacks will not ultimately further your cause and is in fact counter to the very foundations of yoga. The tweet in question did not promote diversity, it attacked Ms. Budigs. I reject that the only way to challenge privilege is to attack individuals – it only serves to divide the community. I agree with you becoming aware of how some of us benefit from privilege is a painful process. I have never seen someone move through that process as a result of an attack; indeed, such experiences tend to move people to a defensive position that makes growth and change nearly impossible. You are absolutely right that individuals need “safe spaces” to do this work. Sadly, you have not afforded Ms. Budigs such a space. I deeply hope that going forward you will focus on positive ways to advocate for change.

  • Wondering

    What is the difference between “speaking one’s truth” and “speaking one’s opinion”?

    • Northern Harrier

      Probably nothing?

  • Thank you, everyone, for your responses and thoughts. As a member of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition Leadership Team, I am listening carefully and learning from this dialogue. Like many of you, I am deeply committed to this work, and doing it is a dynamic learning process (if we all knew how to do this work, it would be done, and we would have a fully just world). I appreciate the dialogue that is happening, ask forgiveness for anyone who may have been unintentionally been harmed in this process, specifically Kathryn Budig and anyone else who felt excluded from the wider yoga culture and mainstream media representaiton of it, and continue to deeply process the ways oppressive systems have been internalized and left their mark on so many of us in deep but different ways. Collective change requires community, and community requires deep dialogue, commitment even when the work is hard, and an open heart full of compassion. I am here with that, and I appreciate all who are also showing up.

  • J

    The original post is deplorable.

    Build a following for your coalition and your work the same way Kathryn Budig did: tireless traveling, teaching, writing and sharing your message for years and years. Taking aim at an individual whose name is already known to the larger community as a way of catapulting your ‘message’ is on par with the same sort of shaming and bullying that you are supposedly against.

    Cloaking it in academic double speak doesn’t hide what it is. It’s self promotion thinly disguised as an attempt to open a dialogue. opportunistic and shameful.

  • J

    The original post is deplorable.

    Build a following for your coalition and your work the same way Kathryn Budig did: tireless traveling, teaching, writing and sharing your message for years and years. Taking aim at an individual whose name is already known to the larger community as a way of catapulting your ‘message’ is on par with the same sort of shaming and bullying that you are supposedly against.

    Cloaking it in academic double speak doesn’t hide what it is. It’s self promotion thinly disguised as an attempt to open a dialogue. It is truly opportunistic and shameful.

  • seems like it has turned into an “us v. them” scenario as it so often does.

  • VQ2

    The real role that Kathryn Budig serves in the yoga and fitness worlds is that of being the troubled, risk-seeking “white-bread movie star”: one can’t easily place her ethnicity based on her name, stature and visage; she’s essentially a ‘perfect 10’ no matter a situational “weight gain” that expands her “market share” (yes, I felt I had to go there); a history of bulimia (with so many other, deadly eating disorders in the world!)—is having a history of bulimia de rigueur for the teacher or teacher-team, who would teach on both the Gentle Yoga and 24-hour Handstands All the Time channels in turn?; and you know … I fully applaud the backlash.

    Not entirely highbrow enough to understand its stridency and urgency, but I know politics when I see it!

  • When I saw this confrontation developing between Kathryn Budig and the YBIC over Elen Bahr’s tweet and Kathryn’s “Color the World” response, I initially felt demoralized, and sick and tired of the whole thing. (Full disclosure: I serve as an Adviser to the YBIC, and therefore don’t stand on neutral ground here – although I’m trying to listen to those I disagree with and learn from this exchange). I started blogging back in 2010, right when the first big confrontation over yoga and body image broke out – which, then as now, inadvertently morphed into an over-personalized exchange centered around Kathryn Budig. A few years later, the same thing happened over the infamous Equinox video. So there is a way in which this initially felt like Groundhog Day to me, and not in a good way at all.

    But after reading the comments and reflecting on the new developments that have taken place in the past year or so, I’m starting to feel much more positive. Slowly and painfully, I think that we *are* making progress on this thorny set of issues. The dialog is getting more sophisticated and less reactive, there is more support from big players like YJ and Mantra, the YBIC is doing tons of great work that absolutely should not be equated with a single tweet, and the “Yoga and Body Image” book edited by Melanie and Anna Guest-Jelley is an outstanding work that offers a fantastic resource for anyone who want to think more deeply into these issues.

    I have never met Kathryn Budig, but have heard nothing but glowing reports about what a great teacher and fantastic person she is. So, there is part of me that feels even more badly than I might otherwise that her work is being questioned in difficult ways. But I felt strongly that Melanie needed to write this open letter after Kathryn’s “Color the World” post, and think that she did a great job here.

    In “Color the World,” the YBIC was characterized simply as a group that’s “willing to bully and spread negativity” – and nothing more. This was based on a single tweet by one individual. That is not a fair representation of a group that has collectively produced a book, podcast series, magazine features, photo shoots, blogs, articles, dialogs, events, and more — all dedicated to creating more diversity and openness in yoga culture — and definitely merited a similarly public response.

    That said, I hope that rather than degenerating into the same old tired patterns of talking past each other, everyone can step up and try to listen to each other, particularly those you don’t agree with. I myself have a better appreciation now of why Elen’s tweet was taken as an unnecessarily hurtful personalization of a much larger issue. No individual should ever be singled out like that without a careful explanation of why she is playing enough of a public role to merit this scrutiny, as well as an acknowledgement that this role in no way represents her full dimensionality as a yoga teacher and human being. That wasn’t done in Elen’s tweet, and, in fact, it can’t be done in 140 characters.

    But I also see that Kathryn Budig and the YBIC have some very different views as to why these body image problems are so rampant, and what the yoga community can and should do to address them. That is where the discussion should focus. WHY are so many of us wasting our precious life energy obsessing over negative images of our bodies? HOW can we change this destructive and wasteful pattern?

    Is negative body image simply an individual failing that can only be addressed on a purely personal level? Or are there bigger social and cultural patterns in play that are impacting us individually? If so, do we need to respond to them both on the personal level AND collectively, as a community? That to me is the crux of the issue that needs to be unpacked and explored further.

  • “everyone can step up and listen” Bravo Carol Horton!

  • Melitta Rorty

    First let me say that I LOVE the book “Yoga and Body Image” (editors Melanie Klein and Anna Guest-Jelley). I read the book on a recent yoga retreat, and found it to be very profound and enlightening. Over the years, I have deplored the elevation of “beautiful, blonde, thin” yoga teachers over women of far more teaching substance but who don’t have a particular acceptable image. I love the body positive movement; it is a wonderful breakthrough. Striving for some unattainable body hurts us all.

    Let me upfront state that the following is my opinion and perspective. I will start with the post from Elen Bahr, “say NO to Kathryn Budig as the face of #BodyPositive.” Wrong in every way, and just plain mean. And instead of having the guts to apologize, Elen makes the excuse that she wasn’t actually attacking Kathryn Budig, but “My statement had everything to do with the media’s portrayal of yoga and very little to do with Ms. Budig herself.” I call that dishonesty. Kathryn Budig responded with “Color the World.” Then Melanie Klein wrote this “open letter.” As I said in my Facebook post, if I were Kathryn Budig, I would take the high road, not respond, and not engage. I would simply never trust a person who writes such a disingenuous hit piece as this “open letter” while proclaiming it to be opening a dialog. Others have described it as passive-aggressive, and I agree. Writing an “open letter” to publicly humiliate a fellow human being is the act of a coward, and yes bullies are cowards. Constructive dialog one-on-one would be a far better way of achieving the goal of enhancing and encouraging the body positive movement. But that requires guts and the ability to listen.

    I sincerely hope that after this dust-up, we can come to a better place.

  • I didn’t read Katryn’s article so I don’t know about that. I am speaking from what I saw in this article. I get what the author was saying…I think. I think she was just saying, “admit that your being white, a size 4, blonde, pretty, helped you get where you got. For instance, I am black. I got a scholarship to go to college because of it. In order to get the scholarship, I had to have good grades and write an essay, and do an interview. I worked hard. However, the fact that I was Black opened the door to me getting that scholarship. A white person could never have gotten it. So I am acknowledging that. I think that is all people want from her. To acknowledge, that even though you worked hard, you still had an advantage. The dialogue is about the advantage not about whether she worked hard or not or if she is a sweet person.

  • Hope

    I’m kind of surprised so many comments are defending Budig. This woman suggested lovingly squeezing any body part that makes you feel insecure and speaking to it. She would do well to open herself up to learning from people who work in the YBIC. She could learn more concrete ways to deal with body acceptance, come to understand why some people would object to a person who looks like her as the face of yoga body acceptance, and perhaps come to better body acceptance of her own.

  • inanna

    just want to encourage everyone needled by this debate to check out the links melanie cites (though i’m not sure they’re all working?). they’re helping me understand some of what i’ve been ignorant about (i am white, middle class, bendy etc). and, sorry guys, i’m pretty sure some of those of you commenting actually don’t really understand what privilege is or how it functions to oppress us ALL (separate us – the opposite of yoga). i’m not ashamed to say that i am learning as i go along – i actually want my formal practice to strengthen my ability to not need to have all the answers, to be able to not react to strong emotion and to just allow it to move through me. so i think the open letter format is great as it encourages us all to examine our responses to the issues intersecting here in a way that would not be possible if the conversation had been adressed privately to kathryn herself. svadhyaya, yes?

  • Ellen

    The original tweet that is the subject of this article was offensive. There is no reason to use Ms. Budig’s name unless you are specifically addressing something she did. Since that does not seem to be the case, Ms. Budig is owed an apology — a real one — not the I didn’t mean to offend you when I used your name. The case for inclusiveness will not be made by excluding or harassing in retaliation.

  • I think the real paradigm shift in yoga culture would be recognizing that yoga is not ultimately about the body at all. As long as you maintain your insistent attachment to the importance of image, you’re missing the point. I agree that we’re still fighting a worthy battle to change dominant stereotypes, be inclusive, etc. However it is imperative to remember what yoga really is — it is that which unites us, and never divides us. If we realize that, we’ve solved the problem. Namaste.

  • Lurlene

    YES, Carol Horton! YES, Karen Schwartz! Great points! 🙂

  • I do not know who Kathryn Budig is; I’ve also never heard of the YBIC. I don’t live under a rock, I’m definitely a regular reader of yoga articles (maybe I just don’t pay attention to who is writing them) and a frequent social media user. Therefore, from a neutral viewpoint, reading just this post and the subsequent comments, starting a twitter campaign to say No to a particular person just feels plain old wrong. None of the justifications make me think differently. I do however love the idea of YBIC and will go seek out more information and at least this whole event has started a conversation. But conversations shouldn’t be started at the expense of another person. And I’ll probably go read more on Kathryn too.

  • george

    Interesting thread. Speaking my truth otherwise called my opinion I would have to say that the original post and follow up open letter is good old fashioned vitriol. In the guise of intelligent debate on size and the general portrayal of women in the media we get a highly personal attack on a successful woman. And make no mistake it is an attack … once you created a hashtag and use someone’s name you lose any credibility you may have had. No buts!

  • m. cherry

    the OP is mean spirited and in bad taste. it really comes of a personal attack. and i agree, creating a hashtag using someones name loses any argument you might have had!

  • norma Desmond

    I have an idea. Why not join the rest of our culture who keep their clothes on. Okay, you are in great shape NOW but I have bad news – you will all get old and injured and probably fat as 80% gain weight in menopause. Yes, that is in your future, too.

    Why has yoga become synonymous with people posing semi nude. Wasn’t this woman the one who posed nude for some yoga product. Parts carefully hidden but naked.

    I have really bad news for everyone – yogis are supposed to be celibate. Prancing around with bangle bracelets, too much perfume and talking on your cell. Is that where we are?

    I didn’t think yoga was all about EGO EGO EGO but that is what this boils down to. Hey I have a body just like we all do but mine looks better so I take pictures incessantly?? – have we sunk this low.

    And at the end of the day I don’t give a shit what you look like naked, semi naked, posed on a cliff. That is not what yoga means to me.

  • Elizabeth

    Having been educated about and having taught on conferences about privilege – this article, while offering facts that we can learn from – is clearly promotion. Is the agenda worthy of promotion? Yes. Is it done with the purest intent and in an ethical fashion? No.

    There is anger that comes through and a searching for people to attack and “educate.” I recognize this because I and many others have been there – it’s even been mapped out as a stage in moving towards total consciousness about privilege. But it’s just one stage before one peels off yet another layer.

    It’s rather the system that deserves to be targeted. Aiming an anti-hashtag at an individual does nothing to move the movement forward. Putting out positive images and building upon her existing hashtag or asking her to cooperate with your hashtag or video campaign would all be great steps. You are saying she got where she is via privilege, this explains why you feel entitled to use what you view as her “unearned” platform for your agenda’s promotion. This negates all that is her and reduces her to a package of privilege.

    I personally saw her humbly work her buns off in class for years when she was tiny and not famous and in a sea of other talented yogis, many of whom have never made it to the covers. That could have easily been her fate too, but it wasn’t. It’s important to remember that while privilege plays a role – it’s one piece of the puzzle. Would a black yogi with the same talent reach the same level with the same amount of work? Probably not at this time. Would a white yogi with the same talent reach the same level with the same amount of work? Most won’t. There are thousands of people like her that are amazing teachers, who have the same physical capabilities, same talent and have had the same chances, yet are not successful. They didn’t get their break for whatever reason. Yes she is white, yes she is petite, yes she works really hard and while the barriers may be lower for her than a larger bodied woman, the barriers are still incredibly high to get to that level – almost unreachable for nearly everyone.

    I understand your frustration at the community and what is perpetuated. I assume your goal is to create change as rapidly as possible. If that is the case, then get creative as to how you can create change. Seeking out leaders to attack on the premise of their privilege won’t work. Seeking out leaders with whom you can collaborate with will work. They may not know all you know about the systemic construction, but you probably don’t know many things they have learned. Why? Because you have different focuses in life! Different – not better nor worse.

    • Thanks Elisabeth!
      I like your idea of building on existing initiatives. A specific form of “yes and” can actually turn out to become a more powerful “no” when supported by patience and continuous collaborative effort. But we need to work together as a community. Saying “and” rather than “but” may seem like a compromise but in the long run i think it works more efficiently to generate the changes we would like to see happening.

    • Melyssa

      I’ve read every comment on this thread as I was really shocked/upset by this open letter. While you seem to fall more in the middle on the subject than me, I think that your post was the most thought-provoking. Thank you for sharing and for your perspective!

  • KH

    yoga drama.

    • inanna

      yoga, and social education, from my perspective. thanks, elizabeth, for your astute comment. you demonstrate that it’s possible to have both a highly-functioning critical faculty and a shitload of compassion.

    • Hank

      KACHING! What an embarrassing display of female body worship and self-obsession. Welcome to “Women’s Yoga.”

  • Emily

    I felt the need to comment on this open letter in support of the message in the face of all of it’s criticism. It is important to consider that the writer of the letter was not the person who originally tweeted Kathryn, but was rather explaining the real meaning of the tweet. I follow Kathryn on many platforms and take her classes regularly, but was not aware of the yoga drama until seeing this letter and going back to read Kathryn’s response. I think she is a great teacher and will happily continue to take classes from her but she obviously holds a lot of unchecked privilege that is problematic when we look at the broader image that yoga marketing is portraying. Perhaps if you too felt like you were being attacked by this letter then you should consult some of the posted links to better understand how privilege works in ourselves, and the world surrounding us.

  • Ah! The privilege police! Coming to a studio near you soon!

  • lss250

    Elen Bahr’s response (linked in the post) says”“a critique of the media machine is NOT a critique of an individual person” – but it’s difficult to see how her initial tweet was anything but a critique of an individual person. If the tweet had very little to do with Ms. Budig herself, then why mention her at all?

    I agree with the other commenters here who say this group could build a following without taking negative-but-publicity-garnering cheap shots at others, but that is not what they have done. I also agree that privilege in the yoga world is real and is a problem. Unfortunately I can’t take this group seriously as spokespeople when their approach so obviously smacks of opportunistic self-promotion.

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  • Bob Altman

    The # is a broad and personal negation of Ms. Budig as a human being. It is not an effort to engage in a constructive discussion but a deep personal attack, which is contrary to the yogic principles I have been exposed to. An attempt to explain it as “symbolic” is a cheap effort to cover a very personal and hurtful attack and reflects an unwillingness to see your own mistake, apologize for it and open the door to the dialogue you say you are seeking.

  • Ramini

    What an important and timely conversation! Maybe not from the awareness and teachings yoga itself, but from the perspective of those of us very vulnerable and imperfect human beings that practice it. I have read all of the comments with deep interest and appreciation, and I have much to reflect upon in terms of my own vulnerabilities and privileges. I can’t help but wonder, how healing could it be if Kathryn Budig were to step up (or back, as it were) and open herself to learning more, to join the discussion in a different way, to join forces? Not to admit that she’s wrong (I’m not saying she is), but because she is open to change her perspective. What would I do in her position? Could I embrace my vulnerability and do so? Can something be lost? To step back from yourself and acknowledge that it’s not about me. If I have learned one thing as a yoga teacher, it is that it’s never about me. Very interesting stuff! Pranams to all.

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  • Susan

    YBIC lost me from the moment the tweet went out. A public apology is in order not some long winded explanation. It was rude and unkind

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