Friday, August 06, 2010

Whose Beautiful is it, anyway?!?

With each of my pregnancies, I couldn't wait for the 20th week to roll around. That's the week you get the ultrasound that--usually--shows the sex of the child, if you want to know it. And I wanted to know. While I would have loved any child and was just hoping for healthy, I was also crossing my fingers that both babies would be boys.

This is a bit disingenuous, because I have many friends with wonderful, smart daughters and I have many wonderful, smart friends and relatives who would be great role models. But, having negotiated girlhood in this culture obsessed with the female form, I wasn't sure I had the strength to negotiate it again with a little girl.

Boys don't have to deal with thong panties, makeovers, boob jobs, sexy dance class routines, and an overall message that the only thing that truly matters is how smokin' hot you are. And if you are bit short of smokin' hot, there are lots of products you can buy, operations you can have, to get you there. Advertisers are trying to figure how to make boys insecure enough to buy male versions of the lotions and potions, but they just haven't quite got it. Yet.

So imagine my delight with this week's (hopefully, this year's) yoga talking point--Judith Hanson Lasater's letter to Yoga Journal on using sex to sell in its advertising. (it's all yoga, baby will bring you up to date) I've written before about my frustration with the way yoga is marketed and the image the yoga industry has decided to present to the world. Unrealistic bodies doing incredibly difficult poses--yeah, that will bring 'em in!

My contribution to the discussion is just to put forth the question, to everyone who says this is just about appreciating beautiful bodies or offering something to aspire to: what message are you sending teenage girls, who are looking to the world for an idea of what womanhood will be like? What do we, as a culture, value in women and what are the most important attributes to strive for? A tight ass? Sculpted abs? Surely not...

And I'm not so naive to think that anything will really change in the overall culture any time soon. The media has figured out what brings eyes to screens, clicks to pages, and these are seriously entrenched strategies that seduce everyone. But it breaks my heart that the yoga world embraces it, as well. The one practice that shouldn't be about the external or cling to screwy standards of physical perfection, and yet--naked yoga socks ads (what is it with yoga products for feet?!?).

Please, yoga industry, think about the girls (and boys) and what message they are getting from your choices. I'm glad you can fund your teaching retreats and "reach" so many more students. I'm glad yoga is getting coverage in the mainstream press (altho some of that coverage we could do without). I'm glad you can put your foot behind your head. But, seriously, don't you see this kind of advertising for what it is? Do you really believe that every reader will understand your outer beauty is simply a reflection of inner grace?

Aren't we more sophisticated in our thinking than that? I hope the response this letter has generated will really encourage some thinking, some re-assessing. Many of us have been harping about this for years...maybe this is the push that will really lead to shove.

Let's Take Back Beautiful!

15 comments:

Kristin said...

I was also glad to see JHL comments in YJ. Disappointed tho, that they were buried so far into the comments section when it should have been first.

Echoing this sentiment: I arrived at the studio this past week where out in the hallway was young lady was sitting. She was just sitting there quietly texting or whatever. I inquired if she needed assistance, and she replyed she was waiting for her freind who was in the current hatha session. Surprised, I said something along the lines that she should have taken the class with her freind. Wide-eyed, she replied, "Oh no, I'm not flexible enough..."

Brenda, this gal couldn't have been more than 25, looked to be in shape, but yet somehow felt 'she wasn't flexible enough'.

It's bad enough when I hear it from guys, but from a young woman now too? Very sad.

I've also noticed the marketing on the front of yoga magazines lately - they are reading like the current issue of (name your 'health' magazine): Detox now to loose weight! Develop strong abs with these 6 poses! Get strong legs fast!

Irksome at best.

Thanks for the insightful posts.

Ejiro O. said...

Hiya Brenda, its interesting that you should write on this today, it's something that has been on my mind for a very long time as its something that I have had to deal with personally "the buying into the ideal body message" thingie. One way yoga has helped me work towards transcending this is by helping me focus on how my body functions and not it's form and I wish that was a heavy focus in a lot of the yoga marketing and all. Frankly it is about proper function of body and mind eh! Anyway thanks for the post, I think we do need to bring more attention to the emphasis on form and work to move it more to what matters. Have a great evening and once again thanks.

P.S. Congrats on your two boys ;)

P.P.S. I just wrote an post on function over form on my blog, check it out if you have a minute.

It's A Yoga Thang said...

I consider myself a yoga purist, working on myself from the inside out (I teach this way also), but our culture isn't there...yet.I suppose meeting people where they are is better than not reaching them at all. I find that my view and intention of practicing yoga is in the minority and my guess is that the people who feel yoga shouldn't be sexy is in the minority also. Just look at our yoga clothing. I've made peace with the way things are, but I still hope that as awareness of the roots of yoga are realized and our consciousness shifts, the focus on outward appearances will also.

Anonymous said...

Well said, Brenda. I canceled my subscription to YJ many years ago because of their advertising bent and increasing lack of substance. It's sad that something that started out as such a gift to the yoga community has turned into yet another slick glossy shrine to our oversexed commercial culture.

Brenda P. said...

As I get older, I find the images in advertising less and less influential, but I still compare. Which is ridiculous, because we don't walk around in the world with a Photoshop eraser, ready to narrow thighs or erase dimples. Dumb.

@Kristin-I hate hearing people won't try yoga because the aren't (insert quality) enough. I understand if it just isn't some one's cup of tea, but avoiding it because it is intimidating just kills me. I totally blame the arm balance pictures. "Come and try one class" seems to be my mantra at cocktail parties...

La Gitane said...

Brenda - the only flaw in your reasoning a out your boys is that they, in turn, have to deal with all those screwed-up girls!! Poor little guys! LOL

Seriously though I think that young men have just as much pressure in the modern world. To be buff, to be virile, to excel at sports, to make money, to be tall, to protect, to provide. Next time you're in the bookstore have a look at the men's section and you will see it.

Plug for gender aside, thanks for this touching post. It is terrifying to think that this is the world our kids will grow up in. But what can we do? I believe that If as parents (and I am not one yet but I intend to be one day!) we plantmthe early seeds of positive affirmation and self-confidence, that base will always be there underneath everything kids go through, and hopefully they will naturally strive to re-establish it in their adult lives, gravitating to a place where they feel confident, loved and accepted just ad they are.

It's the kids whose parents reinforce the other ideals who my heart aches for the most.

writeonyoga said...

I'm hoping for a girl so I can indoctrinate her with all my thoughts on this issue.

Emily Gewitz said...

I'm so happy to see the positive reactions to this post and to Ms. Lasater's letter! The super-aggressive, perfection striving of yoga ads and YJ's asana models has bummed me out for awhile, so the community's response is really gratifying. Why do we need to be so perfect? Does having a killer bod and the ability to do every arm balance in the book make you a great yoga teacher? A better person? More deserving of love?

The answer, my friends, is no. Love your bodies! I'll try to do the same.

Jamie said...

Beautiful post, thanks for the thoughts.

babs said...

Very well said!

Rachel Wainwright, Exhale Yoga Pilates Dance said...

Great blog! One reason I decided to open a yoga studio that also included dance classes was because I love how accepting yogis are of other people's abilities and figures, and I was hoping that would translate to the dancers as well. Yogis are by nature uncompetitive, let's keep it that way!

yoga clothing said...

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Kimberley said...

Triple yes! I just recently found myself as beautiful and round. And yes, we can do yoga! Great blog, great post!

Kelly said...

Look! all are the best feeling for giving the birth of child and its experience, you have previously 9 months and final moments when give the birth to the child, ultimately you required the lots of power for the same, but you can make it easy if follow the yoga...Nice things...

Yoga Mat said...

Greetings,

Most of this stems form the fact that the “Real” Message in Yoga is Going... Going... Gone? (The Problems of Westernized Yoga)
http://yoga-eu.net/bin/view/English/TheRealMessageHasGone

The Transmission Thing
http://yoga-eu.net/bin/view/English/YogaSetsAndSubsets

with best regards