You’ve Come a Long Way Baby (kinda sorta)
By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | July 9, 2021
The other day my son showed me some photos from his junior prom. The kids were all dressed up and completely adorable. I recognized one of the girls in the photos, who I’ve known since she was little but haven’t seen for a few years.
photo credit: Unsplash
“Wow,” I did a double take, “She’s lost a lot of weight.”
“Yeah,” my son said casually, “She’s one of those girls who’s really into working out and not eating.”
Ugh. That’s still a thing…
And it’s still heartbreaking.
For all the progress feminism has made over the years, teenage girls still starve themselves and it’s so common that my son brushes it off as a natural high school phenomenon.
Which makes me think about parallels in the yoga world. For all the progress, acceptance, and awareness that’s happened over the past 5 years or so (Yoga Journal has tried to bring more diversity to its cover, Instagramers like Jessamine Stanley, Amber Karnes, and Dianne Bondy are disrupting the dominant narrative about race, body image, gender, etc.), we’re still suffering – due to some fairly intractable cultural toxicity.
photo credit: Yoga Journal
An Australian study published in March called, “Is this what a female yogi looks like?” analyzed yoga images on Instagram. Here’s what they found (granted, younger people tend to use IG more so the first two bullet points aren’t too surprising):
- 90 percent of IG images depict women under 40.
- In the majority of these images, the women are in their 20s.
- Almost 75 percent of yoga shots are of white women.
- More than 80 percent of IG yogis are thin and/or athletic.
- Most are thinner than average, less than 15 percent have average body fat.
- More than 50 percent of the images show acrobatic or advanced poses.
- A quarter of these images display “potentially unsafe alignment.”
Photo credit: https://instagram.com/gypsetgoddess
The researchers concluded that these “findings demonstrate that the typical ‘yoga body’ on Instagram was perceived to conform to the young, thin/athletic ideal and that overall yoga is not being represented as an inclusive physical practice that can be adapted for women of diverse ages, body types, and abilities.”
Yeesh. I can’t believe researchers have to study things that are so glaringly obvious.
Yoga is a huge industry and yet most profits go to male-owned corporations like Lululemon, with huge sexism and racism issues (I don’t even want to bother inserting a link here, just Google it). The deeply disturbing inequity soup continues to simmer in yogaland.
Things are changing and that makes me optimistic. AND, we can help push the juggernaut along by doing some simple but conscious things like supporting women teachers, and women leaders in the industry, supporting woman-run yoga businesses, supporting non-white and non-binary teachers, leaders, and businesses, increasing diversity however we can, and rooting out and healing the jealousy and competition that has been culturally inculcated into women from the time we are very young. It may sound cliche but it’s true – when there’s only a little sliver of pie left, the disenfranchised fight each other for it.
photo credit: Unsplash
In the same way that I want to take my son’s too thin friend into my arms, feed her good, healthy meals, and help her realize that she is a powerful, competent, loveable, worthy, important young member of the larger community regardless of the size of her body, I also want to help young women and non-binary yoga teachers see the value that they offer – without having to exploit, hurt, or starve themselves.
When historians look back on the yoga world in 100 years, will they talk about how body-obsessed and superficial, we were? Or will they tell the story of how we truly lived our practice, uprooted and destroyed the sexist cultural barriers of our times, and celebrated humanity in all its varied beauty?
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Yes, and Oh, YES!!!
Thank you for an interesting article with a point to make. I am an old(er) woman in her mid 70s who teaches yoga flow several times a week, incorporating many core strengthening movements from Pilates. I have been doing this for more than 15 years now. I focus on smaller classes of 3 -7 people, so that the atmosphere is intimate, relaxed, and I can offer help to individuals. I set the session content according to who is participating, and always offer adaptations for those who find certain positions difficult. I have always believed that yoga is for everyone, and it is very individual. I tell people not to compare themselves to others in the class. As individuals, we all have different levels of flexibility, balance and strength. At the end of a session, my people should feel physically and mentally refreshed and comfortable in their bodies, while having enjoyed a good workout, stretch and a few challenges. I myself have some arthritis, am of normal body size and average flexibility and strength, despite my age. I owe my relative fitness to yoga practice. My people are all ages, body types and fitness levels, as well as nationalities worldwide. Some of my people have arthritis in their hands, dodgey hips and knees, poor balance, and not the perfect body. It doesn’t matter. Each and everyone can benefit, as well as becoming more tranquil with controlled focused breathing and meditation. I also have many students who are in their 20s and early 30s. They always tell me that it is inspiring to have someone my age teach them yoga, and that they can see the benefits from practising regularly. I feel honoured to teach them and everyone who attends my yoga sessions. It is my passion.
Thanks lovely Christina, thanks for sharing.
Go girl!! I am almost 68 and teach classes at the local Y and at an independent living facility. the Y has all ages but I love the 80-90 years olds the best. We can be positive with them. Balance can improve – just keep a it and come to class. They get it! I will be introducing light weights soon because they are ready for another challenge. I love them.
Thanks Suzanne, you are doing really important work. By the time folks get into their 80s and 90s they’ve often come to a place where they’ve accepted themselves and their lives – I think we can all learn so much from these folks!
You are an inspiration Christina!
A LOVED this article Kristine! It breaks my heart too, to see young people so obsessed with their bodies. I feel like they’re missing the true intention of the practice. I too am an older teacher, and love bringing yoga to people who have never felt they were suited to yoga because of age, or body type. Keep writing and pushing for things to change, I’m right behind you girl!
Thank you so much Debbie! Your work is so very important.
This is a great blog, Kristine. I have been on both sides of the spectrum – many years abusing my body to look and be the perfect yogi. Anorexia, bulimia and punishing schools of yoga study were my way of life for many years. When my body and spirit finally had enough, shift happened. Sadly, I continue to observe the perfectionism mindset in my students and others. It is still a common perception that one must possess a certain level of flexibility in order to do yoga. I do think things are changing, but too slowly. So, I just keep teaching that less is best, no pain-all gain, and try to be a good example. My stepson’s fiancé is on IG with a huge following, teaching young women how to have the perfect bodies by minimizing their food intake and doing excessive amounts of cardio. It’s depressing.
Thank you for sharing your story Andy. I think it’s really important for younger women to hear where we have been and what we’ve been through and hopefully it can help them make better choices, and help shift the culture. I feel really sorry for your stepson’s fiancé, but I also find it so hard to stomach the complicity. She obviously wishes to be perfect, and she spreads the virus to others. Women need to stop selling shame.
Thank you for that, we are as individual as our own body. I teach that directly. Your body is not my body and my body is not yours. We are different from one day to the next. Most of my students are 50 plus and I want them to appreciate how far they have come and celebrate themselves everyday. I thank them and to also thank themselves for showing up. Namaste’
Greetings! I love and agree with the article. I love you! Always. Namaskar
Oh love this discussion. I started teaching on line to a group of women in recovery program in a local residential center. I have had an age range from early 20s to 50 ish I’ d say. I put together a box of books for them to read and or take to keep and skimmed though them to find all young, athletic, white slim female students so I added mega women for some variation. Maybe I can locate and send some range of race, binary, males and older etc. in Yoga Journal magazines. Only had a few men and they were white men in the books as well. Funny you would write about that this month and more. You always seem to know what my question is…. and you write and say it so well. Thanks.