You’ve Come a Long Way Baby (kinda sorta)

By Kristine Kaoverii Weber | July 9, 2021

COMMENTS

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.

“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.

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.”

 

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.

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?

Save the date! Study with me LIVE October 2-3, The Yoga and Neuroscience Connection. Details coming soon!

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