This post is part of A Green Spell's The Coil, a fantastic supportive, moon-based blog party that explores everything spiritual and personal. Monday (29th) is the Storm Moon, which is aptly named for a rant post... Check out her honest and beautiful post on Yoga Shadows!
Body Image, Yoga and Feminism. Think these are worded in the wrong order of relationship? Unfortunately Western mainstream Yoga is very much influenced by the toxic, sexist body image ideals of our society.
First, just in case you're a skeptic, think that 'feminist crap' is behind us, a quick review.
Women still only make 78 cents to the mans dollar. We make up a fraction of a percentage in the top 500 professional jobs and salaries as well as political positions. According to the Global Gender Gap Report for 2009 (yep, they still need to make these) Canada doesn't even register in the top ten Countries regarding gender equality, ranking 25th with the US ranking 31st.
Eating disorders affect approximately 10 million women in the United States alone. Disordered eating and body image affect girls as young as grade 5, and eating disorders remain the leading mental health cause of death, with 10 to 15% resulting in death. Think men and women suffer equally? 90% of all diagnoses of both Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia (both subtypes) consist of women, while only 10% of diagnosed cases are men (NEDA).
Disordered eating and body image are a complex issue resulting from psychological, social and physical (among other) stresses. Media that creates a cultural definition of 'beauty' has been shown to have a significant impact regarding the rise in eating disorders. The average US citizen is exposed to approximately 5000 ads per day, 1 out of 3.9 ads have some sort of 'message' regarding beauty, girls as young as 11 years old (prepubescent) have stated they were on a 'diet'.
The advertising industry is a billion dollar industry, for a reason. We are influenced by those 5000 ads that bombard our visual and mental space each day, whether we like to think we are or not. And women are disproportionately targeted with regards to an unrealistic body image ideal. Even ads such as Axe body spray, targeted for men, is a commentary regarding how to attain thin, big breasted beautiful women, regardless of the man's body shape or type.
(did you know this was Victoria Beckham? check out About-Face.org for frank discussions of recent ads... and how we should stop and take a few extra minutes to consider what they're really saying).
The way yoga is portrayed in the media is also affected by our Western philosophy of body image (read, unrealistic and toxic). Strangely, despite being introduced by men to the western world, Yoga has historically (as much as we can use that word here) been portrayed as a 'female' endeavour, with articles and posts asking 'where are all the men yogis?'.
Like other female-attributed sports and activities (think ballet, gymnastics, figure skating) yoga was been slotted into the societal expectations and framework. Unlike other sports that attempt to emulate acceptable male sports (like female hockey with their natural strong feminine role models), yoga has been flounced as being for limber, thin and nubile young, white female bodies. Companies like Lululemon were formed to accentuate the 'yogic butt' (see this lulu youtube vid) including products such as 'boob boosters' to wear UNDER your sports bra.
Top yogis in the western world tend to be men or of lesser yogic status beautiful, white, thin women. These yogic 'stars' are the yoga world's role models, and are thrust into this role by the media. Women such as Seane Corn, Shiva Rea, Rainbeau Mars, Tara Stiles, Sadie Nardini, Patricia Walden... I do not doubt that there are strong, non-white, non-stick thin female yoginis in our world (I know so many wonderful women who read this blog!), however the Big Yoginis, those that become our social representatives with the most media 'light' remain beautiful and skinny. What a powerful message.
Even funny, clever blogs such as Yoga Dork (whom I adore!) feature yoga in the media... and if your a reader you'll recognize the trend. For example (although there are many), the article on Chloe Sevigny, with the title that she practices for fitness reasons... but the picture is an extremely sexual, while maintaining the 'little girl' pose, mag spread. I get the emphasis Yoga Dork is trying to make, poke fun at these ridiculous media portrayals, but why not focus their attention on instances where it's done right? A blog post is another form of media. Just sayin'.
Roseanne at the clever Its all yoga, baby posted a few weeks ago about 'Naked Yoga' and mused whether it was a reclaiming of the 'natural' female body. From the clips and photos available and the extremely close ties to porn (whether a celebration of natural bodies or not) it's a bit too close to body objectification for my personal sensitivity. I'm a little sensitive to female bodies as something to be looked upon, as being the 'object' and thus 'an object' as opposed to a person.
I am a proponent of nude yoga as art, though. I'm thinking Jasper Johal, The Body Temple type stuff (although it took a LOT of searching through muck online to find the photographer's name... which tells me something). Although I can't put them here (another 'something'), I especially love the pregnant belly yoga postures (full, beautiful with child nudity here).
All this to say... although the essence of true yoga is so far removed from all this, the reality of how yoga is portrayed in our western society definitely, sadly, sends mixed messages to our young (and experienced!) practitioners. Yoga fits into that paradigm of 'female activity rules'. Wouldn't it be nice to start speaking about non-gumby, non-white, non-skinny yoginis? Strong, mature and real yoginis that are worth looking up to. Worth admiring. I gotta say, I ADORE Linda-Samas photos of herself practicing. Aren't they gorgeous?
And that is my rant for the weekend. Maybe it was the snow returning....
article copyright of EcoYogini at ecoyogini.blogspot.com