Body image is deeply personal. Our perception of how we look can flare our most tender insecurities and unrealistic fantasies—especially in a media world of oddly homogenized beauty. How we create healthy images as a yoga community was the topic of The Practice of Leadership Series at Yoga Journal LIVE! San Diego. Six women came together—yoga teachers, body image activists, authors, a Lululemon Athletica executive and Yoga Journal’s editor in chief—to tackle this sensitive, often-sidestepped topic. And all agreed that a healthy body image starts with self-acceptance. Here are three goals panelists highlighted in the impassioned and respectful discussion, and their post-panel impressions.
GOAL #1: ACCEPT THE BODY WE’RE GIVEN.
Melanie Klein, a professor in sociology and women’s studies at Santa Monica College, co-editor Yoga + Body Image (October 2014) and co-founder of the Yoga + Body Image Coalition: “A healthy body image begins with self-acceptance and flourishes with self-love. Self-acceptance begins with being in the moment, what’s real and true at that time and letting it be (and letting it go). For better or worse, it just is. That’s where a consistent yoga practice comes in handy. An asana practice that focuses on the marriage between breath and movement, thereby cultivating awareness, can do the trick.”
Dana Smith, a yoga teacher and author of YES! Yoga Has Curves: “We can practice self-acceptance as a society by encouraging others to live from the inside out. Focus less on external beauty and work on cultivating internal beauty and harmony so that we can be more accepting of each other’s unique, individual beauty.”
Brigette Kouba (aka Gigi Yogini), yoga instructor and co-founder of the Yoga + Body Image Coalition: “Practicing self-acceptance requires a fierce commitment to be present and conscious, moment to moment, from a place of gratitude rather than self-loathing, identifying our negative patterns can help us proactively reroute our self-limiting thoughts toward a pursuit of expansive happiness and vitality.”
GOAL #2: RE-BRAND BEAUTY.
Klein: “I don’t see a lot of diversity in media imagery—and when I use that word, I am talking about the full-range of human diversity, from race and ethnicity to size, age, gender identification, sexual orientation and class. Currently, we have a narrow vision of what’s inspiring, beautiful, and worthy.”
Kouba: “The most interesting insight about aspirational marketing is the fact that not everyone has the same aspirations. And if yoga marketing only focuses on a narrow definition of what an aspirational image is, then we inadvertently marginalize individuals who might benefit from yoga but don’t aspire to those same values as the images portrayed.”
Rachel Acheson, Vice President of Brand and Community at Lululemon Athletica: “I am taking the idea of aspirational = “authentic and real” back to my work and to my team. How do we reflect the true stories of ALL the amazing people we know, to re-define aspiration, in the media channels we control and influence.”
GOAL #3: EMBODY THE CHANGE.
Klein: “We each have a responsibility to live our practice through conscious action, including the language we use. Each of us has the ability to create positive change about how we represent the “yoga body,” what yoga culture looks like and could be. And that requires more that an ability to do a handstand or forearm balance. It requires awareness. In that way, we become role models, allies and agents of change.”
Dianne Bondy, founder of body-positive online yoga studio Yogasteya.com, founding board member and partner of the Yoga + Body Image Coalition and a contributor to Yoga + Body Image: “You encourage the people that don’t fit the stereotype to stand in their own power and teach and be seen. We hold space for them to do so.”
Acheson: “I am also personally taking on the cause of creating a generation of people who are anchored in self-love and acceptance.”