Last weekend’s Practice of Leadership Conversation at YJLIVE in San Diego focused on body image in yoga culture. The timing couldn’t be better with the recent launch of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. (Learn more here.)
This lively discussion focused on how current media images of yoga practitioners do little to inspire and welcome diverse bodies to begin and maintain a yoga practice. If this is our goal as yoga teachers, practitioners and yoga-focused businesses (such as Yoga Journal and lululemon athletica, both sponsoring this panel) then we are not yet doing our best work. Businesses and publications, along with yoga teachers, can become trailblazers rather then simply reinforcing cultural messages that damage body image and prevent a wider range of yogis from reaching the mat.
The panel discussed the role of each yogi in becoming aware of how we perpetuate cultural values and stereotypes that fail to welcome every body – regardless of race, size, ability, gender or age. In order to do this, individuals must become aware and change body-shaming language in the yoga studio and businesses must work to represent a wider range of bodies and experiences so that yoga seems accessible to all. For instance, Rachel Acheson of lululemon pointed out that they generally “sample” a size six in all of their media material and that doesn’t have to continue to be the case. Even if the brand’s size range is limited, they can begin to show more of that range.
Indeed, magazines like Yoga Journal, take a huge role in reinforcing cultural norms and values around yoga practice and what “looks like” a “yoga body.” The audience was told to expect more body diversity in upcoming issues. Further discussion about this issue is on the horizon in public and private forums, to be sure.
Kimberly Dark is a writer, sociology professor and yoga teacher. She travels worldwide using humor and storytelling to help people discuss the body in culture. She's a founding board member of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. Learn more at kimberlydark.com