Yoga and Inclusivity
Forty years on from when Susie Orbach wrote the book “Fat is a Feminist Issue” and thought it would change the world, she has observed that things have got worse:
“We know how ubiquitous bad body feeling is. It is constantly stoked by visual images which invade us, by pronouncements disguised as health directives, by blandishments to do, be, brand, mark ourselves in ways that reward not the human body as a place we dwell in but as an object to enhance the profits of the beauty, fashion, diet, cosmetic surgery, food and exercise industries, no matter one’s age.” Susie Orbach (1)
I have been musing on how we can play our part in the yoga community in reducing the amount of bad body feeling and body-shaming that pervades society. In the wider yoga community, we claim that ‘yoga is for all bodies’, but typical Yoga Journal magazine issues, for example, show mostly white, young, female images; less than 5% non-white or people who could be over 55; 98% bodies had nearly identical measurements. (2)
A lovely yogini friend and photographer told me the story recently that she went to photograph a group of newly qualified yoga teachers recently. She said she is used to people being nervous in front of the camera, so didn't give it too much thought when many seemed nervous. But, she told me, what shocked her most, was that at least half, if not more, of the group asked if it was possible to make them look trimmer/younger when they selected their pictures, while also apologising that it probably went against the yoga ethos to do it. It is tragic that we as a society and perhaps yoga industry are perpetuating the image of what a yoga teacher should look like.
Inclusivity and representation of the full spectrum of body shapes, sizes, ages and skin colour is so important for so many reasons. One is that we need to stop the suffering caused by body-shaming, self-doubt, and self-hate experienced by many in our society, including those who are white, size 8, young, able-bodied and cisgender. Representation is important because, Amara Lindsay Miller2 writes: ‘Overrepresentation can become internalized, generating stereotypes regarding who a yogi is, what a yogi looks like, how a yogi moves, and what yoga consists of.’
Body-shaming and lack of inclusivity in yoga means that populations who could most benefit from the practices do not feel welcome. We cannot allow this situation to persist in the yoga community. As someone who is on the upper side of 50 now myself, and having hormonal and weight challenges, I know the benefits that my daily practice brings to me. We must, in the words of Amber Karnes, founder of Body Positive Yoga, give our students the space to feel welcome in the body they have today.
‘Eating the Other Yogi: Kathryn Budig, the Yoga Industrial Complex, and the Appropriation of Body Positivity’ by Amara Lindsay Miller