June 9, 2014

The Danger of Perfect Yoga Bodies. ~ Jen Donnell

Provided by Jen Donnell

I started doing yoga because I enjoy it. Wait, that isn’t true. Rather, I took sporadic classes for 10 years, after initially thinking it was really hard and incredibly boring.

Since those early days, I grew to be passionate about yoga and my interest blossomed into a hobby. It’s something I try and continually learn more about through buying books, magazines, workshops, taking classes or reading things online. I listen to teachers with more experience than myself, but enjoy the fitness based outdoor yoga classes in my town too.

I’m also a feminist.

At first, this didn’t matter.

Despite yoga’s long history of being reserved for practice amongst men (although research into the topic, by author Vicki Noble, suggests that women were perhaps part of the practice’s true origin), there is no shortage of women practicing yoga in America today. Shouldn’t leagues of women in yoga bring unity and camaraderie?

I thought so, initially. Until I noticed a phenomenon happening the more yoga articles I read or large classes I attended: I started to feel bad about myself in a way I hadn’t since the throes of adolescence. As someone who hasn’t purchased fashion magazines since I was a teenager, I suddenly became aware that the images I see online and in print yoga magazines and advertisements, are equal to fashion magazines’ hard to attain standards.

The females represented in pose “how to’s” or magazine features, are generally very slender, usually professional models, and often on the lower end of the B.M.I., possibly under-weight. Same with the yoga teachers who reach celebrity status.

According to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, when studying girls in elementary to high school, magazine images influence their idea of a perfect body. Even as adults, we aren’t immune.

Though yoga can be an important part of fitness, both physical and mental, by and large, those pictured in yoga magazines are what I’d hoped our society was moving away from. It’s the same phenomenon of representing yoga as one primary type or appearance, like airbrushed images which grace the covers of fashion magazines at the expense of body type diversity. Personally, I’ve had enough.

Even amongst many start-up indie magazines dedicated to yoga, little is different in presentation. There’s nothing wrong with being fit or slender, maybe it’s the lucky byproduct of many living a green, largely vegan yogi lifestyle.

However, shouldn’t the yoga community become a champion of diversity and not fall into the commercialization of yoga bodies looking “perfect?” If the only images magazines picture are thin models, how does that impact the whole of those who practice yoga?

One time, when my husband didn’t know where to pick me up after a yoga class, I joked that he should look for a bunch of very thin blonde women with mats. The moment I said it, we both realized that it wasn’t funny at all.

I’m blonde, so it isn’t about hair color. Yet, by saying it to him, I had voiced something that (until that second) I wasn’t aware existed. I was allowing being around slender twenty-somethings in short-shorts, the general crowd at that particular yoga class, to make me feel bad about myself.

I realized that it made me feel fat in comparison, even though I’m a normal weight. I realized that when I look through yoga magazines or watch videos, I often feel the same way—self critical. I thought I was a strong woman, but it becomes difficult to feel beautiful the way one is, upon mentally absorbing image after image of very slender, model-perfect people whose heels naturally meet the mat when they are in down-dog.

My heels, based on the way I’m built, will likely never touch the floor in down-dog. My hair is curly and when I’m upside down or doing a vigorous practice, it gets pouffy and falls out of its ponytail. Yoga magazines aren’t to blame whenever I feel an insecurity, but when we expose ourselves to this on a regular basis, over time, it can have an impact.

Realize what you’re looking at, on a daily basis, online or elsewhere. By acknowledging that yoga isn’t safe from the same Americanized idea of beauty we see elsewhere, it’s allowed me to remind myself that I don’t have to be a size two to be beautiful. Yoga mats come in one size fits all.


Love elephant and want to go steady?

Sign up for our (curated) daily and weekly newsletters!


Apprentice Editor: Jen Weddle/Editor: Travis May

Photo: Jen Donnell


Read 12 Comments and Reply

Read 12 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Jen Donnell