Melanie Klein and Anna Guest-Jelley are doing some of the most important work in the yoga community. Both women are committed to writing about the complicated relationship between yoga, body image and feminism. So it’s natural that they should team up and co-edit a collection of essays exploring this tricky territory. Yoga + Body Image will be ready for the world in 2014. Melanie has all the details below – read on!
It is with great pleasure that Anna Guest-Jelley and I officially announce our anthology on Yoga + Body Image forthcoming in 2014.
I first met Anna almost three years ago. I was introduced to her work through her blog post “Welcoming the Curvy Yogini.” Not only did Anna’s words speak to me but I was taken by her brief bio at the bottom wherein she described herself as “an advocate for women’s rights by day, a yoga teacher by night.” Given my work as a Sociology + Women’s Studies professor and my activist work, I felt I had stumbled upon a kindred spirit.
Anna and I had our first phone conversation in 2011 and the synergy was palpable. We immediately realized that we had to collaborate on a project. After a few months of percolating, we realized that it only made sense to collaborate on a book focusing on yoga and body image.
Why Body Image
We decided on this topic not only because it’s something we’re both passionate about, but because it’s one we don’t see discussed often enough in the yoga community. Because for something that is often so focused on the body, yoga classes and conversations rarely include the topic of how we feel about our body and how yoga affects our body image and vice versa.
And to us, that is a major gap in the conversation — not only how individuals’ body image can benefit from yoga, but also how yoga has a complicated place in the conversation about body image, both contributing to negative perceptions via media stereotypes of the “yoga body” and contributing to positive change when the practice is focused on connection with one’s body, exactly as it is today.
While Anna and I could have written a book on yoga and body image on our own based on our own transformative experiences, we were and are fiercely committed to bringing together a diverse collection of voices that span across race/ethnicity, sexuality and sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, sex, class, age and size.
Yoga practitioners and those plagued by distorted body image issues do not come in a uniform mold. We wanted to reach readers of different backgrounds, casting a wide net and allowing people to draw inspiration from at least one contributor’s body image journey and how their yoga practice facilitated that transformation.
We closed a publication deal in January 2013. We’re so very excited and honored to be working with the fine folks of Llewellyn to bring this book to fruition.
And we are thrilled to announce our fabulous contributors, a group of people from the United States, Canada, Australia & New Zealand, who reflect the diversity of experiences we intended to showcase from the inception of the project. We invited each of these thoughtful and inspiring yogis because of their unique perspective and ability to contribute to the critical conversation we wish to create — a wide one about how yoga affects body image. We want this to pique the interest of people who never thought yoga was for them, as well as deepen the conversation among people who are already part of the yoga community.
Without further ado, here are our contributors:
Vytas Baskauskas: Yoga teacher at Yoga Works + Bryan Kest’s Santa Power Yoga, Professor of Mathematics at Santa Monica College
Dr. Audrey Bilger: Professor of Literature & Faculty Director of the Center for Writing & Public Discourse at Claremont McKenna College; Co-editor of Here Come the Brides! Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage; Author of Laughing Feminism: Subversive Comedy in Frances Burney, Maria Edgeworth, and Jane Austen
Dianne Bondy: Yoga teacher, writer about yoga & diversity and founder of Eastside Yoga in Windsor, Ontario
Seane Corn: Internationally celebrated yoga teacher, activist and co-founder of Off the Mat, Into the World
Claire Mysko: Speaker, consultant and author of Does This Pregnancy Make Me Look Fat? The Essential Guide to Loving Your Body Before and After Baby and You’re Amazing! A No-Pressure Guide to Being Your Best Self
Nita Rubio: Priestess of the Tantric Dance of Feminine Power
Linda Sparrowe: Editor of Yoga International and author of A Woman’s Book of Yoga and Health: A Lifelong Guide to Wellness (with Patricia Walden); Yoga for Healthy Bones; Yoga for Healthy Menstruation; and Yoga: A Yoga Journal Book
Joni Yung: Executive producer and host at Yoga Chat with the Accidental Yogist and Associate Editor at LA Yoga Magazine
We are honored to have such a fine collection of intellectuals, educators, activists, yoga practitioners and yoga teachers. We are sending each of these people our gratitude for being part of this dialogue. Big thanks to our agents, Elyse Tanzillo & Frank Weimann of The Literary Group International, too.
Finally, we’re extending our thanks to you, too — for supporting us along the way, and for being part of this conversation as it unfolds.
We’ll keep you updated as we go! To stay connected:
When body image activists call out products and advertising campaigns, like Urban Outfitters recent “Eat Less” t-shirt, for the irresponsible messages that cultivate, promote and reinforce unhealthy, even deadly, definitions of beauty, there’s always a backlash.
We’re overreacting. We have no sense of humor. We must be ugly and bitter (after all, we’re jealous because we’re so damn ugly) if we object over the name of a pair dark-washed jeans or a bag or pretzels, the shape and name of a soda can or a brand of margarita mix. They’re harmless.
Perhaps, one bag of pretzels or one protein bar named “Think Thin,” might arguably be fairly innocuous and benign, but these messages and images are not isolated or few. They’re one in a torrential flood of repetitive images and messages actively constructing our cultural reality through the process of cultivation, a theory proposed by media experts George Gerbner and Larry Gross.
Cultivation is the building and maintenance of a stable set of images, a theory steeped in several longitudinal studies that assessed the behavioral and attitudinal effects of television. The studies revealed that long-term exposure of television shapes our ideas and concepts of reality; our expectations of others, our relationships, our dreams and goals and, ultimately, our view of ourselves.
I’m not concerned solely with The Gap’s jeans campaign. I’m distressed how message after message, image after image, reinforces a cult of thinness. This cult of thinness is not limited by age, race, or class. It’s a message that is ubiquitous and celebrated in every aspect of our media culture. Thinness is one of the primary components of our beauty ideal, the primary and, often sole way, girls and women are valued and ranked in our culture.
As my student, Elizabeth P., noted, “Because anorexia and harsh diets are no joke. Healthy balanced diets are always better than “always skinny” and skinny by all means.”
Am I taking these messages seriously? Absolutely. Am I taking them too seriously? Absolutely not. You can’t take these issues too seriously when 4th graders are dieting because they’re “scared” to be fat and women are dying.
I vow to be “always critical” and always expose the potency of media messages. After all, they’re the water we swim in and the air we breathe.
Girls want to do ballet in preschool. And that can be fine. But most of them won’t want to do it anymore once it gets “real”–and given the body image concerns about ballet, most of us don’t want our daughters pursuing it anyway (I don’t mean to put a knock on ballet, which I respect, or certainly any other form of dance, I’m just saying the world of ballet can be very tough. I’ve seen “Black Swan….”). Anyway, in addition to, or instead of, ballet how about kids’ yoga? It’s graceful, you can wear a leotard if you want, and it’s something that can actually be the building block of a lifelong healthy practice that promotes POSITIVE body image, confidence, competence and inner strength. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Daena Title‘s “Drown the Dolls” exhibit at the Koplin del Rio Gallery in Culver City, CA has been drawing attention (and mixed reviews) since it was first announced on the Ms. blog by Stephanie Hallett 3 weeks ago. I’ll be part of a panel this Saturday that will critically examine and discuss Title’s body of work. View the show and join us for a conversation on beauty norms, body image, girlhood play, childhood socialization, violence against women and all things Barbie.
Recent beauty pageant contestant. She is two years old.
Dear Producers of Toddlers & Tiaras, TLC, and Discovery Communications LLC:
It is an extremely thin veil that hides the atrocious “Toddlers & Tiaras” as a documentary-style show for your network. For the past four seasons the show has done a good job, not so much with teaching, but of giving viewers a voyeuristic peek into the children’s beauty pageant world. We don’t need to see anymore. As Season 5 reaches its midpoint, the show now continues to do little more than become complicit in the exploitation of the little girls at its center. At best, it is now a mockumentary of the visibly unbalanced mothers (and a few fathers) who force their children to spend long and uncomfortable hours participating in these expensive pageants. Many of these children are too young to say whether or not they want to participate. When these children act out and demonstrate they do not enjoy what is happening, or do not want it to happen any longer, they are still made to participate by their pageant moms. Let us be clear from the outset that after this season it is time to cancel the show.
I’m sure inside your producer heads you think this is crazy, especially as the show has received some buzz-worthy, controversial attention recently and continues to pull in advertisers and an average of 1.3 million viewers each week….but as your mission statements goes, it is the job of the Discovery channel family to satisfy curiosity. TLC has done its job with this show, as almost everyone who has been exposed to the program finds it distasteful and widely condemns the child beauty pageant circuit. Our curiosity has been satisfied – as demonstrated with the several thousands of negative and disapproving comments left in the last couple of weeks alone. We’ve seen it. We don’t like it. We’re over it.
The idea of two year old girls strutting around with cones protruding out of her bustier and five year olds who sit trembling and screaming in a chair at a salon as she is enticed into a painful beauty treatment will tend to leave a bad taste in our mouth. It leaves us less interested in the pageants themselves, but more interested in gawking at and judging the deranged mothers who subject their poor daugthers to this twisted world of judged fake beauty. That might make for good ratings, but it doesn’t make for a happy and healthy childhood of the young girls who hold the title of this show. Just like their overbearing mothers, you exploit these children. A shameful act on both parts.
The duration of this show has coincided with a large effort by a small group of dedicated experts to raise awareness to the general public about the sexualization of girls. The parents we have reached now understand the emotional, psychological, and physical harm a young girl is exposed to when she is sexualized. As the 2007 American Psychological Association’s task force report showed us, early sexualization can lead to self-esteem issues, depression, eating disorders, and early promiscuity.
Contestant on the children’s beauty pageant circuit.
“Toddlers & Tiaras” is a petri dish of sexualization. Little girls are taught, often times forced by their domineering mothers, to act coquettishly, learn suggestive dance routines, wear sexualized costumes and bathing suits, endure hours of hair and make-up, and are even put on restrictive diets in order to lose weight for competition. This is perverse. While TLC continues to air “Toddlers & Tiaras”, the network becomes an agent of this sexualization.
It’s official. As Kim Kardashian approaches her 30th birthday in October, she is joining the ranks of women such as Jennifer Aniston and Jessica Simpson: modern-day spinsters. There’s no comparable expression for men, such as 49-year-old unmarried George Clooney, who has traipsed around the globe parading a rotating bevvy of babes. Oh wait, he’s a bachelor.
Heterosexual relationships: 6 references. I included baby references in this category for a total of 3 baby stories and 3 relationship references ( 2 about Halle’s split and 1 about Jessica’s “new man”) equaling 6 under this category.
The remaining headlines feature the meangirl theme, this time the Kardashian sisters are feuding (the Kardashians have been featured on a total of 5 out of 7 covers in the last 3 weeks), and body image (Real Housewives of New Jersey, Teresa, shares her new “mom diet” and poses with her 8 month-old daughter who is wearing a pair of baby heels).
We know it’s not just arm and leg hair that is considered unattractive. 90s porn culture targeted a new area of hair growth on women and deemed it unattractive and unacceptable. In fact, trimmed, shaped or completely removed pubic hair has become normative. It is difficult many to remember the previous aesthetic, an aesthetic that did not require a woman’s vulva to be shaved, waxed or shorn to be considered “attractive” or desirable. As quoted in the Times Online UK piece from 2007:
But then around the mid-90s some mysterious memo went out to twentysomething women that it was no longer sufficient to tidy the “bikini line” so it didn’t cascade down the inner thigh like a spider plant. The gyms of Britain were suddenly full of women waxed into weeny welcome mats, with all the stubble, bruises, pimpled hair follicles and burst blood vessels that accompany this excruciating sexifying of the sex.
Like a trend for comedy-size breast implants, inflatable lips, hair extensions, extreme nails and high street daywear revealing more tittage than a ten-quid hooker, waxing filtered down from the porn industry. Here defuzzing makes the action, as it were, easier to follow. And for male performers depilation adds the illusion of an extra inch. Maybe Hitchens had that in mind.
The aesthetics of porn reigns in an age when sex is so commodified that lapdancing is deemed “empowering”, prostitution glorified in TV drama, sex less concerned with pleasure than display. Young women have swallowed the idea that they must look so “hot” that men would pay to sleep with them: pity the poor cow so badly maintained that she’d have to give it away for free.
And bikini-area maintenance is, after all, big business. I mentioned the latest trend in pubic hair removal in the form of “virgin waxing” in my post from September 2008. Virgin waxing is being offered in salons across the country as a type of preventative maintenance. This salon’s website states:
I call it the “Virgin”- waxing for children 8 years old and up who have never shaved before [my question, why would an 8-year-old be shaving?]
What’s the motivation to subjecting your pre-pubescent daughter to bikini waxing before the hair has even arrived? Apparently, virgin waxing is a pro-active measure designed to eradicate pubic hair in 2 to 6 sessions, eliminating the need for lifetime waxing. The salon claims that the savings can be applied directly to a college fund. Well, I am guessing that these virgin waxing treatments aren’t cheap in the first place and the notion that a girl’s pubic hair will be removed before she gets it, maintaining her pre-pubescent appearance is inherently disturbing.
Aside from all the glaring problems revolving around women’s sexuality and women’s bodies, hair-free or neatly groomed bikini-areas are expensive. According to UK author, Janice Turner:
You don’t need to page Dr Freud to wonder how the craze for bare pudenda might be tied to some unsavory fetishisation of youth. And now the waxed look is supported by a massive industry — hair removal in Britain is worth £280 million a year.
We plan on writing about the the relationship between patriarchy, porn culture and pre-pubescent privates in an upcoming post but this post is devoted to the products sold to women to maintain trimmed or hairless vulva.
Well, Schick’s European counterpart, Wilkinson Sword takes the campaign for a step further in a series of less subtle advertisements.
On their interactive website, women can trim the pooch at the Poodle Parlour (I guess shaving a pussy cat would be too obvious for these folks). There’s also a series of extended ads called The Neighborhood (“the neighborhood is open, come and see”) with titles like The Landing Strip and Tidying Up Downstairs.
The media, in a series of editing moves, has now deemed them unacceptable and unfit for public consumption.
I’ve wanted to write this piece for awhile and, in light of Britney Spears releasing unretouched photos of herself for the Candie’s campaign, decided it was time. Unfortunately I wasn’t very surprised by the things “enhanced” on Spears’ body – the usual suspects: cellulite, tattoos, blemishes, bruises, slimming of hips, thighs, waist, etc. But lately there’s been a new body part deemed unacceptable by the photo editors at magazines, record labels, etc. – armpits. That’s right ladies, the area under your arm, even when clean shaven has been deemed far too hideous for general public consumption.
I first noticed the trend, while reading Jezebel, as is usually the case with these kinds of things. They posted the cover of British GQ where Anne Hathaway seems to be missing something. Her armpit isn’t just hairless and smoothed by some moisturizing deodorant – it’s not there at all. Just completely gone, just torso side and…arm, with nothing in between. Since then, I’ve come to notice it in other places as well:
Photo stills of Lady Gaga’s music video Telephone:
A Kim Kardashian exercise line campaign:
A photoshoot for Harper’s Bazaar with Megan Fox:
and finally a Sports Illustrated spread:
Apparently that pesky underarm area hinders exercising, dancing, posing, and uh, swimming.
Now it’s just another thing that’s been added to a list of things for the resident photoshopper at any magazine, PR firm, etc. to check off their list, but I think the issue is much bigger than that. Men don’t have to deal with the same “image enhance everything” that is so prevalent when it comes to actresses and pop stars. For example, when Leonardo DiCaprio appeared on the cover of Esquire Magazine, all his stubble, lines, and wrinkles were left intact. For women, this new underarm thing is another flaw that someone in a board room somewhere has decided is not worthy of publication – it must be fixed. It is another issue for women to worry about – another thing for girls to look at and wonder “why don’t I look like that?” and “what can I do to fix it?” These images eventually become the norm, what we think women really look like, or are supposed to.
I was flipping through my weekly research in the form of People Magazine when I came across an article on Jessica Simpson and her latest project, exploring the “Price of Beauty,” a new VH1 reality show.
I used to hold up Jessica Simpson as the poster girl for good press because she “followed the rules.” This was years ago, obviously. This was when she was “thin,” proclaimed her virginity until her marriage to Nick Lachey and played the stupid but sweet nice girl. While Christina Aguilera was getting all sorts of bad press during her Dirrty chaps phase and other wild, hot young things of the time were getting equally negative and judgemental coverage, Jessica was flying above the radar. To me, she represented the new young woman of the Bush Jr years, a sort of virginal throwback to the 1950s in the form of a nonthreatening and loyal (to her daddy and her husband) good girl. It was about this time, approximately 5 years ago, that I had begun to notice ever increasing mediated messages that focused on staying home, baking brownies and seeking marriage as the ultimate forms of female fulfillment. Yes, that’s always been a theme for women but I had begun to notice a ratcheting up of these values throughout the media culture and Jessica Simpson was the epitome of this new young female role model being offered to young women and men.