January 30, 2011

How Yoga Makes You Pretty – Part I

Originally posted at Elephant Journal.

The Wisdom of Bryan Kest and The Beauty Myth

This post is the first post in an ongoing series, The Wisdom of Bryan Kest. This series seeks to chronicle what I have learned in my yoga practice with Bryan Kest since 1997.

We’ve been told that “pretty” is the magical elixir for everything that ails us. If we’re pretty we’re bound to be happier than people who aren’t pretty. If we’re pretty, we’ll never be lonely; we’ll have more Facebook friend requests; we’ll go on more dates; we’ll find true love (or just get laid more often);  we’ll be popular. If we’re pretty, we’ll be successful; we’ll get a better job; we’ll get rewarded with countless promotions; our paychecks will be bigger.  In short, “pretty,” something Naomi Wolf refers to as a form of cultural currency in the feminist classic The Beauty Myth, will buy us love, power and influence. And, in the end, “pretty” will make us feel good.

And who doesn’t want to feel good?

The media juggernaut that actively shapes our 21st century cultural environment sells us this promise and perpetuates this myth beginning in childhood. The assault continues as we move through adolescence and adulthood, meeting our gaze at every turn through fashion, television, film, music,  and advertising. These images and messages are practically inescapable, even in yoga publications, and the peddled products entice us using sleek, sculpted models and celebrities in computer retouched photos.  Advertising is specifically designed to appeal to our emotions and shape desire thereby constructing cultural values, identities and lifestyles in order to sell a gamut of products and services from beer, luxury cars and designer shoes to yoga mats, DVDs and diet pills. Ultimately, we’re spoon fed streams of unrealistic images in a virtual onslaught that tells women, and increasingly men, that the most valuable thing we can aspire to be is, well, pretty.

And the tantalizing promises of a better, prettier, you are absolutely everywhere. The idea that we can simply “turn off” or “ignore” these messages is narrow in scope and short sighted. Unless you’re living under a rock-wait, make that a hermetically sealed bubble- you are affected in one way or another and so are those around you. Unfortunately, we’re being sold a superficial bill of goods that doesn’t give us the complete picture.

As my teacher of 15 years, Bryan Kest of Santa Monica Power Yoga, says time and time again in his jam-packed yoga classes:

“Everybody wants to be pretty because that’s what they’ve been told will make them feel good even though there’s no proof that people who are prettier are healthier and happier. So why don’t we just cut to the chase and go straight to what makes us feel good?”

Kest circumvents the chatter and speaks truth in simple terms accessible to virtually everyone. He is consistently “prodding and poking” his students by exposing the absolute lunacy of our increasingly and ubiquitous media culture . He challenges students, including myself, to confront the demands of our egos. He challenges us to do the work of doing raising our consciousness.  Ultimately, Kest assists us in untangling our psychic, emotional and physical knots.

When we practice yoga, we feel good even if the journey through a particular practice is emotionally and physically arduous  and confronting, as it usually is.  As Kest, who has been practicing yoga for over three decades, says, ” I don’t like yoga. Who likes yoga? But I appreciate yoga and the way it makes me feel.”

There is no denying the sense of mental and physical lightness, openness and freedom one feels after after quieting the mind, gazing inward and moving through the body in a sensitive, conscious and loving way. Yoga is a moving meditation and, as many studies have revealed time and time again, meditation makes you feel good. Competition, a fundamental national value,  that characterizes most of our encounters in the workplace, within our families, among our peers and ourselves is not a part of mature and healthy yoga practice. Essentially, you’re bound to cultivate inner peace and feel fantastic practicing yoga if you’re able to let go.

The only time you probably won’t feel good is if you carry your baggage into your practice, strengthening and honing  external stressors. As Kest says, in his usual elegant Kest fashion, “If you bring your shit into yoga, you turn your yoga into shit.” As with anything else, how you use a tool makes all the difference. After all, you can use a knife to butter your toast or stab someone.

Yoga is a pathway to cultivate self-love allowing us to shift our sense of validation inward, as opposed to the standard practice of measuring one’s worth based on external definitions.  In fact the cultural validation we are encouraged to seek often fans the flames of further discontent since we can never be thin enough, muscular enough, wealthy enough or pretty enough by mainstream standards. Even if we are a waify size-zero, a bulked up mass of muscles, a millionaire or a picture-perfect model, happiness isn’t a guarantee. There are plenty of depressed, disgruntled, unsatisfied “pretty people”  with low self-esteem and we know that a slim body with a pretty face isn’t necessarily a healthy body, mentally or physically. In fact, in my own work as a body image activist, many of the most “beautiful” women I’ve met have had some of the most dysfunctional and unhealthy relationships with their body. Too often this has been marked by eating disorders, disordered eating and dangerous beauty rituals to maintain the outward facade. In the end, there isn’t a direct correlation between being pretty and being happy and/or healthy. Pretty hasn’t delivered and what has been defined as pretty isn’t even real or sustainable.

Remember, Naomi Wolf called it the beauty myth for a reason.

Barbie mural photograph taken by the author at Fred Segal Salon in Santa Monica, CA.

July 28, 2010

"Pretty" is not enough!

It was only a matter of time before the younger half-sister of the Kardashian clan, Kendall Jenner, joined in on the money making fun and modeled for a bikini photo shoot.  Kim posted the photos on her blog this past week and praised Kendall’s ability to do what the Kardashians do best: looking “pretty” (and reaping mega profits).

They turned out sooo gorgeous!! I am so proud of Kendall. She’s going to take over the modeling world… you just watch!

Now, where shall I begin?  I am beyond bored with the one-dimensionality of the Kardashian claim to fame.  The issue here is not necessarily that Kendall is wearing a bikini at age 14 or really even the fact that she has decided to pursue a modeling career.   The issue here in my mind is the fact that this is not surprising at all.  But then again, the Kardashian legacy is looking ‘pretty.’  The incessant downplay from the entire family  and her mother’s orchestration of the shoot doesn’t leave Kendall much room for growth outside of posing in a bikini and reiterates that the only component of self that she can have will be reduced to her looks.  I feel the same way when looking at these photos that I did when I found out the mom, Kris Jenner, was the one who convinced Kim to pose for Playboy– saddened and confused.  I was pretty surprised at the amount of acceptance this photo shoot received and am even more surprised as to why this is considered to be “typical” 14 year old behavior.  Shouldn’t her mother be trying to shield her from the inevitable dangers of the modeling world which is notorious for sexualizing girls at an earlier age and essentially chewing them up and spitting them out?


May 10, 2010

Exploring Beauty

We believe beauty is not always thin, and beauty is not always young. In Exploring Beauty, women are invited to explore their thoughts about the nature of beauty. The paring of their ideas and images expands the definition of what beautiful is.Exploring Beauty

Exploring Beauty is the work of artist Erik Hagen, a US citizen currently transplanted in The Netherlands, an attempt to explore the nature of beauty and expand its cultural definitions. In a collaborative effort with each volunteer model, Hagen pairs the image with the interview in order to bring the essence of each woman to the reader.

In an image-based culture that proliferates streams of homogeneous images reinforcing unrealistic and dangerous images of beauty, these unaltered photos of women are a breath of fresh air, rich and full of life. Not only do Hagen’s images offer diversity and authenticity, the accompanying stories provide depth and character, reminding us that women are not solely defined by their physical appearance.  Hagen’s work allows us to fully experience a woman’s beauty; her mind, body and spirit.

Like many men, in Hagen’s youth, he preferred a beauty standard that reflected the dominant beauty norm, young and thin. As he grew and matured, he came to recognize and appreciate a woman’s character and story as a primary component of holistic beauty. In addition to his growth as a man, his move to Europe continued to expand his boundaries of beauty. Unlike many parts of the United States, Holland’s beauty definitions are broader and fuller.

Engaging in this intimate exploration of beauty, both Hagen and his models have emerged changed, moved by the collaborative experience and their contribution to change prevailing attitudes that have created epidemic levels of low self-esteem and body hate.

Projects that allow us to see what a real woman looks like, are important efforts in combating the manufactured images that tell us that we are defined and valued in narrow, one-dimensional ways.

May 6, 2010


Filed under: Body Image — Tags: , , — Melanie @ 9:10 pm

Poetry slammer, Katie Makkai, breaks down “pretty.” (Thanks to Jacquie B.)

October 4, 2008

Palin Porn: we're just jealous

TMZ and the Huffington Post have announced Hustler’s plan to to release a video with Palin look-alike, Lisa Ann, and porn legend, Nina Hartley, cast as Hillary Clinton.  “Nailin’ Paylin” has been confirmed by a Hustler rep and an excerpt of the script is available via Radar here.

Vanessa, at Feministing, posted a response to an absurd article that appeared in Time Magazine claiiming that women are against Sara Palin because  we’re catty and she is too pretty.

She’s too pretty. This is very bad news. At school, pretty girls tend to be liked only by other pretty girls. The rest of us, whose looks hover somewhere around underwhelming, resent them and whisper archly of their “unearned attention.”

Right, we’re jealous of her hotness factor and that’s why we don’t support her nomination. Grrrr.  Give me a break.