Tits & Ass in a Mala: Yoga in the Media

Their lips are pouting, their eyes are empty...

I’m getting really tired of seeing half-naked women in yoga magazines and on yoga web sites.
The images themselves are of young white women. They are depicted in the nude, topless, or in underwear. Their lips are pouting, their eyes are empty. They may be in an asana that requires strength and flexibility, but the expression on their face is often soft, blank, and pleading. Sometimes, they are just draped within the image, eyes closed.

 

I’ve seen young woman, intelligent and highly educated in the ubiquitous uniform of panties, tube top, and mala. There are others that gained fame and notoriety out of being the featured model for various ad campaigns. In these campaigns the women were photographed in the nude, they were not the subject of the image, but merely the prop or background for the featured item.
Years ago, as a new teacher I remember thinking “I’ll make it as a yoga teacher with my clothes on!” Granted, I was much younger then, and certainly less evolved. But I immediately dismissed those women, thinking they could not be taken seriously or have anything other than their appearance to offer. In my eyes, they lost all credibility, and were merely reduced to their parts.

Of course, women are always being reduced to parts. In 2012 the European Journal of Social Psychology published a study that found, while men are seen as whole individuals, women were seen as parts,  arms and legs, breasts and buttocks. This is done by men and women, alike—and it is disturbing.
Some women claim this is asserting their sexuality and therefore empowering, I feel they’ve taken the kool-aid. Owning one’s sexuality and experiencing it both freely and responsibly is indeed empowering. Wearing next to nothing and pouting in pigeon pose to shill the latest yoga accessory is exploitation. It is exploitation because using these images of barely or completely undressed young women steals their humanity, and reduces them to body parts.

 

 

My argument is not against female sexuality, or the female body. My argument is against the media, and a common marketing tool that demeans women rather than empowers them. I am not saying we should wear burkas. Nor am I saying we should feel shame for our bodies. I am saying we need to stop allowing young women to be exploited so someone else can make a buck.

I'm objecting to images adhering to beauty standards that are not attainable. These marketing ploys exploit both women and women’s insecurities. These images condition men and women alike to expect a standard of appearance that is simply not attainable. I will never again look 27 years old again--because I will never again be 27!

I'm objecting to yoga, a spiritual practice, turning into a shallow parade of t&a.

The feminist perspective on this should be one of abhorrence. The male chauvinist and misogynist has exploited feminism and won. He has deluded women into believing they are empowered, but they are really being used, turned into sex objects and exploited to satisfy men’s pleasure.

When you sexualize the sacred and reduce someone to nothing but a body, you’re removing the sacred and placing someone in a very narrow box which has nothing to do with yoking body, mind, and soul.  It demeans both women and the practice itself.

Women are being convinced (or convincing themselves) that turning themselves into a piece of meat is necessary in order to succeed, but at what cost to our gender?

Yoga is still marketed mainly to women, so why do we allow this? Why do we continue to support this with our hard-earned cash? What happened to the desire for women to be taken seriously for their intellect and their actions? We aren't powerless. As consumers we can take a stance with how we spend our money. As a community we can talk about it.

 

A lot of people do yoga. Not just hot, young, white women. Let's start reflecting that in our media! How about featuring non-sexualized images of young women, or celebrating images of older women, women of color, or men at any age?

Using sexuality to get ahead means sacrificing something else… something at the very core of our essence. How about relying on our skills, talents, and voices? When we present ourselves in a sexual manner it robs us of our voice. Without our voice we are no different than an earthen pot; empty and waiting to be filled by another.

A big part of yoga is drawing on the feminine energy, awakening the kundalini, manifesting love, and embracing shakti. By presenting yoga and yoginis in sexualized ways we are taking the central divine aspect of the spiritual practice and dismembering it, reducing it to arms and legs, tits and ass. This destroys the power of the practice. This profanes the sacred, turning it into pornography.

 

Parvati, Lakshmi and Saraswati represent the aspects of womanhood: power and strength, beauty and abundance, intelligence and creativity. These goddesses are not depicted in bikinis, nor are they seen as wilting flowers. It is only through their grace that the gods, and this world, exists. These are our attributes. These are our strengths. These are the qualities we should celebrate within ourselves and our sisters.
Let us celebrate our minds, our capacity for love, and our strength as women! Because our strength does not lie between our legs, it lies within our hearts.

 

 

Updated version, april 2012. Originally published via YOGANONYMOUS the go-to resource for the modern day yoga practitioner. Visit yoganonymous.com today! 

About author:

 

 

Maya Georg is much loved for inviting and challenging students to learn more advanced asanas in a safe and playful way, breaking them down to make them more accessible to a wider group of students. As someone who could not even touch her toes when she started into yoga in 1999, she is living proof in the transformative power of the practice. She has studied with Dharma Mittra, Swami Bua, Yogia Gupta and Swami Chetanananda. Having founded Sani Yoga in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2009, (where she also served as an Adjunct Lecturer at the University of New Mexico) she taught thousands of students in yoga as well as conducting her own yoga teacher trainings which left a lasting legacy of highly skilled and authentic teachers. She has taught in New York City, sometimes substituting Shri Dharma Mittra's classes. She's worked with students as young as 4 years old to 95 years old, performers of Cirque du Soleil and expectant mothers. The settings in which she has taught is just as varied as her student base, teaching in NYC public schools, yoga studios, universities, gyms and the conference rooms in office buildings. Now in Portland, OR, she continues to teach private lessons and workshops all over the United States and Europe.  She is a regular contributor to Yoganonymous, Elephant Journal, and Yoga For Smart People.