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Yoga World Divided Over Sexy Yoga-Product Ads

Phew! Okay, so I have been closely following the maelstrom of discussion around last week’s post about Judith Hanson Lasater’s letter to Yoga Journal. Accompanying the letter, both here on it’s all yoga, baby, and on elephant journal, is the now iconic image of Kathryn Budig posing for Toesox ~ which has ended up being the centrepiece of the discussion and, in some ways, overridden the essence of Judith’s letter.

I’ve been on a roller coaster of emotions as I’ve watched the conversation play out. First, I was exhilarated by the sheer number of comments, the impassioned discussion. Then I watched as the focus shifted from the letter to the Toesox ad itself, and the abundance of comments on Kathryn’s beauty, the integrity of the ad, and the “prudishness” of those who don’t see that. I started to feel dismayed, then irritated, then angered, then sad… and now, I’m just kind of exhausted and frustrated.

I also have to say that I feel somehow responsible for the whirlpool of commentary, for the misguided debate. There’s a part of me that wants to apologize to Kathryn, to Toesox, for using the image in the first place ~ but then I have to step back and question this. What do I need to say here: sorry Toesox, your sensationalist ad is finally garnering the attention and “controversy” that you hoped it would in the first place?

Perhaps I need to apologize to Judith Hanson Lasater for launching her letter into the blogosphere with a picture that, as the old cliché goes, speaks a thousand words. My intention was to only stimulate conversation and give this issue the airtime that it deserves. I didn’t expect this kind of reaction, and I’m disappointed by it. But I guess this is the impact of effective advertising ~ it’s supposed to stimulate an emotional response. It preys on our most base desires, our primal urges, our insecurities, our humanness.

Several people have suggested that I take down the image, since it is detracting from the real issue at hand (the representation of yoga and the advertising policy of North America’s largest yoga magazine). The bigger questions are being obscured by the details. But I’ve chosen to leave the image up, and here I’ll explain my reason for including this image. It’s pretty random, actually. Basically, I Googled “sexy yoga ads” and it was the first image to come up. I thought that it exemplified the type of ad that Judith was referencing ~ a naked woman, a yoga product.

In short, the Toesox ad is a symbol. It’s a visual representation. It’s unfortunate that Kathryn has been attacked (and glorified) and it’s exasperating that Toesox has felt the need to justify, er, explain their intention for the ad. If anyone needs to explain anything here, it’s Yoga Journal, re: their advertising policy.

Mostly, though I’m sad about the huge divisions and aggression in this discussion. It’s degenerated beyond healthy debate into defenses and accusations. And I’m seeing these divisions in my own mind, as I read the comments. I judge who “gets it” and who doesn’t, who is intelligent and articulate and who isn’t, who knows their yoga and who doesn’t. Somewhere along the line, this has become about “us” against “them,” but I’m not even sure who is who and who is on which side.

To all of you who’ve taken the time to read the original post and respond from your heart: thank you. And to those of you who’ve just looked at the picture… well, you probably haven’t even read this far. In this murky water, in a conversation which has grown wild and unwieldy, there are a few voices out there who are bringing the topic back to basics, and I want to acknowledge them here, to open up the conversation further, rather than shutting it down.

Think Body Electric: Naked Yoga Beauties Selling Stuff! Or, the Personal, the Political, and the Commodification of the Body ~ for reinforcing the importance of cultural criticism within the yoga community. “For me, the problem with the Toesox ad and all that it represents is that it makes yoga part of the larger cultural movement to turn our bodies – and by extension, our selves – into commodities. That is, objects whose worth is determined by their market value, whether monetary (who gets paid the big bucks) or cultural (who’s commonly perceived as sexy, admirable, desirable, and so on).”

Yogic Muse: How We React to Nudity is Personal ~ for a personal response to advertising and sex that is grounded and reflective. “In our sexually-charged world how do we insure a safe space for practicing yoga? After all, pursuit of sex can be a form of predation. This is why sexuality around yoga must be consciously reckoned with. Otherwise our yoga classes just become another meat market.”

Linda’s Yoga Journey: In Review, the Personal is Political ~ for placing the whole conversation within a feminist context and reminding us that yes, the personal is political. “Lasater’s letter started a powerful discussion on the commodification and values implicit in yoga ads. What is interesting to me is how so many of the commenters on elephant journal and Facebook got caught up in the nudity issue and thereby missed the essential point: that Lasater’s letter was a question on “where the magazine is now and where it is headed.” If she attacked anything, it was the status quo.”

Grounding Thru The Sitbones: What Are You Lookin’ At? ~ for being just as frustrated by this whole conversation as I am. “I guess that’s why I got my feelings hurt this weekend by so many of the comments (and that’s exactly what it was, feelings getting hurt, I should not be taking so much of this personally). Judith was so calm, so reasoned in her letter, I thought it would inspire a really good conversation about the contemporary yoga industry and where it seems to be headed. Maybe some one would have insight into why naked yoga ads are a good thing and make me question my assumptions. Instead it was internet-commentary-as-usual: emotional and defensive and far from the original ideas in the letter.”

Zen Naturalism: Is the Body Beautiful ~ for questioning the whole notion of beauty and our culture’s obsession with hatha yoga. “I’d like to take a tangent and address this notion of ‘the body beautiful’… Is the body beautiful? Really? Is it only beautiful? What yogis like the Buddha point out is that such concepts themselves are conditioned and empty of any inherent nature or essence. For all those who think they are being progressive and perhaps even transgressive in arguing that these ads are beautiful because they portray the ‘beauty of the human body,’ I ask, “Really? Then why not portray a 64 year-old man with a bit of a belly-roll?” How about a nice nude shot of the character George Constanza from Seinfeld? Would you then argue for the ‘beauty of the human body? As much as I would like to think one would, why is it that I doubt it? Because our ideals of “beauty” are culturally and biologically conditioned. Folks somewhat facilely use abstract concepts and fail to see that they are caught in them.”


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