Yoga Journal Has a Major Body Image Issue, and By Issue, I Mean Problem

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By hollypenny  – Yoga Journal (YJ) has a major body image issue, and I’m not talking about the latest one with Hilaria Baldwin on the cover. Actually, I kind of am, but it goes a lot deeper than that. YogaDork recently posted a peek at the suspected new Yoga Journal website, complete with diet tips and lots of Lululemon sponsorship, to the tune of many in the yoga community canceling their subscriptions. It’s been a long time coming and YJ is finally getting hip to the yoga trends, except they’ve got it all wrong and it doesn’t look good. But it’s not for a lack of trying.

The latest issue did show a glimmer of hope. The “Love Your Curves” article sounded like a great way to embrace this positive body image movement that’s been shattering the “typical yoga body” stereotype and cutting through the layers of thin, white women we’ve been seeing for years in the pages of their magazine (we still love you thin, white women! we just want to make room for everyone else, ok?). But instead of taking the opportunity to celebrate our differences, our shapes, bulges, and dimples, YJ chose to share tips on how to hide them instead.

“Yoga Journal is finally getting hip to the yoga trends, except they’ve got it all wrong and it doesn’t look good.”

For instance, do you have an hourglass figure with wide shoulders? Better wear broad-strapped tops. Want to hide your butt dimples aka cellulite (*gasp*)? Dear god, don’t wear thin yoga pants, go for the “yoga version of Spanx,” we’re told. Want to slenderize your apple bottom? For the love of all that is holy, WEAR BLACK. But if you must wear a print, only vertical stripes for you, “to draw eyes away from the tummy,” because tummies are unacceptable for yoga class.

Tiina Veer, Founder, Yoga For Round Bodies

Tiina Veer, Founder, Yoga For Round Bodies. Photo © EK Park

You’ve got to be kidding, YJ. Only they’re not. The whole article is about how to hide your body to look leaner, more slender and more like a homogenized, vacuum-sealed yoga pants mannequin who’s finally acceptable enough to be seen on a mat in public. I’ve taken issue with the whole body type thing in general – who says I look like an apple, hourglass, rectangle, or pear? I look like my body, thank you very much.

The reaction from both the article and from the new website design has been overwhelming, in a not so good way. Swarms of yogis have been calling them out for body shaming and for hopping on the body positivity train without really getting it.

In her post entitled “Why My Butt-Dimples Just Unsubscribed From Yoga Journal,” which has been shared hundreds of times, Rachel Meyer, a mom, yoga teacher, and writer, explained her reasons for canceling her subscription:

I felt sad. And dejected. And not good enough, especially since I’m a butt-dimpled new mom with a muffin top and it’s been awhile since I’ve done Natarajasana in high heels on a rooftop like Hilaria Baldwin. But mostly, I felt disappointed, because I’ve written a few pieces for YJ in the past and have always felt proud of finding a market for intelligent mindful writing amidst the glossy mainstream rags.

Today I’m sitting on the floor with my kid in my lap and he’s chewing on a soft fabric car with wheels that spin across the 3 sheet-covered yoga mats that we’ve laid out across the living room floor as a playmat. We’re making frozen toaster waffles (nope, not organic) with maple syrup and reading Where The Wild Things Are, which, incidentally, includes no fashion supplements. He’s learning how to sit by himself, and falling forward into Paschimottanasana every time. I’m wearing old black tutu-leggings with a hole in the crotch, my peeling, calloused feet haven’t had a pedicure since January, I ate 27 dark-chocolate-covered almonds from Trader Joe’s for breakfast (after finishing the peanut butter cups first), and my bare face is blotchy with postpartum rosacea.

It doesn’t look anything like a Yoga Journal spread. There are no high heels or probiotics to be found. And yet, it feels very much like yoga and body shaming.

Another yoga teacher, Carling Harps, had a few words as well. She wrote in a recent blog post:

I think they must have heard some of our cries, but sorely missed the point. Including different body types other than the usual waif-ish woman or slender white man in tiny shorts does not count if you are only going to use them to serve up more negative body talk. We can love our curves, or love our lack of curves without being talked down to and promptly instructed how to cover them up. Love your curves! but dear lord, please don’t make us look at them. Pear, wedge, hourglass, rectangle, apple, this is just the same crap article that every fitness magazine publishes each month reminding us that we need to fit into their consumer demographics. Don’t you dare wear spaghetti straps, you’ll totally flatten your chest! Pear shaped and you want to wear crops? Oh honey, you’ll look 3 inches shorter and that will have a serious impact on your meditation practice.

(Interestingly – ironically? – Carling is a Seattle Lululemon ambassador as well as being represented with her partner Patrick by YAMA Talent Agency.)

It should be said, though, that the best part of this whole YJ body image fail is the wonderful women posing in the photos who DO represent different shapes and sizes (not colors though. nooo, YJ isn’t quite ready for that, yet.) The quotes from these women about being comfortable in their own skin, owning their shapes and loving their bodies is refreshing but only stands to reinforce the glaring juxtaposition between their empowerment and the shoulds and shouldn’ts of what they can and can’t wear to be “beautiful” on their mat.

Unfortunately, we don’t think Yoga Journal is getting the message. And when they do, they get it twisted, like a really uncomfortable parivrtta ardha chandrasana. My best advice? Peace out. Leave now while you still can. Set your bulges free!

I leave you now with a few words from Hally Marlino AKA YogaBeast, who maybe said it best:

I wish I could cheer for Yoga Journal. *puts poms poms aside*

The current issue is breaking my balls though.

PS. Yoga Journal posted their new website (in beta). Who can say what prompted it? The curves article is yet to be found online.


About The Contributor

hollypenny is a writer, yoga practitioner and dimply-butted gal living in New York City. Her interests include taking long walks, meeting smart people and trying to make sense of the world. She appreciates those who dig “yoga fashion” though one would likely catch her in her version of stylish comfort: a pair of 6-year-old worn-in pajama pants and a beat up t-shirt.

This article first appeared on YogaDork and is republished here with permission.

About The Images

To punctuate the point of hollypenny’s powerful piece, we included images of two women who are pioneering a new vision of what a yogi looks like, and supporting yoga that is accessible, body positive and reflects the full range of human diversity.

Lead photo features Melanie Klein, co-editor of Yoga + Body Image and co-founder of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. Photo © Sarit Photography

Second photo features Tiina Veer, Founder, Yoga For Round Bodies. Photo © EK Park

  • Yoga

    It’s kinda sad that so many comments have also been made ow much Y/J focuses on fashion which gives us small woman owned businesses ( for example) making eco friendly and socially conscious yoga clothes a bad rap. We need to support those that support the true essence of yoga in all it’s myriad forms, from classes to clothes but do it mindfully so we can build mindful communities and conscious capitalism.

  • The fruit classification I have no problem with. Since finding out I’m a “pear”, I’ve finally found trousers (specifically “pear fit”) that feel good to wear because they fit my body much better than just “regular” trousers. 🙂