Thoughts on Danielle Prohom Olson’s article, Yoga Body: The Backlash.
Yoga Body:The Backlash is a piece about yoga, western yoga culture, the corporatization of the “ideal yoga body” and what happened when one woman wrote her opinion about it.
Olson’s article begins:
Two years ago I wrote a popular post titled Yoga Body: The Conspiracy. At the time it was very warmly received, generating thousands of hits, hundreds of shares and loads of positive comments. But lately the commentary hasn’t been very affirmative. In fact, its been making people pretty angry. One yoga teacher was enraged enough to call me an ignorant, lazy, pissed off “fat chick”.
and continues . . .
This is why the questions I asked in Yoga Body: The Conspiracy, still need answering. Does the yoga body (and it’s shadow) take root in a backlash against a female body that has become increasingly liberated from patriarchal authority? Why, as yoga helped women develop a new sense of positive embodiment, did the yoga body ( and all that it implies) become enshrined as an ideal of feminine virtue? Why do so many western women of privilege, women who enjoy the first world ‘rights’ denied to so many, spend so much free time, energy and money simply keeping their bodies under control?
So to my posts detractors I say this. No matter our opinions on what the yoga body is or should be, lets drop the judgement, of ourselves and each other. As Harvey reminds us, ‘the body beautiful will get us nowhere’… ‘thin-shaming and fat-shaming are not separate, opposing issues—they are stratification’s of the same issue: Patriarchal culture’s need to demoralize, distract, and pit women against one another.’
For my whole life I’ve had body issues. As a performer I thought I was too fat – I kept thinking I needed to look like Patti Smith, I hated my curvy hips and slightly rounded belly, and I felt under constant pressure to be petite. Not only that, but, being on stage, people felt like they had the right to tell me how I should look. “Remember, if the camera adds ten pounds, video adds fifteen . . . ”
Growing up, I had the misfortune of being the chubby bookworm in a competitive household that valued athletic ability and a slender, broad-shouldered build over all else. I was picked on daily by family members, and my body and its “imperfections” were often the topic of conversation. By the time I was seven years-old, I was on my first diet! At eleven, when I began puberty, my grandmother angrily admonished my mother for not putting me on hormone therapy to keep me from “becoming a freak, a giant.”
When I began practicing yoga over twenty years ago, it was such a relief to not focus on what I looked like or how well I was performing in comparison to everyone else in the room. I feel very fortunate that my earliest teachers, Nancy LaNasa and Sharon Gannon, helped me experience my body in a new way by showing me how to work with the breath and the spirit. Both Nancy and Sharon are beautiful women with stunning physiques, but honestly, if the focus of their classes was to achieve a “yoga body”, I would not have continued practicing yoga.
I learned how to teach yoga at an ashram in a room with no mirrors. The teachings focused on feeling our bodies, not obsessively looking at ourselves during asana. We yoga teachers in training had steady practices but different body types. Some of us were thin, some round, some stocky, some old, some very young. Our teachers were as diverse in body type as the students – and they practiced asana for four hours a day every day for years.
In Yoga Body:The Conspiracy, Olson writes:
The taut and toned ‘yoga body’ on display in the media marketplace is a lie. It is NOT obtained from a regular yoga routine (as many would have you believe) – no , its obtained at the price of constant work, a Herculean effort to burn calories, and a saintly denial of carbs.
Many of the teachers I have had with “the taut and toned ‘yoga body'” were dancers before they became teachers. Of course, some teachers do naturally have a “yoga body”. No matter what, all of my favorite teachers have possessed a(n inner) grace that comes from practicing yoga, no matter what size or shape they happen(ed) to be.
I ride my bicycle and/or walk everywhere I go as well as practice yoga. I will always have big legs, it is part of my genetic make up. I actually like having powerful thighs now. I also have a round belly, and, at the same time, a really strong core. I will not spend more time in my day working out, or eating less. I have other things to do. At almost 5’7″ and weighing in the range of 130 to 136 pounds, I am fit and healthy. It has taken a few decades to come to the conclusion that I am fine just the way that I am, despite what mainstream media and/or my family would have me believe.
The real questions no one is asking are these – why do so few yoga teachers admit that they work hard to maintain their fat-free physiques?Why does the yoga world, from the cover of Yoga Journal to the glossy advertising of main stream studios, continue to display the “yoga body “ as a norm? Where are the images of average woman with rounded thighs and obvious bellies, women who practice yoga with regularity and passion?
. . . Women have mistakenly conflated power and control in the world, with power and control over our bodies. And without a doubt, it is an assumption that the corporate world works to exploit and ever aggrandize.
I am grateful that yoga helped me to have a healthier view of my own body, and as a teacher, I hope I have been able to help others have a healthier and more compassionate view of themselves. It blows my mind that a yoga teacher called Olson “an ignorant, lazy, pissed off ‘fat chick'” because of her article Yoga Body: The Conspiracy. Olson’s article fairly asks the question – “Why do we have no other visual language to communicate what yoga is or means – than just the yoga body?”
Rather than setting goals for the achievement of the mainstream idealized “yoga body”, why not allow yoga practice to be a foundation for building inner-strength and self-empowerment? As we become more empowered, why not allow our strengths to enhance our personal lives as well as our local and global communities? Whether we practice yoga or not, what if we began everyday knowing we are all doing the best we can with what we’ve got?
Check out Olson’s articles:
6 thoughts on “Born on a Thursday #43 – I Wasn’t Born Yesterday (or, Yoga for the Rest of Us)”
Very powerful and courageous piece. Life’s path is really cut and shaped by the words and actions directed at us by others…it’s so important to realize that we can alter our course simply by being aware of our own inner voice and trusting that it can lead us to where we want to be.
thanks Debbie. yes, learning how to trust the inner voice is the first step.
om shanti –
Amazing post – and about an issue that I’ve definitely struggled with. Lately I only do yoga at home because I’m self-conscious about my body which is SO not the point! You are so beautiful – and yoga is about so much more than out physical appearance.
sometimes i walk into classes and i feel incredibly self-conscious. it depends on the teacher, or the time of my monthly cycle, the place . . . yoga is an intimate experience (with ourselves). you are right, self-consciousness about the body is not the point of yoga, but rather consciousness through the body. (Oh man!!) I am happy you are practicing even if you aren’t going to classes.
Teachers do have a responsibility to cultivate a safe and nurturing space for students. If I don’t feel that in a class, I won’t go back either.
you’re not overweight at all in that pic that your singing of! i’m like DAYUMMM who is that hawt lady!! xoxo I want to start yoga .. i need to just do it! 🙂
Hi Miz Lulu!
I look back at pictures from that time and I say to myself – what the heck was I thinking??
Whenever I practice yoga I am so happy I did. Yes, do it! It is wonderful.
Have a great day! Holly