In Defense of KB.

Via on Aug 9, 2010

This missive is in response to the yogaland hubbub surrounding Judith Hanson Lasater’s recent letter in Yoga Journal regarding her concerns about the direction of yoga in our modern world, and the sexual exploitation of young women in yoga advertising.

First of all, despite all the discussion (most of it positive, some of it mean-spirited) about yoga and nudity and commercialism and the depiction of young women in advertising in Yoga Journal, let me be clear about one thing:

KB doesn’t need defending.

In my experience—which I can safely say is as extensive as anyone’s (I’m her editor here on elephant, so I read her articles in some depth and with some consistency; and I’m a newer friend in 3D/real life)—Kathryn is an old soul.

Her Toesox ads are hot. They are also genuine. They represent the spirit of yoga far more than many of the tacky, commercial ads in Yoga Journal (props to YJ, too—they could have resolved Judith’s concern privately, without publishing the letter—and indeed we can see KB and Toesox’s latest ad, in the issue of YJ in question, is nudity-less).

To my mind, Judith’s question (see bottom of this post) is an important one. A vital one. It’s not merely about nudity, or exploitation, or commercialism. It’s about the future of yoga. Is the future of yoga about breath, alignment, drishti, waking up, stilling the waves of our mind? Or is it about making money? Or will it continue to be, messily, about both?

One thing is clear: thanks to the art and integrity of Jasper Johal, the photographer behind Hard Tail and Toesox, the ads are sex-ee without being sexual. Toesox’s infamous ads are, despite the lack of clothing, and KB’s beauty, not titillating. Some yoga ads, however, are. And Toesox and KB are walking that fine line—that razor’s edge—between titillation and art. What keeps both of them in balance, imho, is KB’s practice and study. She may be ambitious. She may be a fabulous, much-in-demand LA-based yoga teacher. But one thing’s for sure: she’s a real student, and a real teacher. She’s a serious yet-not-self-serious heir and/or colleague to many of the teachers I look up to: Cyndi Lee, Richard Freeman, Seane Corn, John Friend, Tias Little, Sara Powers, Eric Schiffman, Elena Brower.

[galleria]

Judith’s letter, we must remember, never mentioned Toesox, or KB. It could have been inspired by those ads—certainly they are the most graphic examples of nudity, yoga and advertising that come most quickly to mind. And yet…Judith is not about the letter of the law—she is, she stresses repeatedly, not opposed to nudity. She is opposed, rather, to exploitation.

So I say this: just you try and exploit KB. I’ll tell you how far you’ll get. And, then, I’ll tell you where you can go.

So: Long live the spirit of yoga. With thanks to Judith, Yoga Journal, Toesox and KB for helping to spark this important koan for all of us: what kind of advertising do we want to see in the yoga community?

Advertising that sells a slimmer, fitter butt? Or advertising that sells a fuller acceptance of who we are?

~

PS: Here’s JHL’s original letter (note that it makes no specific mention of any model, teacher, company or ad):

Letter to Yoga Journal August 2010
Yoga Journal was born in my living room in Berkeley in 1975, where I was one of
five yoga practitioner-teachers who gathered to create the magazine. I have
loved the magazine ever since. But I’m concerned about ads that have stimulated
both confusion and sadness in me about where the magazine is now and where it is headed.

I am confused because I do not understand how photos of naked or half-naked
women are connected with the sale of practice products for asana, an important
part of yoga. These pictures do not teach the viewer about yoga practice or
themselves. They aren’t even about the celebration of the beauty of the human
body or the beauty of the poses, which I support. These ads are just about
selling a product. This approach is something I though belonged (unfortunately)
to the larger culture, but not in Yoga Journal.

Finally, I feel sad because it seems that Yoga Journal has become just another
voice for the status quo and not for elevating us to the higher values of yoga:
spiritual integration, compassion and selfless service. My request is that Yoga
Journal doesn’t run ads with photos that exploit the sexuality of young women in
order to sell products or more magazines. Thank you for your attention and
willingness to hear another point of view.

Judith Hanson Lasater
San Francisco, CA

About Waylon Lewis

Waylon Lewis, founder of elephant magazine, now elephantjournal.com & host of Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis, is a 1st generation American Buddhist “Dharma Brat." Voted #1 in U.S. on twitter for #green two years running, Changemaker & Eco Ambassador by Treehugger, Green Hero by Discovery’s Planet Green, Best (!) Shameless Self-Promoter at Westword's Web Awards, Prominent Buddhist by Shambhala Sun, & 100 Most Influential People in Health & Fitness 2011 by "Greatist", Waylon is a mediocre climber, lazy yogi, 365-day bicycle commuter & best friend to Redford (his rescue hound). His aim: to bring the good news re: "the mindful life" beyond the choir & to all those who didn't know they gave a care. elephantjournal.com | facebook.com/elephantjournal | twitter.com/elephantjournal | facebook.com/waylonhlewis | twitter.com/waylonlewis | Google+ For more: publisherelephantjournalcom

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32 Responses to “In Defense of KB.”

  1. YaYa Ya Ya Yoga says:

    Waylon just wants to get in to her pants, er, Sox.

    • elephant journal elephantjournal says:

      Funny, but, your IP is blocked. http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/08/be-nice-or

      • integralhack says:

        IP blocked? Really? I mean, the comment was a bit much, but context is everything and you have written at some length about your KB crush in the past.

        If the "YaYa Ya Ya Yoga" writer is a repeat offender (troll with history of mean behavior) then I can understand, but I think there is a difference between teasing based on an established context of behavior/writing and outright "mean" behavior.

        Maybe a "three strikes you're out" or warning policy of some sort? Or maybe just delete the comment in cases where the meanness seems questionable?

        • elephant journal elephantjournal says:

          The commenter has been reinstated, they emailed me and made it clear they were just trying to poke fun. After two years of such comments from only a few readers, my tolerance and our readers' and writers' tolerance has worn thin. I've received various requests to bring some semblance or kindness and low tolerance for anything but to our comments. This is a common problem on many sites, and overall I think our readership is really amazing and able to be agreeable even when disagreeing.

          Good points, but this is obviously a sensitive subject and time. I don't find it clearly humorous, given the context—that a friend is in the crosshairs of a controversy about exploiting nudity for financial gain.

          As I've said, we've written dozens of "crushes," on men and women, they're fun, and point out that attraction should be based on what we do by way of helping the world, and being ourselves examples of harmony and peace.

          "Three strikes you're out" would require a spreadsheet, with say an intern keeping track, since we get hundreds of comments a day. I make it my business to avoid excel spreadsheets whenever possible.

          • integralhack says:

            Waylon,

            Very cool and big of you to reinstate the commenter. I understand how one could be worn thin by the negative commentary.

            No criticism for the KB crush article implied! I thought the post was fun too (and who could blame you). I was just saying the post may have set a context for the commentary–not that it necessarily justifies the comment.

            Yes, and my "three strikes you're out" idea was a bad one. I have lots of bad ideas but I try to avoid publishing them. :)

          • Andrew says:

            Test

          • Andrew says:

            OK, I am the guy who posted that under the name Ya Ya Ya Ya Yoga—-I just want to let everyone know there was no intended malice. It was meant to be friendly ribbing based on past yoga crush blogs about KB. Unfortunately my good natured intent was not conveyed. Sorry for offending some peeps.

          • integralhack says:

            I wasn't offended, Andrew. I figured that "friendly ribbing" was the case. It sounds like something I might have posted late at night under the influence of too much caffeine! :) No big deal.

  2. Roseanne Harvey girlwarrior says:

    it's unfortunate that the conversation landed on kathryn and this toesox ad. it really does take away from the bigger questions that judith addresses in her letter. but this ad has also become a symbol for the type of advertising that judith is talking about. and this whole messy conversation is also symbolic of the deeper rooted confusion that we all have around sexuality and consumption.

    but what i'm also hearing here is that you think there is some kind of division between the toesox ads and other "tacky" commercial ads in yoga magazines, based on the fact that these ads are arty, black and white and "sexee without being sexual." what does taste have to do with it? how does artfulness justify the use of a nude female body to sell a completely unnecessary yoga product?

    i hope that the conversation will swing around to the essential question you ask at the end – what kind of advertising do we want to see in the yoga community? – and away from emotional reactions to the ad and kathryn budig.

    • elephant journal elephantjournal says:

      Thumbs up. Good questions. Judith herself said she wasn't against nudity. I'm not sure about anything, here, but I do know that Jasper and Kathryn are of the yoga community, not merely trying to "take advantage of a new demographic," as other more tacky (in my view) ads do.

      • Roseanne Harvey girlwarrior says:

        well, to be honest, if jasper and kathryn are "of the yoga community" and complicit in this kind of cultural production, i find it really disappointing…

        but again, in the advertising world, the photographer and the model are at the bottom of the food chain. there are many other bigger systems who determine the final product. the artists have very little say…

  3. Linda-Sama says:

    You are right. KB does not need defending. Because she was never attacked.

  4. elephant journal elephantjournal says:

    You're right. I'm biased because I know Kathryn as a writer, and as a human being; not merely as an "issue."

  5. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    Of course not from a yogi! There aren't many real yogi's around anyway, and none of them would say that here.

    KB doesn't need defending I'm sure. Was her choice to take part in the ads wise, intelligent, full of integrity… that's for HER to say, no one else. Would some of the people attacking her have done the same thing if THEY were 'yoga babes' being offered good green for an honest day's work? Yes undoubtedly some of them would.

    I do find it sad though that the original message has been diluted a little: about whether, as Waylon said, we want yoga advertising to be one way or another.
    I think the sad truth is that advertising is all about supply and demand: there is HUGE money in advertising, just like there is in insurance. And both industries tend to have their finger firmly on the pulse of the zeitgeist. If more of us honestly didn't want to see titillation, and read sensationalism, then the ads wouldn't exist in the first place.
    If we really want to have some good come out of this debate (or any other!) we need to look inwards, at how WE affect the society around us.

    • elephant journal elephantjournal says:

      Thanks, Ben. A thoughtful, to the point reply. If more of us didn't want titillation, then Toesox's ads (and many other far more tacky ads) might be different. Yoga Journal covers could feature more diversity in gender, appearance. Yoga could be yoga, not baited traps for the wallets of soccer moms.

  6. elephant journal elephantjournal says:

    Thank you. Deep breath.

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  8. julie says:

    nice, waylon. i also think kb is beautiful and the photos in the ads are beautiful. BUT. the letter from judith hanson laster is NOT a personal attack on kb, it doesn't even mention her, and furthermore, as judith clearly says in her letter, it's not anti-sex or anti-nakedness.

  9. JHL makes some good points, but comes across as out of touch with the realities of advertising and marketing, as well as a bit bitter about losing control of her “baby”. It’s understandable, but she’s being a bit melodramatic and reactionary here.

    I have gotten to know Kathryn a bit over the past year or so, and can completely and immediately validate what Waylon has to say. She has a fiery, passionate, sensual, deep, courageous and Old Soul. She’s hardly an Object, or letting herself be “used” in any way, shape or form.

    She can take care of herself and then some.

    Peace. Word. Write on.

    The Mad Yogi Poet

  10. [...] Yoga Journal is not alone featuring yoga babes on its covers and mostly a series of yoga asana articles inside. All the other yoga magazines [...]

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  13. [...] many women would complain about Kathryn Budig’s Toesox ads or Briohny Smyth’s Equinox video if they were less conventionally beautiful or had flabbier [...]

  14. elephant journal elephantjournal says:

    So what do you think about Judith's comments, that she's repeated several times, about not minding nudity per se, but minding exploitation of young women's bodies in advertising? This is a sincere question.

  15. elephant journal elephantjournal says:

    Well, that's a wonderful, passionate, cynical point of view.

    Elephant is now about views at the expense of mission. That's not ethical, and it's not good business—we lose loyalty. We are however about facing realities, and about exploring important issues, and this "issue" has been burning hot since Judith's great letter to the editor was published some weeks ago. It's a vital issue, as I said above, if you bothered to read it before tossing out your various accusations. Any faults, btw, above, are mine alone, and not elephant's as a whole.

    I understand your concern—but we can disagree while still being friendly.

    Unless one's head has been in a hole, and you could ask KB directly if you like, she's been getting attacked in comments on many blogs, on twitter, on facebook, and it's been in hot and heavey discussion in yoga studios and on the streets of Boulder, where I live, among the yoga community. It can't be pleasant.

    And, for the record, I have no infatuation for her at this time. I'm happy in my personal life, not that it's any of your business, and the "crushes" that we write on this site are meant to be fun, and point out that love should be attracted not merely to physical beauty, but to our actions off the mat.

    I waited days to write the above, and only because I was feeling a bit sick about how she was indeed not the target of Judith's criticism, directly at least, and yet Toesox and her were the subjects of everything I'd read and heard. I intentionally didn't use her full name, above, though of course it's obvious, because I didn't want her full name getting further seared into folks' memories on my account.

    Thanks for playing.

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