Why The Sexy Equinox Yoga Video Pissed Me Off.

Via on Jan 11, 2012

You really shouldn’t get involved in Facebook comment fights. It’s a bad idea: your well-thought out opinions, thoughts, and insults are wielded with no stronger weapon than a thumbnail picture of your face on New Year’s Eve.

This time, I just couldn’t help myself. The Equinox Yoga Video has been making its rounds like a tumbleweed in the yoga community’s firestorm, and yeah, it’s got me pretty heated.

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And indeed, this blog post means probably even more people will watch the video, thus giving Equinox more free advertising (which, sure, they probably knew what they were doing when they created it), but I think talking about media in a critical way is incredibly important, and much more valuable than pretending it’s not there. If I ever have a teenage daughter, I am going to sit down with her and go through every page of Cosmopolitan with her and discuss the shit out of what it means and what it makes her feel and how close or far its impressions are from reality until that magazine is so boring she will not ever want to read one again. Also I will show her this:

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And the Equinox video, which made its way onto my Facebook stream with words like ‘beautiful’ and ‘gorgeous’ attached to it, gave me the same feeling those magazines do now. It’s what I like to call the ‘No’ feeling:  your gut twitches, and you know somethin’ ain’t right, even if you can’t quite articulate it yet. Perhaps it was partly the video’s description: “Equinox’s Briohny Smyth shows there’s no limit to what the artfully honed yoga body can do.”

Firstly, I admit, it is beautiful. It’s a beautifully photographed, definitely erotic video with a gorgeous, strong yogini and lovely music that’s very well done. I’m not denying that. But here’s what it made me feel.

Yoga advertising has been trying for a while now to make me feel bad about my body so that I get insecure enough to buy whatever they are selling. This is the number one MO of teen and adult women’s magazines (and men’s magazines for that matter): subtly hit the reader in an insecure place so that they buy more of this magazine and its products. Let’s try some real world translations of cosmopolitan.com‘s website headlines:

“The New Girl Quality Men Can’t Resist” or, “Why You Are Not Like This Girl and Don’t Deserve a Quality Man [unless you buy this STUFF!]“

“This Common Goof Will Tick Off Your Friends” or, “There’s something wrong with you. You don’t know what it is. We do. [You can help by buying this STUFF!]“

“Are you Lying–To Yourself?” or, “You are lying to yourself. You are actually fatter than you could ever imagine. [So you should buy this STUFF!]“

These magazines, mixed with the dangerous brew of early teenage life and all its pressures, created so much anxiety that I became anorexic. At 5’8, I weighed 102 pounds. All my friends thought I was soooo pretty, my mom was desperately trying to get me to eat a piece of toast, and I still thought I was fat.

Then yoga came along. It taught me that I could be strong and beautiful with muscles instead of just bones. It taught me that it didn’t matter what I looked like, as long as I felt good. It taught me that I could be a fighter jet made of biceps, and that was awesome.

I teach yoga because it helped (and continues to help) me overcome my anxiety and depression and empowers me in more ways than I can name, and that‘s what I want to share with people. I tell my students over and over again to close their eyes. Stop looking around–it doesn’t matter what you look like, and it doesn’t matter what the person beside you looks like. It matters how you feel.

And for all we tell our students to turn inwards and not worry about what other people think, we yoga teachers sure do worry about it. We try not to, but in this incredibly competitive community, we feel like we should be the ones with the strongest core, the most amazing practice, the most advanced postures. We feel like we should know everything and be able to do everything so we can pass it onto our students. We need to constantly be reminded that we are still students–on a path of learning, and the only one putting pressure on us to do crazy poses or have a perfect butt is us.

Well, us and this Equinox yoga video.

I think if I wasn’t a yogi or a woman or some combination of things that make me who I am, I’d see just the beauty of the video and move along. But the woman in the video is not only sexy, she is sexualized. This video exemplifies the male gaze: the sense that a woman is being watched, looked on as an object, (in pieces, at that: hip, thigh, butt, feet) from the heterosexual male perspective. Some feminists argue that even when women subject themselves to and desire this gaze, they are towing the line of the norms of a gender-unequal society (this is a big topic: see Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema“). This video pretends intimacy and innocence (just rolled out of bed for a 3.29 minute morning practice? Really?) but is carefully crafted: the lace underwear, the unmade bed, the closeups of hair coming loose and quick breathing, not to mention the butt shots in updog: it all says, subtly but very clearly, SEX. Heterosexual sex that puts the male gaze in a position of priority, and minimizes the female gaze (which some say can’t or doesn’t exist yet). And I’m not even going to touch on the money/class/yoga is only for rich people/peace is only for the superrich reading of this penthouse apartment. There is a difference between an erotic, sexy female body and a sexualized female body, especially when it’s being used to sell something.

Some of those of us made uncomfortable by this video are being accused of a puritanical hate for innocent naked bodies due to our overly sexually repressed culture. I disagree. Not all white Americans hate breasts (anyway, I’m Canadian). I think yoga is sexy. It literally does make your sex life better, and eroticism in our culture is something we could use more of in a respectful way. But here are two problems with sex in yoga culture when presented this way:

1. You don’t need this kind of ‘yoga body’ to be sexy.

And 2. when people see you as an object, they treat you like one, which is why you get sexually assaulted by your boss at the yoga studio and you are told you can never ever tell anyone about it, so you don’t, until 7 women speak up all at once (and I wish it had been me that broke the silence). And yeah, that wasn’t fun.

See, for example, Toesox: I much prefer these ads (not that they don’t have their share of controversy, too). I think they are beautifully photographed, I see a human doing a strong, amazing thing rather than a sexual object doing as she’s told. The ads are unapologetically sexy, if not erotic, they are clear about their intent, and they are kind of funny (Toesox: all you need to wear! get it?). Kathryn Budig is certainly naked, but she’s not being put in an obviously sexual position or in a sexualized gaze, you see her whole face and body, not just a cut of meat, she’s just naked, doin’ her thing. These ads didn’t get my ‘No’ spikes up. (Should they have? Comment me back).

 

Another example is this video by my friend Meghan Currie.

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She is undoubtedly a sexy woman, and the video is erotic in its own way, but the bright coloured boy-cut undies, the cat sleeping and licking itself in the corner, all the stuff on the walls, the intelligent, creative (and symmetrical) sequence all humanize her rather than sexualize her. She may have actually rolled out of bed and filmed herself doing this. She is an awesome yogi and interesting human, not an object to be sold in the marketplace in exchange for insecurity and fear. And even though I wish I could do some of that stuff, her video didn’t make a part of my soul want to die.

The Equinox video turns its gaze on this woman as an object, and defines her as a “perfectly honed yoga body” that can, robot-like,  do anything. As a yoga teacher and a woman, I feel that gaze turning its head, Exorcist-like, on me–This Yoga Body is valued for its butt cheeks and MOST incredible yoga poses (dance, monkey dance!). She is not valued here for her teaching, her passions, or anything about her mind at all. I don’t want my students looking at this and thinking of me. In any way.

I struggled for 6 years in academia to be taken seriously as a woman. My friends assumed professors wanted to work with me was because of what I looked like. I was harshly critiqued in my essays and presentations, assumed stupid until proven otherwise. I decided on a gender-neutral academic name (JC) so as to avoid assumptions when I was submitting papers. (And people still assume–I still get an email now and then about my published papers titled Dear Mr. Peters)

Now I am a spoken word poet, which is a competitive ‘sport’ where you are judged on your performance as well as your words, and it’s even worse when people can see me while I’m speaking. I’ve learned to cover up a lot and wear the most boring thing in my closet when I perform so people can hear the words rather than look at my body. I’ve heard (female) poets criticizing me for ‘using’ my sexuality to get scores at the slam, and several (male and female) people thinking they were complimenting me for saying, “Of course you won, you were probably the best looking person there.” These are all ways in which I have felt that my first and most important value in this world is how sexy I am, and that it’s not a given that I also have a brain. Actually, I (of course) wrote a poem about that:

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I think it’s awesome and impressive that some “liberated women” have zero problem with this sexualization, and miraculously don’t have histories of being objectified as women. And maybe it’s just me and my own personal triggers that saw a little past the beauty of this video and into some serious ugliness. I can’t get away from the fact that this is happening, and that people that are going to call me sexually repressed for my negative reactions. But I am more than a body: I have words, and words are my best weapon.

In my opinion, it’s still, and always, worth fighting for the right to be seen as a human, and not an object.

 

 

About Julie JC Peters

Julie (JC) Peters has been practicing yoga on and off from the tender age of 12, and it has gotten her through everything from the horrors of teenagedom to a Master’s degree in Canadian Poetry. She is a yoga teacher, spoken word poet, and writer, and teaches workshops on yoga and writing called Creative Flow. Julie also owns East Side Yoga in Vancouver with her mom, Jane.

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167 Responses to “Why The Sexy Equinox Yoga Video Pissed Me Off.”

  1. Laine says:

    There is nothing erotic about that video. She's simply in her pretty-tame undergarments.
    It's showing what you can accomplish while others are sleeping.
    If you apply yourself you can transform your body into a masterful, purposeful thing you can will to do anything. She is an exceptional woman with incredibly control over her physique. You are the one sexualizing her, she just woke up and wanted to work out.
    She doesn't have "the perfect butt" she has the butt of an athlete. There is no reason to feel like an extremely fit woman is shameful to others, it's not like she's starved, she's honed. That body is a product of work, effort and dedication. Just because you can see skin, doesn't mean you are intended to be aroused.

  2. arealman says:

    you sound like a real pussy

  3. what are you tninking says:

    The yogi in the vid is strong, athletic and hot but not erotic at all. A much better combo than the seemingly uptight, retentive prude who wrote this. Chill out. By the way, the toesock yogi rocks too.

  4. Ben Ralston Ben_Ralston says:

    I couldn't agree with you more, on all counts, Tobye.

  5. Re: "The last thing any of us want (I hope) is men getting interested in Yoga so they can check out all the sexy women. And the equinox video promotes that"

    I had come from taking yoga classes in completely different envir…outside; on sand; on grass; in a dance studio…no mats, no silly grippy socks…just bodies, breath, and intention led by wonderful people…
    The moment I began taking commercialized yoga classes in the early 90s I became aware of what we called "The Yoga-Preditor-Guy" You know, the lurker who just stares at girls in class. They've existed before the Equinox video and they will continue to be around creeping people out…I doubt the video will have much impact on the creeps…yoga is not easy, and would be a lot harder on someone too distracted by having to stay focused on objectifying people in class.

  6. There is a man sleeping in the bed.. and? We could draw a million conclusions. He could be her long-time partner or husband, simply sleeping in while she does her morning yoga practice. He could be a one-night-stand, though I doubt she'd be doing her morning yoga routine if that was the case. Or he could simply be her best-friend-with-benefits. We can all guess, but none of us know. It's all subject to our own interpretations, which come from our experiences and judgments. I personally saw it as her boyfriend/partner simply sleeping in while she practices. I saw it as nothing more, nothing less. But my point is that everyone will see it through a different lens, and we are ALL projecting something, something within us, something without of us, or something societal. But it's all a projection.

  7. Well it's my honest view, not much else I can say. You have your view, which I respect. If you want to read my full opinion, I'm the one who wrote this article: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2012/01/the-equino

  8. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Yes, it is slyly intellectually dishonest to say it is YOUR projection only …

  9. Tobye Hillier yogi tobye says:

    Your comment starts a good debate; "Who is or, what is *A real man*?" Certainly not someone who calls strangers insulting names under the cover of a pseudonym.

    pseu·do·nym   [sood-n-im]
    noun
    a fictitious name used by an author to conceal his or her identity; pen name.

  10. Vision_Quest2 says:

    @Fran, more pratyahara is in order … watching this video too many times screwed with my OWN practice of yoga (and I am referring only to asana) … it's like watching the Olympics on a wide screen tv and then catching a glimpse of your old, slightly pudgy self in the mirror …

    At the very least, I miss the soundtrack of audible and intense ujjayi breathing I get with other, more plausible (because unedited) videos of advanced yogis in actual, mindful practice …

  11. hereinmiami says:

    so does that mean that we can never critically analyze the world around us? when does cultivating inner peace mean becoming a silent bystander to things in our culture that are a problem?

  12. Great point. It was one of my gay male yoga teachers who first posted about this video. He was appalled by it, which is what got me to wondering… as I only saw beauty. Very interesting perspectives that you point out.

  13. Vision_Quest2 says:

    I can't really see why, when that hyper-slender body style is very reminiscent of young boys … maybe he felt competitive with her rather than supportive of her …?

  14. Sarah says:

    So articulate. Exactly what I felt in watching the video and in how I wanted to respond. Thank you for the thoughtful, accountable rebuttal (so glad that you used quotes from sources actually involved with production, etc.).

  15. bernie says:

    Totally right, "
    what you think is what you see"

  16. Maya says:

    either way its selling sex! why did they decide to show a demonstrational video with a man in the bed in back of her and her in lingerie?? and projecting??? read about that a little!

  17. Maya says:

    read your article, not offended that Janet jackson showed her tit while millions of people and young children watched, I mean half those 2 year olds, just got off the tit, right??? So I guess that was a projection on me, hey??? But that wasn't art either, thats called a stunt!!! I went to art school, I have worked in an art gallery, I have had loads of classes in art, art history, media and I will tell you right now that video is never going to be showed in an art anything because its advertising! Know about the world your talking about before you write about it! and I hope Equinox is paying you because you deserve it!

  18. Maya says:

    I would also like to say, I have no anger about this video, I could care less, I see advertising a million times a day, they say most people that live in urban areas see advertising every 10 seconds averaged, I am commenting about the differences of art and advertising and that I know a lot about! Not to mention I watch demonstrational videos on yoga technique all the time, and that is exactly what they are.

  19. I have no affiliation with Equinox whatsoever. I was simply exploring a cultural angle that I thought was interesting and asking a question to open a dialogue. No reason to get disrespectful or hateful. I said very clearly in my piece that I respect the views of those who disliked the video. There are loads of different interpretations and I respect all of them. Art is subjective. There is no right and wrong here. I respect your view as well as JC's. I would expect the same respect in return.- Jeannie Page

  20. Maya says:

    I wasn't once disrespectful or hateful towards you however, towards me your telling me I am seeing something in myself in that video that is an illusion. thats what projection is!!! so now that you know, disrespectful?? its up to u. Peace, God Bless (and yeah I got angry when you said what I said was a projection, anger is very different than hateful and disrespectful.) (I dont like to be told things are psychological thats called shaming someone) but your right if I was buddha or mother teresa I wouldnt get angry, but I have never claimed to it, but practice and all is coming. hateful and disrespectful, no! I once heard a yoga philosophy teacher tell a student that asked if she could please open the door (because he was hot) say, "what you can't detach from the heat". He was just taking care of himself, what you said remind me of that! Obviously none of the student in her class went back, but maybe you act different in you classes. Its called shaming! Anyway, I have nooo hate towards you at all!

  21. __MikeG__ says:

    The claim you were not being disrespectful is dishonest. Here are your words exactly:

    Know about the world your talking about before you write about it! and I hope Equinox is paying you because you deserve it!

    On what planet would this personal attack, an attack on a person you do not know, not be disrespectful? This is called an ad hominem attack.

  22. MoZeu says:

    As a woman, I agree 100% with your analysis. I believe this video is very much directed at women, is not sexualized, and does point to a more internal, self-directed kind of ambition to relate to the body as an adept. It is also marketing fluff and sets unrealistic standards, but no more so than the vast majority of other ads.

  23. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Wow! I didn't even get the odalisque angle until I read your comment … turning that paradigm on its head by attributing it to America's ultra- thin ideal … no woman, not even one of small size, is immune from that trope — unconstrained sexuality .. uncontainable woman… too much woman for one man, etc. . Who knew?

  24. LizMc. says:

    Wow. To be honest, this has to be the most racist, patronizing, offensive comment I've ever read.

  25. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Exactly!

    They are not able to market successfully to many women – even young, attractive ones with a kick-asana practice – with an ad like this … it flies in the face of conventional wisdom on how to market to women!

  26. __MikeG__ says:

    Great point about the apparent hostility toward small and fit women.

  27. YogaSun says:

    This is pretty ridiculous. The author clearly wasn't talking about "small" women being the problem. (And I suppose I'd be one of those small women to add to the point.) Your implication that only women who are of a certain weight are "fit" or 'pass on the fast food' is downright naive. As a yoga teacher, I see regularly, people of many sizes and backgrounds, several of whom are extremely active and healthy, yet are a bit stockier in size. This is just genetics and anatomical make-up and that only skinny people are healthy is ridiculous and totally off point of the article, which was articulate, thoughtful and smart.
    And on a side note to Mike G, this sequence is most certainly yoga (definitely not gymnastics!) proven in that each pose can be described in Sanskrit!

  28. Vision_Quest2 says:

    Oh, really!

    But that's a whole other argument:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T5liKz1X-Tw&fe

  29. Apple-shaped Poser says:

    Brilliant, Fatima! I wish EJ would publish your comments as a feature! so they could be upfront for all. Btw, you are right, Bri does have a wonderful story and is a dedicated, thoughtful, creative, and gentle teacher. Knowing her as the one who watches out for the safety and challenges of every student, from those with rheumatoid arthritis to the novice to those of la tercera edad, it was easy for me to see the person and hard to see her as a "model." I didn't think the editing made it look easy, I saw effort and concentration and dedication. MY second take, knowing she is a mother and keeps a very full schedule, was to hope she got to stay in that hotel room! I loved the urban fantasy, much less cliche than those typical shots of teachers posing on the rocks overlooking the ocean. I loved the fantasy of a woman taking time to do yoga for herself, alone, without a mirror , self-guided, tho of course it's also wonderful to experience the breath of many and the artful guidance of a teacher like Bri.

  30. Wonderful reply!
    Thoughtful, articulate, and respectful. :)

  31. yogasun says:

    love this!

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