Yoga: Not just for Young, Skinny, White Girls. ~ Dianne Bondy

Via on Mar 4, 2012

Picture someone who practices yoga, who do you see?

Did you picture a young, beautiful, flexible, thin, Caucasian woman? Do you think she can recite the Bhagvad Gita in Sanskrit while doing a one-handed handstand?

Yes, there is a Yogi stereotype and it makes me cringe. Where do I fit in? Can a size fourteen black woman fit in amongst what the media has created as the ultimate yoga beauty standard?

What about Yoga for the rest of us? What about the non-white, size 14, over 35 year old woman, who can’t fit into anything Lululemon (well maybe the headband)? Just sayin’. Whenever people meet me and I tell them I do yoga they seem shocked and even judgmental about my size. Then I kick up into handstand and I say: take that.

Every Yoga teacher training I take I am awash in all of this.

I instantly feel out of place and uncomfortable in my own skin, my brown skin. It has come to my attention that not many black folk do yoga, let alone train teachers and own a yoga studio. I am certainly in the minority. I like to think of myself as a trail blazer. I have never seen a yogi like myself on the front of Yoga Journal. The images perpetuated by the media seem to set the same ideal we see in fashion magazines. I thought Yoga would help us step aside from all of this.

Come as you are to your mat!

My first yoga experience was practicing at my mother’s side at the age of six. I rediscovered it in my late twenties after years of killing myself in the gym trying to look perfect. Yoga has taught me that I am perfect just the way I am. Yoga has helped me deal with growing up in a dysfunctional and abusive household.

I am not all those horrible things I was called when I was growing up.

I am a beautiful divine being deserving of love and happiness, even if I feel look like I don’t fit. Yoga has helped me break the cycle of abuse that so many people find themselves in. I am happily married to a wonderful man who cherishes me. We have two beautiful children together.

As I step into the future of yoga, I step away from lots of things, and evolve the practice of my own heart. What I will remember is what I tell my students all the time; stand in your own power. Root down through your feet, firm your legs, lengthen your spine and open your heart to the possibility that you are perfect as you are no matter what the media or society tells you. Sometimes we lose sight of that and we get caught in that idea that yoga is a function of beauty, when yoga is an expression of beauty, discipline, sacrifice and love. Yoga teaches us to feel with our hearts and experience with our bodies.

Remember everyone can do yoga. We breathe, we feel, we stretch, and we connect fully to ourselves, even if we don’t look like a supermodel.

Featured imaged photo contribution: Dianne Bondy

~

Editor: Tanya L. Markul

 

Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook.

About Dianne Bondy

Dianne is an E-RYT 500 with Yoga Alliance, the founder of Yogasteya.com, loves to celebrate yoga and diversity and is a contribuing author for Yoga and Body Image: A New anthology. She is a columnist for the Elephant Journal, love public speaking, runs yoga retreats, trains yoga teachers, has a devoted husband, two small boys and not enough sleep. Dianne is big, black, bold and loves all things yoga. Try to keep up with Dianne on Facebook, Twitter, and DianneBondyYoga.com or download one of her FREE podcast on iTunes

9,358 views

Appreciate this article? Support indie media!

(We use super-secure PayPal - but don't worry - you don't need an account with PayPal.)

81 Responses to “Yoga: Not just for Young, Skinny, White Girls. ~ Dianne Bondy”

  1. yogasamurai says:

    Dynamite post! Interested to see how many of the "bendy white girls" – and Lulu-heads – propagating this insane yoga culture see themselves in your remarks — and condescend to respond. "Acceptance is the answer to all my problems." ROCK ON! Thanks.

  2. jogriffithyoga says:

    Just thank you for voicing this!!! As one brown skinned yoga teacher to another. Are you on Facebook or Linkedin, I would love to connect!

  3. size14yogini says:

    Power to the "plus-sized" yoginis. We can have an advanced practice and be proud!

  4. size14yogini says:

    Power to all of the "plus size" yoginis! We can have an advanced practice and be proud.

  5. Love this, Diane! Curvy yogis unite!

    • elephantjournal says:

      Love this article, too, and have featured it on our Front Page http://www.elephantjournal.com right up top. That said, I think YJ at least goes out of its way to feature a diverse range of ethnicities.

      And inside the pages, at least, different body types.

      They also feature men on the cover, on occasion, though men "don't sell" copies, I understand–even John Friend in his heyday didn't sell copies the way a "generic" skinny woman of any race might. So I would give them props for doing their best within the confines of publishing a publication they don't control absolutely. The fun thing about Ascent, or elephant back in the day, is that we could feature whatever/whomever we wanted. If readers connected, we'd sell our copies. If they didn't support diverse covers, of course, we'd suffer.

      • Audra says:

        Where have you seen different body types on the inside? I have subscribed for the past year and do not recall a size 14/16 or larger women of any color ever being featured. Did I miss something? I don't give them any props.

  6. catnipkiss says:

    I'm also a big curvy girl and I am just now, at age 49, learning to accept myself as perfect and beautiful. Never gonna look like the yoga journal girls, that's cool. Wonder if I'll ever get handstand (I've been scared to try!) Wherever the yoga journey leads, it's MY journey, damn it, and comparing myself to the bendy athletic types is not gonna help. I can be inspired by them, but I will not let it get me into bad self-talk ever again! Peace to you and ROCK that yoga! – Alexa M.

  7. susan marcaccini says:

    great article dianne!!

  8. antonina says:

    Amen! I am not a skinny white girl, I am also not a plus sized white girl. I’m actually muscular to the point of being called “bulky” by the rest of my white-stereotypical yogini counterparts. I often felt out of place to begin with, but then I realized I was there for completely different reasons. I wish that the yoga MEDIA and community would be more AWARE of all races and ethnic descents (I think it is inclusive). I don’t think I could ever practice at a studio where white skinny lululemon people did, it just wouldn’t feel like yoga <3 :)

    Namaste

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      Especially bulky, bulky quadriceps (relatively unknown among other non-weightlifting-yoginis)–and I'm not very muscular at all, elsewhere (I'm also not young). But the leg bulk is there, slightly ameliorated if I stretch those legs into tomorrow with yoga. The muscle, unfortunately, does not pile on to my former-swimmer's shoulders with yoga as it had with swimming (due to swimming's sparse gravity-effects).

      Just as someone can't spot-reduce, one can't spot-gain muscle!

      Gravity enhances where it must!

  9. El Boricua Yogi says:

    THANK YOU!!!

  10. Yogatrail1 says:

    Nice article! But I bet the "bendy white girls" also deal with their share of problems and insecurities… Don't we all? That's why yoga is great: because it can help you no matter what age, shape, color you are.

  11. liz says:

    Why don't you send a photo and talk to Yoga Journal about having you on a cover? And maybe get a petition going. I would sign it! You are beautiful.

    • yogasamurai says:

      Yes, we should start a letter-writing campaign. Let's do it. It would be nice to have one reasonably responsive yoga institution at the national level. You have to make them accountable, though.

    • AnOldTimer says:

      If that happened, I'd actually buy Yoga Journal again. At least for that one edition. I gave up on them years ago.

    • Kristy Meyer says:

      YES!

      • Kristy says:

        And I think a tumblr blog where non-traditional yogi/yogini's can post their photos.

        I'd contibute some of myself!!

        • Audra says:

          I have a tumblr for this, but we have not been able to get as many submissions as I'd like, so I scour the web to try to make sure I get pictures of EVERYONE doing yoga. http://everyonesyoga.tumblr.com

          • echo says:

            would love to see that…YJ needs to broaden it's appeal…many don't even attempt yoga because of the media bias towards bendy/caucasian femals…whom I love, but come on man!

          • Vision_Quest2 says:

            I could even trace back to around the early to mid '90s, when I'd fallen very, very hard for step aerobics … I think the YJ covers had changed around that time, too …

            I know I am not a "natural" for yoga in the bendiness and upper-body-strength departments, and I certainly could not afford a gym at that time, either … but I exercised at home … (neighbors, noisy in their own right–complaining about my "disco" step aerobics music); and stayed well away from yoga during those years … I guess, the changing face of Yoga Journal is one reason, also, why Callanetics (close to being a mind-body discipline, itself) had a boom-time back in the early '90s among stylish women …

    • Jane says:

      Great idea!

  12. Skinny White Girl says:

    I'm a skinny white girl and it doesn't prevent me from having massive anxiety, perfectionism, and a noisy inner chatter that constantly tells me, "you should be X way that you currently are not and your life will be better." My yoga practice is a daily meditation on being content with all of my perfect imperfections. There's no end to the fault we can find with ourselves, so maybe we should just be compassionate instead.

  13. yogasamurai says:

    By the way, I'm here in "Chocolate City," though you certainly wouldn't know it from the Yoga here.

    The local paper just highlighted this cutting edge yoga teacher at AnacostiYoga – that is, in Anacostia, on the "other side of the river," as it were.

    Not likely to be voted the 2nd or 3rd best yoga teacher in the local entertainment rag. Way too cool for that. Here's the story.
    http://www.expressnightout.com/2012/02/a-difficul

  14. Shanna says:

    I am black and I never even think about my color when it comes to practicing or teaching. You and anyone else who practices is much bigger then color.

  15. Kristie says:

    SPOT ON! I had a regular student of mine beg his wife to come to my (very gentle) sunday morning class this week and she refused to come for fear of the skinny white yoga yuppie. It broke my heart because, as he tried to explain to her, that's not what we do there. I'm posting this on my FB page in hopes she'll see it. :-D Thanks!

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      I wish you'd break it to your regular student, that the young skinny white yoga yuppie princess will be snoring in said very gentle Sunday morning class—when they should be mindful—during restorative moves. Blows their cover right away!

      Sometimes a little catty gossip motivates the REST of us … really

  16. Lori says:

    I think the idea of putting a greater variety of people on the covers of yoga journals makes A LOT of sense. If there is anywhere such a trend should be started, why not the Supposed to Be More Enlightened and INCLUSIVE yoga community?

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      Inclusive if you have the bucks–otherwise to them you're just another trailer park yoga bunny (with apologies to Susan Powter) ….

  17. Jean says:

    I'm a very plus size 59 year old white lady who has been practicing yoga for 10 years.. Sure wish someone would design a line of plus size yoga clothes! I can't do those hand stand or head stand but it's yoga that allows me to play on the floor with my grand children! I buy Yoga Journal for my waiting room and often wish they'd get away from the "perfect" yogi on the cover. A letter writing campaign is a great idea!

    • Valerie Carruthers ValCarruthers says:

      Hi Jean ~ Do you know what a great yogini you already are? Not only have you been committed to your personal evolution through your practice, the fruits it has yielded for your body and spirit have enhanced your ability to express love and joy playing on the floor with your grandchildren. That, my dear, is perfect Yoga. Namaste.

    • Annie Ory says:

      As amazing as it may seem, Hard Tail has/sells plus sized yoga clothes. I have been researching yoga clothes for my studio and I want all types, colors, sizes, ages, sexes, every body, at my studio so I know I have to sell things they can wear and feel strong and free in. Hard Tail makes hot sexy cool looking yoga clothes and has many pieces in plus sizes. Keep looking. They are out there.

    • anouscka says:

      What is a "perfect yogi" anyway? Does holding a beautiful asana say anything about the practice or mastering of the other limbs of yoga? I think not! Actually I met some real kick asana yogini's who turned out to be really horrible persons to others and have not seemed to get passed asana practice…(no judgment here though..:-)

  18. Nadine McNeil Nadine says:

    You are absolutely GORGEOUS! Thank you for this much needed article. When you have a moment, I’d invite you to visit my website….Bless, Nadine!

  19. Mamaste says:

    I posted this on FB this AM. We're getting a discussion going! Y.E.A.H! ~Mamaste

  20. CtotheT says:

    This is a lovely post. Thank you. But I caution around the severe judgement of 'white, young, skinny blondes'.
    Unfortunately, in the yoga community as in all others there is a need to 'other' people in order to make ourselves feel better. These are people just struggling through the journey like the rest of us. Be kind.

  21. Mamaste says:

    Nice! Changed the picture! Beautiful ~Mamaste

  22. Dianne says:

    Everyone has their issues to work through. I feel everyone. I am so glad that this post struck a chord. I want to see EVERYONE in Yoga to be represented, loved, supported and empowered. I want everyone to know Yoga comes in all sizes and shapes and realities. We are all walking the path, working on our stuff and looking to find something to belong to. I just once want to not be the only the big black girl in a yoga class.

  23. yogasamurai says:

    American yoga culture preaches that it's welcome to all — but, in fact, it's not. It doesn't deliberately intend to be so exclusive demographically – but it is, and the people in the dominant demographic – affluent, white liberal women, baby-boomers, and rising professionals mainly, need to own up to this.

    The issue is no different from any other organization or industry that is diversity-challenged. Actually, yoga is not even really "open" to men, let alone people of color. It also has trouble reaching some religious minded people, who might object to all the Sanskrit chanting and the latent – if not explicit – Hinduism.

    Be the change you believe in. And take action. If you want Yoga Journal to lead the way, you have to MAKE the owners and editors do it. Right now they're appealing to the demographic that can afford the magazine and the products produced by its advertisers, who are selling to the very same elite niche.

    Power never concedes anything easily? Organize!

    • Valerie Carruthers ValCarruthers says:

      While you make many good points in your comment, yogasamurai, I would differ with you about yoga not being "open" to men. It's not that yoga classes or studios are deliberately excluding men. Far from it. My teaching colleagues and I are a;ways delighted to see more men on the mats. Having taught Yoga and core fitness classes at studios and fitness centers over the past ten years, it seems that newbie guys—who can be as concerned with body image as women—are often hesitant or afraid to show up as stiff or inept in a room filled with bendy, proficient yoga goddesses.

      They may come to undo years of abuse from extreme sports or because their gf or wife was going. But it doesn't matter why. The cool thing is that they often find it lifechanging and get hooked.

      As for some of those "religious-minded people," while not every type of Yoga class is for everyone, there are styles of "faith-based" Yoga that have cleverly been crafted for them, too. The spirit and intention of Yoga is all inclusive—the heart of many religious faiths lies in Hindu culture and scriptures.

  24. Kristy Meyer says:

    I vote that we send you some pictures of ourselves doing yoga poses as all kinds…that would be a great tumblr blog!

  25. Meera says:

    Love your post! After teaching yoga for over 25 years, I came up with some adaptations to help accomodate my changing body, and came up with Big Yoga–a practice for anyone challenged by extra weight, stiffness or injury. My book wond the Benjamin franklin award for best book in Health and Wellness, and might be of us to you and your students. You don't have to be thin to enjoy the benefits of Yoga!

  26. Valerie Carruthers ValCarruthers says:

    "Sometimes we lose sight of that and we get caught in that idea that yoga is a function of beauty, when yoga is an expression of beauty, discipline, sacrifice and love. Yoga teaches us to feel with our hearts and experience with our bodies." Beautiful, Dianne! And ultimately in teaching us to feel with our hearts it brings us together in a sacred place that lies beyond size, color and shape. Namaste.

  27. yogaboca says:

    Awesome! Dianne, thank you for sharing your truth with us. What we see on the covers of YJ surely does not reflect the truth of what yoga really is. I hope the editors are aware of this blog post!

  28. [...] people tell me that they are intimidated to start a Yoga practice because they are too inflexible, too overweight, or too [...]

  29. [...] am an almost 48-year old woman. It’s taken me a pretty long time to become mostly comfortable with who I am. I say mostly because who I am is an ongoing process. I change every day so I need to [...]

  30. [...] …………. Elephant Journal posted an article that Dianne wrote intitled “Yoga: Not just for Young, Skinny White Girls.” It was lots of fun watching it go (semi) viral. The article received 849 shares and 45 [...]

  31. [...] Yoga: Not just for Young, Skinny, White Girls. ~ Dianne Bondy [...]

  32. oz_ says:

    HELL yes!! Terrifically well said – thanks for this much needed contribution to the conversation, Dianne!! :)

  33. [...] yourself. Through my experience of yoga I am finally accepting my curly hair, my brown skin and booty-licious big girl body. Believe in yourself, shine brightly, flip the script and invite your world to change by standing [...]

  34. integratedmemoirs says:

    This is a wonderful article…LOVE IT!

  35. Florencia says:

    I love this article. I want to see more Hispanic people on the mat, that is part of my vision. I can fit in the stereotype of the yoga you described, but I do not want that yoga will become that image. It is not about curvy united, Hispanic united, as somebody mention, is about the whole yogi community working together to build a space of integration and a place that embrace and celebrate differences.
    Love
    Florencia

  36. Heather says:

    True. And ironic as it is brown-skinned people who invented yoga.

  37. [...] All of this yoga “stuff” we do is not just for a hot bod. It’s not to feel holy and then just sit in our holiness. Its not to teach classes geared towards making everything look pretty and nice. We practice to create awareness, to kill unconsciousness and to use that to create change. This change cannot just be within ourselves, on our mats, in our cute outfits and awesome facebook pictures. We have to remember that we are part of a greater whole, a whole that still suffers. [...]

  38. Javi says:

    Super, i will share your post.

  39. Cassidy says:

    Thank you for sharing. Your voice is powerful.

  40. Heather Morton Heather says:

    It is a great post and honest…but let me just tell you it also works in the reverse. Just because I 'might' fit into the white girl image and blah and blah does not mean that it does not come with its own set of problems or issues.

    Many years I received nasty mail from a woman who had taken come yoga with me….she wanted to me focus on weigh loss issues and people like herself who had a weight problem. Well, first if you do not tell the teacher…what is anyone to know about your past..Hard to see if someone was once a size 16 and now they are a size 6!

    Plus, the other party made lots of assumptions on my behalf how I would benefit from knowing the issues. Excuse, me I also suffer due to the RIGHT body image and never being enough. I had a fair share of all that trash when I was in modeling and escaped with an eating disorder.

    So in the end, everyone should understand the standard that is set by the public and other people unrealistic and hurts everyone ….

  41. Saroopas On Fire says:

    This is a female-centric article peppered with attachment. It might be worth sorting it out the reason for practice before scrutinizing the trends of studio yoga or mass media publishing about yoga. This entire essay should be replaced with the first Patanjali Sutra and then sit and be. Remember… Krisha means Black…so do worry about inclusion.

  42. Saroopas On Fire says:

    …to add – why show off with a handstand to prove some proficiency at asana? Is that what we derive from yoga – that we have to prove something to someone we don't really know? How do we prove we are good at meditating…? Do we sit quietly and chant in front of someone to prove it? Isn't it mindful to just account for people that are ignorant or just uniformed… let it go. The self, the jiva atma, is hard to appease without hard work. Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah. And please note that I used the phrase "female-centric" because this article asserts that stereotypes are in play in studio yoga, but makes this argument based on race and size alone, not gender. The yogis that have the appearance and ability of the euphemism you used will one day learn that all glory is fleeting. One day every posture is difficult and clothing is less flattering. That's life.

    • Vision_Quest2 says:

      "Is that what we derive from yoga – that we have to prove something to someone we don't really know? How do we prove we are good at meditating…? Do we sit quietly and chant in front of someone to prove it? Isn't it mindful to just account for people that are ignorant or just uniformed… let it go. [ ... ] One day every posture is difficult and clothing is less flattering. That's life."

      Nailed it.

      Again, I must put on my BS detector and figure out that showing off by fat, skinny, skeletal or a little junk-in-the-trunk yogis is their way of trolling for new (possibly stupidly skeptical) students …

    • Dianne Bondy Dianne says:

      Thakns Saroopas right on. It is so true

  43. Katherine says:

    What's funny is that yoga was originally for men only. There are DVDs available for Big Yoga , plus size yoga, etc. But that just keeps you in your house, not interacting with people who can help you improve. Keep teaching, keep training! And thanks for the post.

  44. [...] landscape is changing. The minority will soon be the majority. The fringe counter culture is now mainstream and finally we are beginning to shift how we think [...]

  45. Mary says:

    I love your article! I teach an Aqua Yoga workshop and have heard many students express these same thoughts. Water is their way of feeling accepted into yoga. I know some people that water yoga isn't "real yoga" but just ask the yogis who feel out of place in a land-based class (nothing against land…I teach land, too, but try to make everyone feel extremely welcomed!) Do I hope that water yogis develop the confidence to go to the mat (if it is appropriate for them and their desire) at some point? Yes, but I'm also glad that aqua yoga offers them a way to practice. If we can meditate while doing the dishes, we can have a mindful yoga practice in the water….but I digress.

    My point is: THANK YOU for posting this. I admire your inner strength and love that you are setting an example and speaking out on the topic. Yoga isn't about who we are on the outside, but who we become on the inside. All of us, skinny, white, brown, heavy…. struggle along our own paths.

    Namaste,

    Mary http://www.whitecrowyoga.com/newsletter

  46. Janine says:

    Hi there, what an illuminating article – especially the comment … " I have never seen a yogi like myself on the front of Yoga Journal. The images perpetuated by the media seem to set the same ideal we see in fashion magazines. I thought Yoga would help us step aside from all of this."
    Thank you for that. Janine

  47. Paige says:

    I love this post! Yoga is all about being comfortable, I hate the thought of people being pushed out because they don't feel they fit in. x
    http://www.asquithlondon.com/yoga-pilates-clothes

  48. yara says:

    I LOVED THIS POST! THANK YOU FOR THIS!

Leave a Reply