May 12, 2010

Yoga isn’t about Skinny. But Slim? Okay.

A year ago, Kate Moss inflamed the blogosphere (and irked women and parents everywhere) by saying what everyone already knew she, and the modeling industry, already believe:

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels.”

She then followed by saying, good-naturedly—”I try to remember, but I always forget.” In the media fire that immediately followed this waifish model’s statement, everyone forgot that next sentence—an admission of being only human, and that infamous slogan being only a reminder, not a rule.

Still, diet and health issues are paramount for all of us, and particularly for sensitive, impressionable young women beset upon by an entire industry bent of obeisance to “The Church of Size Zero.”

And so it comes as a bit of a surprise to one of my friends to see a book (by one of elephant’s favorite yoga friends, Tara Stiles, a former Ford model) entitled Slim, Calm and Sexy. My friend, ironically, is tall and slender, a figure that Cosmo readers might die for. On a hike with my dog, recently, she related to me her concern about that word,


Later that day, I emailed her:

What was your problem with Slim Calm Sexy? That the model’s body is being represented as ideal?

She emailed back:

For me it was about portraying the “typical” yoga body as slim – some people can do all of the yoga that they want, and yes they will be more fit, but likely some may still be beautifully curvy. Curvy bodies are healthy bodies too. I think it may make yoga seem less accessible for some women.

Know what I’m saying? You can actually be curvier and wear baggier clothes if you’d like and go to a yoga class for your health and spirit and be more fit, but still curvy.

I’d find it intimidating to start yoga too, imagining that everyone in class may have a dancer’s body in tiny sleek yoga wear!

Love the “calm and sexy” part! Just would prefer “healthy” or “fit” instead of slim, as it only represents one yoga body type.

Tara is totally lovely and it’s not a knock, I just worry about that potential message of: “practice and you’ll be slim,” or “practice and you’ll get a dancer’s body…”

Here’s a random article I found about yoga and curvy women: http://www.bellaonline.com/articles/art48592.asp

Makes sense?

To be clear, I asked Tara about this (off the record). And she said what my friend and I figured—that it was more a word about being fit (and I invite you, Tara, to offer your own understanding of that title in this forum—and we’re genuinely excited to review the book). Interestingly, she also reminded me of the dangers of obesity, particularly in America these days, and how yoga was a natural, calming way to stay healthy—a great alternative to diets and exercise routines that don’t last. Slim, in Tara’s vernacular, isn’t about image, but about health.

In any case this isn’t about Tara, though she is model-thin she’s also fit, thoughtful, and a warm and caring person. Rather, this question (that a community devoted to yoga and fitness must consider) is aimed at the confluence of the fashion or modeling aesthetic and the yoga “industry.” Can we keep the two separate? Yoga Journal, for one, over the years, has done a great job of portraying old and young, black and white, Asian and Latino, slim and curvy. But we hear an awful lot about the “yoga butt,” and Lululemon’s success, for one, may be built on how their clothes make you feel slim.

On some level, to echo concerns on other subjects I’ve raised with Richard Freeman or John Friend in Walk the Talk Show interviews, bring it on. “Yoga Butt” may seduce countless women into yoga class for the first time…where they’ll learn to accept and love themselves as they are, and get a bit more fit while doing so.

But “yoga” is itself not one thing, not a monolithic entity: some yoga teachers teach acceptance, and some teach a spirituality-infused aerobics.

And so we ask again? What is yoga? Is it spiritual? Is it temporal?

Hopefully, always, both.

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