August 9, 2010

In Defense of KB.

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.


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

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