3.9
August 14, 2010

Slim, Sexy Yogini + Car, and what the heck are we sayin’ here at Elephant?

What’s good about this Nissan car ad with Tara Stiles is that it communicates about a car that has the potential to cause less harm to the environment, and it gets yoga to the eyes of a mainstream audience. But it makes mistakes in message, too.

There is a big pull-out centerfold advertisement in the July/August 2010 issue of Women’s Health magazine featuring Tara Stiles, yoga and the 100% electric, no tailpipe, zero emission (for tailpipe emissions) Nissan LEAF TM.

It seemed like quite a synchronicity that I just happened to find it during the week of the “maelstrom of discussion” around Judith Hanson Lasater’s letter to Yoga Journal about sexy ads. Added to that, in an interview, Waylon had just asked Ms. Lasater, “…A sort of crass commercialism or “spiritual materialism,” as my parents’ teacher put it, seems to be at issue. So wouldn’t SUV ads be more offensive?” Well, here is an ad about a zero tailpipe emission car (there is no tailpipe on the car!) that also shows the commercialization of yoga! But, I’m really getting ahead of myself…

This issue of Women’s Health boasts stories on the cover like, “Eat, Drink & Still Shrink!” and “Flat, Toned Abs, High, Tight Tush, Jiggle-Free Arms.” Are you feeling insecure, yet? I am…

In the past (is it still happening?) it’s been bodaciously breasted and curvy women used to sexualize cars in those male-targeted car magazines. Tara Stiles cuts a much more slim and even girlish form as she poses in the Nissan ad. With her hair in a tight bun and clean look she reminds me of a classical ballerina, almost like a girl from the dancer paintings of Edgar Degas without the tutu.

In the language of opening a centerfold, the message is clear. (I remember, when I was a girl, pulling apart the little tacky pieces of glue to access my practically life-sized picture of Jon Bon Jovi from Teen Beat or similar magazine…) The yoga sequence is actually in the easy-open part of the ad. Inside the glued part of the spread—the most cherished part—is a picture of the car on one side of the spread and this message on the other side, taking up a whole panel on a plain dark blue background:

Can you say “xenophobia“?

From the text:

“no chanting. No hard-to-pronounce pose names.”

and

“likewise, the Nissan LEAF is changing perceptions of what a car should be.”

Hmm…so does this mean that “hard-to-pronounce pose names” are like carbon emissions, and that chanting is equally old school/bad?

This ad is questionable (I’d say horrible) in terms of yoga and for global consciousness. When it talks about the “difficult-to-pronounce” names of the poses, I wonder about other “difficult-to-pronounce” words, like learning other languages and global communication (and what about things that can be difficult-to-say like, “I love you.”). Isn’t it important to move past the small worlds of our individual conceptions of things and into a more inclusive understanding of ourselves?

This ad targets something about yoga that I think is good and designates it as something that should be done away with—like an old car. And that’s a shame. Literally.

Yoga was discovered in India. The pose names may seem strange at first because they come from another language. The world is bigger than American culture (which has always been a “melting pot,” anyway), and this is healthy. Yoga can remind us of this important truth. And as a metaphor, the “otherness” of those sounds and chanting can remind us that experience is larger than our individual minds can contain. I love that yoga provides a technique that gives me relief from the tight strictures of my own mind.

The ways of materialist culture as seen in this advertisement seem to be trying to cleanse yoga of its Indian-ness, as if the strangeness of it is a form of pollution. I think that the difference and newness for us is good. We need to practice moving into new spaces and saying new things.

The Nissan ad could be a powerful way to get yoga to women. And though obesity is a national concern, this ad could be seen to feed off of women’s insecurites by reinforcing cultural pressures to be slim and burn calories, a personal concern of women’s bodies. It also taps into a growing concern about global warming, uniting an individual woman’s concern with helping the planet. But along the way, I fear it tramples on difference and ethnicity, also telling us that it’s good to do away with the difficulty of understanding what we don’t already know. [Bonus: a great thing about new media, as an evolution of print media, is that the web invites dialogue and respectful disagreement via our readers, not just writers. Please comment below.]

At places like Elephant Journal, there is a mission to bring consciousness to prevalent images and views. Our tools are also images and words the same tools as have created and support harmful human ways in our world, and we use these to attract attention to ourselves: I just think that it’s important to look inward and see what we are deciding to put out there and honor where it is really coming from. Even people striving to live a life of conscious actions and spiritual uplift can lapse into simple visual and verbal masturbation, reinforcing unhealthy stereotypes because that’s a lot of what we already know. I’m not talking about any specific post or person, but I just think that this is how to do it. We need to pay attention (and have fun). I see that we need to use the language (popular, visual, and verbal) that is already here in our common culture, but the established ways are polluting the world and harming our relationships. So how can we use what we know to create what we want?

Moving towards a life where we are living from our best conscious choices is a great aim. It is also stepping into the unknown; the way we are living now is still causing lots of harm.

Elephants: are we writing, speaking and sharing images from a creativity that is grounded in the knowledge of our lives and at the same time creating the future of our dreams?

Good (There’s a lot here that makes me think that the answer is ‘yes’). Let’s continue to strive in that direction, and continue to make all of the necessary mistakes along the way so we can learn how to do it.

What’s good about Tara’s Nissan ad is that it communicates about a car that has the potential to cause less harm to the environment, and it gets yoga to the eyes of a mainstream audience. But it makes mistakes in message, too. As a people, can we learn, and continue to refine our technology and communication, and understand as well as embrace our relationship with a global reality including environment, sexuality and community?

I say yes!

* This article is lovingly provided by Yogic Muse *

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Brooks Hall

Brooks Hall is a Yogic Muse from Chicago, Illinois. In this capacity she teaches Yoga, writes about Yoga, and generally enjoys it. You can find her at: brookshall.blogspot.com.