September 18, 2010

Yoga’s Relationship with Beauty, Diet & Money?

…Same As It Ever Was.

When Judith Lasater took exception to ads featuring sexualized young women in ads…

…in Yoga Journal, I bit my tongue and looked the other way out of respect for Judith’s place in yoga. It just seemed obvious to me, or redundant, to question how sex and beauty sell products—yoga products’ existence is still dependent on sales, which explains why so many ad campaigns use sexualized models to try to move product.

Yesterday I read a similarly themed post by Melanie Klein, who is young, attractive and smart and I began to doubt my belief that yoga magazines and yoga products exist in the same world as every other commercial endeavor and thus have to do what’s necessary to survive what is currently an incredibly difficult business environment.

I am not part of the Yoga Elite. I don’t claim to have a spiritual connection to stretching my body. I started doing yoga to lose weight, but it’s the beautiful women in the classes that keep me coming back. So maybe my connection to yoga isn’t deep enough for me to worry about the supposed direction yoga is heading by featuring pretty women in yoga magazines, using models to sell yoga goods, and emphasizing weight loss as a benefit of the practice.

But one simple rule I like to live by is to give credence to opinions held by those who are smarter than me, and Melanie’s article was so well written it made me curious to see just how far yoga had fallen. Since both Judith Lasater and Melanie cited Yoga Journal as one of the bigger offenders in their writing about yoga’s cultural decline I decided to try and find out what the magazine was up to back in the day when beauty and diet and “sexy images of size zero women in skin tight outfits” didn’t pollute the world of yoga.

I found two old issues of Yoga Journal on Google Books. The first one was Yoga Journal’s May 1975 inaugural edition, of which Judith Lasater was the copy editor. Interestingly enough, the woman on the cover (maybe it’s even Judith?) is gorgeous, looks to be about a size zero, and is dressed in a skin tight outfit. She’s in some yoga pose (I don’t know which one) and her eyes are seductively closed as she turns her head up towards the sky. Sexy. The lead article is “Yoga, Diet, and Sensitivity.”

You can read the entire edition here, it’s really quite entertaining.

The next issue I found was Yoga Journal’s 15th anniversary issue, from March/April 1990. Melanie wrote how she didn’t start practicing until 1996, but it wasn’t until 2003 that she became disillusioned with Yoga Journal when the magazine included an ad for diet pills. Even though the synergy between weight loss products and yoga is obvious, I still could see her point. Because in a perfect world where magazines don’t need money to exist so they could do things like pay their staff a salary and rent office space and buy things like computers and telephones and desks, it makes sense that a magazine about a lifestyle as healthy as yoga shouldn’t get mixed up with dirty diet pills.

I say all this because the very first page of the 1990 15th Anniversary issue of Yoga Journal features a full page ad for “Alive Energy” pills. The magazine’s cover is a racy shot of Patricia Walden in a white leotard. Patricia was the model for the issue’s centerfold which features several sexy pictures of her in the same white, skin tight leotard doing poses in the desert. If you could set music to the pages, they would be a Bon Jovi video. Sales of that very leotard were said to have doubled in the following months.

Read the entire issue here.

Yoga Journal has managed to stay in business since 1975—no easy feat. They’ve done it because somebody there has had enough sense and edge to keep the magazine sexy and bring in ad revenues.

Be it using a model on the cover of their first issue, or selling premium pages to companies advertising “energy pills,” it may not be pretty (well, actually, it is pretty, that’s kinda the point,) and some of the yoga purists may not agree with it, but perhaps the rapper Ice-T explains it best with his one simple lyric,

Don’t hate the playa, hate the game.

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