Fight the Power! A plea to Yoga Journal.

Via Nancy Alder
on Feb 12, 2011
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Okay folks, it’s time for me to rant and rave.

I got the latest Yoga Journal in the mail and while I was happy to see a man on the cover, those folks at the magazine made me angry.  The first thing I did after acknowledging the coolness of a guy chillin’ in Padmasana was look to see if they had published a letter from my pal Anna Guest-Jelley.

You see Anna is a curvy yogini, she wrote a brilliant and beautiful letter to Yoga Journal about a recent article they published on diet and body.  Her letter connected with a slew of people (she got 42 comments on her blog alone and a shout out at our pal YogaDork’s site as well).

[She’s been featured on elephant, too, and now has her own column here. We love her. ~ ed]

Her letter was a rallying cry about the lack of “real” yogis in Yoga Journal, and a sign that it was time for the magazine to start making some changes. I figured after the blogosphere hubbub that for sure Yoga Journal would post this letter in their “Letters to the Editor” section, but alas saw that instead they hadn’t.

I was mad.

Photo Courtesy Anna Guest-Jelley

My frustration with Yoga Journal got bigger last night when Anna posted that she might just enter their talent search for a new cover model.  After all she’s got tons of great pictures (see her Vira I, above) doing yoga—and she suggested that I apply as well since I also have a slew of such images. At first I thought, why the hell not, maybe Yoga Journal is moving forward and will pick a “normal” person for their cover.  Was I smoking something when I thought that?  I looked again at the “guidelines” of the contest and I saw that it said:

“Make sure we can see your whole body in the frame. Show us your face, if possible. Wear something form-fitting and bright, so that you stand out from the background.”

I was like, hells no I’m not entering.  Yoga Journal purports to promote yoga for the masses, after all anyone can buy an issue.  But asking people to wear something form-fitting and bright is truly insulting and instantly told me that they are looking for one model-type yogi for the pictures.  I know, some of you right now are saying “duh” to me, but readers I have faith that what I think isn’t always correct.  I wanted to believe that Yoga Journal would be willing to put someone like Anna or me on the cover.  I am not particularly curvy (well in places), nor am I 100% thin, but I think most people would say that my body is pretty okay.  I have had two children, cut out of my body no less, and at 41 I can rock some of the shazam pants and poses that the models can.  But other than some yoga pants with thick waistbands to cover my mom belly, I would never wear anything form-fitting.  No one save those with perfect, flawless bodies can wear really bright clothing, and how many of us like the way our faces look in pictures? Really Yoga Journal, you thought you were fooling me but I see right through you:  you only want perfection, and it stinks!

I once asked my teacher Sadie Nardini, who as you know looks like a model, if she was on the cover of Yoga Journal what pose she’d be doing.  She said she’d be in her traditional black (strike one) in Sukasana with her back to the audience (strike two). My homage photo is to the left (and taken by my favorite yogini in the world, my friend Ashley).  I loved Sadie’s response because despite her beauty, her shazam-pose abilities and her model-like figure she wanted to promote the quite and repose of yoga.  Even Sadie would be breaking the guidelines of this contest and that’s saying something!

Yoga to me is for every body, whether you are perfect and look like Christy Turlington or you look like the girl next door.  When I teach my 6-8 classes a week I rarely have someone who could be a model for Vogue in my class, I almost always have the average everyman/woman.  It is a shame that Yoga Journal can’t seem to get a grip on this reality and promote some yoga that can rock the local yokels and not just those of us who want to go to study with the teachers on the cover.  It’s horrid that they publish articles about body and weight and yet ignore the folks like Anna who intelligently point this out.  I’m tired of it, and I’m ready to fight.  I’m not famous, nor a Yoga Journal cover model, but I am a yoga teacher and person.  I want to see them publish Anna’s letter and I’m giving them two months (because who knows if there is a time lag, right?) to do it.  If by May they don’t pony up and show the weakness in their message I’m going to unsubscribe and no longer link to their website in my posts here on Elephant Journal or on my blog.

It’s not a big step, or a national protest, but it’s my way of saying: let’s fight the powers that be.  The next move is theirs.

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About Nancy Alder

Nancy Alder is a 200H Registered Yoga Teacher in Connecticut. She teaches her students to connect with space and breath from a place of safety and humor. She writes for many yoga blogs and chronicles her daily practice to find the beginners mind on and off the mat at her own blog,ww.flyingyogini.com. She is co-founder of Teachasana,www.teachasana.com, a site by yoga teachers for yoga teachers. When not writing or doing yoga she is in awe of her elves, busting asanas in crazy places and counting the days until the next snowfall.

Comments

95 Responses to “Fight the Power! A plea to Yoga Journal.”

  1. CarolHorton says:

    Preach it, sista! Thanks for this.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by nancy , Cherie Lathey, cafeterrablog, Jenny , kenching mom and others. kenching mom said: RT @yoga_mydrishti: http://wp.me/pWVFb-xz1 <- my post from today is up at @elephantjournal w/ new pics of me and @CurvyYoga @yoga … […]

  3. Rock My Soles says:

    Great Nancy well don't expect to see me on their cover….

  4. Nancy A says:

    Ooh… I missed that one! I'll have to read it tonight .. thanks for the comment!

  5. Nancy A says:

    Hopefully they will take it into consideration… my dream is a cover with lots of yogis of all shapes, sizes and colors. But I'm not sure that they are quite that progressive.

  6. Nancy A says:

    thanks for the comment, means bunches of sunflowers to me 😉

  7. Nancy A says:

    have they seen your pigeon? i'm saying you should enter maybe!!

  8. Vogue Yogini says:

    That's a beautiful dream….come to think of it, never seen a Dove ad in YJ…

  9. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Fredric (aka Rick), Melanie Klein. Melanie Klein said: Fight the Power! A plea to Yoga Journal http://bit.ly/e4YYtm (@elephantjournal) #bodyacceptance #bodyimage […]

  10. elephantjournal says:

    Honestly, as a publisher, I see this from the other end. Yoga Journal put the well-loved, uber-popular John Friend on a cover, and it didn't sell well. The demographic apparently wants to see young, conventionally attractive women on the cover—aspirational covers.

    I do think Anna Guest-Jelley would make a fantastic cover model—the publicity and controversy and boldness of the move would likely sell magazines. But ultimately YJ has to think about that: it can, as you say, "publish articles about body and weight"—it can and does feature great normal, all-ages, male and female yoga teachers inside…I think they do a pretty damn good job. But covers are tough. The fact that they ever put a man on the cover is a bold move–yoga men apparently do not sell magazines.

    Yoga Journal has a tough task, here: to be sustainable, please its owners, be accessible and get the good word out to many (which it can't do if the magazine doesn't sell or YJ weren't profitable)…and yet your passionate letter, above, points to something greater: the thought leaders in yoga in the US, of which you are one, need to be loyal, passionate fans. YJ, as does elephant, needs to keep it real, or it loses that loyalty.

    And that's bad business, too.

    Yours,

    Waylon

  11. elephantjournal says:

    Here's the article referenced. I heart Tias: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2011/02/anorexia-a
    ~ Waylon

  12. elephantjournal says:

    Dove isn't so good for you. It's a lot of marketing. Go Pangea, or any quality organic line!

    Dove has reformed since this amazing video, so props: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/08/buy-palm-o

  13. TamingAuthor says:

    Nancy's picture, in the sandbox with daughter, would be a fantastic cover! That picture speaks to the heart so much more effectively than one of a photo-shopped anorexic model. It captures so much that is right about yoga. The picture of Anna Guest-Jolley may not be aspirational but sure is inspirational. Looks like many women in the classes I attend, who are not staying home in spite of models decorating the cover of YJ.

    But that said, as I am preparing for my own "lights and camera" moment, I gleaned some helpful information from the article. One of my instructors (who could grace a model cover) is being taped in class next week. (Obviously a stellar background moment for me.) So I thought maybe my usual black-on-black yoga wear but now I'm considering the form-fitting bright colors. Wise advice. Need to show off the cool physique. Every yoga video needs a slightly overweight old guy looking every bit as coordinated and attractive as Adam Sandler or Mike Myers. Right?

  14. CDrishti says:

    Yoga in the west has become a multimillion dollar business. And business will use any tool to sell. Beauty/sex sells best. A vicious cycle of lowering people's self-esteem in order to make (more) money. That is why studios and teachers are everywhere, some of the mats and gear are ridiculously expensive and pseudo-spiritualism flourishes, all under the guise of yoga. Unfortunately, very few are doing real yoga, rather an aerobic exercise at best. Go to any of David Williams workshops and you'll understand why. One of the few great yoginis that never capitalized on his knowledge and remains true to the great spirit of yoga.

  15. Nancy A says:

    Aw thanks! We were at the beach and I had my friend (actually the one who took my pic here) capture the moment. My daughter was saying "how are you doing that??" Strength and flight for the 5 year old audience ;-). I always take pictures doing yoga outside because it reminds me that yoga is life: fun, and not serious all the time.

    good luck with the taping! how exciting for you and your teacher.. be yourself and you'll shine!

  16. Nancy A says:

    Thanks for your reply and I think there are many people who echo your sentiments. I love that Yoga Journal shares the message of yoga to the masses, I just wish it was less of a polished, perfect and pretty way.

  17. Nancy A says:

    Tias is wonderful.. he's kind and smart and fantastic. I loved that post.. it was brilliant

  18. Vogue Yogini says:

    Definitely agreed re: Dove (definitely). Of course, their practices are deplorable. Despite horrific "business" practices (and there are so many cos. out there doing the same things), I appreciate any marketing endeavor to include "normal" (ha-ha) women in their advertising. Fueled by profit margins or not, it's at the least nice to see promos with "healthful"-appearing bodies [All quotations emphasized!] 🙂

    That said, I'm not a supporter of Dove. Go Pangea!

  19. Vogue Yogini says:

    Thanks, Waylon. Agreed! Such a powerful piece.

  20. elephantjournal says:

    Amen. But I think YJ does a good job of featuring real yoga teachers, and as far as I know they don't do the kind of photoshopping (smaller thighs, bigger breasts) that Rolling Stone did. That said, your point is clear: shift the paradigm! Too bad, and I can guarantee this, that if YJ shifted the paradigm and featured whomever they wanted (say the rabidly popular John Friend) sales would go down (as they did with that Friend issue, I was told. I could be wrong).

    So I guess as a small publisher, not a big corporate-owned one like YJ, I have the luxury of doing what I want with elephant, more. Still, we don't get clicks on "boring but important" articles, frequently—and it's the titillating ones that often, ironically and disappointingly, people click on and remember.

    As a publisher I'd put the responsibility at least partially back on the consumer. Here on elephant we talk a lot about conscious consumerism. If Nancy and others could get 1000s of new readers who don't subscribe to YJ to promise to buy an issue with Anna on the cover, and YJ got great press for doing so, they might just go for it and take the risk.

    And that would be shifting the paradigm, truly: the readers would be in charge.

    Yours,

    Waylon

  21. elephantjournal says:

    Thumbs up on all your points.

    I do think advanced yoga on the cover can be aspirational, inspiring…but yeah if I tried some of that stuff, I'd be wrecked or at least discouraged! ~ Waylon

  22. That's one of my very favorite Yoga pictures of all time, Nancy. When I put it in your profile I made extra sure that it was big enough to see what's really going on! Usually I crop to headshots for profile pictures, but this one is so wonderful I couldn't resist.

    I'm just starting to enjoy the delight of my 3 and 2 year old grandkids when I twist into Eagle pose, and they, of course, innocent of any accumulated inhibitions, try to emulate it, falling down in a mass of giggles.

    Bob W. Yoga Editor
    (Join Elephant Yoga on Facebook)

  23. Jen says:

    It is so upsetting to me that YJ has succumb to the pressure to become a "mainstream" magazine and sell tons of issues. It is absurd that they put the number of issues sold over actual content. This is Yoga Journal not effing Vice Magazine. I disagree with you that they frequently put "normal" people in the pages of the magazine. In the two years I have subscribed to YJ, I have seen many tall, thin, pretty models and only one (barely) plus size yogini, but it was in an article about weight loss. Not to mention they fail time and time again to challenge conventional standards of beauty (I NEVER see a woman with short hair, a man with long hair or people with tattoos in the pages of YJ, and God knows there are plenty of people like this in the yoga community!) Part 2 of my comment is below.

  24. jen says:

    Another huge problem is the constant use of advertising for diet pills in their publication. I completely understand they have to pay their bills, but I am sure they could find more mindful sources of advertising! I think the message that YJ sends is that you have to be very lithe to do yoga, and this is simply NOT true. I see people of all shapes and sizes in my yoga classes. I am not in the curvy category, but I feel very strongly about this issue because I completely agree with the article Tias Little published on Ele earlier this week. This type of advertising in a publication about yoga can lead to self esteem issues and even eating disorders, which is just not acceptable. If YJ continues to use advertising for diet pills and exclude entire groups of the yoga community from their publication, I will be canceling my subscription. Waylon- please continue to feature a wide range of view points and authors on Elephant Journal; this is why people love it!

  25. Jen says:

    You rock, Nancy! I have seriously been considering canceling my subscription to YJ because of the lack of racial, gender, weight, height and age diversity. I think since the YJ "talent search" is something readers vote for, we should all go to the YJ website during the voting period and get Ms.Anna Guest on the cover!

  26. Jen says:

    Slender does not always equal healthy 🙂

  27. Karen says:

    Canceled my subscription to YJ several years ago for these and other reasons. They probably haven't noticed, and seemed pretty clueless in their responses to others who have written letters like the one your friend wrote.

  28. Tamara says:

    Sometimes “real yogis” are slender. Let’s not backlash against those yogis. Makes me nervous when I see that term thrown around. When I started practicing yoga on a regular basis I dropped a lot of weight and was not dieting.
    As far as form fitting clothes, its easier to do yoga when you’re not fighting bunched up fabric and well, bright colors make for interesting covers.
    I agree yogis come in all sizes but let’s not demean yogis of all shapes by calling some real and some not.
    Namaste

  29. 32000days says:

    I don't think they're ready for this Anna Guest-Jelley. Sad but true.

  30. Nancy A says:

    Indeed, and I acknowledged that too …

  31. Katie says:

    I totally agree. It's the reason I've become totally disenchanted with the Western yoga scene.

  32. Katie says:

    I don't think the backlash is against the skinny yoga person so much as against the "Yoga media machine" which shuts out anyone who doesn't conform to that skinny & beautiful image.

  33. Nancy A says:

    thanks for the comment and you may be right. More of a sad commentary on today's world in the US than on Yoga Journal itself I guess.

  34. Yogini says:

    And, in turn, the attitude filters down to yoga studios. Young, new studio owners and others who do not know better feel that they can stereotype the size-6-or-larger practitioner or older-than-40 practitioner who comes to them for instruction. Yoga had made Candice Garret "Fat" in these very pages, if I recall correctly … why isn't she here protesting as well?

    Isn't she on our team?

  35. Yogini says:

    Agreed, but it encourages some people (mostly women) to be more of a bitch or a snob, just in the same way high fashion does.

    Yoga Journal is not Oxygen Magazine, and does not belong going head-to-head with fashionista-inspired fitness magazines; or at least until people like Tara Stiles take over the yoga world entirely … which could be the future if we don't fight.

  36. Kim says:

    We should all submit photos (like the one above) in a quiet seat, with backs to the camera, for the cover model talent search. Include an explanation of why and a reference to what's going on the the yoga blogging world right now. Maybe if they received a couple hundred of those, they'd start listening.

  37. Yogini says:

    You know, they are trying to finally get a Wal-Mart into New York City, amid backlash from Big Labor, not the residents, some of whom are financially stretched to the breaking point and might use a Wal-Mart. When the news media want to surreptitiously undermine and influence against the news they report about the local area, they take stock photos of a Wal-Mart in some rural, middle American area with women with everything hanging out wearing size 3XL short-shorts (only some of them headless–like the "headless fatties" in the news reports against the "killer obesity"). Please let's keep size-ism and/or class-ism out of this argument.

  38. Yogini says:

    Or a physically substantial, large like a football-player, man in a near-to-form-fitting sweatsuit, doing savasana (corpse pose), and yes, you can see his face (in physically SPENT, sweat-drenched (!) repose) with a similar explanation—A man who doesn't look like this month's comet-frequency male cover, the purpose of yoga, the works.

  39. JessicaD says:

    Neither does "curvy" 😉

  40. Nancy A says:

    thanks for the comment… would you mind emailing me [email protected] ? it's brilliant

  41. Yogini says:

    People of all sizes can and do "real yoga" even "traditional yoga". Not just mellow and restorative, gentle or Kundalini, but all the active and vigorous styles. But, the elitism lies in the sizeism implicit in who would be featured. In what should be a spiritual and inclusive practice, not – as it is portrayed by the media: yoga as workout venue, trendy scene, or fashion shoot. Particularly if the appeal is to home yoga practitioners and primarily home practitioner, who don't generally "go to yoga" such as the well-heeled Lulus do. Calling Tara Stiles out may not have been the best move. The pervasiveness of her marketing campaign, and the short-sightedness of her handlers are just symptoms of this disease. Thanks for pointing this out.

  42. 32000days says:

    My comment was brief and I've thought about it some more so I'll elaborate…

    People can be pretty shallow and instant in their visual thinking. It takes place at a level below conscious processing and below language.

    I know that the "automatic" thought that I get when I see a woman that I find attractive on a YJ cover is "the more I practice yoga the more I'll date women like that cover model". I further suspect that the automatic thought that some women experience upon seeing a super-thin cover model on YJ is "the more I practice yoga, the more likely I am to look like that cover model".

    The "conscious" reasons why I do yoga are of course far more spiritual and "noble" but I definitely like the positive effects it's had on my physical body.

    Now my kind, supportive conscious mind would love to see yoginis (and even yogis) of all shapes and sizes represented on the cover of YJ and other magazines. But my unconscious monkey mind is going to respond to a "Hollywood starlet" cover model far more. I suspect the same unconscious mind effect is true for the women and men who buy the print magazine; multiplying this effect over their subscriber and purchaser base, YJ recognizes where their budget is coming from and makes "practical" decisions in order to stay in business.

  43. Jen says:

    No, curvy does not always mean healthy either. I am probably not what most people would consider curvy, but what I am saying is that it is ok to be curvy, skinny, or anywhere in between as long as you have a healthy relationship with food and yourself. I just think this type of advertising and cover art in YJ contributes to eating disorders or self esteem issues for certain people. It also excludes a lot of people from the yoga community. I see people of all shapes and sizes in my yoga classes, and I think that needs to be recognized by YJ. Shape and size are not the only things being ignored by YJ, either. I would LOVE to see more older yogis and different ethnicities in the pages of YJ. As a community, yogis and yoginis are supposed to be promoting ahimsa and contentment. We should be happy with ourselves, and not constantly trying to aspire to be something different. I really think as the most prominet publication in the yoga world, YJ should show the amazing diversity of the yoga community.

  44. Jen says:

    Gail- I just want more than one body type to be represented. When I attend conferences and classes, I also notice that most of the people are slim. There is nothing wrong with being slender as long as that is achieved in a healthy way. There is also nothing wrong with being curvy if that is the way you are naturaly. If you are slim because you are obsessively monitorining calories in calories out or have an eating disorder, that is not healthy. Nor is it healthy to be overweight because you overeat for one reason or another. I think the best think for YJ to do is to accurately represent the yoga community. I would love to see a plus sized model in an artice that is NOT about yoga and weight loss! YJ needs to accept that the yoga commmunity is an ever expanding and diverse group.

  45. […] experience of ourselves makes us more vulnerable to manipulation by sex in advertising. Maybe if we want less sexy ads we need to embrace our sexy […]

  46. Adam says:

    Hi, I am male, not in great shape, 37 years old, 6 feet tall and 200 lbs with a bit of a belly. I buy yoga journal. I am not a yoga teacher and my practice sucks right now. I was a fairly dedicated yogi a couple of years ago though. Lets not mice words here, were talking about fat people not being well enough represented. When I was taking classes regularly, I can say the only fat people I saw, and the most out of shape people I saw by far were those that were brand new or only showed up once a week or less. I can say I personally went from 220 lbs to 180 ish in about 18 months when I finally got off my lazy butt and began a daily practice (3 times a day). So in my experience, the people that have a good daily practice are in good shape, or getting there. Those who don't put in the time or effort are not. This played out everywhere I've been. I have never seen a fat person at a workshop, these people are there because they are dedicated to their practice and it shows. Last year I even went to wanderlust in Lake Tahoe, California. I feel like that was a good sample of the type of people that are dedicated to yoga. I'd find it pretty unlikely that someone doing yoga as a hobby or because its trendy or just on and off would be willing to spend $1000 or more to go to wanderlust. And I can tell you that more than 99% of the people there were anything but fat. Those were the most beautiful people I've ever been around. I have never seen so many athletic looking bodies in one place anywhere, ever, in my entire life. There were thousands of people there and I felt like I was no longer in America. There were maybe three fat people there, and I was one of them. If you don't believe that, I've got pictures, I bet I have pictures of over a thousand people, and I've looked thought them for a fat person, and I didn't find one…not one. So, in my opinion and experience saying fat people can be real yogi's is a bit disingenuous. For me, there is no way that fat girl in the purple shirt is dedicated to yoga, I'm not buying it. I don't care if she's a teacher, if she looks like that she's not doing the work, hands down. For example, don't tell me she's good at what she does, because her back heel isn't on the ground and her front knee is not over her ankle, so that warrior is NOT good form. Which of course is what I expected to see an undedicated fat yogi pull off. I may sound harsh, but the truth is independent of how it makes someone feel.

  47. Adam says:

    AS for yoga journal covers not being diverse, that's a load of crap. I'm sitting here looking through a stack of them from the past two years and I see people from their 20's (Kathryn Budig) to almost 60 (Trudie Styler) in age. I see asians (Bebe Chianni Lin, Minhee Cha, and more), indian's (Hemalayaa), italian? (Maria Villella), a freakin musician (Sarah McLachlan), hispanic? (Autumn Alvarez), black (Faith Hunter, Terri Kennedy), and the totally hot and 5 foot tall Giselle Mari. Where are you even getting the idea that this isn't diverse?

    As for putting fat people on the cover or what sells yoga journal. I can tell you, I buy yoga journal BECAUSE it has beautiful people doing great poses with near perfect form. If I wanted to see crap yoga, or "real, normal, or average people" doing yoga, I'd go take a class somewhere. I spend my money to be inspired, and I'm inspired by beautiful people with perfect very athletic bodies doing difficult poses with great form. Some of you here may spout a bunch of crap about canceling your subscriptions because of some misconception you have about what kind of people make the cover, or out of some kind of white knight syndrome you have with fat people but I can tell you, as for me and most of the people I know, if you put fatties on the cover I'm outta here. If you think I'm mean or unusual you go ahead and try to find successful magazines catering to fitness related topics that put fat people on the cover. Go ahead, name some.

  48. Yogini says:

    That's just it: yoga is not just fitness. There are 8 limbs involved and it is a discipline, not this century's answer to aerobics.

    You probably read Oxygen even though it is for women …

  49. Yogini says:

    And there had been one in the 1990's during a period of just such a backlash–against aerobics!–it had come out of the venerable publishing house of Rodale Press, and it was going strong for a while: It's Me Magazine.

    It was not pro-fat-acceptance, but more Health At Every Size-lite.