How Yoga Makes You Pretty – Part Deux

Via Melanie Klein
on Feb 14, 2011
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Looking Pretty Versus Feeling Beautiful

Read How Yoga Makes You Pretty – Part I: The Wisdom of Bryan Kest and the Beauty Myth

Yoga, a derivative of yuj which means “to bind or yoke”, is a holistic system that addresses the whole person- physically, mentally, emotionally and energetically. Ultimately, the intention of yoga is to unify body and mind. This stands in stark contrast to our Greco-Roman tradition that values the power of the intellect over the inherent wisdom of the body. The result is what is referred to as the mind-body split. Susan Bordo describes this duality in her book, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body, p. 144:

I will begin with the most general and attenuated axis of continuity, the one that begins with Plato, winds its way to its most lurid expression in Augustine, and finally becomes metaphysically solidified and scientized by Descartes. I am referring, of course, to our dualistic heritage: the view that human existence is bifurcated into two realms of substances: the bodily or material, on the one hand; the mental or spiritual, on the other.

Not only has our total being been split into the mind, or intellect and the body, or material, but they’ve been ranked in a hierarchy. Of these two planes, the mind has been, and continues to be, more highly valued than the body, a realm deemed synonymous with the “unpredictable” and “dangerous” realm of nature and the feminine. In addition to the devalue of the physical body, the intellect has been placed in charge of controlling the body. In essence, enforcing the will of the intellect and trampling over the body’s innate ability to communicate.

How does the body communicate? Through feeling or sensation, of course.

And, let’s face it – as a society, we’re awfully disconnected from feeling in general and what we’re feeling specifically. This is made evident in Peggy Orensetein‘s latest book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture, a hilarious and frightening foray into the last decade’s emerging princess culture. She cites countless studies and interviews numerous experts on body image, sexuality, gender development etc. She states:

According to Deborah Tolman, a professor at Hunter College, who studies teenage girl’s desire,”They respond to questions about how their bodies feel-questions about sexuality or arousal-by describing how they think they look. I have to remind them that looking good is not a feeling.

As I pointed out in How Yoga Makes You Pretty- Part I,  according to veteran yoga teacher, Bryan Kest, everyone wants to look pretty, or look good according to a culturally constructed and myopic standard, in order to feel good. But as Orenstein and Tolman detail, pretty is not a feeling. Pretty is an outward aesthetic based on an elusive and ephemeral ideal.

Even those that meet the cultural criteria don’t necessarily feel good, one of the endless promises made by the externally imposed beauty standard. In fact, Bryan Kest says “You can’t enjoy how pretty you look if you don’t feel good.” Even if you look like an advertisement in Vanity Fair or Yoga Journal, the supposed prizes “pretty” entices us with can’t be enjoyed without a deeper connection, a feeling of wellness, wholeness and/or self-love.

As Tias Little recently wrote:

When the outer look dominates a yogi’s practice, the feeling within the interior gets overlooked and can drive her to fits of obsession. Denying and defying the flesh is tied into acts of self-punishment and abuse. Self-acceptance is critical. And what is necessary is a critical eye for what the industry—yoga or fashion—displays as slim, sexy or perfect.

When practiced devoid of competition and an intellectually determined agenda, yoga provides a route to complete wellness. Yoga is able to quiet the mental storm, shift our focus inward and away from all of the messages that tell us that we’re too (fat/hairy/pimpled/dimpled/flabby/old etc) , and cultivate a conscious relationship with ourselves.As my yoga teacher, Anaswara, instructed us in last night’s practice to “make choices based on how you feel, not on what your intellect or ego desires.” As she pointed out, “The Body doesn’t lie. Be honest with yourself.”

How often have we tuned our bodies truth out in order to pursue the beauty norm, or the beauty myth, enforced by our culture? Have we exercised too much? Have we eaten too little? Too often, women and girls, and increasingly men and boys, have forced themselves into a one-size image of beauty that lacks the diversity that makes the human race miraculous and special.

My Tantric Dance of Feminine Power teacher, Nita Rubio, encourages her students to “let go of the pretty,” or the external veneer, in order to tap into the wealth of sensation offered by the body. This is where personal power and innate bodily wisdom can be accessed.

As we practice breath and asana, we also practice forgiveness, acceptance, tolerance, compassion, understanding and self-acceptance. This ultimately leads to self-love and self-love is a feeling.  It’s a feeling that blossoms outward. It allows us to love ourselves unconditionally and therein lies true beauty.

What’s your intention? To look pretty or feel beautiful?

Cross-posted at Feminist Fatale.

Photograph of Drown the Dolls exhibition painting, “Bride Close Up” by Daena Title. On exhibition at Koplin del Rio Gallery in Culver City, CA extended until February 26.


About Melanie Klein

Melanie Klein, M.A., is a writer, speaker and professor of Sociology and Women's Studies at Santa Monica College. She is a contributing author in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice and is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body, and co-founder of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition.


19 Responses to “How Yoga Makes You Pretty – Part Deux”

  1. Good series, Melanie.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Melanie Klein, Anna Guest-Jelley and Bob Weisenberg, Red Fox. Red Fox said: How Yoga Makes You Pretty – Part Deux […]

  3. Sarit says:

    Beautiful. This statement resonates with me in particular and is why I have sought meditation and yoga as a consistent practice: "as a society, we’re awfully disconnected from feeling in general and what we’re feeling specifically." As a woman and a yogi you are a wonderful example of the true benefits of feeling beautiful. I know that in my own practice, as I dance with my breath and become more in tune with my body, the hyperbole of my eating disordered mind fades into nothingness. More and more, that new reality is transferred off the mat and into my daily life so that I, too, have begun to feel beautiful. As always, thank you.

  4. Vogue Yogini says:

    Thanks for the Bordo and Orensetein book mentions, too – they look well worth checking out. Lovely series.

  5. […] at Feminist Fatale. Read How Yoga Makes You Pretty- Part Deux: Looking Pretty Versus Feeling Beautiful. Melanie Klein is an Associate Faculty member at Santa Monica College, where she teaches classes […]

  6. Diana says:

    I love Peggy Orenstein and her new book!

    Really nice insight and reminders here. Thank you.

  7. mehrsa says:

    I am really touched by the way you said it is way better to feel beautiful than look pretty. It is such a beautiful saying. I actually think to try to be more familiar to yoga in order to gain that self love which is such a great feeling. THANk you again
    Mehrsa Javanmard

  8. […] of exercise such as high-impact aerobics, running etc. in the pursuit of the beauty ideal- with little regard for the physical consequences. Orenstein’s past is characteristic of the dangerous lengths girls and women will go in order […]

  9. […] and content with who I was. I was enjoying the conversation when it turned to bodies and weight and getting into “shape.” When the talk turned to comparing and joining various local gyms, I made it a point to suggest […]

  10. Viola B. says:

    Looking good is not a feeling but feeling pretty is the true beauty. Our society have manipulate our daughters mind of what true beauty is, especially the media. It seems like beauty have turn into what’s on the outside rather then what’s truly on the inside. I strongly believe that any one that believe that they are beautiful despite of what’s on the outside they are beautiful.

  11. Madeleine Marcicano says:

    I agree with you about the fact that people who believe are beautiful actually are because it takes real digging in one self to find this security. If we go against what the media tells us I think more people would be better off and realize they don't need the latest thing to make them beautiful.

  12. […] when I have fun with friends, when I chill out, I can come back to my responsibilities refreshed, rejuvenated and yes, […]

  13. Salina G says:

    Wow! That blog hit the spot. All my life, I was told by my grandparents to not eat too much for fear of being obese like some of my family members. My grandma told me I was pretty and/or beautiful often, but not daily nor did I know the difference because I thought it meant the same. Since I was young, I always did what my instincts told me. Like walk away from a person who made me feel uncomfortable or steer away from someone I seen from afar because I got "bad vibes". I always wanted to look pretty, hot, or at least alright. I learned that beauty was skin deep. I did not feel beautiful until recently, years after having my daughter. I realized that accepting myself, my flaws, my mistakes, and my body for what it was while staying out of others mistakes and flaws, I became even more beautiful inside and out. I've tried a semester of yoga and wasn't thrilled with the teacher, but loved the way yoga made me feel. Something inside changed, not sure what it was, but I need to get out there and explore the differences in yoga and the instructors.

  14. DeAngelo H. says:

    Great article! I do believe that yoga in its fundamentals makes one look inside themselves for the answers and blocks outside controlling messages from society and the media. What is pretty? That’s a great question because the answer only lies on the athletically pleasing and not self-confidence and esteem, which is far deeper than the eye, can see

  15. Jaeyoon Chung says:

    Thanks for another great article Melanie Klein. I know I have tuned out my body's truth in order to fit the beauty norm. That truth continues with the closing sentence. I cannot say I have honestly asked myself whether my goal is to look pretty or feel beautiful. This will take more effort and work than I have placed in the past on these questions. Thank you for moving me out of my comfort zone, and allowing me to ask honest questions about my life. Thanks for this article.

  16. mavitia89 says:

    Professor Klein, I really enjoyed your article. You brought many great points that are definitely truth about how we see "beauty" and define it. I personally enjoy doing yoga and I feel it is a great way to meditate and help one feel good from the inside to the outside and not the outside to the inside. As Salina mention above "My grandma told me I was pretty and/or beautiful often, but not daily nor did I know the difference because I thought it meant the same." I can personally relate to that were I was told I was pretty look nice but yet I was not happy with myself. As a matter of fact I look back and I feel there was a time were I was developing an eating disorder where probably my own family and friends did not realize. I felt that being told you were pretty was one thing but when someone would made a comment about your body or weight it will erase all that prettiness away. Therefore, I personally got to the point where I wanted to get in a diet and loose weight because in society we are brought up that being slim is being beyond pretty but possibly gorgeous! However, I am glad over time I came out of that shape and mentality and I must say I realize a lot from the frist moment I took my first sociology class.

  17. Melody S. says:

    Beginning the practice of yoga about 4 months ago has changed my life in ways I cannot express. It amazes me how yoga heals so many broken things including the physical, mental, and emotional. I feel so much better about myself after I started doing yoga feeling as if I have been transported into a different dimension in each class. I see myself maturing physically and emotionally as I learn to go at the pace my body can handle and at no body elses. I feel no competition with others and improve at my own pace. The separation of mind and body is perhaps why so many Americans are depressed. Disrupting the communication of the body to the mind can be disastrous making one a stranger to one's own body. I encourage yoga to both men and women who need to build self esteem and not to mention get a great workout without the pressure of the gym.

  18. My boyfriend always tells me I'm pretty. I accept the compliment and say thank you. But I've never considered myself beautiful. What's the difference between these two words? Being pretty is only skin deep. It's just the physical attributes that make you appear pretty. Being beautiful on the other hand is feeling oneness with yourself, your mind, body, and soul. How do you achieve it? Self-love is the answer. Yoga helps the process of self-love become easier by allowing you to accept your body and its limits. It allows you to escape the world around you and focus on yourself until your breathing in every breath of your being. Once this is achieved, true beauty is achieved. I myself have taken yoga before, but unfortunately never got far enough to fully accept my body as it is. Thus i've never felt beautiful. But i've decided in continuing my yoga classes after my classes end, to bring my body and mind to a oneness state.

  19. […] and content with who I was. I was enjoying the conversation when it turned to bodies and weight and getting into “shape.” When the talk turned to comparing and joining various local gyms, I made it a point to suggest […]