The Princess & the (Downward-Facing) Dog.

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Can Yoga Combat the Limitations of the Princess Brigade?

Yogini and New York Times best-selling author of Cinderella Ate My Daughter, Peggy Orenstein, thinks so. In a recent addition to her growing resource  list on her book‘s website, she states:

Girls want to do ballet in preschool. And that can be fine. But most of them won’t want to do it anymore once it gets “real”–and given the body image concerns about ballet, most of us don’t want our daughters pursuing it anyway (I don’t mean to put a knock on ballet, which I respect, or certainly any other form of dance, I’m just saying the world of ballet can be very tough. I’ve seen “Black Swan….”). Anyway, in addition to, or instead of, ballet how about kids’ yoga? It’s graceful, you can wear a leotard if you want, and it’s something that can actually be the building block of a lifelong healthy practice that promotes POSITIVE body image, confidence, competence and inner strength. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

The Pepto-Bismol pink and glitter strewn world of “princess culture,” one that has exploded in the last decade, is what has been referred to as a gateway drug. It is a gateway drug that leads to the narcissistic, ego-driven world of the diva. As Orenstein describes in one chapter of her book, Wholesome to Whoresome, and a point that is made in a recent interview, Cinderella and the growing pantheon of princesses aren’t inherently evil. The problem rests with the aggressive and highly sophisticated marketing tactics that have placed greater and greater emphasis on the hotness quotient and severely limited girls’ choices. It is the cradle-to-grave brand loyalty that is forced upon children at ever earlier ages. In fact, marketers have hyper-segmented to such a severe degree that not even infancy is off-limits. The hyper-girlie, overly marketed, painfully pink “princess industrial complex” has increased the pressure young girls feel, limited their measure of self-worth, and decreased self-esteem.

The world of the princess, one in which girls aims for hotness or  “little-girl sexy,” is a very limited world, indeed.

Orenstein has listed yoga as one of many tools parents can use to combat the ever encroaching marketing forces and create a world of greater opportunity and self-definition.

In a recent interview with Orenstein, she told me that yoga has been a source of healing, something I can personally relate to. While Orenstein dabbled with yoga classes in college, she came to yoga more seriously after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She’d heard that yoga could be a helpful aide in regaining mobility in the arms, especially after the painful removal of  lymph nodes in that area. After meeting her first teacher, a teacher that resonated with her personally, a consistent and permanent yoga practice was solidified. Orenstein has been practicing regularly for over a decade.

Yoga has allowed Orenstein, someone who is not, in her own words, “naturally graceful” or flexible and someone who has a long history of “body unease and embattlement,” to marvel at her body’s capabilities. Like too many women and men, Orenstein spent the greater part of her 2os pushing past her body’s limits by engaging in popular, and grueling, forms 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 to achieve the ubiquitous and unrealistic beauty ideal. For many, the gamble seems worth it in a culture that repeatedly emphasizes the number one way girls and women are valued– one that is measured in a size-zero frame.

Similar to my own evolution and personal healing through yoga, Orenstein has been able to shift her body image narrative into something more loving, compassionate and forgiving. This has given her the ability to accept her body unconditionally and love her body in the moment. As body-image activist, Jessica Weiner, says, “your life doesn’t begin 5 pounds from now.”

Your life is now. Love the body you’re in. This is a sentiment I echoed in a recent talk during National Eating Disorders Awareness Week.

In a recent interview with Los Angeles-based yoga teacher and founder of mini yogis, Shana Meyerson, yoga is empowering for children (and adults!) because it is virtually one of the only arenas in our life where competition and “perfection” don’t come into play. Effort is essential, not the final outcome. In fact, falling is an indication of effort, something to be applauded and celebrated. Referencing girls specifically, Meyerson states:

For girls especially, yoga helps self-esteem and promotes a healthy body image. Unlike other popular sports for girls (gymnastics, ballet) that revere the physical aesthetic, forcing children to diet (or even starve) and work through injuries, yoga encourages students to love who they are and be mindful of their injuries and/or limitations. That’s not to say that yoga promotes complacency. It doesn’t. But it does promote constant self-study and introspection, so that you are living to your own ideal of the best you can be, instead of someone else’s.

Princess culture is alive and well- and growing. The idea that we can shield our girls from this myopic and limited definition of girlhood, and eventual womanhood, is delusional. Even the most progressive, conscious and “enlightened” families I know, ones that don’t watch television and don’t support pop culture, have been infiltrated by the world of the princess. Like Barbie, princesses have a way of showing up in your house. Parents are up against  mammoth marketing forces that seem to penetrate ever deeper.

Yoga is a powerful tool that can facilitate a healthy body image and deflect some of the countless messages aimed squarely at our girls. As the world of the princess grows ever smaller in it’s range of choices, yoga expands those limitations.

We are not just defined by the mirror on the wall.

This post is dedicated to my friend, fellow yogi and first-time father, Rudy Mettia, and his daughter.

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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.

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anonymous Mar 6, 2011 5:06am

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anonymous Mar 4, 2011 5:57am

We'll be tackling this topic and more when we host Anna Guest-Jelley of Curvy Yoga on the Blog Talk Radio show later this month.
I think every girl/woman struggles with body image on some level. Liking yourself and accepting your body as the incredible gift it is takes a lifetime of work on and off the mat. I love teaching yoga to girls of all ages as I know for myself it continues to help me with my own journey of self-love and acceptance.

    anonymous Mar 4, 2011 9:44pm

    I can't wait to hear the interview!!

anonymous Mar 3, 2011 11:21pm

Possibly. Probably. But PLENTY of Divas on Planet Yoga. Especially be wary of anyone throwing the word "Goddess" around. A Diva is a Diva is a Diva…and in some circles, a Goddess.

anonymous Mar 3, 2011 10:54am

I teach kids yoga too and at Halloween almost all the girls are dressed as one Disney princess or another (very rarely is there a home made costume in my city – but that's another story).

The point about yoga being a life long practice really sums it up. Yoga is not for performance (like ballet, gymnastics, figure skating) or competition (like sports) so you never have to stop doing it. We don't see ballet class for adults, to keep up as a life long practice. You can do yoga in a class or on your living room carpet. Yoga is wonderful this way and kids get it.

anonymous Mar 3, 2011 7:42am

Don't be blind to the reality that there are just as many "yoga princesses" out there, including some TEACHERS ! And not just any teachers, people who have been on Yoga Journal and who I have seen act just as spoiled and entitled outside of the studio.
Just recently I had an encounter with one of these "yoga stars" who wanted to have the rules altered and not applied to them the same way they are applied to other customers that come through the door of our business….it was NOT a pretty or enlightened experience for the poor front desk girl she went after!

    anonymous Mar 3, 2011 9:36pm

    Thanks for pointing that out. I get that. I know who you're referring to but the piece was primarily about the shifts it creates in body image and one's relationship with the self/body. With that said, there are always exceptions to everything, even princesses in yoga. Our culture of narcissism runs wide and deep. Thanks for the comment. You always have a way of confronting the points I make in my work. I appreciate the challenge.

anonymous Mar 2, 2011 7:51pm

In my family we tell lots of stories about hero-princesses: a maiden who sing dragons to sleep, a little mermaid who steals back the shell imprisoning her voice and saves the prince, and (my favorite) Vasalisa the wise. We still watch Disney movies, but in our home stories always grow and change. I try to create heroes to inspire both my son and daughter.

    anonymous Mar 6, 2011 5:54pm

    That is precisely what Orenstein suggests and promotes! Good job.

anonymous Mar 2, 2011 6:59pm

my 5 yr old elf loves ballet, princesses, barbie and yoga. One day she wants to be a dr. another a yoga teacher. The pink fluffy stuff is definitely not something she inherited from me but it is deeply rooted. If she could do tree pose with sparkly ballet shoes on and a tiara she'd do it. Not sure the two are mutually exclusive 😉

    anonymous Mar 2, 2011 9:13pm

    Nancy- Orenstein does an excellent job of discussing nature versus nurture etc. I highly recommend this book. It is rather eye-opening- even for someone like me that has studied sex and gender for almost 20 years.

Bob Weisenberg Mar 2, 2011 11:48am

Great article, Melanie. I was just having a related discussion with my daughter about her 3-year old daughter, who every time she sees someone do something, says, "Mommy, I want to do that." Luckily she says it about everything, from ballet to gymnastics to tennis to soccer.

I was encouraging her to decide herself to choose which ones to say yes to, and not to feel bad about saying no to others, even if there's some complaining. I even encouraged her, when the time comes, to choose soccer over tennis, even though I'm an avid tennis player, because it's a team sport.

Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

Bob W.
Yoga Editor

anonymous Mar 2, 2011 8:11am

Good to remind folks that yoga is an accessible philosophy that can foster positive self images for children and teens as well as adults. This can happen even as they navigate a world that expects them to look or act a certain way. It's a balance. Good post.

anonymous Mar 2, 2011 7:49am

Thanks for sharing this, Melanie! I love the idea of considering ways to promote positive body image among children.