Why The Sexy Equinox Yoga Video Pissed Me Off.

Via Julie JC Peters
on Jan 11, 2012
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You really shouldn’t get involved in Facebook comment fights. It’s a bad idea: your well-thought out opinions, thoughts, and insults are wielded with no stronger weapon than a thumbnail picture of your face on New Year’s Eve.

This time, I just couldn’t help myself. The Equinox Yoga Video has been making its rounds like a tumbleweed in the yoga community’s firestorm, and yeah, it’s got me pretty heated.

And indeed, this blog post means probably even more people will watch the video, thus giving Equinox more free advertising (which, sure, they probably knew what they were doing when they created it), but I think talking about media in a critical way is incredibly important, and much more valuable than pretending it’s not there. If I ever have a teenage daughter, I am going to sit down with her and go through every page of Cosmopolitan with her and discuss the shit out of what it means and what it makes her feel and how close or far its impressions are from reality until that magazine is so boring she will not ever want to read one again. Also I will show her this:

And the Equinox video, which made its way onto my Facebook stream with words like ‘beautiful’ and ‘gorgeous’ attached to it, gave me the same feeling those magazines do now. It’s what I like to call the ‘No’ feeling:  your gut twitches, and you know somethin’ ain’t right, even if you can’t quite articulate it yet. Perhaps it was partly the video’s description: “Equinox’s Briohny Smyth shows there’s no limit to what the artfully honed yoga body can do.”

Firstly, I admit, it is beautiful. It’s a beautifully photographed, definitely erotic video with a gorgeous, strong yogini and lovely music that’s very well done. I’m not denying that. But here’s what it made me feel.

Yoga advertising has been trying for a while now to make me feel bad about my body so that I get insecure enough to buy whatever they are selling. This is the number one MO of teen and adult women’s magazines (and men’s magazines for that matter): subtly hit the reader in an insecure place so that they buy more of this magazine and its products. Let’s try some real world translations of cosmopolitan.com‘s website headlines:

“The New Girl Quality Men Can’t Resist” or, “Why You Are Not Like This Girl and Don’t Deserve a Quality Man [unless you buy this STUFF!]”

“This Common Goof Will Tick Off Your Friends” or, “There’s something wrong with you. You don’t know what it is. We do. [You can help by buying this STUFF!]”

“Are you Lying–To Yourself?” or, “You are lying to yourself. You are actually fatter than you could ever imagine. [So you should buy this STUFF!]”

These magazines, mixed with the dangerous brew of early teenage life and all its pressures, created so much anxiety that I became anorexic. At 5’8, I weighed 102 pounds. All my friends thought I was soooo pretty, my mom was desperately trying to get me to eat a piece of toast, and I still thought I was fat.

Then yoga came along. It taught me that I could be strong and beautiful with muscles instead of just bones. It taught me that it didn’t matter what I looked like, as long as I felt good. It taught me that I could be a fighter jet made of biceps, and that was awesome.

I teach yoga because it helped (and continues to help) me overcome my anxiety and depression and empowers me in more ways than I can name, and that‘s what I want to share with people. I tell my students over and over again to close their eyes. Stop looking around–it doesn’t matter what you look like, and it doesn’t matter what the person beside you looks like. It matters how you feel.

And for all we tell our students to turn inwards and not worry about what other people think, we yoga teachers sure do worry about it. We try not to, but in this incredibly competitive community, we feel like we should be the ones with the strongest core, the most amazing practice, the most advanced postures. We feel like we should know everything and be able to do everything so we can pass it onto our students. We need to constantly be reminded that we are still students–on a path of learning, and the only one putting pressure on us to do crazy poses or have a perfect butt is us.

Well, us and this Equinox yoga video.

I think if I wasn’t a yogi or a woman or some combination of things that make me who I am, I’d see just the beauty of the video and move along. But the woman in the video is not only sexy, she is sexualized. This video exemplifies the male gaze: the sense that a woman is being watched, looked on as an object, (in pieces, at that: hip, thigh, butt, feet) from the heterosexual male perspective. Some feminists argue that even when women subject themselves to and desire this gaze, they are towing the line of the norms of a gender-unequal society (this is a big topic: see Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema“). This video pretends intimacy and innocence (just rolled out of bed for a 3.29 minute morning practice? Really?) but is carefully crafted: the lace underwear, the unmade bed, the closeups of hair coming loose and quick breathing, not to mention the butt shots in updog: it all says, subtly but very clearly, SEX. Heterosexual sex that puts the male gaze in a position of priority, and minimizes the female gaze (which some say can’t or doesn’t exist yet). And I’m not even going to touch on the money/class/yoga is only for rich people/peace is only for the superrich reading of this penthouse apartment. There is a difference between an erotic, sexy female body and a sexualized female body, especially when it’s being used to sell something.

Some of those of us made uncomfortable by this video are being accused of a puritanical hate for innocent naked bodies due to our overly sexually repressed culture. I disagree. Not all white Americans hate breasts (anyway, I’m Canadian). I think yoga is sexy. It literally does make your sex life better, and eroticism in our culture is something we could use more of in a respectful way. But here are two problems with sex in yoga culture when presented this way:

1. You don’t need this kind of ‘yoga body’ to be sexy.

And 2. when people see you as an object, they treat you like one, which is why you get sexually assaulted by your boss at the yoga studio and you are told you can never ever tell anyone about it, so you don’t, until 7 women speak up all at once (and I wish it had been me that broke the silence). And yeah, that wasn’t fun.

See, for example, Toesox: I much prefer these ads (not that they don’t have their share of controversy, too). I think they are beautifully photographed, I see a human doing a strong, amazing thing rather than a sexual object doing as she’s told. The ads are unapologetically sexy, if not erotic, they are clear about their intent, and they are kind of funny (Toesox: all you need to wear! get it?). Kathryn Budig is certainly naked, but she’s not being put in an obviously sexual position or in a sexualized gaze, you see her whole face and body, not just a cut of meat, she’s just naked, doin’ her thing. These ads didn’t get my ‘No’ spikes up. (Should they have? Comment me back).


Another example is this video by my friend Meghan Currie.

She is undoubtedly a sexy woman, and the video is erotic in its own way, but the bright coloured boy-cut undies, the cat sleeping and licking itself in the corner, all the stuff on the walls, the intelligent, creative (and symmetrical) sequence all humanize her rather than sexualize her. She may have actually rolled out of bed and filmed herself doing this. She is an awesome yogi and interesting human, not an object to be sold in the marketplace in exchange for insecurity and fear. And even though I wish I could do some of that stuff, her video didn’t make a part of my soul want to die.

The Equinox video turns its gaze on this woman as an object, and defines her as a “perfectly honed yoga body” that can, robot-like,  do anything. As a yoga teacher and a woman, I feel that gaze turning its head, Exorcist-like, on me–This Yoga Body is valued for its butt cheeks and MOST incredible yoga poses (dance, monkey dance!). She is not valued here for her teaching, her passions, or anything about her mind at all. I don’t want my students looking at this and thinking of me. In any way.

I struggled for 6 years in academia to be taken seriously as a woman. My friends assumed professors wanted to work with me was because of what I looked like. I was harshly critiqued in my essays and presentations, assumed stupid until proven otherwise. I decided on a gender-neutral academic name (JC) so as to avoid assumptions when I was submitting papers. (And people still assume–I still get an email now and then about my published papers titled Dear Mr. Peters)

Now I am a spoken word poet, which is a competitive ‘sport’ where you are judged on your performance as well as your words, and it’s even worse when people can see me while I’m speaking. I’ve learned to cover up a lot and wear the most boring thing in my closet when I perform so people can hear the words rather than look at my body. I’ve heard (female) poets criticizing me for ‘using’ my sexuality to get scores at the slam, and several (male and female) people thinking they were complimenting me for saying, “Of course you won, you were probably the best looking person there.” These are all ways in which I have felt that my first and most important value in this world is how sexy I am, and that it’s not a given that I also have a brain. Actually, I (of course) wrote a poem about that:

I think it’s awesome and impressive that some “liberated women” have zero problem with this sexualization, and miraculously don’t have histories of being objectified as women. And maybe it’s just me and my own personal triggers that saw a little past the beauty of this video and into some serious ugliness. I can’t get away from the fact that this is happening, and that people that are going to call me sexually repressed for my negative reactions. But I am more than a body: I have words, and words are my best weapon.

In my opinion, it’s still, and always, worth fighting for the right to be seen as a human, and not an object.




About Julie JC Peters

Julie (JC) Peters has been practicing yoga on and off from the tender age of 12, and it has gotten her through everything from the horrors of teenagedom to a Master’s degree in Canadian Poetry. She is a yoga teacher, spoken word poet, and writer, and teaches workshops on yoga and writing called Creative Flow. Julie also owns East Side Yoga in Vancouver with her mom, Jane.


180 Responses to “Why The Sexy Equinox Yoga Video Pissed Me Off.”

  1. deb says:

    i was simply in awe

  2. […] or given grief for only wearing underwear with Equinox Fitness’ provocative viral yoga video, “The Contortionist,” people are talking about […]

  3. AuroraGr says:

    Its great there is a discussion..to some this vid is great/crap but its no big deal so they move… to others it gives rise to an issue and talking about it constructively allows feminist approaches to be more diverse robust and articulate….this is good for all of us.
    However I really firmly think you are limiting this women in the video…not by criticising as fair play a discussion is good…but because she is beautiful and it seems she knows it and enjoys it and this somehow damages other women?.
    The lady choose sexy underwear so it goes into porn territory but she is not an object. .i really fail to see the objectification. There is no denying she is strong fit and confident and you cant define a wtong type of strong fit or confident otherwise women continue to be passified and constrained. I reckon this lady is just one of those naturally beautifully women luckily or unluckily for her she is going with it. The other videos she has made show a loving respectful relationship being built from yoga. It looks real and so we should be allowed to see it without fear of emotional harm. Dont know her name otherwise I would stop saying ‘she’.

  4. […] focus on the physical aspects of the practice, mainstream yoga has become a commodified and often hypersexualized fitness regimen, rather than a complex, life-long spiritual practice. Focusing simply on asana […]

  5. […] often a prototype for the whole of his other modes of reaction in life.” If you look around, sexual energy is an undercurrent in mostly everything in the modern day world—suggestive advertisements, pornography, movies, most of the songs that you hear on the radio, day […]

  6. >>The second: I worry that it puts many people off trying yoga, because the
    >>postures we see are advanced postures and are not achievable for many,
    >>even after years of practice, not every body is the same and not every body is capable of
    >>some of these advanced postures.

    I think that's just a quitter's mentality. Personally, I would take it as a personal challenge. Keep pushing the limits.

  7. I totally agree. Thumbs up!

  8. This has sparked a lot of debate, good work! I found your article on a friend's Facebook page and had to look into it because she too, was 'pissed off' by this yoga video and I wanted to try and understand why.

    Personally, I find it really beautiful and inspiring. Does it trigger some insecurity for me too? Or jealousy? Sure, Yes, of course. Still I find its within me to work on that since I can't control things outside of me. No one forced this woman to dress in underwear and perform yoga postures in front of a camera and for it to be shared with thousands-millions of people. She chose to do so of her own free will.

    Since I DO see her as a whole person and not just a sexual object, despite how sexy the film may be, and I wanted to know more about the woman. Her name (which you never mention in your article she is referred to by you only as a "sexy woman") her NAME, is Briohny Smyth. http://briohnysmyth.com/

    If you had taken the time before writing the article to learn more about that her, you'd know that she too, just like you, has struggled with an eating disorder, she struggled with Anorexia and Bulimia. I find that very, very interesting, that you happen to write this article about her without knowing exactly who she is.

    She is best known for her love for Inversions and Arm balances. She is also a Mother, she gave birth to her daughter in 2004. She and her husband travel together teaching yoga and there are other videos in which she does speak, and offers her skills as a teacher. I just watched one and it was very interesting. Those postures and skills didn't just happen, they take years to develop. That in an of itself demonstrates humanity because it proves that she endured a struggle and suffering to achieve what she has achieved in her practice. It means she most definitely fell down and hurt herself on more than a few occasions, and didn't let it stop her. That's always what it means when you see someone like that who is a master of their art, people don't become masters overnight, it happens only through many long years of struggle.

    I highly recommend looking further into this powerful yogi, Briohny Smyth http://briohnysmyth.com/

    My name is Leah, aka the Bodybalancer on twitter as @dbodybalancer
    and on Zaarly.com/bodybalancer

  9. PS- Here is another video in the same style, which features her voice and great skills as a teacher. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embed…!

  10. lynnmin says:

    I saw the Equinox video last year and I also was offended. That is not art – it's glossy advertising. It's well done and has nothing to do with yoga. Well, it has everything to do with the soulless, consumer oriented, achievement oriented gymnastic activity known as yoga in the US. Undeniably there are individual exceptions, but on the whole it has no resemblance to the yoga practice that it was when I started practicing in the 1960's, nor to the practice I participated in, in India.
    Things change and the american consumer machine can transform anything and convince you that you made the choices.
    But why are people practicing? What are the motivations and expectations?
    I believe that a woman's body is beautiful as are her mind and soul. Let's face it, there still is sexual discrimination. Women believe that when you show your body you are free – it depends how and why you do it – sometimes it is just as much an enslavement as a burka.

  11. Laine says:

    There is nothing erotic about that video. She's simply in her pretty-tame undergarments.
    It's showing what you can accomplish while others are sleeping.
    If you apply yourself you can transform your body into a masterful, purposeful thing you can will to do anything. She is an exceptional woman with incredibly control over her physique. You are the one sexualizing her, she just woke up and wanted to work out.
    She doesn't have "the perfect butt" she has the butt of an athlete. There is no reason to feel like an extremely fit woman is shameful to others, it's not like she's starved, she's honed. That body is a product of work, effort and dedication. Just because you can see skin, doesn't mean you are intended to be aroused.

  12. Santiago says:

    That's not art, it is advertising. There is a difference.

  13. rebellefemme says:

    I totally agree! I think she's taking out her personal insecurities on a beautiful performance piece and that's terrible to see that type of attitude in the yoga community. It's funny how she supports the photo of a naked yogini but insults a video of a yogini in the same outfits people wear to Bikram yoga daily. I detest this article. It's filled with insecurities.

  14. rebellefemme says:

    very well said!

  15. Steve Gilson says:

    Please stop using the "Feminazi" label. It's insulting, and it makes light of the actual Nazi holocaust as being simply annoying rather than the atrocities it really was. There's room for you to express your view without insulting the people you disagree with.

  16. Tamsyn says:

    I don't like this article, Meghan Currie is well known for doing yoga in skimpy clothes. I have no issue with that… how you can differentiate between the two is beyond me.

  17. Sofia says:

    I rather have my daughter watching this ad than a freaking diet infommercial. The ad is beautifuly executed, the model is awesome. I didnt find it erotic at all. Its just a yogi in her morning routine. Why is she in perfect underware? Well maybe its just art direction and well it matches wit all the atmosphere of the video.

  18. Chris says:

    I agree completely!!

  19. melliebear says:

    Great spoken poetry performance. From one poet to another. Thank you!

  20. Chris says:

    I get up early and practice yoga before my family wakes up and I often practice in what ever I happened to sleep in, sometimes that's just underwear and a tshirt and sometimes it's just underwear. I feel like this video is meant to be a intimate view of home practice done in a artistic way but I don't see it as overtly sexual. This video doesn't make me feel insecure with my body at all. I see a very strong and beautiful yogi during her practice and that really just inspires me to get to my yoga mat. I think its great! I don't think this video is any worse than the beautifully photographed toe sox ads. These are all interesting and artistic views of yoga!! I'm happy to see these strong women doing what they do!!! More power to them!! 🙂

  21. Nic says:

    I really like the Equinox video. (And I was doing yoga before Madonna ;-))
    I didn't see it the way Julie JC did at all. I admit it could be seen as erotic, but anything can. I didn't perceive an agenda there saying "guys, check out this chick's arse and buy something because of it" as I did in the Toesoxs ad; that woman is completely naked! Talk about gratuitous flesh for the selling of a product!
    And I also practise yoga at the end of my (unmade) bed, in my undies, while my boyfriend sleeps. Just not with those toned abs, nor the amazing apartment windows. So maybe I just related to it, or something.

  22. Heather says:

    I'm bored and so over talking about people's bodies. Who cares what a lady wears, or what she looks like or doesn't look like, for a lady shall wear what she wants to, and a lady will be who she wants to ( any Free To Be You and Me peeps out there?). I want to talk about how the yoga makes her feel, how it makes her vibrate, how it makes her radiate. Her practice appears to be deep, radiant and meditative to me. I'd love to hear her breath.

  23. Denise says:

    Kudos to Equinox…years later and feathers are still being ruffled over this video. The "model's" in this video are amazing yogi's. They are beautiful/gorgeous inside and out. She has worked hard to achieve her advanced practice and her amazing physique is a result of it. They are inspirational teachers and anyone would be blessed to learn from them. Grow up people…so she is in underwear…I have seen woman wear less on the beach.

  24. Speedmonkey says:

    People have different opinions, that's normal. I am one of the people who were so inspired by this video. I met her in person before when she was 6-8 months pregnant and she showed me how to do hand stand on a surfboard(Ocean Yoga Fit by Freemotion)!!! I also met Kathryn Budig. They are both very humble, beautiful, and strong Yoginis who love what they do. Isn't Yoga about not judging?

  25. Ashley says:

    I've never had a problem with this video, and even though you posed a well-articulated argument, I haven't been convinced otherwise.

    I disagree that this was shot for/from a man's POV; perhaps if she was surrounded by cackling men whilst they told her what to do next, it would be a different story. But as is, it is just a woman stealing some time for herself before her partner wakes up.

    As for the lacy undergarments point, I, too, love practicing yoga in my underclothes. They are not restricting and lend just that little bit of support so that I don't have boobs falling in my face or yanking on my chest skin. It makes me feel sexy, and yes, my partner also happens to think it is sexy – nothing wrong with either of those! I don't have to wear big baggy clothes to practice yoga (although sometimes I do, of course!) just because I have a female body. I felt you that you came very near to saying that to be a woman is automatically to be a sexual object, and therefore as a woman you should not be practicing anything that could be construed as sexual while scantily clad. I know that isn't what you were trying to say, but that is how you made me feel, and I do not agree with that. When I want to be naked, I'm naked and sexy! When I want to wear "boring" clothes, I'm clothed and sexy! No difference, just do what appeals to you at the time.

    I think this is a beautiful video, this woman has an incredibly powerful body, and I love doing just as the video portrays – rolling out of bed and starting my mornings with a near-naked yoga practice. And yes, it is indeed while by partner keeps on snoring for another half hour.

  26. Maga says:

    I just got here purely by chance. I think an important part of the critique is to become aware of our own biases, lest we begin to see our fears in places where they don't need to be. I appreciate your struggle; it was my struggle for many years too. And I completely understand your fear that an eventual child of yours might be affected in the same way. But we don't own people's opinions on a subject, not even if those people are our children or if those subjects affected us deeply, like Cosmo magazine. Some people can enjoy Cosmo without beating themselves up, and trying to take that from them or to somehow correct them does not help us in our own journey. I don't believe they hurt us by enjoying it, either.

    So much is in the eye of the beholder. In this particular video I didn't feel the model was sexualised. I didn't feel I was being shown body parts for my consumption nor that I was being let in on an intimate moment. I saw the strength in her abs, the careful stretching of her toes, the precise balancing of her legs above her, and thought about how much time she must have dedicated to this. I admired the way she seemed to use her own body like a ladder to climb up. Definitely admired her discipline for waking up early to do this, and felt she must love this very much.

    Doesn't that actually say a lot about her? That she loves a challenge, that she doesn't get bored in the initial stages nor give up when the fight gets tough? That she takes care of herself and leads an organized life? Sure, it doesn't say what books she likes, but what ad would? Could it be that this fear of objectification is happening because she's beautiful? Would you have the same feeling if she looked different?

    Ultimately, isn't describing the video as "erotic" an objectifying act by itself? You describe it based not on what's in it, on what the woman is doing, on the endless hours of work and care that she dedicated to be able to do it, but solely on what you want to do to her (or what you feel somebody will want to do to her). Yes, beautiful people can inspire sexual attraction. But I see that as only a marginal component here. And with that I don't mean to say that my view is right and yours is wrong. They're both valid, but they are our own. Somebody else commented that it's made to make women buy gym memberships, and that is valid too. We don't own the things we love, nor the way people see them, nor the opinions of our loved ones.

    We see the world through the glasses of our past and our experience. If we've been hurt, we might be tempted to spend our lives trying to protect the young version of ourselves that we see in everybody else from getting hurt again. But that doesn't help our inner child heal, nor is it fair to those we try to protect and end up robbing of experiences instead.

  27. Kashmoney says:

    The video was to advertise Equinox. Are any of us going to the class?


    It may have generated publicity, but for me it was negative and I now have zero interest in that gym.

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