There is inherent value to diversity in yoga. Everyone benefits from a yoga community which represents a wide range of ages, abilities, ethnicities, gender identities and life experiences. Which is why the cover of the Yoga Journal has been such a colossal missed opportunity for so long. Flip back through the last few years, and you will find the cover models to be overwhelmingly white, female, and very, very fit.
Yoga Journal is conducting a “Talent Search” to find their cover model for the September issue. When I announced my candidacy over brunch one morning, I jokingly asserted that I was going to bring “diversity” to the YJ cover. My friend Erin of the blog Bows and Sparrows kindly (and astutely!) pointed out that I am white. I conceded that there aren’t many venues where being queer and a size 14 makes you a possible candidate for affirmative action, but then again there aren’t many venues as homogenous as that cover.
Not to say the magazine is necessarily misjudging their target audience. If you were to be dropped into a class at a yoga studio here (let me speak for Northern California, but my instincts tell me the case would be similar across the country) you would find yourself amongst primarily slender white women. I do not mean to demean the participation of this majority group, or the contribution they make to the practice of yoga. I whole-heartedly admire and cherish every student who walks in the door of our studio. But I would be doing them, and yoga, a disservice were I not to also to reflect on who is not walking through the door and why not.
There are plenty of people right now doing a lot more than reflecting. I don’t have to reach far to find people shifting the demographic of yoga in California – and America – profoundly.
My own teacher, Mary Paffard, heads LYRI-CA – (Latino Yoga Research Institute–California and the Americas) – a non-profit offering Spanish language classes in California, and yoga teacher trainings and educational exchange with Latin America, including Cuba.
The Yoga Seed, Sacramento’s first non-profit yoga studio, seeks to make yoga available regardless of socio-economic status by making all classes and events completely donation based.
Recent graduates of our teacher training program here at It’s All Yoga are going on to teach low income seniors, the homeless, and those living with developmental and physical disabilities.
Curvy Yoga, a website and blog published by Nashville Yoga Teacher Anna Guest-Jelley, explains why people of size might want to practice yoga besides for weight loss.
It was the Curvy Yoga blog, in fact, who inspired some colleagues and I to take a crack at this talent search. She encouraged yogis of all shapes and sizes to send in photos, to represent! So we did.
My lovely friends and I, photographed by the incredibly talented and yet low-key Vanessa Vichit-Vadakan tried out our favorite poses and picked our best pictures. We then all held our breath and hit “submit.”
What has happened since we hit that button has been completely bizarre.
Here’s what we didn’t know before we submitted the photos: the Yoga Journal search is using a star system so that voters can “rate” each pose on a scale from one to five. It’s like a yogic version of the Internet game “Hot or Not.” The general sinking feeling that something very strange is going on is compounded by the photos with one or two stars. Who would take the time to go online and vote, only to give a pose one puny star? And what are the stars meant to grade – the alignment of the pose? The difficulty? The hotness? Add to this the general abundance of very bare, very toned midriff, and the whole thing is kind of making me kind of crazy.
If you would like to enjoy the fruits of our labors, please visit our submissions. Each of us has a photo, along with a statement about what yoga means to us.
And while you’re there, you might slip us five stars, please. We’re all a little traumatized.
The shape of yoga in the United States is shifting, whether or not that is reflected in the shapes and faces on the cover of a magazine. Yoga Journal’s responsibility really isn’t to the philosophy of yoga but to its advertisers. I no more look to a magazine to represent practitioners of yoga than I used to look to the “L Word” to represent the community of gay women. They’re both in the entertainment business, pure and simple. The question is, when Yoga Journal does finally get on board with the revolution, will anyone still be paying attention?