It was with some trepidation that I went to purchase the September issue of Yoga Journal at the Co-op. This was the big reveal – the winner of the model-search contest launched back in spring would be featured. The contest had led to a lot of honest, soul-searching discussions about stereotypes, prejudice, and the “isms” that the yoga community is not immune to. There was even an enjoyable scandal about the controversial “star system” that allowed readers to “rate” their favorite photos. Alternative photo galleries cropped up inspired by a spirit of inclusion.
In other words, the whole thing was inspiring and a lot of fun, although perhaps not in exactly the way Yoga Journal had intended. So I was truly looking forward to the conclusion of this little saga.
Imagine my surprise to slide the magazine out of the rack, and there on the cover is…Alanis Morissette? My first thought is that the contest had became so contentious that they just dropped the whole thing. But the real answer is so much more embarrassing – for me.
You see, I had assumed the contest was for the cover photo, but in fact it was not. Nowhere was that indicated, or even implied, but I had jumped to that conclusion. In my post about the contest, I use the word “cover” fully six times, including in the title. In my daily scrutiny of the web pages dedicated to the entrants, I had many opportunities to recognize the assumption was a mistake but I just didn’t. I plowed ahead with the narrative I had created.
As much hand-wringing as this caused me, I still think I like my narrative better. Why not the cover of the magazine?
Here is what the completely lovely winner of the contest actually “won:” The opportunity to model the “challenge pose” – a monthly column dedicated to breakdowns of tough asanas. The sequence itself was written this month by Katherine Budig, a famous Los Angeles teacher, who, through no fault of her own, is a young, model-like, lithe blonde, as is the contest winner.
In fact, if you page through the magazine a bit more (p 107), there’s Katherine again, in the exact same “challenge pose” as her column – Dragonfly – only in an advertisement…nude…except for her non-slip socks. But that’s another story.
The part of the contest that interested me the most is that the winner would be interviewed. Turns out the interview is not in the magazine at all, but so deeply embedded in the website it’s almost hidden. Also, it’s not what I might call an interview, but a two minute video showing how awesome the photo shoot went.
The missed opportunity here was not only to display a different kind of cover model. Something more important was glossed over – the opportunity to really engage with the conversation that the contest engendered. The blog posts, and the tweets, and the occasional photo, in between hot bodies on beaches, of, say, a group of developmentally disabled adults beaming through their yoga poses. Or someone curvier than who you usually see. Or someone older. Or of color.
This is one example of a situation where social media has an advantage over the traditional kind. Sure, with a magazine you might get an editor, or at least a fact checker, who might point out you’ve made a pretty crucial mistake. A lot of content goes out a little, shall we say, half-baked. But then again, out here, we are having direct, unmitigated conversations about the things that really matter to us. We are not waiting for a published road map to make changes, we’re just blazing the trail in real time.
I have always considered myself someone of small ideas. When I think of people with big ideas, I picture someone standing in front of an oncoming tank, or in front of a group of striking workers, or feeding throngs of hungry people. But maybe I have underestimated the power of small things – such as the consistent dedication to radical acceptance and compassion in a society that doesn’t place a whole lot of value on either.
These small things affect the way I choose to adjust (or not to adjust) a student, the way I talk to a young girl about what she is reading rather than how pretty she is, even in the way I talk to myself. The magic of social media is the ability of all of us engaged in these practices to discover we are not alone in them. Taken all together, they are a big idea. The revolution may not be televised, but it is already taking place, and it is being Tweeted.