Unless you’ve been in yoga nidra for a week, then you know that Judith Lasater’s letter to Yoga Journal about how she felt about nudity in yoga advertising set the yoga blogosphere on fire. In case you missed her letter, here it is:
“Yoga Journal was born in my living room in Berkeley in 1975, where I was one of five yoga practitioner-teachers who gathered to create the magazine. I have loved the magazine ever since. But I’m concerned about ads that have stimulated both confusion and sadness in me about where the magazine is now and where it is headed.
I am confused because I do not understand how photos of naked or half-naked women are connected with the sale of practice products for asana, an important part of yoga. These pictures do not teach the viewer about yoga practice or themselves. They aren’t even about the celebration of the beauty of the human body or the beauty of the poses, which I support. These ads are just about selling a product. This approach is something I though belonged (unfortunately) to the larger culture, but not in Yoga Journal.
Finally, I feel sad because it seems that Yoga Journal has become just another voice for the status quo and not for elevating us to the higher values of yoga: spiritual integration, compassion and selfless service. My request is that Yoga Journal doesn’t run ads with photos that exploit the sexuality of young women in order to sell products or more magazines. Thank you for your attention and willingness to hear another point of view.
Judith Hanson Lasater
San Francisco, CA”
The comments both pro and con about Lasater’s letter flew fast and furious in Roseanne’s blog (cited above) and in elephant journal. There was overwhelming support for Lasater on her Facebook page where she said that it was not her intention to harm Yoga Journal: “It is my intention to open the dialogue and be clear about what my values are.”
Indeed she did.
Both Brooks Hall and Carol Horton wrote eloquently about the maelstrom. But Nikki Chau said on her Facebook page that Lasater’s letter to Yoga Journal “was *not* about the Toesox ads with Kathryn Budig.”
Whew. And now it’s my turn.
Brooks said that how we react to seeing nudity is personal. Of course it is, and to that I say, the personal is political. I am not a feminist scholar but I am a feminist, a word that many women nowadays shy away from.
“The personal is political” was a mantra of the ’70s feminist movement. The saying comes directly from an essay written by radical feminist Carol Hanisch in 1969, and was a way to convey to women who were suffering in silence that their individual experiences were, in fact, instances of cultural sexism.
The sentence indicates that many of our personal problems, and specifically women’s personal problems throughout history, have been political — sometimes created by, definitely supported by, and ultimately addressed by politics. In this case, the politics of advertising.
“Sex, Lies, and Advertising,” was an article written by Gloria Steinem for Ms. Magazine in 1990. She discussed the aspects of feminism and how advertising venues such as magazines use women to sell products. Advertisers have been using women to sell products since the late 1800’s, but according to Steinem, using women became the natural way to advertise and sell products, but is it right to do so?
Advertisers use women to sell anything and everything. Madison Avenue knows that beautiful women are the tools that draw in consumers to buy the products that they supposedly need and ultimately want to buy. That’s Advertising 101. Using a naked woman in yoga product advertising is no different from a using a naked woman to sell a car. Just because it’s yoga, that makes the ad more “artistic”? A naked body is a naked body whether it’s used to sell a yoga mat or tires. Why are some in denial that in the advertising game a naked body = sex or at least sexiness? Advertising is about selling fantasy. At least the ads for porn are honest, they know what they are selling.
So whether or not Lasater was writing about the ToeSox ad in particular doesn’t matter. What would the reaction be if a naked male yogi was only wearing socks? The fact is that a naked man would never be used to sell those socks. Ever.
That’s the whole point.
I have no idea who Kathryn Budig is and I am sure no one forced her to take off her clothes. She probably was paid good money to pose naked and ToeSox probably sold a lot of socks. She has the right to take off her clothes for commercial purposes and ToeSox has the right to make a profit.
But I can tell you that every time I saw her ad in Yoga Journal I rolled my eyes and said “again?” The ad does not make me want to run out to buy something I don’t need and it does not make me aspire to be her as some commenters at elephant journal have suggested.
So when I read Lasater’s letter I yelled “right on” just like I did when I marched for women’s rights back in the day. Then I started reading the comments directed toward Lasater’s supporters and that’s when the personal once again became political for me.
Not to get into my life story, but I’m no prude. I’m not an anti-pornography feminist like Andrea Dworkin was and I’ve sat naked in the communal hot tubs of Esalen. But what was more offensive to me than seeing a naked woman used to sell a yoga product YET AGAIN, were the comments that if we disagree with ads using nudity, then we must:
1. hate nudity;
2. hate the female form;
3. hate sex
4. have a problem with our own sexuality;
5. be repressed;
6. be close minded
7. etc., etc. etc.
From elephant journal, posting its Facebook comments:
“In my opinion “it takes one to know one” and if anyone sees anything perverse about a girl with no clothes on, then the perversion is in their head in the first place….I would hazard a guess that the Ladies…probably wish deep down that they could be in that pic as well!”
[this guy doesn’t even know how sexist that statement is — so much for sensitive yoga guys.]
“Those offended may need to seriously consider gaining a deeper relationship with that oNe in the mirror there.”
“we all need to get a little more comfortable with sex and the nude body (our own or otherwise)”
“It’s sad when our culture looks at beautiful photos like these and automatically switches into auto pilot and think – SEX. Are we really that much out of tune with our bodies and self.”
One female commenter told me that my “tone is full of rage not compassion. Relax. It’s an ad. 30 seconds from now another will take its place and it will be forgotten.”
Yes, and that’s the problem.
As for the armchair diagnosis of “rage”….what? Say again? I’m getting a flashback of being told that we were a bunch of angry bitches. I’m waiting for the “and you all need to get laid” comment.
My oh my….the more things change, the more they stay the same. Still. Even after almost 40 years.
To those comments I say: BULLSHIT.
I’m not as eloquent a writer as Judith Lasater, but I cut to the chase.
Those are the same types of comments I heard as a young feminist back in the early ’70s…that just because one is offended by a naked woman selling cars, perfume, clothes, or yoga crap that we don’t need, there must be something “wrong” with our outlook, there is something “wrong” with us. We were patted on the head with the comment “lighten up, honey, it’s no big deal.”
Yes, it IS a big deal in the larger context.
The larger context is not that nudity is used to sell a yoga product (and a half-naked woman is used in the latest issue to sell a Yoga Journal conference) — the problem is that naked women are STILL used to sell everything. As Cyndi Lee said at Roseanne’s blog: “It is NEVER okay to use women’s bodies to sell ANYTHING EVER. Not in Yoga Journal or any other medium. If you don’t get this, then learn about the awful things that are being done to women all over the world right now because people view them as objects.”
Lasater’s letter started a powerful discussion on the commodification and values implicit in yoga ads. What is interesting to me is how so many of the commenters on elephant journal and Facebook got caught up in the nudity issue and thereby missed the essential point: that Lasater’s letter was a question on “where the magazine is now and where it is headed.” If she attacked anything, it was the status quo. To those people who can’t see that, I say take off your blinders.
We’ve become blind to the use of women’s bodies in advertising, whether it is “artistic” or not, and our blindness is avidya, i.e., “not seeing.” Yoga is supposed to be the means by which our blinders are removed so that we can awaken from our avidya.
As Gloria Steinem asked in 1990, can’t we do better than this?
Anne Cushman asked the same question in 2003 with her article in the Shambhala Sun, “Yoga Chic and the First Noble Truth.” Anne says that yoga and meditation are ultimately about turning our eyes away from the airbrushed images of the outside world and looking deep within our own hearts.
“It’s not that there’s anything wrong with these yoga pin ups, in and of themselves…The problem comes when we start to compare ourselves with these glossy images and imagine how utterly happy and fulfilled we would be if we looked like that….
So lately, I’m looking for a different kind of image to inspire my practice. The book I’m shopping for would show pictures of all sorts of people doing yoga and meditating. There would be old people, fat people, scarred people, profusely hairy people, people with bad skin and big noses, people with thighs riddled with cellulite, people with droopy breasts and flabby thighs and faces etched with lines from hard living. There would be people with cerebral palsy, people gone bald from chemotherapy, people paralyzed by drive-by shootings, people who’d lost limbs in wars. Some people would do the poses perfectly. Others would do them clumsily, propped up on sandbags and bolsters, unable even to touch their fingertips to the floor.
All of us would be reflected in this book’s pages.”
Why are we satisfied with the status quo?
For me, yoga is a vehicle for transformation and that value is lost when we settle for the old, stale paradigms repackaged as “progressive” or “enlightened.”
In an effort to market their cigarettes to women in the late 1960s Virginia Slims used the ad slogan “you’ve come a long way, baby.”