This post is my contribution to the attempted dialogue about body positive yoga involving Melanie Klein of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition and Kathryn Budig. For background, Melanie’s “Open Letter to Kathryn Budig” can be found here (An Open Letter to Kathryn Budig)
Melanie, I feel impelled to reply to your Open Letter to Kathryn Budig as I believe there are few essential points that have not been touched on. You’ve presented one part of a very large issue on celebrity culture in yoga, body image and privilege. The first point I want to make is this: you state that Elen Bahr’s tweet “Say NO to Kathryn Budig as the face of body positive yoga” was not intended to be personal. You state that Elan’s statement was not about Kathryn as a person but her as a symbol of the “thin privilege” and stereotypical yoga body that pervades yoga culture. The problem is that by doing this she objectified Kathryn. As a feminist, I’m sure you know better than most the problems with objectification. Kathryn was made to bear the blame for the suffering of others – and therefore scapegoated. If this is going to be a true and genuine dialogue about the problems yoga culture faces, I believe this needs to be recognized and owned. No one person or group deserves to bear the ills of a larger subculture where there are unconscious and pervasive forces we are all part of perpetuating. Objectification – whether by the “yoga industrial complex” as you aptly call it – or by one practitioner to another is simply propagating the very thing your are trying to question.
My second point is this: While I value equal opportunity for all in terms of acknowledgement and employment within the field of yoga, I believe we must be careful about what we are asking for. Instead of vying for a position WITHIN this yoga industrial complex we may be better questioning our attachment to it PERIOD. I don’t believe it is privilege to be caught in commodification – either as the stereotypical yoga model or the marginalized other seeking recognition within it. The objectification inherent in commercialization is a reduction of our complexity – no matter what objectified position you hold within a system.
I believe the best possible outcome moving forward is, first, to deeply “subjectify” everyone involved. This means honouring Kathryn’s feelings by recognizing the harm done in Elen’s statement, even if it was unintentional. At the same time it means continuing to validate the feelings of those who feel marginalized and under recognized for their good works in our yoga communities. Secondly, it means continuing the good work of the YBIC and remembering that body image is everyone’s issue. And finally, we must all recognize our part in perpetuating the commodification of yoga through various overt participation and at times, more latent and unconscious forms of pandering to the yoga “machine”.