April 02, 2011

Why I am Not Voting (for my favorite yogis)

I'm not voting in the Talent Search (presented by Athleta). I'm not promoting my faves on Facebook, Twitter or my blog. I'm being a grinch about it all...

The first level of this is purely self preservation. I have at least 3 good friends and teachers in the running (and another half dozen acquaintances) and I am decidedly NOT playing favorites. Yeah, I know I can spread the love and all. But I'm not gonna work that hard for something I have issues with. Hear me out....

First off, I want you to meet someone. Hothead Paisan.

Now, behind my smiling, optimistic, calm demeanor, my yoga teacher loving self, there lurks this "Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist". Folks who have been in my guest bathroom will find a small shrine to Diane Dimassa, Hothead's creator. Diane and Hothead rock. One of my yogic struggles is to keep the anger, the righteous rage at bay. And for the most part, in the words of Ani Difranco, I'm not angry anymore.

So, back to Yoga Journal's Talent Search.

For years, Yoga Journal has gotten some flak for its choices of cover models (predominantly thin, young, and white) and to a lesser extent its content (skewing the same way). I've mostly just ignored it - it's not any more egregious than anything else in the popular media, and there's a lot of good stuff in there.

Over on the Yogadork blog, they've been holding a (Yoga Journal Shadow) Cover Modal Contest wherein yogis can submit their photos to document the diversity of yoga practitioners.
For our version, it’s not so much a contest as a declaration of satya (truth): We ask you send a photo of who you are, as a yogi, a real person, in any shape, size, age, gender or color/clinginess of clothing. We’re not selling magazines. No fancy poses required, but by all means go for what speaks YOU. Everyone is welcome to submit. Hey it’s no magazine cover, but your photo will be proudly featured in our gallery! (note: while there’s no one “winner” per se, stay tuned, there will likely be goodies handed out down the road for participants, TBA.)

Yoga Journal seems to read Yogadork, and so they came up with their own contest. But they've introduced some complexity. And by complexity, I mean "What the hell were you thinking?"

1) The YJ contest is heavily weighted to the same demographic presently gracing the pages of yoga journal. And although there is a counter movement of larger or less mainstream folks submitting their photos, it's a small movement counter to the 100's of more traditionally embodied yogis. So if we were trying to encourage diversity - FAIL.

2) The yoga journal contest adds the lovely concept of a 0 to 5 star rating for each photo. What are we rating here - looks? hotness? brand name yoga gear? difficulty of pose? beauty of the pose? quality of the photograph? beauty of the locale? popularity?.

3) On top of that, the number of votes cast are tabulated. So my three beloved yogi friends are going to walk away with some numerical rating of their practice or themselves (please, let it be 5 stars, they are all 5 stars in my book!), a tabulation of their popularity (number of votes) and the temptation to do a rack and stack within our little yoga community as well as within the greater yoga community. Bleah...

Now, maybe this contest is just a little bit of innocent fun, and I ought to just chillax and let it wash over me. Folks are submitting to the contest for all kinds of reasons - yoga changes lives, and we celebrate that and want to spread it around. People have had their lives turned around during their first yoga class, and they want to share that. I suspect most of us who have become teachers have that sort of motivation.

And I get that yoga in this country is a lot of things - a spiritual practice, a great way to connect with one's body, part of a fitness regime, a business. I teach and practice at an amazingly spacious and beautiful (spelled "costly to build and run") yoga studio, and the space, the decor, the heat, the lights all cost money that comes in the door because of my amazing teacher friends who bring 50 or 60 folks into the studio on a regular basis. So perhaps embracing that popularity, snuggling up to celebrity is just part of the bargain. I'm fine with a bit of duality or dancing with the shadow.

But still, I am bothered. It bothers me to see photos of (mostly) women rated on a 0 to 5 star basis. It bothers me to see individuals collecting votes on either a popularity or a visual aesthetic basis. It brings up that inner Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist - who wants to toss a feminist bomb into the miasma of patriarchal popular culture. And it bothers me to see something that is so precious to me, so deeply meaningful and life changing, cheapened and threatened by that popular culture.

Not very yogic, I know, and that's one more reason do be pissed off at Yoga Journal - for bringing this stuff up within me. This contest has even made me question my desire to teach yoga - that perhaps I'm hiding behind my own spiritual journey, that perhaps I ought to spend less time on my mat and more time changing the world. The fact that I have written (and rewritten this) four times in the past week and have yet to hit the PUBLISH button, for fear of offending, for fear of being unyogic - speaks volumes. Just one more example of me hiding, keeping my head low, being afraid to be seen.

As one of my (contest entering) teachers is wont to say "The f*cking healing journey". Yeah that.

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