Yoga Journal: more questions than answers
By Laura L. Plummer
When I came back from a writer’s retreat at Kripalu in 2010, I began receiving complimentary issues of Yoga Journal. Now every month when it arrives, it invariably goes directly into the recycling bin along with the other junk mail. When I received the August 2012 issue today, something inspired me to open it, and what I found was basically exactly what I expected: a white-bread, exclusionary fashion magazine masquerading as a legitimate source of holistic wisdom. Determined to find out if YJ differs from your average consumer beauty rag, I summoned my inner scientist.
I counted all of the adults pictured anywhere in the magazine, including both covers and all advertisements, however small. (Yes, this took awhile.) Those counted had to be in focus, i.e. not in fuzzy background images, and enough of the body pictured to determine racial category, (so, no disembodied limbs). I counted only photographs, not artist renderings or computer-generated images. I then compared the demographics of the issue to a 2008 Yoga Journal study on yoga in America.
I counted a total of 157 adults: 129 women and only 28 men. That’s 10% more women than the 72.2% of female yoga practitioners revealed in the study. Also, there are no discernible gender-variant individuals in the magazine, nor did YJ release any data about transgendered yogis.
83.4% of adults pictured are white. YJ did not include race in its demographics, even though that would seem an obvious oversight to most people. Of the 157, 114 are white women, over 70%. White men come in second at 10.8%, followed by Asian men and women, who only total 6.4% combined. Indians total 3.8%, as do those of mixed or ambiguous race. Black men and women together comprise a pitiful 2.5%. Of the 157 images, a black male appears only once. Those who are obviously Hispanic or Native American are not featured at all. By the time I got to the full-page ad for White Yoga Montreal 2012 (page 33), an annual outdoor yoga gathering where participants dress in white, it struck me how redundant that title is. According to Yoga Journal, yoga and whiteness are inextricably linked.
Only two of the adults pictured could be considered overweight or even have a body shape outside of the culturally accepted ideal. 98.3% of women pictured appear to have nearly identical measurements, and are invariably slender. This statistic reinforces the myth that fat people can’t or don’t do yoga, or that you cannot have a curvy or pear-shaped figure and be a yogi. There are people who can do yoga every day of their lives and their bodies will never fit the narrow parameters defined by Yoga Journal’s models. As in any other fashion magazine, the body types pictured represent a very small percent of the actual female population.
One lone person has an obvious disability, and none of the women are visibly pregnant.
Finally, only five individuals of the 157 could be considered “old.” In this case, old is anyone who could potentially be over 55 (sorry, Mom). That’s only 3.2% of adults pictured, compared to the study that puts those over 54 at 18.5% of yoga practitioners. Of the five in this month’s issue, one is female, and she is not even practicing yoga! The four males are all bearded Indian gurus or renowned healers. This finding is particularly disturbing, and it raises more questions than answers: Does Yoga Journal believe that old people can’t or shouldn’t do yoga? Or does the magazine just hesitate to feature someone whose yoga bum might not be as perky as a perceived ideal? Either way, it makes yoga look like a creepy youth cult that sends its elderly off into the ocean on icebergs.
And the list could go on.
Yoga Journal was founded by yoga teachers in California, and purports to be a well-rounded health and fitness publication. Don’t be fooled. Even more interesting than the stereotypes that Yoga Journal foments are the statistics around yoga demographics in the United States. It inspires me to probe deeper into the race and class disparities that make yoga accessible to certain populations and not to others. Yoga Journal, much like yoga teacher trainings, is just another vehicle for standardizing and compartmentalizing yoga culture in a Western context. The only difference is that the models are sitting in lotus and drinking wheatgrass juice.
Total # of adults featured = 157
Women 129 = 82.2%
Male 28 = 17.8%
Gender-variant 0 = 0%
White women: 114 = 72.6%
White men: 17 = 10.8%
Asian women: 5 = 3.2%
Asian men: 5 = 3.2%
Indian women: 3 = 1.9%
Indian men: 3 = 1.9%
Mixed female: 4 = 2.5%
Mixed male: 2 = 1.3%
Black women: 3 = 1.9%
Black men: 1 = .6%
Hispanic women: 0
Hispanic men: 0
Native women: 0
Native men: 0
Old male: 4 = 2.5% of total (14.3% of males)
Old female: 1 = .6% of total (.88% of females)
Male outside “ideal” body shape: 0
Female outside “ideal” body shape: 2 = 1.3% of total (1.7% of females)
Disabled: 1 = .6%
* My research methods aren’t foolproof. I encourage you to redo this study to verify the math, and to draw your own conclusions.
About Laura L. Plummer
Laura Louise Plummer is a Boston-based freelance writer, filmmaker, and world traveler. Laura has always had an irreverent sense of humor. Though deeply spiritual, she is hyper-vigilant of the strains of hypocrisy, absurdity, and arbitrariness so often found among the “spiritual elite” and delights in sharing these observations with other sacrilegious seekers. Since 2007, Laura has employed various forms of yoga to counter the day-to-day stresses of working as a case manager for homeless and low-income populations. She views yoga as a state of mind, not merely a physical practice, and attempts to translate her yoga into daily life.