Yoga Barbie: A New Project To Address Body Image in Yoga

The amazing article , Yoga Body, Yoga Barbie,bought up things I had never thought about in the yoga body image debate. Here are the key points.


 I’ve long been interested in body image and how it has been manipulated to control the economic and social behavior of women. Twenty years ago I directed a documentary titled Becoming Barbie which examined the rise of eating disorders in the light of the Beauty Myth, Naomi Wolf’s premise that as women made gains in freedom and power they have been subjected to increasingly thinner and unrealistic standards of beauty.


Wolf saw the beauty myth as symptomatic of a backlash against a female body that was growing increasingly free of control. She pointed out that as women’s corsets and girdles came off, and women became bolder in demanding equal access and equal rights, beauty ideals became ever more unattainable, requiring ever more time and energy and money to achieve.


In the sixties as woman exited the kitchen and entered the workforce, Marilyn’s voluptuous physique was replaced by Twiggy skeletal form. Then as women began to break the glass ceiling and demand economic parity – the new leaner and meaner “aerobic” body a la Jane Fonda and her famed ” Workout’ appeared.


And today we have a new icon, Yoga Barbie. Is she just the latest icon in a long line of beauty icons designed to keep women, as writer Lindy West suggests “obsessing over their ‘flaws’ rather than their power and potential”?


So I wonder, is it any coincidence that as yoga helped women develop a new sense of positive embodiment, of feeling good in their skin, that the yoga body became enshrined as the new icon of feminine beauty and virtue?


It is no secret that in exchange for exponential growth, yoga in the west gave up seven limbs to focus on only one, asana. Getting people caught up in appearance and the name brand on the back of their pants,  leaves very little time for internal transformation.

Danielle Olson, the writer of that piece, is putting together a developmental proposal to make a film called, Yoga Body, Yoga Barbie, to address the issue of women and body image in yoga. Go to the blog for details and to support.


Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

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