Lately (relatively speaking since this post has been floating around in my head for quite a while), there has been a lot of talk in the online yoga community about teachers, and other yogis, posting pictures of themselves in a cool looking asanas on various social media sites and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m sure I didn’t make it up but let’s call these pictures “yoga selfies”.
These photos are everywhere and I have a lot of feelings about them…complicated feelings. Spoiler alert, I’m not really anti or pro yoga selfie. I’m somewhere mired in the grey area of yes, but no, but yes. Also, since I take photos of myself in various asanas, and certaily hope I look cool doing them, you could definitely argue that I am an active participant in the yoga selfie culture.
I have to admit that I love looking at yoga photos. To me, bodies (all bodies!) are beautiful in asana. Whether it’s the latest issue of Yoga Journal, an instragram challenge, or an old tapestry my friend’s mom has showing ancient Indians in shoulder stand, you can be sure that I’ll check them out if they’re put in front of me. I find many of the photos gorgeous, and love to look at the more complicated poses and see if I can attempt them or adapt them to my body. We are a very visual culture and I am certainly not immune to that. I love yoga, so I love looking at it.
Still, I can also understand the downside of yoga selfies. These photos are dominated by thin, white women. The photos may cause people to harm themselves in pursuit of an impossible ideal. The “yoga body” is a myth, a construct, that these photos perpetuate. Some argue that yoga selfies only serve to inflate and feed the ego of the person in the photo. The yoga community is definitely not free from ego – far from it. I imagine that feeding the ego is the purpose of some of these photos. But even my feelings toward the ego-inflating aspect of these photos is complicated.
When I started this blog a year and a half ago, I wasn’t really aware of how integral photographs would be. But it was clear from the very beginning that this blog is what it is in large part because of its photos. Photos of me. In yoga poses. But even more important to me than the relative success of what I’ve done here, looking at all of these photos of me in asanas has been a profoundly healing experience for my body image. I’m not perfect by any means, but now when I look at photos of myself for the blog, I’m much more likely to see the strength and beauty rather than the flaws. Isn’t that a good thing even if it does mean that I “inflated” my ego through these photos? I know I’m not the only one who has worked on healing body image through the use of photos. There are programs out there that teach this very skill, for example, Vivienne McMaster’s Be Your Own Beloved, which I have heard is very moving and effective.
One of the main complaints I hear from the size positive yoga community is that the yoga images only depict a small subset (thin white women) of who is actually practicing yoga in the west. If we are truly committed to increasing diversity in yoga images, we have to take the pictures and share them. We need to “show them off” so to speak – and isn’t that what we condemn the yoga selfies crew for doing? I suppose I’m not sure if we can have it both ways. Though many would disagree.
I also can’t deny that yoga selfies are very handy for self promotion. The picture below got more views on Facebook than anything I’ve ever posted, by far. It’s a very cool picture, if I do say so myself, and I definitely appreciate the attention, but in the grand scheme of things, is it good that one picture really is worth thousands of words? I’m not sure.