jivamukti yoga teachers for PETA: how to do nude advertising properly

I know the whole nudity in advertising conversation is so last month, but this came across my radar and I can’t resist. The teachers at the Jivamukti Yoga School in NYC are the latest bods-in-the-buff posing for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The long running “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaign  has featured many celebrities including Khloe Kardashian, Pamela Anderson, Alec Baldwin, Drew Barrymore and model/yogi Christy Turlington, and has garnered criticism from feminist animal rights activists.

The ad is a postcard (with a free Jivamukti class pass on the back) and I’m not sure if there are plans to use it in print or on billboards. As Well+Good NYC notes, “It helps that Jivamukti’s participation stems from real conviction and personal philosophy—and not the opportunism to bare all for a good cause. ‘The fork can be a powerful weapon of mass destruction or a tool to create peace on earth,’ reads a quote from Jivamukti’s founder, Sharon Gannon, a long-time vegan, on the back of the card.” (Although I really have no idea what that means – a fork?)

I have to admit that, for me, this ad works. Yoga advertisers, take note!

Promote a cause, not a product – PETA’s anti-fur campaign has received a fair amount of criticism, but it’s also achieved its intended result: getting attention and increasing awareness of cruelty to animals. This is an awareness building campaign, not a commercial endeavor.

No asana – at first glance, you wouldn’t even know this is a group of yoga teachers. They’re standing together, rather than showing off their fancy yoga moves.

Have fun! – they’re smiling, connected and playful. The ad doesn’t take itself too seriously and it isn’t pretending to be art. It displays diversity – men, women, mixed races, different body types.

Despite these positive aspects, there still is a  slight breach of professionalism in this ad – these are working yoga teachers, who will encounter students and potential students in class and in their communities. I think it illustrates the precarious and awkward place that yoga teachers hold in our culture, somewhere between entertainer and health professional. I really can’t imagine the teachers at any other kind of school posing nude for anything. I also can’t imagine a group of massage therapists, healers, hairdressers, or educators attempting this – or advertisers even being interested in featuring them.

At face value, this ad is light-hearted and subversive, but when you look a little deeper, it’s sending a confused message that is about more than animal rights.

[via Well+Good NYC]

  1. Nice analysis, Roseanne. I believe the ‘fork’ is the metaphor for how/what we eat, and its effects, which I suppose are pointed out here as peace or mass destruction.

    This really digs into advertising in general and PETA’s shock approach, which has served them well and has also given them a bushel full of flak.

  2. i know what you mean about yoga teachers having an “interesting” role. yesterday, i helped out a friend with a catering event, and ran into a couple of my students while dressed up in the typical penguin suit we have to wear. i wondered if there was a perception shift, to the negative, as a result of meeting them on different ground.

  3. Funny you say this, Roseanne. The fork mention is also a tad confusing on the postcard: The front is about not wearing fur, the back is about not eating meat. But then “We’d rather go naked than eat meat” would probably not have worked. And it may have raised a whole other ethical question. Ooh, maybe “We’d rather eat a yoga mat than meat”?? Great post.

  4. Good post Roseanne. Donna Farhi in her book on the ethics of yoga teaching (which is excellent) talks about an instance where she met a student whilst she was naked (or with very little on – it was in a hot tub I think) and discusses the impact of that incident.

  5. What I keep thinking with all the naked ads & naked ads drama is this:

    We are far more naked when standing in front of a class, teaching yoga & authentically, speaking our truth, then a physical representation can ever really express.

    Though this ad comes darn close. 🙂

  6. wow, what a great perspective Roseanne. you’re right, i noticed right away how happy and genuine these people were
    what i really find interesting is your comment at the end. it does say so much more about how we view yoga teachers in our culture and mixed messages.

  7. I remember this ad…quite titalating….very clever!

  8. The thing I appreciate about this ad is that its not just a bunch of people who look like models. It shows yoga teachers off for their diversity, different body types and all.

    I do get what you’re saying though. And sure, being in a class where you place your hands on someone else’s body once they’ve seen you mostly naked in a PETA ad *might* be a little weird.

    But my perspective is this: the nudity is well done here, and as you say, it’s for a cause. And I really, really appreciate yoga teachers being shown as human beings in this ad, as opposed to the recent Katherine Budig/Tara Stiles photography. These folk look accessible, friendly and real.

    Also – I kind of have this feeling that people expect yoga teachers to be a bit more free-spirited. And this ad certainly fits the bill!

  9. Great post Roseanne!

    I agree that what really sets this advertisement apart is the smiling – it doesn’t look model-stiff. These models look like real people.

  10. Hmmm, interesting post and perspective. I will admit, I really enjoyed seeing this ad. It playfully makes a profound point in a way that — to my mind — avoids an angry, confrontational tone, befitting a yogic context.

    Now, I don’t know any of these folk; none are my teachers, so in response to your misgivings expressed in your last paragraph, I tried to imagine how I’d feel if any of my teachers WERE in it. And, I’d LOVE it and be really happy that they were ‘real’ enough to subvert the notion of teacher as a species apart.

    Several times, after retreats, my Seon (Korean Zen) teacher would take some of us senior students to the Korean Bath House. Seeing my teacher in this and other social situations most definitely helped to de-construct any potentially de-railing projections, and did so without at all diminishing my respect and appreciation for him as a teacher. What it may have done — and I think this is a good and important teaching — is make it clear to me that ‘the teacher’ is a role; it’s not about the man/woman. When I take the teacher’s seat, this understanding leads me to have great reverence for the role without taking myself so seriously. As I was told repeatedly by my teacher, in bowing, I am not bowing to him as an individual, my bowing is a sign of respect for the role he assumes when he takes the Dharma seat. It’s when students — and teachers — forget this, that scandals and other problems arise.

    My only question is where’s David and Sharon? 🙂

    • Frank, I get the feeling you and I would see eye to eye on lots of things.

      I HAVE been nude around my Guru. In fact, I’ve been nude around my entire yoga school – when living in north-east Thailand for five weeks… basically we showered/bucket bathed in the open because we didn’t have bathrooms. And we also mostly skinny dipped in the pond on the land because, well, why not? 🙂

  11. I actually like it. I understand your point about them being yoga teachers and the place they hold.
    But I understand the nudity here, which I think is well-done (they’re naked but not too revealing), it’s for a cause which to my knowledge is in line with Jivamukti yoga if I’m not mistaken. I also like that they come in all “shapes and sizes”.
    Yeah, like it!

  12. this is a great perspective – i think what i like most about the ad is how there is no asana. there is nothing intimidating about it, there are bodies in all shapes and sizes, no one is showing off incredibly advanced poses. it feels accessible to me, which should be the point – to promote a message that other people won’t be put off by.

    your last paragraph brings up an interesting point though. sometimes i think we see teachers and students as completely different than they are in other areas of life. part of practicing yoga in a studio setting, for me, is about ignoring what is happening outside of that space, which means letting go of perceptions of who a teacher is, or who i am, or who another student is outside that space. but i can see how it can be hard to think that way, though it is part of why i love yoga.

  13. My musings on this turned into a blog post! 🙂 xx