yoga body: kathryn budig’s body image struggle (interview)

Does this image help you accept & embrace your own body? (image by Jasper Johal, via mindbodygreen.com)

When it comes to sensitive and political issues such as body image and disordered eating, what kind of responsibility do high profile yoga teachers have? This question was on my mind as I listened to this interview with yogi model Kathryn Budig.

At first, I was excited to get an insight into Budig’s experience modeling for the infamous ToeSox campaign. However, I was disappointed to hear the same old discussion around what a “special and unique opportunity” it was to model and “inspire” other people’s practice.

Then Budig talked about her changing body image after a shoulder injury limited her asana practice, revealing that she felt she should have starved herself before her latest session with photographer Jasper Johal. Apparently, a shoulder injury and falling in love are a “recipe for getting really freakin’ curvy.”

Depending on how you define “curvy.” A quick look at Budig’s Facebook page doesn’t give us much insight into how she’s made peace with her newly developed curves.

Listen to the interview yourself and tell us what you think. Is it a step forward for size-positive yoga that promotes acceptance of all bodies? Or is it a missed opportunity for expanding the dialogue around the complexities of yoga practice and body image?

22 Comments

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  1. Hrmm… I really didn’t like the way she said “recipe for getting really freakin’ curvy” as some kind of euphemism for “fat.” I could hear some disgust in her voice, which is so sad! I feel like she tried to gloss over a difficult issue, and I do think it’s a missed opportunity to open up the dialogue about body image and yoga. Thanks for bringing the discussion over here!

  2. SO interesting to find this the same day that Anna Guest-Jelly’s book _Permission to Curve_ comes out! Permission website takes for granted body acceptance (not necessarily what all the readers already feel, but definitely what sets it apart) and one of our star teachers talks about her struggles with the same thing. Found her assumption that “more yoga” would sculpt a “goddess body” really interesting. My imagination of goddess is really freakin’ curvy. Thanks for opening up the conversation!

  3. i take her classes on yogaglo, so her way of speaking doesn’t surprise me in the least- she seems like she’s a pretty casual, informal person. Now, I had the same reactions you did when she first started talking about gaining weight, ‘pretty freaking curvy’, and starving herself etc etc…
    but.
    i will say that my impression is that she’s working towards accepting her body as it stands. Her final thoughts on the experience after her comments about her shoulder injury and changing body was that she went and got a photoshoot anyway.
    My feeling is that she’s still moving through her journey of accepting her body. Just like most of us are. She was just extremely open and honest about it.

    Now- do I wish she had said something more positive like commenting on WHY we all feel this insane pressure to look a certain way, what does that mean for yoga, what does that mean specifically for an asana focused practice like Ashtanga etc etc?? sure. But I don’t really think that’s her….

    anyhoo- good discussion as always Roseanne 🙂

  4. Haven’t yet listened to the interview but the image of her in this post and the reference to starving herself and really freaking curvy was enough to put me off.

    The only person I’ve come across who’s published something that seems to promote yoga inclusiveness for large women is Christina Sell – her book Yoga from the Inside Out has some lovely pictures of large women practicing yoga … there were the only ones I could find when I looked around to find such images some years ago (I was trying to promote yoga to a group of women who were large and weren’t sure yoga was for them). Showing them the images in Christina’s book helped.

    I think there’s also a large woman doing a yoga sequence in Cyndi Lee’s yoga book – Yoga Body Buddha Mind – but the photos are quite small.

    Both books use black and white photos.

    I’m so fed up with the way yoga is portrayed in the media though … I wish someone somewhere would produce a yoga calendar showing all sorts of people doing yoga (fat, old, homeless, prisoners, mothers who don’t look perfect …) rather than the usual suspects of glossy yoga star types …

    • Obviously, you haven’t seen the book written by vinyasa yoga teacher Cyndi Lee of OM Yoga (studio space in New York City now deceased) called Yoga Body, Buddha Mind, which shows pictures of varied shapes and sizes practicing active yoga asana …

      That book was published about 9 years ago …

      Guess it’s not current enough …

      • Wait, you DID see that book. I don’t think the pictures are too small in it ….

        • Well I wish the photos were a bit bigger! Another book I’ve come across is Mega Yoga by Megan Garcia – that’s a really nice book and the pictures are large as well … but if you consider the acres of yoga media stuff put out by YJ and other corporate entities which features extremely skinny women … then the small number of publications featuring large women doing yoga is a tiny drop in the ocean (which is really sad).

          BTW full disclosure: I am a 170lb 4 foot 5 inch woman … so I’m not particularly large – but I am really fed up with the image of yoga portrayed in the media of North America

          • 4 feet 5 inches!?! are you sure about that? just double checking, looks like there might be a typo in there…

            angela, do you know of Curvy Yoga? http://www.curvyyoga.com/ it’s a really amazing resource for teachers and practitioners with larger bodies. the founder, anna guest-jelley, just published a book with modifications (and plenty of photos) for people of all sizes.

            • Lol! That should read 5 foot 4 inches!
              No, I hadn’t heard about curvy yoga – thanks for the link – I’ll look into it. I’m always interested in yoga that caters for larger people as I’ve taught quite a few in the classes I teach and I like to make what I teach as inclusive as possible.

  5. This interview followed a pattern that I’ve seen in other posts in which a woman is by any objective measure is a “Perfect 10” in terms of both looks and asana chops confesses how she’s struggled over body image issues, celebrates how far she’s come due to her yoga practice, and then holds up her ability to do a nude photoshoot (or the equivalent) as evidence of this wonderful product of this process of self-growth.

    While many people evidently find this inspiring, I find it weird and disturbing. Everything begins and ends with an obsessive focus on the external appearance of the body – there is something very off-kilter about the whole thing.

  6. Carol,

    Your comment expresses my own bewilderment. What is it about this obsession with the external appearance of the body and how is it that posing nude becomes some sort of ‘bench-mark’ for progress along the ‘self-esteem’ continuum? While it’s sadly true that mainstream culture overly measures a woman’s worth by her appearance, I’d hope for something different from the yoga ‘community.’ As the father of two women (okay, one is 36 years old and the other is 21 months old), I’d feel sick to my stomach if I were to hear that their self-esteem was being measured by their appearance.

    I felt sadness when I heard her speak so negatively of her “curviness,” and her statements about ‘starving herself’ (for instance) show the inner struggle is still operative.

    That all said, I notice there was no discussion of the larger issue regarding using naked imagery for selling product. To my mind, there is still a radical difference between ‘art photography’ of nudes performing yoga asana and ads for toe sox or equinox studio. And that discussion, apparently, is still too problematic for many in the yoga ‘community’ to engage.

    • Well said. And the really sad thing is that it leaves women who are large feeling that they are not okay … which fuels the current epidemic we have of eating disorders.

      Plus, since when do we need toe socks?! Last time i looked, they weren’t listed in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika!

  7. Ahahhahhahhahh!

    Welcome these yoga teachers to the world of yoga for normal, non-acrobatic, even non-athletic people!

    That is all I could say, ’cause I am NOW halfway out of yoga …
    No plans to pull out further …

    But I could thank the Briohnys, Meghans, Kathryns, Tiffanys, and all the female yoga teachers who ever tried to turn yoga into Olympic rhythmic gymnastics and Olympic pole dancing that it wasn’t meant to be … for helping me crystallize my decision about 13 months ago …

    My pilates and JourneyDance teachers also thank them …

  8. Appearance is an issue of biology for many species on earth, related directly to mate selection and quality reproduction. Homo sapiens has worked “body image” into everything from neck lengthening and foot binding to push up bras and just-for-men. It’s merely ephemeral and/or localised fashion over-catered to by thoughtful and unthoughtful alike, even as we struggle with birth control and fertility issues. Is burka liberating or confining? To each his/her own.

    As a one time card carrying bra burner, I hold my tongue as I watch women of my son’s generation insist on the sexual power of high heels and overflowing cleavage. More examples of impermanence.

    I’m not going to judge Kathryn’s honest answer to a question in an 8-minute iterview about her own very subjective experience as though she means to represent the yoga community (whatever that is).

    I don’t know what yoga was meant to be, It’s been so many things in so many contexts. If one woman seems to find acceptance of her own body’s changes through yoga and others find that inspiring, so what. No harm, no foul.

    New abortion restrictions and the castigation of a legislator for using the word “vagina” are much more worrying to me re the status of women’s bodies.

  9. I remember once upon a time, there used to be a show called “Beverly Hills 90210” or near-perfect plastic American teenagers running around getting into trouble and having sex. There was also a Canadian show which also centered around junior high kids called “DeGrassi Junior High” and “DeGrassi High” where the kids also got into trouble, had sex and even got pregnant. They kids were far from perfect looking, many were of ethnic extraction, some were pimply and some were overweight. But DeGrassi was by far the better, more interesting show because it was a show every teen could relate to and it seemed more genuine.

    Right now, mainstream yoga seems to be in a Beverly Hills 90210 state of mind and I think if it were to head towards a more DeGrassi-like authenticity, it might find it’s way again.

    • How about popular commercial yoga, which already is in a “performance” state of mind, go to today’s answer to DeGrassi Junior High, and adopt a Glee attitude?

      Yes, there will always be the Rachel Berry types, and the usual drama club wonks who have not the time of day for many of us (I’m lookin’ at you, Quinn and Puck) but EVERYBODY of all shapes, sizes, gender IDs, gets a chance to shine ….

  10. I’ve met KB. She is tiny, I mean TINY, so when I read this article, my first reaction was to roll my eyes. But then there was this: While I feel for her struggling with body acceptance as she gains weight, I think it’s all a matter of perspective. In my teens, when I had a phenomenal body, not unlike Ms. Budig’s, I found things to hate. After I had my babies, more things to hate. Now, I look back on all those times and think how much I didn’t know what I had. So objectively, KB is a long way from what the rest of us would call “curvy.” But she sees herself through different eyes, and I think we can all relate to that.

  11. I have read so many posts on the topic of the blogger
    lovers but this post is truly a pleasant paragraph, keep it up.

  12. I am growing tired of Kathryn’s Facebook page – constant photographs of herself in various exotic locations showing off her body and mad yoga skills. This is not inspiring to me. What I do appreciate are yoga pose tutorials, words of wisdom or anything that will help me grow in my practice.

  13. the term “yoga community” seems redundant, you know? we are all yoga. i’m loving all the comments where folks are balancing their emotional reactions to the interview with their awareness and acceptance of flaws in everyone…whether they could be deemed physical “flaws” or “flaws” how we are thinking, communicating or growing. flaws are perfectly okay, if not perfect in their own right. after all, there is no point in brining yoga into any conversation when we are judging our brothers and sisters…that practice is anti-yoga. let’s be yoga! asana is only one limb of eight. let’s practice of dhyana.

    the internet and the world would be improved by more examples of awesome dhyana…i need those tutorials more often 🙂

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