Oh, this again. The latest issue of Yoga Journal (June 2017) is on the theme of “yoga for all.” We know this because it is loudly proclaimed at the top of the front cover (aka the money spot, visible from anywhere on the newsstand). This is the latest in a series of baby steps forward for the yoga media giant, but it’s also evidence that they have still have a ways to go — and that the confines of print publishing and mainstream yoga may prevent them from truly embodying their cover lines and issue themes.
So Yoga Journal has been trying to get the whole “yoga for everyone”/body posi thing right since at least 2012, when their special “Yoga for Weight Loss” issue featured an article called “Love Your Body.” Another notable attempt was in 2014 when, after a series of PR snafus, a dedicated “body issue” landed on newsstands across the nation, with Kathryn Budig gracing the cover and a feeble plea for readers to #loveyourbody.
With this latest issue, you can tell that Yoga Journal has really tried to learn from the past and listen to the people and just do better. And there are many things that are working in this issue, yet there are many fundamental things that aren’t. But let’s start with the good.
the faces of yoga for all
Hands down, the best thing about the issue are the people Yoga Journal chose to feature. It’s amazing to see leaders and visionaries like Curvy Yoga founder Anna Guest-Jelley, trans yoga and meditation teacher Teo Drake, activist Chelsea Jackson, and veteran Dan Nevins, who lost both of his legs in Iraq. They’ve all done their time in the trenches, and they have authentically emerged from the communities they have been selected to represent. It’s wonderful to see each of them recognized in this way. I’m sure there was plenty of thought and dialogue that went into each person’s participation. Yoga Journal has demonstrated that they’ve been listening and are willing to put in the work to develop relationships.
The cover also deserves mention. Chelsea Jackson rocked it. This is just one of a handful of times Yoga Journal has featured a black woman on the cover, and she looks poised and powerful in tree pose. I also can’t help but think that her cover spot seems like a response to Amara Miller’s critique of the November 2016 issue (and how it co-opted body positive language), where they included her in a feature teacher profile without giving her the coveted cover spot. And so here they did! Huzzah!
Nevertheless, aside from the cover image and main sell line loudly proclaiming the theme, the cover was a straight up yoga/lifestyle/women’s magazine cover, promising “the healing power of yoga” and how to “find balance.” The interior content reflects this, as well.
a wide gap between editorial vision & content
So here’s what isn’t working in the issue: basically everything that isn’t directly related to the cover feature. You’d think the “yoga for all” issue would be a good place to practice a new editorial direction. However, in another article on “yoga must-reads,” where a handful of teachers name a book that has inspired or influenced them, all of the featured teachers are white women, with the exception of one man. Cover story star Anna Guest-Jelley is one of the featured white lady teachers, but she seems to be an after-thought bridge to the cover story, rather than a fresh diverse voice.
In other non-cover story content, the recipes (FOR SALADS) contained calorie counts, which give permission to pursue weight loss and can be triggering for people recovering from disordered eating. Also, did I mention that all of the recipes were for salad? You know, love your body but be sure to eat lots of salad.
As usual with women’s magazines, there is a huge discrepancy between editorial and advertising content. We especially see this in an advertorial for ‘INVIGOR8,’ a nutritional shake, with the headline “Cheat, drink, and still shrink: Break through your weight loss plateau.” Seriously, how can you feature Curvy Yoga and carry the banner of “yoga for all” when the pages you’re printed on are paid for by weight loss companies? Seriously.
almost there: nearly halfway to inclusivity
The weight loss advertorial was immediately followed by a letter from editor-in-chief Carin Gorrell that acknowledged the homegenity within yoga culture and the lack of diversity within Yoga Journal. “Today (in this country at least),” she writes, “classes, training, events, and media dedicated to yoga (this magazine not excluded) are predominantly filled with similar-looking, able-bodied, financially stable women.” Yep.
Gorrell continues on with, “Part of my mission as editor of Yoga Journal is to expand the conversation and include a more diverse group of yogis in these pages. We’ve dedicated nearly half of the issue you’re holding right now to the subject of yoga inclusivity.”
And perhaps there lies the problem: “nearly half.” The other more-than-half is just business as usual. Gorrell concludes her editorial with a wish: “that we, as yogis, commit to remembering that we are all united and to doing what we can to make this beautiful, accepting practice available to anyone who wants it, regardless of gender, race, size, ability, or socioeconomic status.”
Yeah, so a commitment has been made to being inclusive and representative of the breadth of practitioners. Yoga Journal have publicly made a promise and now the people have to hold them to it.
Because if we don’t hold Yoga Journal accountable to its promise, it will just slip into its old ways. The mag has made progress since the glory days of 2012-14, but it still has a ways to go. There are some things in the “yoga for all” issue that are working (perhaps, even, simply that it exists), but that doesn’t mean we can let Yoga Journal get too comfortable or self-congratulatory.
There are many things that need improvement. With the disconnect between editorial and advertising content, and the commitment to inclusivity not absorbed into the overall editorial vision, Yoga Journal is not really proving that it fully gets the concept of yoga for everyone. Let’s hope that with a little pressure to be accountable, they eventually will.
Featured image via Yoga Journal’s Facebook page.