yoga journal’s body image issues: the kathryn budig cover

yoga journal’s body image issues: the kathryn budig cover

After a couple of big body image faux pas (including a disastrous Hilaria Baldwin cover and a “love your curves” article with fashion tips for covering up butt dimples), Yoga Journal is bouncing back with a “body issue” featuring Kathryn Budig on the cover.

The issue will be on newsstands September 16 and is the first issue since its “re-branding” (see the website for more details). The issue launch is accompanied by a #loveyourbody social media campaign, where Budig will take over Yoga Journal’s Instagram feed and post pictures of smoothies and dogs “love-your-body” inspiration. More about the campaign later, let’s look at the cover messaging.

But first let’s start with a disclaimer: this post has nothing to do with Kathryn Budig. I’m sure she’s a super nice person. I’m sure she’s a wonderful teacher. But right now, we’re talking about Kathryn Budig as a symbol. And we’re talking about her body, which is what she’s been reduced to here (and what advertising and all marketing does to women’s bodies). She’s on the cover because of her beautiful body — not because of her beautiful mind or her beautiful soul or her beautiful passion for animals.

So here’s the cover:


Look at those pipes! She’s jumping, so full of life. She looks strong, athletic and fleshy. And look at her hips – there are some underwear lines, you know how it all bunches up and makes lumps. We all know those lovely lady lumps.

It also looks like there has been minimal photo shopping of this image. If that’s the case, it would be interesting to hear the story behind that. So Yoga Journal has basically published a cover image of a woman’s body that has some lumpy bumps and has only been photoshopped a bit. In the magazine industry, that is ahead of the curve.

Issues of The Body

What makes this “the body issue” is the bold proclamation on the cover that it is the body issue. Because really, since when is any issue of Yoga Journal NOT about the body? Pretty much every issue of Yoga Journal is a body issue.

If Yoga Journal really wanted to align themselves with the body positivity movement, they would have taken an extra step and made the main line “the body image issue.” Or “the body positive issue.” Something like that.

Other than the main sell line, the rest of the cover lines are standard Yoga Journal/women’s magazines fare, with 8 moves to get flexible and partner yoga. Remove “the body issue” and it pretty much looks like any other Yoga Journal cover.

But what does set this cover image apart from previous issues is the body they have featured – sort of. Budig has appeared on and inside the magazine (as a model, writer and advertising image) many times. On this cover, we see Kathryn Budig’s white, able, thin body as true to her natural state as she can be. That is not a standard magazine cover practice.

So kudos to Yoga Journal for presenting Budig’s body in this way. The thing is, there are many kinds of bodies. Yoga Journal’s choice to place a white, able, slender body on their body issue isn’t really thinking outside of the box.

Embodying the Conversation

This issue follows on the heels of the Practice of Leadership conversations, Yoga Journal’s concerted effort (in partnership with Lululemon) to get involved in the conversation around yoga and social justice, community involvement, etc. The conversation series started in April 2014 at the Yoga Journal conference in New York city.

Although I know that magazine production schedules dictate that this issue would have been conceived long before the July conversation about “the body politic” took place, it looks like tidbits from the conversation seeped in during production. It appears that they’re trying to embody what they’re hearing in these conversation, which is hopeful.

Yoga Journal “leaked” the cover yesterday via their social media profiles. From what I can see, the reception has been overwhelmingly positive (except on the IAYB Facebook page, mais oui), with outpourings of love for Budig and virtual high fives for Yoga Journal. IAYB fans took it with a grain of salt:

“Nice try. I get what they are going for and will wait for the next few covers to see how much ‘re-branding’ they have done.” ~ Jessica Hooper
“Yawn! Same people all the time on the cover.” ~ Anna Teague
“The content looks similar to the usual: 8 moves, 15 poses, 3 food facts, yoga street style. It’s nice that there’s a bit more attention to self-acceptance, but I don’t see anything on the cover that has anything to do with Yoga.” ~ Charlotte Bell

The Corporate Co-option of #loveyourbody

In addition to being the cover girl, Budig will also be involved in a pre-launch social media campaign with the hashtag #loveyourbody. I have some concerns about Budig, as lovely and articulate as she is, being the voice of body love. A spokesperson who has a conventional beauty doesn’t quite represent enough of the spectrum of lovable bodies. When it’s her body carrying the message, there’s a subtle messaging that you should love your body if you conform to societal and cultural norms.

Not to mention that Yoga Journal has basically co-opted the phrase “love your body” from the Yoga and Body Image Coalition (it’s taken right from their mission statement) and reduced it to a marketing slogan. While for the most part, Yoga Journal has been receptive to the coalition and willing to work together. However, co-opting the YBI mission statement seems like they’re trying to drive the conversation, rather than collaborate.

So Yoga Journal, I’m giving you an A for effort and a C+ for overall execution. You’re trying, really trying. But Yoga Journal was in a place where they could have done something really game changing – as the most widely read yoga magazine, with a growing readership and subscription base (in an industry, magazines, that is in a big slump), they could have afforded to take a risk and go further with their “body issue.” Given all the bodies they could have chosen, they went with the standard.

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  1. Yeah – they could have put Anna Guest-Jelley on the cover for all the awesome work she does in Yoga. That would have been game changing.

    • Absolutely. I am now in a YTT program and I can thank Anna Guest-Jelley for a part of that. She allowed me to even consider the possibility of YTT at my age (61) and girth. She does wonderful work.

  2. How about the fact that one of the biggest most influential men in yoga, BKS Iyengar, just died, and he is not on the cover? Like I said on my blog, Yoga Journal has nothing to do with yoga. This is smoke and mirrors.

  3. Am I the only one who sees any irony in an analysis of body image that relies on literally judging a book by its cover?

    Given that YJ is the rag in question I can’t say I blame you. That old dog has crapped on the carpet for years, and I don’t imagine a cute new sweater is going to change that.

    Still I think your post neglects the possibility that in this particular conversation KB may in fact be a strangely ideal ambassador. She was the poster gal for the toesox ads that lit up this conversation more than anything else, at least in the “yoga community” (insert small barf here).

    She’s the one who sold her body image to sell socks in YJ, and it was her tush that got us all talking, so if it turns out she or YJ had a change of heart about that choice and wanted to step forward with a more body positive message, then this cover points to a voice that is not only unique but highly relevant.

    Not that I think for a moment that’s what’s happening here. I expect it’ll probably be another stinky pile on the wall-to-wall shag. A girl can dream, though.

    Also, this language chafes a bit:

    “I have some concerns about Budig, as lovely and articulate as she is, being the voice of body love. A spokesperson who has a conventional beauty doesn’t quite represent enough of the spectrum of lovable bodies. When it’s her body carrying the message, there’s a subtle messaging that you should love your body if you conform to societal and cultural norms.”

    No body represents a spectrum of lovable bodies–a spectrum is by definition a range, not a point. I thought that the whole point of the body positive movement was that we’re all qualified to be a voice of body love, and none of us is qualified to be the voice. Is it that you genuinely don’t believe Kathryn should carry a body positive message in a high-profile public forum, or is it that you’ve heard voices like hers in this forum again and again (and again and again)?

    I’d be tickled if they put a whole technicolor dreamcoat of bodies on their cover, and crammed the pages with a panoply of voices of all shapes and sizes. But I need to put down the pipe and take a cold shower, ’cause it ain’t gonna happen.

    • hi TMAC, thanks for your astute comment.

      you’re not the only one who sees the irony here. but please note that i’m not “judging” – i’m analyzing (there is a difference).

      i think you bring forth an interesting point about KB being an “ideal ambassador.” personally, i don’t agree. while she is popular and widely loved, I don’t think she (or anyone, for that matter), represents the spectrum of lovable bodies. i know that she doesn’t represent my body – while she claims that she is “short and curvy,” as somebody who is actually short and curvy, i don’t think she reflects my body at all. i actually find her comment kind of belittling.

      i am concerned about KB boing a voice of the body positive movement, for so many reasons. as you’ve noted, “we’re all qualified to be a voice of body love, and none of us is qualified to be the voice.” exactly. and yet YJ has positioned her to be the voice.

      there were so many directions YJ could have gone with this (and they should have consulted with the yoga & body image coalition, who would have guided them). and they went with the most conservative, bland, stereotypical option. that’s the issue here. that’s what i’m trying to get at.

      i love your pipe dream of the “technicolor dreamcoat of bodies on their cover.” yes, that’s what they’ve missed out on, with their re-branding and effort to co-opt the conversation.

      anyway, my post is really about the cover itself, and YJ’s positioning. it’s not about budig, and it’s not about her body (even though it is, or at least her body as a symbol, an element in this cover).

  4. There are so many curvy yogis, known and unknown, they could have used… let alone the differently abled yogis with wheels and other mobility. This is a 10% win, the rest remains to be claimed.

  5. I only just came back to Yoga Journal a few month back after years & years away (trying the digital version), and have been very disappointed in the quantity of advertisement & lack of “meat” as well as all the diversity & body image issues.

  6. Well, let’s give YJ a little credit. Compared to their usual cover models, KB *is* short and curvy. That, to me, is a big step forward for them. So let’s acknowledge it. And for a mag with so little useful content, so completely driven by ads, even one step forward wildly exceeds my expectations.

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