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 (expect 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.