Saturday, August 7, 2010

How we react to seeing nudity is personal.

When I see the naked yoga ads--especially the Toesox ad--I feel vulnerable and confused, rather than turned on or jealous. And I'm willing to take responsibility for my personal reaction. These days I try to look past this type of ad after recoiling slightly--the ads are not for me. But there is really so much behind my reaction. It is only the recent conversations--brought on by Judith Hanson Lasater's letter to Yoga Journal--that have made me take another look at what has been easier to ignore previously.

What the naked (except for Toesox) Toesox ad brings up for me are memories of student films and photoshoots I participated in when I was in college. We shot a lot in black and white and I do think it's beautiful, but seeing a young woman whose vagina and pubic hair is barely covered by an arm and the clever shooting angle just makes me imagine everything that might be happening around that moment. In my minds eye, I see lights and an assistant or more and a photographer-- all clothed--while this nude young women is being attended to and visually preyed upon. I have no reason to think that Kathryn Budig, the model, feels in any way compromised by the photos. It's just me feeling insecure about my own past youth and vulnerability. Perhaps, I can't really see the beauty that might be there because the image just seems inappropriate: it is harsh on my eyes. I don't understand the nude advertising for non-skid socks. It really seems crass to me.

As a yoga teacher, I hope my teaching is helping students to discover their own bodies, going deeper into their own experience. I don't want to be an object for ogling, and at the same time I am inspired by beautiful yoga teachers. And I feel empowered by my own beautiful body. So we are never totally separated from our sexuality. A good interaction between a teacher and student can be healing and helpful, and sexuality can magnetically draw positive uplift.

I do think that healthy sexuality can permeate all aspects of life as a joyful undercurrent. Most of the time we don't need to talk about it.

And while I do see the potentially positive aspects of sexuality everywhere, people look to a magazine like Yoga Journal to be educated about yoga. And I wonder: what does the Toesox advertisement add to that conversation? For me (and apparently others, too) it is confusing. And for people who are new to yoga, it might be misleading. Is yoga supposed to be arousing? A form of foreplay, perhaps... If we are having our eyes trained in this way by looking at Yoga Journal, aren't we going to be more likely to wonder about our yoga teachers naked? Or maybe I'm just naive. I'm sure some people already do. In fact, I have been smacked by the beauty of a male instructor removing his shirt to demonstrate a pose. So who am I to judge?

Sexuality is everywhere, and when we try to suppress that, it is still there: we are merely ignoring it.

In our sexually-charged world how do we insure a safe space for practicing yoga? After all, pursuit of sex can be a form of predation. This is why sexuality around yoga must be consciously reckoned with. Otherwise our yoga classes just become another meat market. Wait a minute! A lot of them already are. So perhaps Toesox ads are just a natural outpicturing of the way American culture is processing yoga: as a way for women to become "Slim Calm Sexy!" as Tara Stiles recently tweeted about her new book entitled 'Slim Calm Sexy Yoga'. Here is a picture that came from a link on her Twitter page:

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone


Unknown said...

i'm pretty sure the indians (if they know about it & they probably do) are HORRIFIED. especially since they don't even show kissing in their films.
women don't show their shoulders or ankles in india.
and yoga is SACRED.
people need to RESPECT what is sacred.

and i have no problem with nudity. but i do respect the sacred. you have to draw the line. this is getting completely out of control.

Bob Weisenberg said...

Beautifully written, Brooks.

I think you said it perfectly--"It's personal". How else explain the extreme variety of heartfelt responses to the Lasater blogs.

(I told Jane about the big controversy about the YJ ads, since it's one of her favorite magazines. She said, "What's the problem? I haven't seen any offensive ads.")

Linda-Sama said...

I am writing a post in my head about all this....;)

the thing that gets me in this whole situation is the reaction that if someone does not like ads with naked women, then we are all repressed, hate nudity, hate the female form, hate sex, have a problem with our own sexuality, are close minded, whatever.

to that I say: BULLSHIT

this is the same crap I heard as a young feminist back in the early '70s...that just because one does not want to see a naked woman advertising cars, perfume, clothes, or yoga crap, there must be something "wrong" with our outlook, there is something "wrong" with us. or else it's "lighten up, it's no big deal."

yes, it IS a big deal in the larger context. I think the majority of young women today have little idea about what we marched about,as the feminist movement used to say back in the day "the personal is political."

think about it.

the more things change, the more they stay the same. still.

people really aren't getting the fact that this whole thing is NOT about YJ or Kathryn Budig. I could not give a rat's ass about how many times Budig has posed naked to sell yoga socks that people don't need.

The fact is that Judith Laater raised a much bigger question and to those people who can't see that, I say take off your blinders.

Unknown said...

I think it is important to acknowledge that we all look at this issue through our own cultural and personal lenses. There are sacred yogis in India who practice nudity as a part of their spirituality that would be considered pretty sacrilegious in western culture.

Own personal experiences also shape how we respond to this issue as Brooke points out. I try to avoid broad generalizations and practice non judgment in cases like this

roseanne said...

this is a beautiful and eloquent response to the whole conversation, brooks. thank you for your thoughtfulness and sincerity.

i think the following question taps into what is at the crux of judith's letter and the whole response: "In our sexually-charged world how do we insure a safe space for practicing yoga?" so true, and you can replace "practicing yoga" with making art, raising children, being women, being men, creating change, having conversations...

this whole conversation has got me thinking about my own approach to sexuality and nudity. a few years ago, i went on a journey to explore my sexuality, and part of that involved finding sexy role models. when i started to examine the abundance of sexual imagery around me, most of it within pop culture, i found nothing that made me feel sexy or empowered. nothing. it all made me feel horrible about myself and inadequate.

which is how i became interested in burlesque, where female bodies of all sizes are celebrated and sexuality is seen as something to play with and subvert. (although now burlesque is also starting to be appropriated by mainstream culture but i'll appreciate it while it lasts). i watch burlesque shows and i am reminded of the power of my sexuality. it's helped me become comfortable with a part of myself that i didn't understand. what does this have to do with yoga? not much, except that there is a parallel. there are few images of yoga in the cultural sphere that make me feel empowered or remind me of my own potential. most of it is images of bodies that aren't mine, clothes/products i can't afford, poses i can't twist my body into...

anyway, it makes me yearn for a yoga subculture that celebrates the human form, bodies of all sizes and types. unfortunately, the current cultural representation of yoga (which is basically yoga mags and advertising) doesn't do this.

Linda-Sama said...

I was at the Maha Kumbh Mela this year and spent time with those naked yogis. I have also been to the temples where there are sculptures of men and women having sex. Neither situation bothers me.

However, those images are NOT used in advertising. That's the big difference which people fail to realize.

Svasti said...

Personally I am not opposed to nudity or sexiness when it is an expression of a person's essence nature, and not something that is "done" in order to achieve a reaction.

And let's face it - the Toe Sox people must be rubbing their hands together in glee at all the free publicity for their product. I mean, there's people like me out there who could NEVER imagine wearing socks in a yoga class but surely there's a market out there for them! But how to sell them? Uhhh, errmmm, I know! A naked yogini! Makes so much sense... NOT.

Anyway... marketing "success" aside (there's no such thing as bad publicity unless you're Mel Gibson), this is not nudity as an expression of Katherine Budig's essence nature. This is "hey, we'll pay you a ridiculous amount of money for you to reveal yourself intimately to help us gain shock value and promote our product".

The ad is not sexy, either. Rather, it is provocative and attempts to equate the two, blurring the lines for an already confused-about-sex western culture.

I like what Roseanne wrote in her comment about exploring sexiness, although I'd say that in general, we need to consider what is truly sexy and what is about the attempt to manipulate others to do what we want them to do using our bodies and/or the promise of seduction/sex to get what we want. We all do it - it's inherent in our culture and lifestyle, and we've grown up watching the adults around us do it.

But if yoga is about aiming to see reality as it really is, cutting away all the crap, the seduction and manipulation, then this ad is very confused. I can't imagine the Toe Sox company is run by yogis, or if it is... then they haven't taken a deep enough look at themselves yet.

Marketing and seduction are the same thing. And if we're using seduction to get what we want, that is not being genuine with ourselves or anyone else.

I relate to Linda's stories about the naked babas and relief images of sex in India.

On retreat with my teacher and fellow yogis, nudity is not an issue. Nudity while we swim or bathe or wander from our huts to the teaching area is about what feels right and natural. None of us is hung up and no one ogles. We are being who we are without interference and without trying to manipulate anyone else.

In the west however, nudity and sex have been heavily loaded with meaning. Most people live a buttoned down life and nudity is considered "risque" instead of natural. Sex has become perverted because connecting with another person just as we both are is "not exciting enough" (although really, it's more about avoiding our essence nature instead).

And ads like this become a battleground for morality, for principals and currency in how we survive (i.e. earn money). All because we don't actually know who we really are. And laughably, the philosophies of yoga are being ignored while using yoga to play into all of our issues with our hangups.

Yoga is a scythe for cutting away all of our pretenses, not adding to them. That's why this ad is so weird. I don't find it offensive, just really quite silly and lacking in intelligence.

Linda-Sama said...

in light of the YJ ad controversy, I recalled Anne Cushman's 2003 article from the Shambhala Sun...yes, 2003....

"Yoga and meditation, says Anne Cushman, are ultimately about turning our eyes away from the airbrushed images of the outside world and looking deep within our own hearts."

I am going to post the link in a post on my blog (I know y'all can't wait for The Sama to chime in...;: )....I hope her brilliant words from the past put some things into perspective NOW.

Mary said...

WOW lot's of great debate over all this and it really is personal. I realise the debate isn't just over this particular image/ad but when I saw the Toesox image of Kathryn, I simply appreciated her beautiful body and form.

I stopped buying YJ a year ago because the magazine is mostly ads, ads that I don't relate to at all and I thought the content was lacking. Really, I don't look to magazines anyway to help my yoga practice. I look to my own teachers, community etc to build on my practice and relationship with the community.

Bhaskar Tripathi (hellBoy) said...

Idiots !!
First get to know what is the real meaning and purpose of Yoga.

Hindu's say "Jeevan yog ke lie hai bhog ke lie nahi". Meaning - Life is for Yog (Yoga), not Bhog (Pleasure).

You American's come to India and learn only half baked stuff in Yoga and further modify it and make your own version of Yoga.
Yoga has never been an exercise. However in US, it has been reduced to just a slimming gimmick.

Nothing can be learnt properly without a guru.
Patenting Yoga asans doesn't make you a deep thinker.

America, it seems has a knack of commercializing everything at the cost of its originality.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for an eloquent post Brooke.

I have one thing to add, Tara Stiles looks anorexic to me. There were some photos of her at a recent book signing, and she was scary skinny.

Kathryn Budig looks strong and healthy. She looks like she can take care of herself, and enjoy a good meal too.

Tara's book bothers me more than Kathryn's ad.


Bob Weisenberg said...

Great discussion. I enjoy reading all these varied points of view.

Meredith LeBlanc said...

Brooks, once again you have written a beautiful piece baring your soul. Thank you.

My inquiry is with all this nudity in magazine interviews, advertisements, TV shows, etc is whether or not these naked folks really have a true inner knowledge of themselves or are they merely stripping for the almighty dollar? At one time nudity was employed to exhibit self empowerment, liberalism, and freedom but I don't get the feeling that is what it does anymore. Sex sells has become the motto, but at what cost to ourselves?

Ilovemusic said...

I'm an artist. To me it was a
beautiful piece of advertising. A fabulous model, a gifted
photographer, some extaordinary lighting and design, and
eloquent piece of photography.
I don't understand some of these comments here. What is
purpose of judging other peoples' body types...
whether somebody is anorexic or not... Or what a
model's "personal intentions" are when they're in an
I wasn't judging the body, I appreciated it just like I do
any fine piece of artwork. I didn't read any more into it
than I do in a beautiful ad for a beautiful building, or
dress, or bottle of perfume.
If the idea here is to de-commercialize yoga, somebody
better find a different way to support YJ.
I saw what Rand(Om) Bites did. I appreciated the
beauty of the feminine in the ad. And as for my own
and relationship with my own body, I prefer to look