Seeing Multiple Pictures and Perspectives, Part ThreeJuly 31, 2015
The Yoga and Body Image Coalition is committed to building conscious community and highlighting the work that inspiring yogis are doing in their local communities and beyond. We’re pleased to share with you a three part piece written by Yoga and Body Image Coalition’s active partner, Beth Berila.
Part 3 of 3
I have never known a dedicated yogi who doesn’t want a better world. I have never met a yogi who doesn’t believe that a large part of yoga is about accessing our deep humanity, both our own and everyone else’s. In order to live into that potential, we need to do lot of hard work. We will need to challenge our privileges, wherever we may have them, and learn more about the experiences of others. We will need to have hard, authentic conversations and be accountable to one another.
What work needs to be done will differ based on who we are in the world. But we all have work to do. And some of it is uncomfortable. But as yogis, we are committed to transformation, both personally and, I hope, collectively. The potential is nothing less than creating a world that acknowledges, represents, and values the humanity of every one of us.
So what can we do?
Challenge our media to represent more diversity, both in pictures and stories.
As consumers and readers of media, we have a great deal of power to influence our media producers to better reflect the broad diversity of people who are actually practicing yoga. I have been thrilled to see how receptive some media outlets have been to these conversations. Yoga International has included several powerful posts about body shaming and inclusivity. Yoga Journal has recently featured Chelsea Jackson Roberts on its cover and Dianne Bondy in its pages, both of who are doing important work with marginalized communities.
I hope that these changes continue. As they do, they need to not just be dropped in to a magazine or website that otherwise remains the same. As we broaden the stories that are included, the conversations themselves change. As we truly listen to one another, we are changed by one another, creating a kind of radical welcoming. With radical welcoming, Teo Drake says in this Yoga and Body Image Coalition podcast, we are willing to be changed by one another. In doing so, we create a culture shift.
Ask ourselves who is represented and who is absent.
Whose stories are included and whose are not? That is NEVER accidental. This is not to say that media execs sit down and ask themselves “Who should we exclude and oppress today?” Of course they don’t. It’s just the people who produce the media are shaped by the same cultural beliefs and exclusions as everyone else, which can easily seep in to the choices that are made. As Adichie says in her Ted talk, “it is impossible to talk about the single story without talking about power.” Who makes the media? Who are the gatekeepers in deciding whose stories will be represented and from whose perspective? (Is someone telling their own story, for instance, or is someone from another identity group telling the story they presume that person has? The result will often be very different.) Adichie notes that “power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person.”
Moreover, much media and advertising rely on shortcuts to convey ideas easily. The result is that stereotypes are often invoked in ways that aren’t acknowledged. So, for instance, a graphic designer might rely on fonts that resemble Sanskrit text in order to convey a sense of India, but that may rely on stereotypes and misunderstanding of Hindu culture and communities. There are many other examples of similar “shortcuts” that, intentionally or not, reproduce a distorted picture of particular people or communities. Critically reflecting on the media we consume is part of the process of broadening the pictures and the stories that our media represents.
If we have been rewarded by the media system and the wider yoga world, use that position to create space for others.
In her article in the book, Yoga and Body Image, Sean Corne talks about her sense of responsibility toward social justice since she is a major figure and leader in the yoga world. She acknowledges that she has a large platform, and she has committed to use it to create more justice, rather than more injustice. She writes, “I apologize for the way I perpetuated the myth that beauty is a certain shape, size, and color, but I’m glad to now be in a position where I can raise awareness about it.” Even if we do receive some benefits from being privileged by the system, we can use that privilege to begin to dismantle it. That means raising awareness and creating spaces for people who are not represented to tell their own stories. We can all make that choice, with whatever access we do have, to create space for more diverse stories and voices.
Learn. Learn. Learn.
Part of both yogic transformation and social justice means educating ourselves. We can first recognize that our own story matters, AND that our story is not the same as everyone else’s. We can educate ourselves about the lived experiences of others. Organizations like Off the Mat, Into the World offer powerful trainings on power, oppression, and privilege. Organizations like the Yoga and Body Image Coalition offer workshops and book discussion groups that help us better understand each other’s stories and bring more diverse stories into the yoga world. There are many others. We can seek them out. We can have conversations with people whose life experiences and identities are different from our own.
Make our own media.
If we don’t see the stories we want to see represented in mainstream media, we can create out own. Particularly as technology makes that more and more possible, we see vibrant, creative alternatives to this historical focus on the single story. The Yoga and Diversity video series is a useful example of creating our own media to tell different stories.
Adichie says that “The consequence of a single story is… [that]it robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult.” I believe that yoga, with its emphasis on individual and collective liberation, demands more. It demands that we all do the transformational work required to ensure that every person can access our full humanity. One step toward that potential is the full representation of all of our rich, complicated, fully human stories in our media. Maybe then we can begin to truly and authentically understand one another.
Bio: Beth Berila is the Director of the Women’s Studies Program and a Professor in the Ethnic and Women’s Studies Department at St. Cloud State University. She is also a member of the leadership team of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. Her book, Integrating Mindfulness into Anti-Oppression Pedagogy: Social Justice in Higher Education, is forthcoming from Routledge in Fall, 2015. Learn more about her work at http://www.bethberila.com