Speaking Out and Calling Up Part Two: Tiffany Cruikshank and Contributors RespondSeptember 22, 2016
The following comments are in response to the Yoga and Body Image Coalition blog post: “Speaking Out and Calling Up Part One: An Open Letter To Fellow Yoga Teacher Tiffany Cruikshank on “Yes, You CAN Think Yourself Thin”. This open letter was written by Nikki Cook, the editor for the YBIC’s monthly column that highlights how the practice of yoga can be an integral component in the effective treatment of and on-going recovery from eating disorders and disordered eating. The intention of this letter was to call Tiffany Cruikshank up, not out; to ask her to examine if her actions in supporting the marketing materials that state one could use the meditations in her book to think themselves thin, can honestly align with her stated intentions of using mediation as a path to a healthy body image and self-love. The comments in this post were shared by Tiffany Cruikshank, Nikki Cook and we also included Dr. Jenny Copeland’s response to add a professional observation from a psychologist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders. Sending a humble thank you to YogaDork and Adios Barbie for cross posting the original article to further the reach of this important conversation.
By continuing to engage in this discussion, we are calling up Tiffany and ALL members of the yoga community to take on a true leadership role in the Body Positive Movement where one never compromise the movement for profit.
NOTE: Since this open letter was published, the article referenced has been removed from Tiffany Cruikshank’s Yoga Medicine website; however, the article which includes images that further highlight the contradiction of meditation being used to perpetuate the “Thin Ideal”, is still live at the Daily Mail UK.
Tiffany Cruikshank’s Response:
It saddens me to read this. I agree with a lot of your perspectives so I can’t help but feel like you don’t really know much about me or my book.
First off, I want to note that the “think yourself thin” comment had nothing to do with me or my PR company, what I was trying to say in my comment on Instagram was that when you give an interview you have no control over how the outlet writes it or the title they use. In this case it was the writer/outlet that chose that wording and I agree, I cringed when it came out, but I have to let that go as I have no control over what every person says and they clearly wanted to catch people’s attention as most media does, which is a bigger conversation…
Secondly, I want to note that my book is not advertised or stated as a book for eating disorders. As a healthcare provider I see many patients who come in looking to lose weight whether it’s to feel better or for health reasons. There’s clearly a point at which the body can be so over or under weight that it becomes a serious health problem. Either way there’s a very large demographic of people looking for answers and struggling with their bodies, their health, and their self-concept. I’m so grateful that there are so many communities like yours out there that are bringing awareness to the topic of body image. But I also feel there’s a huge demographic of people who are searching for answers and turning to extreme weight-loss and other diet books, creating a self-perpetuating cycle. I really wanted my book to be helpful to these people who are relying on other materials that only make this cycle worse. If you read my book all the way through, what you find is that it uses mindfulness and meditation to create healthy eating habits and healthy weight loss (which is clearly left up to the individual to decide what that is) but it more importantly it addresses a healthy relationship with our body and our self-concept not just what society tells us we should look like.
My approach is and has always been to help my students and patients let go of what they think they need to do or look like in order to learn to embody true health as an experience of living in their skin and listening to their bodies. This is also what I spend so much of my time teaching with Yoga Medicine. I do not believe there is one single way for every person. This book was clearly not made for people with eating disorders but for people looking for options. It is meant to give people a long-term solution to not only their health but their relationship with their body and themselves. My goal was not to serve the diet industry but to shine some light and mindfulness on an underserved demographic (or better yet a poorly served demographic).
As many people in the yoga and meditation community have experienced, a majority of people begin a yoga practice to get healthy or lose weight and quickly find there is something deeper beneath it. But what if we told everyone that it was bad to start for those reasons and shamed them out of even trying. Think of all the people who would not be practicing. I don’t know about you, but I’m so glad they gave the practice a chance. The same is true with my book. While some may be turning the first page hoping for an answer to a struggle with their weight, I know they will find something deeper. At the end of the day I believe my book has and will continue to help many, many people out there and that’s what matters most to me. There is not a single book out there that is good for every single person and I’m OK with that. I do not wish to harm anyone and I apologize if you took offense at it. I wish you all the best in your journey that this life brings you. In the end I believe we are all the same, we all struggle in our own way and we all fight our own battles but in the end we are all one and rather than fight we need to support each other in our differences, in our uniqueness and in our strengths.
Nikki Cook’s Response:
First of all, I want to thank you for your response. I got the sense that reading and reflecting on my post was difficult and I would like to acknowledge your willingness to engage in this discussion. Being open to hearing other’s ideas, thoughts, and lived experiences is crucial to our growth and development on both an individual and collective level.
You said that you feel I do not know much about you or your book. I want to tell you that I do know of your work and that I agree with many of the things you have said regarding the benefits of yoga/meditation; including what I read in your book. Honestly, this made it all the more important for me to write the blog post. I felt responsibility to not only highlight the disconnect between your stated intention of the book with the advertising you supported, but to speak out for those who were, and will continue to be, negatively impacted by this article.
You have many followers and with that comes great responsibility. I strongly believe that it is our responsibility as yoga teachers, health and wellness professionals to hold ourselves and each other accountable for what we say; whether that be in a class, article, book, or video. We know that people trust us and take any advice we give them to heart. We need to be thoughtful and mindful of what and how we say things. This includes what was said in the article “Yes You Can Think Yourself Thin”. I understand that when one is interviewed they sometimes end up having little control over what and how things are said in the final piece. However, if you “cringed” when the Daily Mail article came out, why did you choose to put it on your website a day later? It seems to me that if you are putting this on your website then you are aligning yourself with everything that was written. You had a choice to distance yourself from something that did not align with the intention behind your book and your work, instead you chose to put it on your website. While you did not mention this in your response here, nor anywhere else to my knowledge, you have removed the “Yes You CAN Think Yourself Thin” article from your website. This tells me that you also see the disconnect with what was portrayed in that article and what you believe the true purpose of yoga and meditation to be, the one that you write about in your book. I think it would be powerful for you, as well as your followers, to step up and acknowledge the misstep in aligning yourself and your work with this article.
You said your book clearly was not made for people with eating disorders nor was it advertised as such. I agree, I have not seen that nor did I suggest you had marketed it in that manner. What I felt important for you, as well as other yoga teachers, to know is that so much of the languaging that was used in that article, as well as the suggested meditation, was extremely triggering for those affected by an eating disorder, disordered eating, and/or body dysmorphia. In the U.S. alone 20 million women and 10 million men will suffer from a clinically significant eating disorder at some time in their life. Given those numbers, I think it is fair to say that some of your readers will have an eating disorder or disordered eating. Whether one is specifically marketing to people affected by an eating disorder or not, it is important to acknowledge that people affected by eating disorders are currently in our classes, reading our books and watching our videos. I do not think that you, or any of us, can absolve ourselves of the responsibility of not only acknowledging when our words or actions have triggered someone but to also take it a step further; to learn from it and make the necessary changes to our behavior. Our words matter, what we say and how we say it matters. Sometimes we get so caught up in our good intentions that we cannot give space to recognize that our intentions did not align with our impact. When we do take give space for that realization, we also make space for growth.
Regarding your statement “As many people in the yoga and meditation community have experienced, a majority of people begin a yoga practice to get healthy or lose weight and quickly find there is something deeper beneath it. But what if we told everyone that it was bad to start for those reasons and shamed them out of even trying”
This I do not disagree with and nowhere in my post did I state that I thought people should not incorporate yoga as part of their health and wellness plan. For some people is weight loss part of that plan? Yes. However, I highly doubt that weight loss is the sole component of anyone’s health and wellness plan. I’m sure if we take the time to talk to our students we will find that weight loss is only one among many goals they have regarding their physical and emotional health.
What I and YBIC are asking is for all of us to bring a critical eye to which benefits of yoga we choose to highlight when we are marketing our offerings.
To take responsibility for how yoga is portrayed in the media and be aware of the effects that our choice of imagery and language have on our students. What I have seen, in reaction to my letter, is a large part of the yoga community come out in support of not using the thin ideal to sell yoga. To not perpetuate the idea (which is rooted in the diet industry) that a slim/thin body is a necessary component of a happy and healthy life. No one is saying that is not okay or in some cases necessary to lose weight. That, however, is unique to the individual. The sister science of yoga, Ayurveda, teaches us that and as yoga teachers we know this. So why then are some of us choosing to focus on weight loss, which may not even be appropriate for many of our students, as the primary selling point to engage more people in a yoga and meditation practice? We, as a professional community, need to continue (or in some cases step up and start) having discussions about what it means to be body positive. Acknowledge that our language, the words we use, matter. That it matters if we say or do something that triggers a student of ours. That we need to hold each other accountable. Which means when you see a fellow teacher stumble, you step up and say something. When you are the teacher who is spoken to, called up to be at inquiry…you do the hard work of self-study. And when that self-study reveals a misstep, you acknowledge it, you learn and grow from it. That is being in integrity, in alignment with your intentions and yogic principles. I expect this of myself, my teachers, and my colleagues. We all can do better!
Dr. Jenny Copeland’s Response:
These are difficult conversations indeed. The fact that we share and discuss these ideas is (almost) as important as the outcome of the debate. It is vital we ask these questions of ourselves and each other. Although each of our ideas are individually important, the new understandings we create together have the greatest potential. With that being said…
As a psychologist specializing in the treatment of eating disorders, I devote my days to facing the consequences of diet culture. In our current culture young girls would rather be hit by a bus than be fat. Eating disorders are the deadliest mental illness. And though we may have good treatment options and there is always hope, there is no perfect cure to these illnesses. Many will not survive. Changing the tides requires not only speaking directly to those who suffer from an eating disorder in the present moment. It requires we take responsibility for our actions. That we change the conversation profoundly.
This is not only about your book. This is not only about your work. It is about the greater culture. A culture which values certain people, certain bodies, over others. We cannot strive for diets that are simply less terrible than the Biggest Loser. Mindfulness and meditation are certainly more kind than the proven harm which comes from extreme dieting. Yet ultimately, this is only a repackaging of the same concept. Just consider what could occur if we honor the heart of these practices, their truest nature. When we teach those around us to not just treat their bodies with less hate, but to cultivate true compassion.
Yoga studios are filled with students who initially step foot in the classroom searching for a new and engaging workout, seeking weight loss and a specific body shape. As their teachers, yes of course we meet them here. More importantly, it is our job to serve them well in the long run: to not feed the monologue in their head spinning tales of body hatred. Serving these folks does not require the improved diet schemes you detail. We are of service by helping them see the diet is not necessary in the first place. We help them see and follow a better path, where weight loss is not the end point.
As yogis we are uniquely equipped with knowledge and practices to alter this culture. It is not enough to teach people to love their bodies. We must help create a culture where it is safe to do so. A culture where people strive to nourish their bodies and souls. A culture which makes it difficult for an eating disorder to thrive and grow.
We cannot afford to simply create a better diet. Not while people are dying.
With over 2.2 K shares from Part One of this piece, it is clear this is a topic that resonates greatly within the yoga community and beyond. We are grateful not only for your comments of support but also for the amazing work that you are doing each and every day to provide yoga that is accessible to all cultures, sizes, ages, genders and abilities. We at YBIC pledge to continue to this conversation; to hold each other accountable to be leaders in the Body Positive Movement through conscious action and lived practice.
“Meditate Your Weight” directly aligns yoga with weight loss. Period. End of story. It is my humble opinion that this message dilutes and disrespects yoga as the holistic path to health, healing and human evolution that it is and it disrespects students and teachers alike. As yoga teachers we all know the principle of karma and we know playing naive does not cut it with the Universe. I tell my students all the time that yoga is about reality and responsibility. The reality is clearly stated here by Ms. Cook and Dr. Copeland and is known deep in every feminine body that has lived as a women in the western culture. Body image issues are not limited to those with an eating disorder diagnosis. They are ravaging the Shakti power of 85% of women keeping them from living their bliss which keeps us all stuck. Furthermore, body image issues are a sacred messenger that can lead students to true transformation. Yoga helps us transform the experience of the body by reconnecting us to our essence. If the body transforms due that fine, but as soon as you put ANY focus on weight you shift the energy from love to fear and lose the wisdom. It’s indeed tricky territory but we must walk through it to raise us all up. Thanks to everyone here for you courage. Namaste.