Jessamyn Stanley and the Yoga Journal Debacle

What is Yoga For All?

To me, Yoga For All means that everyone has an opportunity to participate in the yoga practice. We do this by ensuring that all bodies are represented equally on the mat. Equal representation allows everyone to feel as though they are a part of this community.
January 2019 Yoga Journal cover featuing Jessamyn Stanley and Maty Ezraty

Since Yoga For All implies justice and inclusion for all, I am often required to take a stand for what is right. I don’t like to shy away from these difficult situations because the yoga practice asks me to reflect and to act.

There are a few things about the recent Yoga Journal fiasco involving Jessamyn Stanley, that I need to address. I don’t like to give Yoga Journal any more of my time or energy. I have been calling them out and calling them up for more than 5 years now, alongside my fellow social justice activists Melanie Klein and the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. Many of us have worked diligently in our efforts to encourage Yoga Journal to do better and to be better. Despite all of our work, we have yet to see any changes in the ways in which the publication represents inclusivity within the yoga practice.

I am tired of Yoga Journal’s willful disregard for anyone outside of the white, thin, flexible and cisgendered stereotype. I believe that in time, like all things that refuse to change, Yoga Journal will become a relic of the past. But in the meantime, I was thrilled to learn that yoga icon Jessamyn Stanley would be featured on the cover of recent edition of the magazine.

As a plus sized black woman, I was elated. I thought to myself: wow she was the one to break the thin, white, heterosexual, and white supremacist ceiling at Yoga Journal. I shared in her triumph, which was really our triumph on social media.

Unfortunately, Jessamyn’s success was hollow. I had suspicions that the magazine wasn’t ready for sustainable change in how they portray inclusivity within the yoga practice. What Yoga Journal does best is tokenize and jump on bandwagons in order to sell more copies of their publication, and their drive for consumption never fails to disappoint.

At the heart of this issue, Yoga Journal illustrated their inability to allow Jessamyn to have her own moment in the spotlight. To make the publication more palatable for mainstream media consumers, Yoga Journal ran a split cover of Jessamyn’s edition. On the alternative cover of Jessamyn’s edition, Yoga Journal featured a white, thin, able-bodied, and conventionally beautiful woman executing a highly advanced posture. It seems it was never their intention to give Jessamyn her own cover. Featuring a queer, black, fat woman on the cover of Yoga Journal magazine without countering the imagine with the standard thin, white, exclusionary ideal, is apparently too unorthodox. At the end of the day, conventional media still can’t feature a fat black woman in the spotlight.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as Yoga Journal aims to create at least one scandal each year. Without a good scandal, I think the magazine would go largely unnoticed in the oversaturated market of women’s fitness magazines. I tend to believe that creating outrage ensures that they stay relevant. Yoga Journal’s favourite pose seems to be head up their ass.

I could go on and on, but instead, I choose to quote Jivana Heyman of Accessible Yoga in his assessment on this current fiasco. He had an opportunity to speak with the powers that be, and this is what he said:

“I suggested that they are so stuck in a capitalist and white supremacist framework that they don’t even see the harm they’re causing. Yoga is not something owned by white people that can be doled out to marginalized folks as charity. It’s not a grand gesture to put Jessamyn Stanley on the cover – instead, it’s the first step in sharing the truth of what yoga really is.

Western yoga didn’t begin with the yoga celebrities of the last thirty years, it ended with them. It’s time to move to a deeper understanding of yoga as a form of self-inquiry and self-care that is available for anyone who seeks it.

Yoga is India’s gift to the world, and anyone who is blessed enough to practice owes a debt of gratitude. That debt is paid through service, which is why we advocate for everyone to have equal access to these amazing practices which have transformed our lives.”
~ Jivana Heyman

Thank you Jivana for speaking truth to power. If we really want to change the world, then we need to take a stand and take action. Stop buying publications that don’t support diversity, and stop buying products from their advertisers as well.

Instead, follow people and organizations that support diversity, accessibility, and inclusion. Social media has allowed for an increase in grassroots movements that support sustainable change in diversity and inclusivity. As consumers, we have the power to influence big business and media conglomerates. Now more than ever, we can harness the power of the internet to tip the scales on who is in charge.

Yoga Teacher and Activist Lara Falberg offered some great actionable steps on her Instagram @iworkbarefoot:

First, cancel your subscription to Yoga Journal. Instead, subscribe to the fantastic publication @yoga_international. Next, if you purchase your #yogateacher insurance through YJ, use @beyogitribeinstead. Yoga content writers and editors, we need to stop linking to YJ for credibility. Again, @yoga_international offers so much, and I link to them constantly to support what I write. Everyone has bitched about YJ for years because of its extreme white person preference and glorification of thinness, perfectly working bodies, and youth. There is no #LGBTQ representation. Featuring a POC here and there and, once in a while, using models who are bigger than a size 6 and older than 35 only exacerbates the issue that they are white, youth, and thin centric. If we continue to support their publication and conferences, then we are just as culpable. We can fully control our thoughts and actions. So let’s do that. If you have any other actionable ideas, please share in the comments. Oh, also, unfollow YJ on your social media platforms.

Now is the time to stand up for accessibility, inclusion, and diversity in yoga. If we believe in Yoga for All, we must take action against injustice. We have be there for each other. Stop rewarding publications and media platforms that refuse to share yoga with all of us. Stop supporting platforms that tokenize and minimize anything that is not mainstream. Instead, share the work of people who are creating positive changes within our communities and those who are creating spaces where we all feel welcome and included. It is time to take a stand. I am calling for the next generation of people to continue to call out the injustice perpetuated by Yoga Journal magazine and mainstream media at large.

Perhaps this latest debacle can be a launching pad for something better