"I am confused because I do not understand how photos of naked or half-naked women are connected with the sale of practice products for asana, an important part of yoga. These pictures do not teach the viewer about yoga practice or themselves. They aren't even about the celebration of the beauty of the human body or the beauty of the poses, which I support. These ads are just about selling a product. This approach is something I thought belonged (unfortunately) to the larger culture, but not in Yoga Journal." - Judith Hanson Lasater
Judith, one of a handful of practitioners who founded Yoga Journal, offers some valid thoughts. Having watched the publication evolve over the last 35 years, she also holds a perspective on it that few of us share; I wouldn't enter the world until nearly ten years after Judith and company's living room brainstorming. But I'm going to debate with her a bit, anyway. Notice I did not say "disagree". I said "debate". Ruminate. Unravel. Consider. Dig.
Before I dig, I'll say that I do agree with Judith's broad non-statement that the magazine basically follows the formula of every other mainstream magazine out there: not much genuine substance. You get some watery articles that feel like a rehash of stuff you read last year lost in between ads for watches, body wash, hybrid cars, clothing, fish oil, deodorant, dog food, super-ridiculous props... If you relate to the expression "food for thought", Yoga Journal is the equivalent of when you forgot your lunch at Catholic grade school and they scraped together some stale Saltines and old peanut butter for you, if you were lucky. Most magazines take this approach, and why shouldn't they? People aren't all that interested in wading through and savoring a mental banquet - they just want something useless that tastes good to occupy their unhappy brains for a little bit.
Now the digging.
Advertisements serve no purpose and exist for NO reason other than to sell a product. So, to say "These ads are just selling a product" as if you want advertisements to somehow be educational or thoughtful or not driven by consumerism serves no purpose either. Advertisements exist or they don't. Nothing stands to change about them. They simply aren't that complex or even worth worrying about.
Speaking of consumerism: yoga in the Western world (and probably in many parts elsewhere, too) absolutely, undeniably can be called an industry. If you think it's something else or that its mystical spawning protects it from that, you've got your lululemon blinders on. I am not suggesting that within the lives of individuals yoga is anything but genuine, but... on the bigger scale, in our overall culture, yoga is one of the many, many industries. A money machine. Another circuit to exchange twenty-dollar bills in. Therefore, everything that goes with industry now becomes part of the mainstream exchange of yoga.
To some extent, why worry about this? I know, and I'm assuming that every other intelligent person knows the yoga that's sold and marketed and DEFINITELY feeds off of elitist culture isn't the yoga that we understand at the dawn juncture, in our gaze dissolving, in our lonely moments that no one will ever witness and don't need to witness, anyway. Those little secrets, those little shocks, are the real deal. Life itself is the real deal. So...let them market and whore out what they refer to as "yoga". Ignorance goes on, you know. It's part of the human fabric. Let it be. Live as a testimony against it, but stop making yourself insane actively trying to eradicate it. That obviously does not work. It never has.
Obviously, it's an advertisement. For what I consider a pretty silly product, too. Again...find your sense of humor about this stuff, and move on. The point: here is a photo of a naked woman performing an asana, juxtaposed with the info meant to assist you in buying these unnecessary socks. I am not interested in arguing about the advertising end of this - we did that already and you know my stance on advertisements: JUST FUCKING IGNORE THEM if you don't like them. Nobody is making you look and nobody is making you buy anything. The idea of "toe sox" doesn't just make you laugh?!
What I'm interested in arguing about is: how can you say that this photo - THE PHOTO ITSELF, THE ART ITSELF - is not beautiful and does not celebrate the beauty of the human body? I'll even go so far as to say that this photo does indeed educate the viewer about yoga. If you need it pointed out...um, I can't really help you right now. Go stare cross-eyed at the point between your eyebrows a bit longer or something. Yoga Journal has been running these Toe Sox ads for at least a year now, using these photos by Jasper Johal of Kathryn Budig, and they are the most nude ads I can think of in the magazine, so if this isn't what stimulated Judith's complaint about naked women, I'd love if she'd tell me what did.
Anyway. This photo is just one example of a beautiful expression of the human body, of yoga asana, and even the deeper soul of yoga beyond the myriad of practices that make it easier for us blunt humans to understand. Also, the photographer himself couldn't possibly gel with his subject to accurately capture the beauty of yoga and the human form if he didn't understand it. I think the beauty of the art and the ridiculousness of the concept of the product sort of cancel each other out. I'm not quite sure what I'm trying to make clear here.
This photo - of yes, a naked woman in asana - is totally beautiful, totally tasteful, totally wonderful. Personally, that makes me forget that the advertisement is even there, much less care about it. I just think, That is incredible, beautiful, that is IT.
I guess it goes back to my original suggestion that advertisements only mean as much as you let them, and realistically, I don't think there's anything exploitative about this particular one. It's just stupid (not the art itself), like all the other advertisements out there. Just like all the other advertisements out there, get over it. Go live your yoga and stop splitting hairs and giving yourself ulcers. Live your yoga the way you wish others would live it, and then forget them. That's all you need to do.
Yoga in America has become part of the larger culture you despise. That's just reality. And we are a culture of consumers. What did you think was going to happen?...