She’s got curves — are you sure she’s a yoga model?

Be honest: What was the first thing you thought of when you saw this ad?

Unless you’re immune to what American society seems to constantly tell us about what the ideal female body looks like, I think it’s hard not to do a double-take over this print ad, which appears in the current issues of Yoga Journal and Yoga International. My immediate reaction was, “Wow, did they really choose a larger model for this photo shoot? Props to you, Kripalu!”

I emailed Kripalu about the ad, and this is what Kripalu Marketing Operations Manager Joyce Monaco said:

As far as larger models go, we try to appeal to all types and want women and men of all shapes and sizes to know that Kripalu yoga is for everyone.


Online yoga watercoolers such as elephant journal — which describes itself as “a paperless vehicle devoted to bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society” — and the irreverent YogaDork blog have  featured some excellent articles and discussions about yoga and body image. Read “What does a yoga body look like?” and “The Curvy Yoga Proclamation: A Letter to Yoga Journal” as just two examples. I added my own two cents on International Women’s Day, with “Mirror, mirror…

As yogis, shouldn’t we be more interested in whether someone’s chakras are balanced versus whether they fit into size XS Hardtails? Or am I missing something here?

The more steeped I become in American yoga culture, the more I think it’s inevitable that the values and patterns so prevalent in our greater society seep into the culture of the yoga studio. Does it have to be that way? No — and if there’s any system or way of life with the potential to break those types of bounds, it’s the discipline of yoga. That said, when we step into a yoga studio, we don’t check our outlooks, perspectives or biases at the door. Yoga can help us start to undo our samskaras — deeply ingrained, habitual patterns — but only if we are absolutely vigilant.

I would love to see more ads — whether it’s for local yoga studios, international retreats, clothing lines or accessories — feature models who don’t look traditionally enviable. I say this for women and male models, even though the examples mentioned in this blog post pertain to women.

As a side note, I used to live in western Massachusetts, and I spent a weekend on the beautiful grounds of Kripalu Center for Yoga & Health. I actually didn’t go there for a yoga reatreat — I went there for a workshop on taiko drumming — and it was a blast. I’d love to head back to Kripalu one of these days — and the values that I saw conveyed through the selection of this print ad only makes me want to schedule that trip sooner rather than later.

(Image credit: Scan of Kripalu ad printed in Yoga International, summer 2011 edition)

© and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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18 thoughts on “She’s got curves — are you sure she’s a yoga model?

  1. I noticed that ad and I thought, “Wow, awesome! A normal woman for a change!” Kudos on the excellent blog! ( I like to spoof the culture with my Barbie pics.) No matter how much yoga I do, I will never fit into X-S hardtails, but I know I will be aligning my chakras the best I can.

    • Yoga accepts everyone, regardless of body size or type. But, the only people who look like that are the beginner yoga students, or those who don’t devote enough time or energy to it for whatever reason (career or family demands…). Devoted, long-time practitioners are fit and trim and very healthy, see Seane Corn, Shiva Rea, Rodney Yee. That’s the point of yoga. It’s a healthy practice for body and mind. The models on the cover of the magazines are usually not beginners, rather teachers or experienced practitioners. If they want to show a classroom full of “normal” yoga students, let them do so. But, let’s not forget that the magazine promotes yoga. The cover photo is an advertisement, not geared to criticize the obese, but to show what yoga can do for you, if you really use it well.

      • Regardless, many of the models you find in yoga ads are small in size–I am speaking skeletally. We all come in all shapes and sizes. Some women have large breasts that will not shrink to that perfect athletic size, no matter how much yoga they do or how fit and healthy they are. Some women’s hips are just wide–Yoga is not going shrink the bones of the pelvic girdle! The practice of asana may help strengthen, trim and increase your physical body, but you may not be capable of ever fitting into that size xs–no matter what. I know many beautiful, healthy and fit yogis who will never fit the cultural paradigm that is presented in many of the images and ads that are about yoga and promote yoga.

  2. Very cool that you thought the same thing when seeing this ad! (Side note: For anyone reading this comment thread who has never seen Janet’s fantastically cool Barbie spoofs, you can see an example in her blog post on the post-natal belly: Such a hoot — and great cultural commentary to boot.)

  3. I was impressed by this ad, too…somewhat sad that it’s notable, though. To your mention of no male models in the post–this goes back to the question, “who buys all the expensive yoga gear?” I’d argue that it’s the (young, thin) “traditionally enviable” women. I was in a class last week, OUTNUMBERED BY MEN, men wearing shorts and t-shirts without Sanskrit symbols or fancy labels. There’s indeed a market for these guys and curvaceous women, but it isn’t as large and easily accessible for marketers. Kudos to Kripalu–absolutely–but they’re selling a service, somewhat different than most of these ads that sell products. I don’t expect HardTail’s ads to show anyone sporting a size (gasp!) M or L or YJ to illustrate a posture with anything other than a TEW (Traditionally Enviable Woman–i’m coining this term!) unless it’s part of an occasional “special” article devoted to the 95% of us that aren’t TEWs.

    • I love that you are coining TEW! Interesting perspective that perhaps the in, if you will, for this ad was that it’s a service vs. a product. It would be great, in that case, to start with services then. Make those yoga retreat ads representative of the folks who actually attend, rather than the *ideal* of those who might attend.

      As for the aspect of marketing to men, in time, it will come. Look at how many more beauty-type products there are now geared toward men — Axe and the like. And as more men in the Midwest start getting into yoga — the way they have done on the coasts — I bet they’ll be a bigger advertising push. More yoga studios will order lululemon pants for men alongside the staples for women.

  4. Great article Rose . . . I love reading these blogs! It’s a beautiful thing to realize that we can choose to defy convention and wear what we want, wherever we want, no matter what size or shape we may be. We can also choose to turn a deaf ear to the media and the culture and the busybody in the neighborhood . . . just BE and revel in your higher ‘SELF.’

  5. I also love that this model is a normal-sized woman and doing an “advanced” posture. Love that they are demonstrating that you don’t have to be tiny and TEW-ish for postures to be accessible! I think there’s a tendency for women to believe their bodies won’t *move* in certain ways because they don’t *look* certain ways.

  6. Love the post! When I go to my studio right off of the Princeton University campus I can sometimes feel like a beached whale amidst the toned college students. Then I remember that my practice is mine and when I hug my knees in right before savasana I am hugging ALL of me. :)

  7. Thanks Kripalu! Appreciate that you featured a woman with an average body image instead of a stick figure. Made me focus on the yoga pose and benefits rather than wondering if the model eats anything beside celery!

  8. I thought this was the most magnificent ad I had ever seen! I have the picture up on my wall because I, too, have curves and do yoga. I aspire to the pose in the ad. It gives me hope. :)

  9. at one point on my yoga journey i was told that i had ‘a yoga heart, but not a yoga body’. happy to say that i’m now teaching 9 classes a week! i cannot imagine what my life would be like today if i had taken what was meant to be constructive criticism to heart. every time i come to my mat i am changing the world – challenging the belief that the gifts of yoga are only available for people of particular shapes and sizes. kudos to Kripalu for using such a beautiful photo in their ads and for creating (and promoting) an atmosphere of acceptance.

    • Thank you so much for sharing this inspiring story. I am still having a hard time believing that anyone would say someone has a yoga heart but not a “yoga body.” Every body is a yoga body! Isn’t that the whole point? How wonderful that you turned the comment around and now challenge societal beliefs every time you are on the mat!

  10. I saw this ad and was overwhelmed with pride because I recently finished my YTT at Kripalu. I feel lucky to be connected with this wonderful organization.

  11. Seeing this beautiful curvy yogini makes me want to aspire to a Pigeon like hers… joyful and serene! Bravo Kripalu! It’s so wonderful to see someone shaped like me going deep into her practice with such peace and beauty.

  12. I too appreciated the ad. I am an older male who practices yoga daily, and am realistic enough to accept my body as it is now, and the fact that there are poses that I will never attain, and most that I will never look like the perfect model pose, but I do know I am doing the best with what I have, and my poses may be the best for me. I also agree with another poster that there should be more emphasis on yoga styles for men, since most of us in the classes I’ve been in have shorts, or sweats, and non descript T shirts.

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