Monday, October 27, 2014

Whose Body Is It Anyway? by Alyscia Cunningham

We live in an image based society that has somehow filled our heads with an illusion of the "perfect" body. Our subconscious is bombarded with unrealistic images of beauty. This not only affects our self-esteem but also deeply impacts our psyche.

So how do we balance the pursuit of authentic beauty and body image against the media’s unhealthy standards?

In my opinion, the media has become a legally deceitful and the use of Photoshop has gotten way out of hand.

To that I ask, who's body is it anyway? My body belongs to me and your body to you. Who gave anyone, including the media, permission to say which body type is best? If we truly woke up and decided we loved the person we see when we looked in the mirror, there will be no market to feed off of our insecurities.

Amazingly enough before my
trip to California I connected with Melanie Klein, a writer, speaker, and professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies. We had so much in common and not too long after I found out about her upcoming book collaboration with Anna Guest-Jelley. These two trailblazing women are the editors.

I interviewed Melanie and Anna to find out more about the idea behind their book,
Yoga and Body Images: 25 personal stories about beauty, bravery and loving your body.Yoga and Body Image an incredible, first-of-its-kind book, brings together a diverse collection of voices that span the spectrum of human experience. Editors, Melanie Klein, MA and Anna Guest-Jelley, MA created a collaboration of twenty-five authors, including Alanis Morrisette, Seane Corn, Bryan Kest, and Dr. Sara Gottfried, to discuss how yoga and body image intersect.

The inspiring personal stories, teach how yoga not only affects your body but also how it affects the way you feel about your body. Each author offers a unique perspective on how yoga has shaped his or her life and provides tips for using yoga to find self-empowerment and a renewed body image.

Healing ourselves and our communities to bring forth positive perception of our bodies is not an easy or over night process. Anna reminds us that creating a healthy relationship to self and healing a shattered body image is a work in progress. It takes time.

How did you come up with the title for the book? Did you have other titles or was this the first that came to mind?

We played a bit with the subtitle to find the right fit, but the title hasn’t changed. Yoga and Body Image has been our focus all along, so it was an easy choice.

Did the two of you pretty much agree on the flow of everything or did either of you take the lead on certain aspects of the book?

We’re very fortunate to have been in sync about the project every step of the way. As projects always go, things shifted and evolved as we went along, but we checked in with each other along the way and always came to smooth and easy agreement. We found (and continue to find) this partnership to be one based on mutual respect, dedication and hard work. We’re incredibly grateful for the balance we create as a team.

What do you think will be different if women and men woke up and decided they loved their bodies?

We’re very clear that issues of body image affect people of all gender identities and expressions, which is why we knew we wanted a diverse group of contributors in the book. We believe if people can even shift their relationship with their body from dislike to neutrality that it would free them up for so much more of what they want in their lives. Who knows the good that could be done in the world if people used the energy they formerly directed to hating their bodies to other positive things. In the end, we all benefit from a society in which all people have a healthy body image – all the freed time and energy we spend consumed with our body projects could be re-directed to contributing to society in a variety of meaningful and important ways.

Why do you think society has one particular image of yogi body (considering the yoga magazines with models who are slim and slender)?

Like many things, as yoga has become more popular, it has been co-opted by mainstream media. There is a direct, financial benefit to the media, as well as the fitness, diet and beauty industries to assert the idea that there is one “ideal” way to look. So of course, since yoga is part of contemporary culture, it makes sense people would seize on the opportunity to do the same with it.

Does our body type determine how flexible we can be?

Not at all! We can’t assume how flexible a person can be based on their body shape or size. There are flexible and less flexible people of every shape and size. With that said, not everyone will have the same ability to cultivate the “flexy bendy” image of yoga – and that’s fine! Yoga is not a practice in physical flexibility. It’s about mental flexibility or the cultivation of awareness through connection to the breath. We’re also committed to abolishing stereotypes about yoga as only a postural practice and encouraging people to step outside the “competitive” mentality that keeps us comparing and competing with others (and our selves!).

Do you have a favorite story/chapter? What about it do you connect most with?

It’s too hard to choose! We are truly so grateful for each contributor’s story, because as a whole, we deeply believe they get across the point we were trying to, which is that yoga can be a concrete tool for body acceptance, no matter who you are or what your body is like.

I know my upbringing has affected my view on beauty. What would you tell the little girl or boy who was told they couldn't do something (yoga or otherwise) because of their appearance?

We would tell that child that all bodies are good bodies and that they can definitely find a way to practice yoga that works for them. We’d also tell them that if we’re all doing it right, our poses will look different because we’re different ourselves.

If you can change one thing in the perspective of your readers what will it be?

Our hope for the book has always been that it would open a conversation around the ways in which yoga students, teachers and communities can offer a yoga in an empowering way for a diversity of students, thus opening opportunities for individuals to feel better in their own skin.

Complete the sentence....

My body is...
(Anna) exactly as it is meant to be.
(Melanie) changing moment to moment.

Beauty is...
(Anna) an inside job.
(Melanie) not a measure of self-worth.

If I could be a super hero, my power would be...
(Anna) helping people see how beautiful they are to the people who love them.
(Melanie) to create more time and space for us all to be.

I am most powerful when...
(Anna) I remember I can trust myself.
(Melanie) I am connected to my authentic voice.

Three words that describe me are...
(Anna) Hopeful, grounded (at least most of the time!), can-doer.
(Melanie) Go-getter, rabble rouser, intense.

If I can change one thing about the media it would be...
(Anna) to use it as a tool for empowerment.
(Melanie) its ubiquity in our lives.

One thing I want everyone to know about Yoga is...
(Anna) It can absolutely be done by anyone; all it takes is some creativity to make the pose work for you!
(Melanie) For every body; any body can practice yoga, every body can benefit from yoga and yoga can be accessed beyond the studio doors.

How can readers connect with you? Where can readers purchase copies of Yoga and Body Image?
Readers can learn more and find links to purchase the book at our website:

Readers can also find Anna directly at
Curvy Yoga and find out more about Melanie here and at the Yoga and Body Image Coalition web page.


Anna Guest-Jelley is the founder of
Curvy Yoga, an inspiration and training portal for people of all shapes and sizes. She is the author of Permission to Curve: Inspiring Poses for Curvy Yogis and Their Teachers and the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery and Loving Your Body. 

Melanie Klein, M.A., is a writer, speaker and Professor of Sociology and Women’s Studies. She is a contributing author in 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics and Practice and is featured in Conversations with Modern Yogis. She is the co-editor of Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery + Loving Your Body, and co-founder of the Yoga and Body Image Coalition. Twitter: @feministfatale

Alyscia Cunningham is a portrait and lifestyle photographer. Be sure to check out her fabulous book, Feminine Transitions.

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