Saturday, February 23, 2008

Belly up

After returning to Bikram yoga last week, I picked up Yoga Journal at the grocery store. It's a cool magazine packed with a lot of information about life in general as well as yoga (there was financial advice and information on SAD to name just a few things I wasn't expecting in a yoga magazine).

I always like to read the letters to the editor in magazines (actually, I have a tendency to get in trouble with friends when they send me links to things, because they want to talk about the actual article and I want to talk about the [often ridiculous] comments about the article). In the Feb 2008 issue of Yoga Journal, Alice Stevens of Atlanta, Georgia writes in about an article on prenatal yoga. She writes,
...I would have preferred to have seen your suggested poses photographed in better taste. Yoga honors and respects the body. I don't think that showing a bare pregnant belly is respectful or appropriate in a magazine---not even in a prenatal yoga class.

Within the letter section there's a shrunken image of the magazine spread that accompanied the prenatal yoga article. It's a smiling woman sitting in a tailor seat, in a sports bra and yoga pants. Her hands are on her ankles so her arms are framing her belly. It looks something like this:

[This image comes from Birth Roots Doula Collective, Inc.]

Am I missing something? Is there something inherently disrespectful to the body about showing a pregnant woman's belly?

Remember when Demi Moore posed naked and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair? I remember there was controversy at the time, but I can't remember it's exact nature. Now, looking at this image, I see Moore gazing out at the viewer proudly and aggressively. We often see nudity connected to sex in magazines images and, often in more sober content, sex connected to pregnancy. This image of Moore directly connects nudity to pregnancy and, in doing so, brings sex to the forefront. While Moore explodes the idea that a pregnant women is not a sexual being, her defiant gaze out from the glossy cover, also says that she is looking at us. The roles are not reversed, but the playing field is leveled; the "object" of our gaze, is looking back.

In Yoga Journal, however, the pregnant model (student?) sits smiling happily for the camera and in the image above, the model has her eyes cast downwards. And they both are at ease in yoga poses. Rather than forcing the reader to confront the sexualization of women, while simultaneously challenging imagery of pregnancy as scrubbed clean of sex, these images really are squeaky clean. It made me wonder what Stevens' point was. If just showing a naked pregnant belly is offensive, then perhaps having one is a shameful thing, in Stevens' mind. I hope not though.

1 comment:

drh said...

I once dated a guy (v. briefly) who said that he wished that pregnant women who were far long (i.e. visibly pregnant) would not go out in public! He claims that it was because it looked painful to him and he was pretty squeamish, but I think it revealed something deeper, although I didn't date him long enough to find out what.

The woman who wrote that letter to the editor also probably freaks out when women breastfeed in public!

On the other hand, perhaps there's something in the not-American-mainstream practice of yoga that has some opinion about covering the body?